19 January 2019 (Updated with additional content on 28 January 2019) | Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Last week, on Plane Savers Episode 13: Hidden in Plane Sight, an ebullient Mikey McBryan of the venerable and renown (from the popular ‘Ice Pilots’ television series) Buffalo Airways revealed to viewers that, although the company recently purchased DC-3 FZ668 (C-FDTD) at Montréal/Saint-Hubert Airport for restoration, another (C-FROD) of the enterprise’s airplanes at Red Deer was found to also be a rare veteran of D-Day operations.
C-FROD is a C-47A-20-DK Skytrain (manufacturer’s construction serial number 13028) which was built in the United States of America by the Douglas Aircraft Company at a plant located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She was taken on strength by the United States Army Air Forces under serial 42-108918.
Subsequently, the aeroplane was transferred under ‘Lend-Lease‘ to the Royal Air Force (RAF), assigned the serial ‘KG 545’ and re-designated a ‘Dakota Mk. III’.
Approximately 2,000 American-built C-47s saw service with British and Commonwealth militaries. These aircraft were designated ‘Dakotas’.
Buffalo Airways acquired the bird circa 1978-1979 and eventually registered her with Transport Canada as ‘C-FROD’. Inexplicably, the plane was overlooked and nearly forgotten as she sat ingloriously in the back storage area of the company’s Red Deer Regional Airport storage and maintenance facility.
In the aftermath of the surprising and ironic discovery Mikey McBryan proudly stated the following: “We have three D-Day birds now, more than anyone else in the world.”
On the eve (5 June 1944) of D-Day in excess of 1,000 C-47s and Dakotas were tasked with dropping paratroops and delivering equipment and munitions by towing Airspeed Horsa and WACO CG-4A Hadrian assault gliders to landing zones behind the beachheads. KG 545 was one of the Dakotas to shine that night.
At 2249 hours, RAF Wing Commander Booth, of No. 271 Squadron, RAF, who was at the controls of KG 545, led six other Dakota ‘tugs’ with Horsa gliders attached by cable from RAF Down Ampney (view Plane Savers Episode 27: C-47’s Around the World) to ‘Landing Zone V’ near Varaville, France. There was reportedly no enemy fighter interference and only inaccurate anti-aircraft fire was encountered.
Visibility was generally good, and all the Horsas, each carrying 20 paratroopers of the 3rd Parachute Brigade and equipment (7 Jeeps, 4 trailers, Ordnance QF 2 6-pounder anti-tank/field guns and 4 motorcycles, which were distributed amongst the powerless craft), were released over the proper area on time at altitudes between approximately 304 and 518 metres (1,000 to 1,700 feet).
Many historians are of the opinion that at least until 1944, when the Douglas C-54 Skymaster began entering service in appreciable numbers, the C-47s/Dakotas were probably the most capable and versatile transport aircraft in service anywhere. It is no wonder ‘Daks’ flew in every theatre of operations.
Notably the former Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, U.S. Army Major General Dwight David Eisenhower, himself a licensed pilot, wrote in Crusade in Europe (page 174) that the C-47 was one of the most important machines employed by the Allies.
As Mikey McBryan stated in Plane Savers Episode 15: Brothers in Arms, it is Buffalo Airways’ uncelebrated but dedicated ground crews who labour tirelessly and in harsh and foreboding conditions to keep the planes in the air. And it was even more dangerous, being in forward areas where enemy attack could commence at any time, for their WW2 RCAF and RAF predecessors. These riggers, fitters, armourers and ground service personnel duly toiled with few accolades.
One example is former RCAF Leading Aircraftman (L.A.C.) Peter Robinson, who, at age 96, is residing in British Columbia. Peter served with No. 435 (T) ‘Chinthe’ Squadron, which supported British forces with Dakotas from the airfield at Tulihul, India.
Notably, like the almost forgotten KG 545, there were other enlistees — thousands of Americans attired in Canadian or British uniforms who have been virtually lost in history. They were members of Canada’s or the United Kingdom’s armed forces, or ancillary supporting organisations including RAF Ferry Command and Air Transport Auxiliary/Command. During the conflict the male and female pilots of these two groups ferried Dakotas and many other types wherever they were needed.
Researchers with Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta continue to uncover names and service records, and like Buffalo Airways’ plans to restore the D-Day planes, their efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has taken note these heroes, many of whom perished in the course of performing their duties. (At least 700 Americans died while in RCAF service alone.) According to a communication dated 21 November 2018, she directed one of her ministers to refer the matter to Prime Minister Theresa May with the request that the proposal be taken under advisement. The latest news, received earlier today, is that the issue is now in the hands of the U.K. Ministry of Defence.
In the U.S. Congress, on 5 February 2019, legislation that would, in part, recognise these valiant American men and women will be introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. There are hopes that official governmental acknowledgement will also be forthcoming from the Canadian Parliament.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Airways admirably continues to proactively pay tribute to veterans.
Prior to Remembrance Day 2015, Buffalo Airways posted a unique visual on the firm’s Facebook page, and Mikey McBryan’s Plane Savers daily instalments often contain salutes.
With the 75th anniversary of D-Day approaching, the Buffalo Airways staff hope to have the Dak trio at least airworthy.
Authentic Second World War liveries may be applied to the restored transports at a later date, but, simply by being aloft, the aeroplanes will be unforgettable and educational testimonies to the men and women who built, maintained, flew, crewed or otherwise supported Allied D-Day operations in Europe and campaigns elsewhere.
Legions of Canadians migrate south to the environs of Florida each winter, but who needs tropical scenery, year-round mild weather and warm sea breezes? Individuals who have an addiction to Second World War warplanes should disregard the snow, ice and frigid temperatures of the aforementioned areas of Canada. Buffalo Airways is currently the centre of focus, and therefore the place to be for a tour is Yellowknife.
Thus, it is time to make one’s flight reservations to YZF. Once there the sight of a Dakota and/or a glimpse of Mikey’s girlfriend Stella in a hooded parka will bloody well warm the cockles of the heart!
The author (John T. Stemple) thanks Mikey McBryan, Buffalo Airways and Jeff Robinson (the proud son of Peter Robinson) for their cooperation and assistance during the preparation of this article.
Sources and Suggested Readings
3rd Parachute Brigade (United Kingdom)
19 September 1944
435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, RCAF
Aircraft C-FROD Data
Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Buffalo Airways: Facebook
Canadian Military Aircraft Serial Numbers Canadian Armed Forces CC-129 Dakota detailed list
City of Yellowknife
Company Overview of Buffalo Airways Ltd.
Douglas C-54 Skymaster
Douglas C-47 Skytrain
Douglas C-47 Skytrain 42-100591 ‘Tico Belle’
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower, Dwight D. Crusade in Europe. New York: Avon Books, 1968, p. 174.
Fantasy of Flight
Gooney Birds in Canada & Alaska
Ice Pilots NWT
Montréal/Saint-Hubert Airport (YHU / CYHU)
No. 525 Squadron RAF
No. 525 Squadron RAF
No. 525 Squadron RAF
525 Sqn | RAF Heraldry Trust
Ordnance QF 6-pounder
RAF Down Ampney
Red Deer Regional Airport
Rickard, J (1 February 2012), No. 525 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/525_wwII.html
WACO CG-4A Hadrian