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  • Luke Nickerson

Duxford To Normandy, The Final Leg




On the planned day of departure, 5 June, everyone was ready to go, early. Admittedly, we’d had too many days here, but given the potential for delay (weather, mechanicals, bureaucracy, health) on the previous nine legs we’d done the right thing. There could be worse things than being stuck in Duxford. All crews for all the DC3s (now totaling about 30 - most from America, but others from the UK, Norway, Finland, France, Romania, Switzerland and Denmark) gathered for the 0900 briefing for the day’s flight. The ETD, altitude (1,400ft to stay clear of Stansted airspace) route of flight, abort procedures, arrival procedures were all given and clarified. The first eight airplanes, mostly C47s (military version of the DC3) but some DC3s with their door removed would lead the line, carrying “sticks” of paratroopers.


Original ETD was 1340, but was pushed back to 1540. I think by about 1600 all machines had their engines running, in line on the taxiway (in the correct order!) ready for take-off.


About 8:47 into the video – N18121


The briefed take-off procedure was: taxi into position on the runway just ahead of the runway numbers (in today’s case 24L) as the aircraft ahead starts its take-off roll. In that position hold the brakes and as the leading aircraft’s tail wheel lifts, push our throttles to 30 inches manifold pressure. When daylight can be seen between the leading aircraft’s main wheels and the ground begin our take-off roll. For the most part this was practiced, which resulted in about one minute spacing between each aircraft.


About at the 7:37 and 10:11 marks


After take-off bank right onto an easterly course, climb and maintain 1,400 feet and hold a speed of 120 knots. The ceiling at that time was about 2,000 feet, which kept everyone pretty much at 1,400ft. This altitude and airspeed were ideal for observing the ground – “low and slow” as we say. Windows open and watch the ground roll under us. We headed east to a way-point just west of England’s east coast, then turn south. We travel southerly over the eastern edge of England and just passing over the southeast tip.


Beachy Head, lands-end


Below we could see thousands of cars and people watching us. We flash the landing lights in a salute of recognition and thanks. We read in the press days later that many airplanes in our line did this, and the crowds on the ground responded with enthusiastic cheers and waves – Britons have not forgotten the meaning of June 6, 1944.


From here we cross the channel to Le Havre, passing directly over their airfield and make a westerly turn. On completion of the turn we were aimed right down the beaches of Normandy – Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha (Utah was too far to see.) The jump planes peeled off to the left, in formation, to drop their jumpers. We continued to Caen, passed over the town and entered left downwind traffic for runway 31. Watching all aircraft land, one after the other, was thrilling.


We taxied onto a long, wide green grass taxiway and parked beside the others. Once engines stopped turning, Luke opened the door, put in the gear pins and wheel chocks one last time, scurried back up the stairs and handed everyone a paper cup. He pulled out the magnum of California sparkling wine we’d brought along just for this moment and all thirteen of us drank in thanks for our mission completed and in remembrance of the sacrifices made by so many for us 75 years before.


Contributed by Pete Nickerson




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