'Daks Over Normandy' Part 1: The Build-Up
Monday 27th May - Sunday 2nd June 2019
With a build up lasting over two years, 'Daks over Normandy' promised to be one of the aviation events of a generation - a mass gathering of Dakotas from the United States of America and across Europe coming together to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Over thirty aircraft were publicised by the parent organisation Daks over Normandy to be at the event (at the time of the event thirty-four were still listed on the organisation's website), with a total of twenty-three actually taking part in the UK events - one of the many question marks that has been raised towards the organisation behind these events. The Dakotas, of varying marks and guises, took part in events at Prestwick, Duxford and Old Warden before heading over to Normandy on the 5th June and taking up residence at Caen-Carpiquet airport after the mass parachute drop over Normandy. Despite some of the issues that people may have with the organisation behind the events, they attracted the attention of the public and enthusiast audience and no doubt provided an unforgettable spectacle.
Thereport on the build up to the 'Daks Over Normandy' events.
• Monday 27th May - Arrival of the D-Day Squadron at Duxford
The May Bank Holiday was scheduled as one of IWM Duxford's 'Showcase Days', following on from the preceding weekend's Air Festival. Centred around the Memorial Day Flypast over Madingley, displays from B-17G Flying Fortress 'Sally-B' and the Ultimate Fighters team's P-47D Thunderbolt 'Nellie B' and TF-51D Mustang 'Contrary Mary' were promised.
Aptly, with the American focus of the day's activities, a large amount of the D-Day Squadron (the contingent crossing the pond for 'Daks Over Normandy') arrived at Duxford throughout the day. With N33611 'Clipper Tabitha May' having arrived at Duxford on Tuesday 21st May and 'N25641' Liberty arriving at Duxford on Saturday 27th May, there was already a presence on the ground, however, with 8 further arrivals throughout the day this was the moment the gathering began to take place in earnest. With the arrivals spread throughout the day, led by N47E 'Miss Virginia', each of the aircraft that arrived landed and were marshalled into a long row on the south side of Duxford's runway. Their distance a reminder that this was a preview of the event and not part of the actual celebrations with close access to the aircraft, however each time you stepped out onto the airfield from one of the buildings during the afternoon the spectacle of the assemblage of Dakotas grew. This was the moment the ambitious gathering started to feel real.
There was great excitement with tracking the Dakotas on various apps and websites, following updates on social media and our own forums, refreshing pages at regular intervals to see if another had departed on the final leg of the journey from Scotland to Duxford. The day had all the excitement of the unknown, perhaps an excitement that modern airshows lack with all the information published in advance about participants to the point where surprises are seldom apparent. Such exhilaration of waiting to see what would arrive was very real and refreshing, particularly with each arrival being a highlight and aircraft that hadn't - or is rarely - been seen in UK skies. It must be said that there was a strange feeling with so many aircraft arriving before the advertised arrivals day, Sunday 2nd June. With tickets being bought for that day under the understanding that you would witness the participants arriving at Duxford, however, for the few in attendance on the Bank Holiday Monday, it was a truly memorable and exciting day.
• Friday 31st May - Mass departure of Daks from Duxford
With many of the D-Day Squadron at IWM Duxford for nearing a week, the Friday before the main 'Daks Over Normandy' events offered a great preview of the flying that was to come. The afternoon's entertainment came as nine of the assembled Dakotas took off and departed to Beachy Head for a photoshoot. Without the crowd of an airshow day, there was the freedom to wander up and down the fence line at Duxford to watch the aircraft start up and taxi. Then walk up towards the Land Warfare Hall to see them as each wave of three departed to the south. The elegance of these machines became ever more prevalent with each group that departed. Between the groups of departures, spaced approximately half an hour apart, the arrival of DC-3A N18121 to Duxford following its own journey across the pond increased the number of aircraft assembled at Duxford.
With the staggered departures, it wasn't long after the final three left Duxford that the ever increasingly familiar game of 'Track the Dak' began, following them on their journey back to Cambridgeshire. Unexpectedly for those who had watched them depart, the aircraft returned as singletons rather than as formations. A poignant moment when the wartime aspect of the commemorations is considered…waiting for each of the crews and their steeds to return home from their missions. Fortunately on this occasion though, only from a jaunt to the south coast.
• Sunday 2nd June - Visit to the Shuttleworth Collection's Flying Festival
One of the most remarkable events to come out of the whole 'Daks over Normandy' celebration was the attendance of seven DC-3s and C-47s at the Shuttleworth Collection's Flying Festival air show. In fact, their participation was announced only two days before the show leading, no doubt, to quite a few last-minute travel plans. But those plans were more than worth it as the sight of the seven transports, all part of the D-Day Squadron travelling over from the USA, parked on the grass at Old Warden was nothing short of extraordinary.
For an airfield that had only had a Dakota land on for the first ever time a few weeks beforehand, Old Warden was a magnificent host for these visitors. More than anything, the access afforded to them was second-to-none, with the top paddock open to the crowds all morning - there were no barriers, no limitations on how close visitors could get to the machines, and indeed the crews had all their displays set up and were giving tours of the interiors and, naturally, educating and fascinating the public as well. Grass underfoot and the gentle atmosphere that the venue never fails to maintain, there really was no better place to get to know the Dakotas and their crews that had made the huge journey to the UK and you could feel the reverence and appreciation among those in the paddock for what they were getting to do. More than any other "mainstream" venue around, you do feel, Old Warden trusts its visitors.
It had been indicated that the Dakotas would be leaving the field individually throughout the day, but the reality was much, much sweeter. The public at the aerodrome were fortunate to witness the incredible spectacle of all seven - seven! - starting up, taxiing and departing in the same slot, with that familiar, classic Shuttleworth background. While the Collection's trainers were displaying overhead, it's safe to say no one was paying them attention and who can blame them?
To take such a short notice yet historic event and absolutely, totally nail it is such a Shuttleworth thing to do. They really got it spot on - you could almost imagine them asking "Well, why wouldn't we let people walk around them - that's why they're here". Simply the sight of them parked up together in the one spot, at such a tiny field, would have been extraordinary but it just went above and beyond. It's subjective, of course, but you really could so easily claim that this last-minute addition was the best place to experience Daks over Duxford. It was everything you could've wanted, and more.
• Sunday 2nd June - Duxford Arrivals Day
The Sunday of the Daks over Duxford week was publicised as arrivals day, the day when you would expect the aircraft to arrive. With a large number of the American contingent of Dakotas already at Duxford and some of the European aircraft, such as Hugo Mathys' Swissair example, also having arrived prior to the Sunday, many wondered what it would be that they would actually see arrive and happen in general. With seven of the D-Day Squadron heading to Old Warden on the Saturday for their Flying Festival, at least they would be coming back into Duxford during the afternoon. Other than their arrival, it was unclear beforehand exactly what would be arriving.
It was only on the Sunday itself when the official event magazine became available to purchase and it became apparent that more of the aircraft listed on the 'Daks Over Normandy' website would not be appearing. With much anticipated aircraft such as the two Russian examples not making it into the printed programme, despite their presence still listed online. Furthermore, reliable information was even harder to achieve due to the lack of audible PA announcements on the Duxford crowdline where many had gathered, despite announcements elsewhere on the site. Credit at this point must go to Duxford's familiar commentator, Ben Dunnell, who upon realising this did his best to keep much appreciated updates coming through Twitter as to the latest news and expected movements.
Before the museum opened the 'Track the Dak' game had already begun once again with the excitement of the much-anticipated Lisunov Li-2 from Hungary on its way to Duxford setting the tone for the day, watching towards the east rather than west for the arrivals. With many of the arrivals due later in the day, the morning was filled by local flights for Miss Virginia, D-Day Doll and the aforementioned Swissair example, with D-Day Doll notably taking a visit to overfly RAF Cottesmore, a major base for the Dakota in 1944.
Then it was onto what we had all turned up for at Duxford for, the new arrivals for the event with Danish example 'Gamle Dame' the first to arrive. The Danish aircraft was soon joined by the Li-2 and Finnish Airlines marked DC-3A, which both arrived in the early afternoon. The day's main event then took centre stage, with the planned arrival of the mass contingent returning from Old Warden. As the seven returned from Bedfordshire, the French-based Dakota arrived simultaneously, landing between the run and break of the seven and their landing; taxiing to its parking spot with French and American flags on display from the cockpit windows. As the Old Warden seven landed the Dakota Norway DC-3 joined the line of landing Dakotas to become the ninth Dakota to share the Duxford airspace. A real crescendo to the days activity, demonstrating the great international reach of the event, with aircraft from America and Europe coming together to form this tribute to those involved in D-Day 75 years ago. Arrivals day might not have been quite as anticipated but the sight of the nine Dakotas arriving together was truly special.