'Daks Over Normandy' Part 2: Daks Over Duxford
Monday 3rd June - Wednesday 5th June 2019
IWM Duxford was the natural host for the main UK event, seeing nearly all the Dakotas down for the Normandy event gathered in one place before the journey over. Unsurprisingly, it was also the gathering for a huge number of spectators across multiple days, enthusiast and public alike. A sight unlikely to ever be seen again it garnered national coverage and interest to the point that the public days saw more footfall than some of the Duxford airshows of late, and the IWM offered a strong day out for those that visited the Cambridgeshire aerodrome.
In the second part of our coverage, thereport on the 'Daks Over Duxford' phase of the proceedings.
• Monday 3rd June
Arriving into Duxford and walking onto the crowd line to be greeted with 22 aircraft literally littering the airfield was a tremendous sight to behold. Shortly after arriving on site, and taking it all in, the sound of six Pratt & Whitney radial engines filled the air as three aircraft went for a local sortie, arriving back a short time later for a run and break to land; setting the scene for the day ahead.
Even though the day was not the official start to the 'Daks over Normandy' events it was pretty much non-stop action with Duxford-based aircraft flying in-between the Dakotas and the industrious Classic Wings taking punters on sightseeing tours of the area. Throughout the day aircraft that would be partaking in the week's commemorations, such as Spitfire ML407, The Norwegian Spitfire Foundation's P-51D 'Sharkmouth', The Fighter Collection's Grumman Wildcat FM2 all took the opportunity to enjoy the near perfect weather conditions of light winds and beautiful sunshine. All of these movements filling the time until the undoubted highlight of the day, 11 Dakotas all starting up and launching en masse before evocatively flying over the airfield line astern in a practise for the paratroop drop planned for their Normandy leg of the week.
With the 11 aircraft all landed and parked up, a short while later the final piece of multi DC-3 action saw the Dunsfold-based Aces High machine which had, by now, had its new paint job finished with squadron markings and stripes applied, joined by its American counterparts in 'That's All Brother' and 'Placid Lassie' for a three-ship routine that saw multiple passes followed by a very impressive break to land. A special mention goes out to the engineers looking after 'Placid Lassie' who had been sat outside of the Aircraft Restoration Company's hangar all morning having work done and successfully getting it ready for the afternoon's flying.
After the trio had taxiied in and shut down, attention had turned to the the Sweden-based 'Daisy' making its way to Duxford after its final stop in the Netherlands, touching down in the UK in the early evening. This final overseas participant parked up on the flightline and the scene was set for enthralling few days ahead.
• Tuesday 4th June – Daks Over Duxford Airshow Day
Arguably the largest event associated with the 'Daks Over Normandy' celebrations within the UK, the two-day Daks Over Duxford commemorations would act as the final opportunity to see the plethora of DC-3 and C-47 (plus the interloping Lisunov Li-2) en masse before conducting their mass departure to Normandy.
Organised in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum, the event was not established as an out-and-out airshow, but alternatively as a celebration of the aircraft that had assembled with flying elements intertwined within the day’s proceedings. Arriving at Duxford on the Tuesday morning it was genuinely jaw-dropping to see so many Dakotas, 23 in total, double stacked along almost the entirety of the northern edge of the airfield. Had the promised 30+ airframes been in attendance, then appropriate child-friendly language would probably have been lost on myself and many others.
Nevertheless, as discussed at length on both on social media and on the forums, the variety in airframes and liveries at Duxford was still a real treat - an enchanting mix of olive-drab paint schemes interspersed with highly-polished chrome fuselages. You'd have certainly been hard-pressed to find one aircraft visiting that didn't generate at least a modicum of interest from a member of the public.
Despite many of the aircraft being parked on the grass, tantalisingly close to the paying public but on the other side of the fence line, five of the aircraft were, however, parked on the ‘jet pan’ and were free to walk around and look inside, which also gave the opportunity to chat to some of the friendly crews. Talking to the crew of the world’s only airworthy Li-2, it became quite clear how much it meant to the operators to get these aircraft here and be part of something never likely to be repeated again. It really was heart-warming to see such enthusiasm and over-riding sense of achievement, particularly from the US-based crews, to make it across the Atlantic and make a lasting impression on both the young and old visiting Duxford.
Flying activities began mid-morning, with a quintet of T-6s and a pair of Dragon Rapides departing on a photo flight with seven of the assembled Dakotas. Comprised of less than a third of the Dakotas at Duxford, there was palpable excitement from the gathering crowd to see quite so many of these aircraft perform a mass departure. Further enhancing the spectacle was the streamed take-off accompanied by the main theme song from Band of Brothers. Of the seven aircraft taking part in this ‘morning sortie’, the Dakota Norway C-53D had to break formation not long after departure due to mechanical gremlins with the port engine. The aircraft eventually bumbled towards the airfield to conduct an uneventful asymmetric landing, the engine woes sadly put paid to the Skytrooper' flight to Normandy.
As mentioned earlier, the concept of the two days was to only feature a small flying display, with this taking place early afternoon on the Tuesday. Typically, the British weather decided not to play ball and essentially mirrored the exact weather conditions from 75 years ago, whereby conditions were far too inclement for the invasion to take place. Looking at the weather radar made for rather grim viewing on the Tuesday, a band of heavy showers moving slowly from the south coast and eventually reaching Cambridgeshire as the six aircraft involved in the mass parachute drop were taxiing out. The dropping of the circa 120 parachutists, all wearing authentic period uniform and using non-steerable round canopies, was set to be one of the main highlights of the day and act as a taster for what to expect at the Normandy drop-zones later in the week. Alas, wind speeds proved to be too high throughout the day, despite the perseverance of everyone involved to at least complete one drop under the murky skies. Although the jump attempts were canned, the six aircraft did depart a couple of times and perform something of a ‘Dakota Carousel’ for about 15 minutes.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Dakota III unfortunately had to scrub its planned solo display, with the team choosing to instead get the aircraft down to Le Havre in order to beat the incoming weather. Aces High thankfully managed to get their recently repainted C-47A Skytrain into the air for a highly spirited solo display to fill the slot, the aircraft then forming up with two of the US-based participants, ‘That’s All Brother’ and ‘Placid Lassie’, to complete a series of tight formation passes (commendable seeming as the display had only been practised for the first time on the previous day).
Despite the cold, grotty conditions worsening, the rest of the airshow element performed without issue. Special mention has to go to Trevor Bailey in his Auster T7, his initial run-in for his display with the accompanying Auster AOP6 was arguably the fastest myself, or many others, have seen an Auster fly. In fact, all of the pilots must be commended for choosing to fly in the worst weather of the day, the Spitfire IX pair completing a particularly impressive pairs display with numerous topside passes amongst a lowering cloud base. The final formation of the airshow comprised of two P-51Ds, P-47D and F4F Wildcat, an unusual quartet but incredibly well-received as the rain drove down harder.
Wednesday would thankfully see much improved conditions for those in attendance, with a particular treat being the remarkable sight of six USAF MC-130Js and six CV-22B Ospreys performing a single formation flypast. The obvious highlight, though, would be for the assembled Dakotas to eventually depart Duxford on the much-anticipated flight to Normandy.
Despite what appears to be a multitude of underlying issues surrounding the events across the English Channel in Normandy, Duxford arguably made the most lasting impression of the several official events organised (not including the last-minute appearance of several aircraft at Old Warden). It was quite evident that the IWM had a large part to play in making the event so successful, with it arguably having more appeal than some of the official Duxford airshows (and higher attendance figures also). The relaxed pace of the day and incredible atmosphere meant Daks Over Duxford is likely to live long in the memory of those fortunate enough to see this smorgasbord of Li-2, DC-3s and C-47s.
• Wednesday 5th June – Mass flypast to Normandy over the Southeast
The day had arrived. The day that we had known about for over two years. The day the last few weeks of activity have been building up to. The day of the crossing to Normandy.
As soon as the route was published for the journey, with flypasts at Colchester, Southend, Maidstone and Eastbourne giving the opportunity for the commemorations to reach a much greater audience than only those who could make the trip to IWM Duxford, there seemed like an obvious place to head for. Beachy Head. The moment that the formation would leave English skies. The cliffs of Beachy Head are home to a memorial to Bomber Command which carries the inscription ‘For many, Beachy Head would have been their light sight of England. A poignant place to watch the mass formation depart for France.
With people camping out in car parks overnight, overflow car parks opened in fields and cars lining the road as far as could be seen in both directions, the reach of the events was amazing to see. News started to trickle through the assembled masses that the take off from Duxford had been delayed, instead of the original slot of 13:40, the departures were now set for 15:10 due to VVIP activities at the destination in France. Undeterred the British public remained resilient on the cliff top waiting for the Dakotas, even when further delays were encountered and the formation finally departed just after 16:00 the crowds only became stronger in number.
Those who had arrived early were treated to a small preview over what was to come with five Dakotas, who had been over to Cherbourg in the morning passed to the west of Beachy Head on their return to Duxford ahead of the mass departure. With the formation far in the distance, it was more of an audible treat than a visual one, but a good preview of what was to come nonetheless.
Unsure on the exact direction that the formation would come from, coupled with restricted phone signal making the usual tracking online hard to maintain, the anticipation grew. The formation arrived. The dots on the horizon manifested into the most spectacular of sights. Dakotas and escorts filling the sky. Everywhere you looked there were streams of Dakotas approaching from inland. Above, formations of three, singletons and little friends filling the air. Behind, they turned once over the sea on their new heading. We are used to flypasts with singletons or formations all following the same path down a runway heading or crowdline. This was a different beast entirely. Possibly the greatest aviation spectacle in recent times. So much to consume; visually, audibly, the history. So much of what was witnessed only came to fruition upon reflection in the days following the events, a moment of aviation theatre like no other.
Whatever grievances or issues may have been raised with the origination of these events, this was undoubtedly a historic moment.