The Dakota

As a child I lived most of my life in the village of Ifield. It got subsumed into Crawley new Town as that was built, but was still on the edge of town.

Then another big building project began to the north of Ifield. This was the building of the new Gatwick Airport which opened in 1958.

The end of the runway was little more than a mile from my house. I became, for a while, an aircraft spotter. But do you know what? It was tedious. You could hang around for hours and see no aircraft take off or land. Those you did see were the little De Havilland Doves and Herons, the ‘big’ turboprop Vickers Viscounts but mostly they were American built Douglas Dakotas or the similar looking British built Vickers Viking.

Just occasionally a Bristol Britannia might appear or a Lockheed Constellation.

Eleven years later the Dakota was still in evidence, but becoming more of a rarity. In 1969, on a visit to the British United Airways depot, we saw this one.

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For once in those days of the late 60s I have captioned this well.

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This was quite an old girl even back in 1969 for she came off the production line in mid-1944, making her just about 25 when I took that photo. She still had a dozen years of front line service in front of her, though, and still survives. She is now in the care of a charity called ‘Classic Air Force’ and you can read a full history of this plane on their web site at http://www.classicairforce.com/g-amra .

And now a memory from the late 50s. Dakotas were used to deliver newspapers to the Channel Islands. I guess early editions were rushed from the presses down to Gatwick and trundled on to a waiting Dakota. If the wind was in the east the planes taxied up to the runway end nearest my home where they carried out a high rev engine test before taking off. Sometimes the noise of that test woke me and I can still recall the sound of those engines now. Although it was at something like 3 in the morning, I quite liked this noise which broke the silence of the night.

 

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