Header image: RAF BBMF C-47 Dakota ZA947 in flight, with the familiar sight of the Air Loadmaster waving from the open ‘Para’ door. (Photo: Mark Meades)
In March 1993 C-47 Dakota Mk III ZA947 was taken on charge by the BBMF at RAF Coningsby. The 76-year-old transport aircraft, representative of the very many that flew with the RAF during World War Two and beyond, has therefore been part of the BBMF aircraft fleet for 25 years this month.
Dakota ZA947 had previously served with the Defence Research Agency (DRA), latterly at Farnborough, but had become surplus to the Agency’s requirements and so, in 1992, was offered up for disposal. The aircraft was adopted by RAF Strike Command and issued to the BBMF.
It was, perhaps, originally intended by those in command that the Dakota would be a training and support aircraft for the BBMF, replacing the Flight’s DH Devon C1 VP981, which had served with the BBMF as a crew transport and support aircraft since 1985. (The Devon was sold off in 1998 and is now operated by Aero Legends at Headcorn.) As there are now no other multi-engine tail-wheel aircraft in RAF service outside the BBMF, the Dakota is indeed an important training asset used for initial training of aircrew for the BBMF multi-engine aircraft and for renewing the currency of the Flight’s ‘bomber’ pilots each year. However, the Dakota is also a sought-after display aircraft in its own right, appearing regularly on the air show circuit and at commemorative events.
Built in 1942, as a C-47A ‘Skytrain’, by Douglas at its facility at Long Beach, California, the BBMF Dakota served with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), in Canada, during World War Two. Having been purchased from the Canadians by the Royal Aircraft Establishment in 1969, the Dakota was initially given the RAF serial KG661, based on its RCAF serial number ‘661’. In the late 1970s it was realised that the serial KG661 had, in fact, belonged to another Dakota which had crashed and been written off. In July 1979 KG661 was therefore given a new RAF serial, ZA947, which explains why the BBMF Dakota wears a relatively ‘modern’ serial that falls between a batch of Puma helicopters and a Westland Lynx!
As the Dakota’s annual servicing was commenced and completed earlier than usual this winter, ZA947 has been flying since November, providing crew training for the BBMF ‘Bomber Boys’. In its 25th year with the BBMF the Dakota has a full programme of events planned during the forthcoming 2018 display season. There may, perhaps, be even more attention for the Dakota than usual, as 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift – Operation Plainfare as the RAF named it – which took place between June 1948 and May 1949. C-47 Dakotas played a major part in transporting food and supplies into the German city after the Soviets cut-off all surface routes into Berlin. Contrary to what some believe though, the BBMF Dakota ZA947 did not, in fact, take part in the Berlin Airlift.