Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden

Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden

Early June 2024 will see commemorations in the UK and France to mark the 80th Anniversary of Operation Overlord, the D-Day Landings on 6th June 1944. Playing a part in some of the commemorative events will be the D-Day Squadron Legacy Tour, a group of Douglas C-47 and DC-3s that will pay tribute to all those involved in the airborne operations on 6th June 1944. Four US based aircraft arrived in the UK in late May and their first significant stop of their tour was to Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden. While this did not tie with one of their airshows, the Collection did hold a ‘D-Day Weekend’ based around the Legacy Tour aircraft and a small vintage fly-in.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

In 2019, there were some truly extraordinary sights at Old Warden and Duxford as several Douglas C-47s and other DC-3 derivatives gathered to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Five years on, the world is a different place. Sadly, the number of D-Day veterans has dwindled as they would have to be in the very late 90s at least. However, the 80th Anniversary of the landings is still a very significant event and will be marked by major events both in the UK and Normandy itself.

 

For the 80th anniversary the D-Day Squadron, a group of Douglas DC-3/C-47 operators in the United States, teamed up with Aero Legends in the UK to produce the ‘Legacy Tour.’ This is a much smaller affair that the epic organised in 2019 but early May 2024 still saw plans for six DC-3 and C-47s to make a transatlantic crossing to meet up with further aircraft from the UK and Switzerland. The focus of the tour were events at North Weald, Duxford and Normandy during the first week of June. Once those were complete the various aircraft would go their separate ways in Europe marking other significant events including the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift.

All of the D-Day Squadron aircraft are now 80 years old so it is perhaps not surprising some encountered snags on the trip from the US. In the event, by the end of May four US based aircraft had made it staging through Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland to make it to their temporary base at North Weald. Leading these aircraft was the Tunison Foundation’s Douglas C-47A SkytrainPlacid Lassie.’ Another familiar C-47A was that of the Commemorative Air Force Centex Wing, ‘That’s All Brother.’ They were joined by Douglas C-53-DO Spirit of Douglas.’ In 2019 this aircraft was also part of the European commemorations and wore the colours of ‘Spirit of Benovia.’ It has since change ownership and now wears colours marking the contribution of Donald Douglas to world air travel. The fourth aircraft, a Douglas DC-3-197E wearing the colours of ~Western Airlines’ was appearing in Europe for the first time. This aircraft was purchased by Tim Savage in 2023. Though earmarked for military service following the Japanese attach on Pearl Harbour, it never received a military serial. It was however converted into a freight transport by the military before being returned to civilian ownership. The aircraft continued supporting the military under the Western Air Express operation during the Second World War. It was then converted into a passenger aircraft for Western Airlines. It subsequently passed through several owners before being sold to Tim Savage last year by the Mountain Flying Museum.

In 2019, one of the D-Day Squadron’s most successful stops before the main D-Day commemorations had been a visit for the Shuttleworth Collection’s early June show. It therefore was very welcome that despite Old Warden’s revised airshow schedule, a special event would be laid on to see the D-Day Squadron aircraft up close – the D-Day Weekend.

The Saturday saw fine weather for much of the day with the four D-Day Squadron aircraft arriving a loose box formation mid-morning. After making a flypast over the aerodrome and Old Warden grounds, they then split for a landing and taxied into the paddock area. They were joined by a small, but really interesting fly-in of vintage types many of which were associated with D-Day landings. Perhaps garnering the most attention was the Beech D17S Staggerwing ‘Red Rocket.’ This aircraft is usually seen in a striking bright red colour scheme but for the anniversary has been painted in the scheme it wore while on charge with the Royal Navy in 1944. Equally appropriate to the theme was Miles Messenger G-AKIN from Sywell. The Messenger was made famous as the aircraft used by General Bernad Law Montgomery to travel across the Normandy theatre of operations. This particular example operated comes from Sywell where it has been based since 1952 – a record only bettered by the Shuttleworth Collection’s own de Havilland Moth! There was also a small salute to the ‘Normandy L-Birds’ with a beautiful example of a Piper L4 Grasshopper and a pair of Stinson HW-75s. The latter were the basis for the Stinson L5 Defenders which served alongside the Grasshoppers in France.

Though somewhat different to the examples that served during the Second World War, the Beech Model H18 was another star of the weekend. This Irish based aircraft is one of the last production Beech 18s and it fitted with a tricycle landing gear rather than the usual taildragger configuration.  There were a few other vintage types including Piper Super Cubs, de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moths and de Havilland Canada Chipmunks for visitors to enjoy. Entertainment went right on into the evening too with catering and live music. Sadly, Sunday saw less favourable weather for the fly-in but visitors did get to enjoy a stream take off by the D-Day Squadron aircraft as they returned to North Weald.