The C-47 Dakota was manufactured in the USA by Douglas in March 1942 and initially issued to the United States Army Air Force. In September that year the aircraft was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and served in Canada during World War Two. It was subsequently deployed to Europe with the RCAF until declared surplus to requirements by the Canadians in 1971.
The Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough then purchased the aircraft, which was allocated the UK military serial number KG661, as it had carried the serial ‘661’ with the Canadians. During her time with the RAE, the Dakota was used for a variety of tasks and trials, including dropping sonabuoys through holes cut in the fuselage and for launching remotely piloted vehicles. Cleared for dropping paratroops, she often displayed in this role and occasionally appeared in the static park at air shows. For some time, however, there had been doubt about the allocated serial number. Research showed that the serial ‘KG661’ had previously belonged to a Dakota that had been destroyed in an accident. So the serial number was changed to a new one - ZA947. In 1992 the Defence Research Agency, the successor to the RAE, declared ZA947 surplus to requirements.
The aircraft was adopted by Strike Command and issued to the BBMF in March 1993. In 2004, an original and authentic floor and interior was re-fitted to the Dakota, returning the cabin to the original, wartime specification. As there are now no other multi-engine tail wheel aircraft in RAF service outside the BBMF, the Dakota is 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 Lancaster pilots each year. In addition to this role though, the Dakota is a sought-after display aircraft in her own right and, as such, she appears regularly on the air show circuit either on her own or as part of a BBMF formation. She continues to be capable of para-dropping and is used in that role for special commemorative events.
ZA947 is now painted to represent Dakota FZ692 of No 233 Squadron, around the D-Day period in 1944. This aircraft, which was named ‘Kwicherbichen’ by her crews, was involved in Para-dropping operations on the eve of D-Day and subsequently in re-supply and casualty evacuation missions into and out of forward airfields in the combat areas. The female nurses who escorted the casualties on these flights became known as ‘The Flying Nightingales’. By the end of 1944, 1,092 stretcher cases and 467 sitting wounded had been evacuated to England by the 233 Squadron Dakotas.
To read more about the 233 Squadron operations, Dakota FZ692 ‘Kwicherbichen’ and aeromedical casualty evacuation in 1944 and today click here.