Arnhem Dakota drop © Gary Eason
High Wycombe, 24 Apr 2014
When I am making pictures I need to know what various details of an aircraft look like in order to portray it correctly, and for that nothing beats being able to go and see one.
I spent an enjoyable time the other day poking around in the lovely little De Havilland Aircraft Museum, being able to pore over every rivet and glued joint of their Mosquitos - my chief interest.
And I had the great privilege recently of being able to clamber around inside and sit in the cockpit of a 1942 Douglas Dakota at North Weald airfield, thanks to David Petters of Dakotair / the RAF Transport Command Memorial.
They are aiming to have three of these venerable aircraft in D-Day livery carrying passengers, and commissioned me to make the picture you see above as part of the fund-raising effort. If you would like to support them by buying a print, click here.
The picture depicts Dakota KG374, YS-DM of No 271 Squadron, flown by Flt Lt David Lord, who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross, the UK's highest military award for valour, for his efforts to resupply the British forces at Arnhem in 1944.
I have read about how rugged the Dakota supposedly was and how it could survive a remarkable amount of battle damage. But standing next to one in a dimly-lit hangar, then clambering inside (using the 'flashlight' apps on our mobile phones as torches), I was struck by the sheer lightweight flimsiness of its largely aluminium alloy construction.
It makes me marvel all the more at the bravery of those who flew them into combat zones loaded with men and materiel - let alone jumped out of them.
Those of us who love old 'planes are hugely indebted to the people who maintain some of them in flying condition or - next best thing - in museum condition. So here's to them all.