SAAF to Celebrate 80 Years of Dakota Excellence
Introduction by Dean Wingrin.
The South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) 35 Squadron is to celebrate 80 years of Dakota Excellence by hosting a formal banquet inside their hangar at AFB Ysterplaat on 5 December 2015.
Known by such names as the Dakota, Dak, Gooney Bird, TurboDak and even Vomit Comet, 2015 commemorates the 80th anniversary of the first flight of the venerable Douglas DC-3 / C-47 forbearer, the Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST) passenger airliner which evolved into the 21-seater DC-3, on 17 December 1935.
Displaying a huge amount of affection for the “grand old lady” of the skies, 35 Squadron took it upon themselves to commemorate this auspicious occasion. Major Andre Vollenhoven of 35 Squadron says that the banquet will celebrate the importance of the Dakota.
Vollenhoven revealed that guests will be treated to static exhibits of the SAAF Museums’ classic C-47 Dakota and a current 35 Squadron C-47TP TurboDak, plus a C-47TP will perform a flypast. This will be followed by a four-course banquet whilst guests are entertained by a comedian. Items of interest to Dakota enthusiasts will also be auctioned.
“For those people attending, it will be a night to remember,” Lt Col Donavan Chetty, Officer Commanding 35 Squadron, enthused.
According to The Dakota Association of South Africa, the DC-3, as the DST was to become known, was the first commercial transport aircraft capable of making a profit from carrying passengers only. Most aeroplanes of its vintage were being subsidised by the carriage of mail and freight, whilst air-travel was only for the daring and the affluent.
With the war clouds of World War Two looming on the horizon, the civilian DC-3 was developed into the military C-47 Dakota, powered by two Pratt and Whitney radial engines, with an enlarged cargo door and strengthened fuselage. Along with the Jeep and the Bazooka, General Patton announced it to be one of the major contributors to the victory in the Second World War.
The C-47 was capable of transporting 10,000 lbs (4 536 kg) of cargo or 27 passengers in permanent seats or configured for 28 paratroopers. By the time the last Dakota left the assembly line in 1946, a total of 10 655 DC-3, C-47 and associated variants has been produced.
The Dakota has seen over 72 years of military service in South Africa. The aircraft entered SAAF service in 1943 when the RAF passed a number of their fleet onto the SAAF. By the end of World War Two, a total of 84 Lend-Lease Dakotas had been transferred to the SAAF.
At the cessation of hostilities in 1945, a large number of surplus Dakotas were disposed of, including transferring some to South African Airways. The survivors of the SAA fleet later found their way back to the SAAF in 1971.
When sanctions were imposed on South Africa in the mid-70s, a number of Dakotas were purchased from various sources to supplement those still in SAAF service. In total 16 were added to the SAAF strength. At one stage, the SAAF had the distinction of operating the largest remaining fleet of Dakotas in the world.
The Dakota performed yeoman service during the Border War from the 1960s through to the end of hostilities in 1988, performing such roles as troop transport, resupply, medical evacuation, paratrooping and other ancillary activities. Her toughness stood her in good stead.
During one particular mission near the South West African/Angolan border on 1 May 1986, a Dakota of 44 Squadron, commanded by Captain Colin Green, was hit by a SAM-7 surface-to-air missile while transporting high-ranking officials. The missile strike resulted in the loss of most of the rudder and a large proportion of the elevators. The pilot managed to keep the aircraft in the air and on course to AFB Ondangwa, where it was landed safely with no injuries to its crew or passengers.
Following the end of the Border War, the number of squadrons operating the Dakota was reduced, along with the disposal of airframes.
The early 1990s saw a large number of Dakotas upgraded to “TurboDak” configuration under Project Felstone. This conversion involved replacing the piston engines of the classic Dakota with two Pratt and Whitney PT6A 65R turboprop engines, lengthening of the fuselage and the installation of modern avionics. Thereafter, the aircraft were re-designated as the C-47TP TurboDak. Between 1989 and 1994, twelve aircraft were converted to C-47TP standard.
35 Squadron has been associated with the Dakota since 1985, when several C-47s were acquired to replace the recently retired Avro Shackleton MR3 in the maritime surveillance role.
When 25 and 27 Squadrons were amalgamated with 35 Squadron on 31 December 1990, additional Dakotas were utilised for air transport, leaving the Squadron responsible for both the Maritime and Transport roles. The classic piston-engined workhorses were finally withdrawn in September 1994 and replaced with the modified turbine engine C47TP Dakota.
Apart from the Squadron’s maritime role and transport role (consisting of paratrooping, target towing, scheduled passenger services, aero medical evacuation and logistical support), the Squadron also performs other support functions. These include electronic intelligent gathering, tactical image (photo) reconnaissance and numerous training functions, such as navigator and telecommunication operator training.
As a result of rationalisation that has taken place over the last few years, only eight C-47TPs remain in SAAF service, where they serve with 35 Squadron in Cape Town in a variety of roles. The variants operated are: five maritime surveillance configured aircraft, two in transport configuration and one as an Electronic Warfare platform.
Thus, 35 Squadron continues as the only squadron in the world still utilising the DC-3 / C-47 Dakota in the military role.
The banquet will be held on Saturday, 5 December 2015 at 17h30 for 18h00 at AFB Ysterplaat, Cape Town. Whilst tickets for the 80 Years of Dakota Excellence banquet are selling out quickly, there is still time for Dakota enthusiasts to attend the event as the closing date has been extended to Friday, 27 November. Tickets are R300 per person. Please contact Maj. Andre Vollenhoven (0798845742 / 0215086308 or
) for further details.