After the wind and rain of the day before, the outlook for the big departure looked remarkably better. It was cloudy but not wet, not cold, but not incredibly warm.
The crowd were ready, all in the anticipation of the main event. The mass flight to Normandy would take place.
The flight line was a little more sparse this morning as a number of planes had flown to France to drop off supplies. These would return later in the day. As we had missed out on the practice drops the day before, there was some talk that this would happen on this final day to give the troopers some warm up. Alas, the wind was too strong to take the chance again.
The day was similar to the day before, with some flypasts from the Daks. The mass flypast was to be delayed due to the arrival of a VIP in Normandy so a number of the fighter displays were extended. With the better weather, these displays were much tighter, higher and more aerobatic than those the day before.
The one major change of the day is that we were treated to a mass flypast from the current USAF heavy lift squadron leaving from RAF Mildenhall. On their way to flypast Portsmouth, 6 C-130 Hercules and 6 CV-22 Ospreys stopped by to show us the modern equivalent.
After enjoying these displays, moment everyone had waited for was here. The Daks would depart for Normandy as they had 75 years ago. Some of them carried paratroopers who would drop in the fields of Normandy as those many brave men had done prior to the beach invasions.
There was an eery quite around the field as we waited, and then waited some more. Then the first set of Pratt & Whitney engines fired up, followed by the second, then third. After a few minutes the noise of 22 DC-3s, C-47s and the sole Lisunov Li-2 filled the air. The thunder of the engines and the smell of the fuel was something I had never imagined. In that moment, we all knew why we had braved the weather. The event we would likely never experience again was unfolding.
The first 10 planes rolled out loaded with paratroopers and took to the skies above us. They came back round to flypast us as the other 11 began to roll to the runway. Then what seemed like a never ending line of planes took to the sky. I can only imagine what this would have look like 75 years ago, but at this moment it was incredible.
Then, as soon as it had happened they were gone. 21 Daks, some loaded with paratroopers were on their way to Normandy. Sadly, the plane with the engine fire the day before was unable to join them, as was another who after lining up to leave with them suffered engine stalling and had to pull out (it did join up with the others a couple of days later).
This was a great day for photos. Even if it wasn’t sunny. there was plenty of light but diffused by the cloud to make it much easier to get the shots I wanted.
Over the two days I was the most trigger happy I have ever been. I regret nothing!
If you love Dakotas, here is your chance to see them all in the air. I hope you enjoy.
As it turns out we got lucky with the weather, the folks in Normandy not so much.
Whilst the planes were all able to make their drops, the subsequent show days at Caen were mired with poor weather and even worse organisation.
Since it’s initial announcement, the event was awash with controversy. Some said the amount of planes advertised was inflated to sell tickets. Some even said the drops at Duxford were never meant to happen and their cancellations were staged. My opinion is different.
This event was never going to be easy to organise. Trying to get 40+ 80 year old planes from all over the world was in itself a logistical nightmare. To arrange 2 airports at either end, as well as the location for the drops was a mammoth task. My view is that whilst it was not without its faults, it was pulled off better than anyone had any right to respect. It was a fitting tribute to the brave men who jumped fearlessly into the battle to liberate Europe. I am so pleased that I can say I was there to witness this event and would do it all over again if I had the chance.
I hope by now you are not bored with my aviation items because there are more coming. But for now, this is where Daks Over Duxford ends.