WW II Dakota Plane Bids Farewell to Belfast
By Graham Bardgett
Although two hours late in its departure from Coventry, it touched down at 4.30pm — its distinctive engine heard across the entire airfield.
As depicted in the famous war film A Bridge Too Far the Dakota had flown paratroopers from 82nd Airborne Division of America into Holland.
This same Dakota had also taken part in the Berlin airlift of 1948 as the Iron Curtain was being erected across Europe, the beginning of the Cold War.
The Belfast Telegraph’s own veteran correspondent Alf McCreary was among the first passengers to board the aircraft as it began a series of sorties across the city.
The Dakota is saying a final farewell to Belfast and other UK airports because of a change in EU regulations concerning airline safety standards which affect it.
Members of the Wartime Living History Association were here in their scores — every single one of them with a lump in their throat as they heard the Dakota land and take off again.
Members wearing the American 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers uniforms in combat helmets and webbing said they had looked forward to this day.
There was even one paratrooper in his distinctive red beret from the 1st Canadian Parachute Division, who all lined up together for a souvenir picture at the door of the aircraft before it took off.
Ulster Aviation Society chairmen Ernest Cromie said: “The wait has been worth it. This aircraft has been the greatest workhorse of the skies for a great many decades and it was the hero of the Berlin airlift and of the paratroopers dropping into Holland.
“Today is a truly historic day for Belfast City Airport.”
And Mr Richard Power, commercial director of the organisers, said: ” Because of aviation rules the Dakota would no longer be taking passengers up in the air over the UK and these were its last flights.
“It is by no means the end… There are 200 around the world and we’ll still see them flying.”
Mr Powers paid tribute to the Dakota for its great history.
The Berlin airlift, the American 82nd Airbourne Division paratrooping of troops into Arnheim, and a host of other wartime operations were just a few examples, he said.
The Dakota begins flying more sorties today from 1pm.
Every passenger who had booked a flight via the sponsors, the Belfast Telegraph, had paid pound(s)100 each for their tickets.
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