The RCAF C-47 Dakota's, Stories and Photo's

All photographs and stories on this page were supplied by Bill Ewing aka, the ol' sarg'

A friend of mine, Bill Ewing, sent in some excellent photographs from his personal collection and also sent many of the stories during his time with the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) C-47's. Bill even told me via E-Mail, to get a hair cut too (grin). My thanks to Bill, for is invaluable input to this site. There will be much more to come from Bill.

Bill Ewing had this to say....

I served 37 years with the Canadian military and did three separate tours on the Dak. I ended up on 402 "City of Winnipeg" Air Reserve Squadron. We flew the last of the C-47s in RCAF/CAF inventory. When they were finally retired in 1989, I provided the artwork for the refurbishing of the two that made the farewell flight across Canada. The eastern half of the tour was flown by the C47 in European markings, RCAF circa 1945. The western tour aircraft was in 435 Squadron, SEA Command, "Canucks Unlimited". I was a crewman on the Dak, and then instructed in Technical Trades Training with the Squadron. The aircraft retired a couple of years before I tx'ed, but she will always be #1 in my heart. I had a few problems but the old girl never let me down. At the same time I was teaching the airframe to young sprogs, my civvie job was doing inspections on Pratt & Whitney engines, R-985, R-1340, and R-1830.

The colour schemes were added for the cross-Canada farewell flights. I researched the colour schemes and drew them up, complete with the required details for the wing and fuselage markings. The aircraft were flown to the Canadian Forces Base at Trenton, Ontario, for painting, and this is were I lost control of the job. Even though I had even included the Fed numbers for the required colours, things did not come out 100%. For instance, the "Canucks Unlimited" on the west aircraft ended up as gray rather than white. I will never hear the end of the east bird. A lot of my chums are down that way and saw it. Someone couldn't find the correct flat colour, so ended up painting the "sand & spinach" with a BRIGHT GREEN which I was informed they bought at the local truck body shop. You can see it in the photos. The last couple of shots are of "Pinnochio". This C47 came to the squadron from Cold Lake, Alberta. It was used, along with "Dolly's Folly" and "Woody Woodpecker" to train CF-104 pilots in the intricacies of NASAAR radar. Each had a large ground-power unit installed in the rear fuselage, the nose radar from the 104, and training consoles for the students. Of course, the training was easier as the Dak can only cruise at 180 Kts rather than the 104's 600 Kts. "Woody Woodpecker" was written off when someone tried to fly it between a pair of range targets on the Primrose Lake range. It was winter and the targets were frozen in and didn't move. Dolly was cleaned up once she came on squadron. When finally stripped out, the wiring alone weighed in at over 600 lbs. Back in the early eighties, I had just joined 402 Squadron as an instructor and was asked to come up with some sort of a plan with which to award those students who had done well during their summer training. I put forward the idea that we take one of our Daks, load it up with the deserving students and fly down to Harlington, Texas, for the Confederate Air Show in October. The Commanding Officer liked the idea, and so two days before the show, we loaded up one of the birds and headed south. If you take off on runway 18 here in Winnipeg, and you have the fuel, your next stop can be Harlington without even touching your rudder. Dead south all the way. Actually, we had to land for fuel in Lincoln, Nebraska, and them did an RON at San Antonio, but that was to enable everyone to stop vibrating. Once there, the Confederates asked out CO to take part in the show and so that year the Transport Fly-By was lead by 402 Squadron in a stock stock we still used the old canvas troop seats. The only change to the inside was the deletion of the radio operator's position. We used that space for crew luggage. The aircraft Crewman (me) usually flew in the Navigator's seat as we didn't use navigators.

Dakota Farewell Flights west - Dakota 12963 painted as KG790, "P" of 437 "Tusker" Squadron, "Canucks Unlimited", SEA, Oct 1944 east - Dakota 12944 painted as KG389, "Z2*B" of 437 "Husky" Squadron. This aircraft was one which took part in 437's first mission flown just three days after squadron formation. This was "Operation Market Garden", the dropping of the British airborne force at Arnheim, Holland.

Is it possible to nose over a Dak on the ramp?? YOU BETCHA!! Here in Winnipeg, a new Sargeant was celebrating his new stripes and the responsibilities thereof by doing a run-up on a Dak just out of maintenance. He had the bird parked into the wind and the chocks installed. He carefully carried out the engine pre-start checklist and got both P & W's running. Now HERE is were he screws up. To do a full power check on the Dak can be a long and tiring process. You have to be careful to keep the wheel back in your lap for the entire time and that gets a little hard on the arms. Our intrepid birdman decided to make life a little easier, so he reached down and flipped on the auto-pilot. Now normally this is not a bad thing and it does make the strain on the arms easier. HOWEVER. In this case, the Sarg forgot to check just what the setting on the autopilot elevator control was. It was NOT in the nose up setting. In fact, it was in the FULL NOSE DOWN. With the power up, the second he flipped the autopilot on, the wheel pulled out of his hands as the tail came up and the nose went down and the aircraft tried to fly itself into the concrete. The result was that all the propellers blades were ground off and required replacement, both engines had to go back for teardown as both runouts were well abve limits, and the Sargeant had a lot of explaining to do in order to keep his new stripes. (and, by the way, it was NOT me!!!) It is interesting to note that if you happen to know just where the aircraft was parked, you can find two spots where aluminum is ground into the concrete....evidence of where the blade tips came in contact. But, did you know that if you try to turn the tailwheel while towing the aircraft with the lock on, it makes the same sound as someone kicking an empty 45 gallon drum as the lock pin breaks!!!

The photographs below are of Pinnochio and some of our Daks. The interior shot is just to prove how rugged we Canucks can be. Try flying max range in such comfort. Note the high class coffee cups and the plain white boxes holding who-knew-what in the way of CAF in-flight lunches. And no matter where you slept on those canvas troop seat, one of the support bars was going to get you right across the small of your back!!!! The individual deeply engrossed in the pocket book is your truly. The shot was taken toward the rear of the compartment and it must have been on the way down....on the way back, there weren't nobody sitting up!!!

Basler did eventually end up with all but one of our Daks. And in there is a story. When they were retired from the Canadian military, the Daks were put into storage. While they were there, Crown Assets, the governmental agency responsible for selling off federally owned material inspected the aircraft. They then came out with a ruling that the Daks could not be sold in Canada. Their reasoning was that (and are you ready for this), the wiring in the aircraft wings was of the vintage that the wrappings contained asbestos and that the government could be sued if it caused lung problems!!! Have you ever?? Anyway, the entire nine aircraft were sold to a broker in Connecticut. He kept the lowest time one, "Miss Piggy" (another story for you), and sold the remainder to Basler. I have his name and address somewhere in my files, but I do not know where yet.

When I joined 402 "City of Winnipeg" Air Reserve Squadron in 1983, there had been one Dakota sited in the hangar and used as a training machine by hundreds of Air Frame, Air Engine, and allied trade technician "wannabees". The tail number was 12907, and she was a sorry sight. In addition to the wear and tear of being torn apart and mucked about with for years, some artistically inclined type had painted the name "Miss Piggy" on the nose. Sometime during my first year in the Training Section, someone who was probably promoted (or tossed out) for his remarkable foresight, was reading through the aircraft maintenance sheets. He (or she) discovered that poor "Miss Piggy" had the lowest number of airframe hours of any of our nine Dakotas. At the time, she had a mere 12,000 hours....a child. The rest of the fleet were up around 18,000 at the time. The training plan had been altered by then and she was only gathering dust. The decision was made to restore her and put her back into service. Easier said than done. Through the years, she had been treated rather shabbily. Both engines and propellers had been replaced with time-expired units, radios were none-existent, the instrument panel had gapping holes, and various and sundry bits and pieces were M.I.A. More critical, all of the floorboards had been removed to allow people to practice cable installation and tensioning, and nobody knew where they were!!! Have you ever tried to replace items which were no longer in manufacture and of which there were no drawings?? Oh. but it is fun!! 907 was dragged over to the maintenance hangar and the work started. The propellers and engines were removed and shipped out to contractor for overhaul. My day-time job at the time was with Standard Aero Ltd. here in Winnipeg at the Recip.Shop ....overhauling Pratt & Whitney engines. My Reserve Air Force job was that I was dragged out of the training section and put to work heading up the crew which was trying to put the airframe back into some sort of shape. So, there I was. Working away at the airframe and controls at night and on weekends, and inspecting all of the various parts which make up the innards of the P & W R-1830. Then the lightbulb went off over somebody's head and I started handling both engine & airframe installations. It also turned out that I was the only one in the entire squadron who had ever done any rib-stitching. Now I got to much about with fabric & dope. But then someone else took a look at how long the task was taking and with two part-time engines (SAL hadn't finished the other two yet) and a pair of borrowed propellers, "Miss Piggy" was flown to the Aircraft Maintenance Depot in Trenton, Ontario, and was given a complete C.A.I.R. program. We got her back with a shiny new paint scheme, overhauled engines and propellers, new radios, all of the holes in the instrument panel filled, and from-I-don't-know-where.....floorboards in the cargo compartment!! Well, that is, we almost got her back. She left Trenton on schedule, and thundered her way west....until all the crud which had not been cleaned out of the tanks managed to collect itself in the fuel pump sumps. Then things go real quiet!!! The crew managed to get her back onto a convenient runway, and so another three days was spent cleaning out what should never have been in the first place. "Miss Piggy" had been repainted and had lost her "unofficial" name, but she got even. Not only the youngest Dakota we had on strength, she turned out to be the fastest and the easiest to fly. Her autopilot worked without leaking hydraulic fluid from here to the tailwheel. You could trim her to fly hands-off with a mere flick of the wrist. And all of her radios just kept sending and receiving. When the Dakota was retired from Canadian military service, all of the aircraft ended up being purchased by an individual in Connecticut. He wrote and asked me for her story and then decided to keep her for his own personal use and sold the rest to Basler. I have looked through what files I have left of squadron stuff, but his name is not evident.

Into the Air - Straight Up !!

By the ol' Sarg. Bill Ewing.

It's Friday morning…it's early Friday morning. But the flight is scheduled for early departure so I drag my weary body into the hangar to prep my appointed Dakota for the trip. This is not fair; the pilots are probably still a-bed and my eyes aren't even fully open.

Now "the book" requires that the Before Flight Inspection be completed and signed out, and when I read the aircraft log, this has been accomplished. The signatures are a blur, but they are all in their proper places. With a primal grunt in the direction of the Duty Sargeant, I point myself toward the aircraft. I know the aircraft has been checked and I'm a trusting soul….up to a point. As usual, however, there is this small nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me that, "if I ain't checked it, it ain't been checked."

First move, check the tail number. I've already made that mistake!! Yup!! This is my aircraft. I throw my gear inside and start my walkaround check. Oh, I know. The servicing crew has checked it, and the pilots will check it, but there is still that small annoying voice. So far, so good. The bird is clean and everything seems okay.

Until I check the port engine oil!!!

I unbutton the oil tank cap cover and reach for the cap, to discover it just laying there!!! NOW I'M AWAKE!!! Wide awake!!! Some clothhead has checked the tank and left the cap off and then secured the cover!!!

My shout rattled windows, shook doors, and probably woke up the Base Commander. I'm down off the wing and into the servicing shack. My chum, the Duty Sargeant, has become my mortal enemy. It takes him five minutes to calm me down to where he can make out what I'm screaming about. Poor Denny. It's not his fault but he's getting the hell for it. When my shaking calms down to mere trembles, the two of us return to the Dak to confirm my findings.

Now finding an oil cap off may not be a big deal to some, but for an aircrew type, it can cause all sorts of problems. Firstly, during take-off, all the oil in that particular engine tank will vent out. Quickly!! With no oil, that engine will become a non-reciprocating engine and have the power value of a boat anchor. In addition, it will cause all sorts of consternation in the cockpit. It will upset the pilots and they will not have had their coffee yet. I know. I make it, usually right after take-off. When the pilots get upset, they will yell at me because I'm the Crewman and some pilots believe that crewmen are for taking frustrations out on. Not only that, but during any panic period in the cockpit, I am mere mobile ballast and unable to do much more than wait for the crash. In this instance, however, the problem was discovered and the proper corrective action taken….ie…reinstall the oil tank cap.

I never did find out the name of the individual who had the oversight to do the dirty deed and he'd better hope I never do. Although, I did hear of one young airman who did a lot of extra duties – but that might have been for something else.

This photo (below) is the 402 Squadron all lined up for some ceremony or other. The nearest Dakota is 907, "Miss Piggy" after her restoration to flying status. If you carefully examine the photo, the squadron badge has been applied over where the nose numbers used to be and you can make out the skin discolouration from the number decals.

Straight Up – Going Down

By "the ol’ Sarg"

Northern airstrips in Canada often leave a lot to be desired. They are regularly rough, with ungraded surfaces, with few navigation aids, and bad approaches for incoming aircraft. Many of the trips flown by the RCAF Dakotas were to strips such as these. The trick for crewmen was to keep an eye on the flight board and avoid them through whatever ruse one could come up with.

I lost the toss on one such trip. It was scheduled to take a group of government types into an airstrip on an Indian reservation (to be politically correct these days, it should be Aboriginal settlement). Anyway, the black shoes were going in to inspect the recently completed repairs that had been carried out as part of the government improvements program.

The day dawned with reasonable weather forecasted for the duration of the trip. The aircraft was ready on time, the crew was ready on time, and surprisingly enough, the government inspectors were ready on time. All were loaded aboard, and away we all flew.

The approach was as bad as ever, with lake, trees and rocks in the most awkward places. Standing as I usually did on the approach, between the pilots, I had an excellent view of all the spots you wouldn’t want to touch down.

With a silent prayer of relief, the pilots got the trusty Dakota onto the gravel with a landing that I rated as a seven-and-a-half.

The improvements to the strip had included a re-grading of the entire length as well as enlarging of the parking area, and to my surprise, asphalt on the parking area as well.

We parked the aircraft and all trooped into the "passenger terminal" for a coffee while the inspectors did their thing. It was going to take a while. I decided that with the time available, I would unlimber my trusty fishing rod and try my hand off the end of the runway. Tip for novice northern fliers: never leave home without your rod and a full tacklebox.

Time passed, and I caught a few, but released them all. I was just there for the enjoyment. I packed up my gear and headed back down the runway toward the terminal. As I got closer, it struck me as a little strange, but all of the passengers, the crew, and many of the local natives were gathered around the front of the aircraft. I picked up my pace just a little.

I guess everyone in the neighbourhood was there. As I came up to the Dakota, I could see that the mainwheels had sunk into the fresh tarmac. Whoever had laid it had not done much more than flatten it down over the gravel already there, and it wasn’t strong enough to take the weight of a Dakota. The wheels had sunk straight down, so there wasn’t even a ramp to roll up. I could just see the locals trying to dig the asphalt up with pickaxes and doing all sorts of damage to the underside of my cowlings, oil coolers, and wing surfaces. I was about to make comment when the captain came back from the terminal building. He announced that he had called back to base and that they were sending out a recovery crew. (Thanks, Superman!! I would have liked to have had a shot at it before calling in the cavalry!!)

A while later, a second Dakota made its controlled crash and taxied up. Wisely, that captain decided to park the aircraft on the end of the runway. Out piled the recovery crew, complete with their tools of the trade. Off came people, a compressor, air bags, aluminum planking; all sorts of fancy stuff. I figured that this group didn’t get much chance to use all this stuff back at base, so they made an exercise of it. With much ado, they lined up the air bags under the wings, hooked up the compressor, and proceeded to inflate them. They worked exactly as advertised. My aircraft lifted slowly up out of the holes. Then stopped!! The air bags could not inflate quite enough for the wheels to clear the holes!! Now what.

Deflate everything. Time for some skull work. Ideas were tossed about, but there always seemed to be something show up that prevented that idea from working. Finally I wondered out loud if anyone had thought to bring along a pair of the steel hooks we used to use to prevent the undercarriage legs from extending during jacking procedures when time was short. No!! The local chief asked for a description of the parts we needed. With the explanation in his mind, he asked for some measurements. He disappeared down the road and came back a while later with two pieces of reinforcing rod (called Re-bar), bent to shape. I gingerly fitted the things in place and stood back. The undercarriage oleos were still fully inflated and if the bars failed, I didn’t want to be around.

Once more the compressor was started and once more the bag were inflated. This time, with the hooks in place, the gear legs stayed compressed and before the bags stopped inflating, the wheels were clear of the holes. Gravel was quickly shoveled in, and the aluminum planking laid under the wheels. The bags were deflated and my Dakota pushed clear of the soft parking area and back onto the strip.

The second aircraft had to be loaded and gone before we could take off, so we said our good-byes to the locals. With the biggest grin I have ever seen on anyone’s face, the chief told me to take the hooks with me in case I ever needed them again.

It was a quiet trip back, and I managed to avoid the majority of the flak that appeared once we showed up in the squadron ops office. The number one question was, why had we parked there. I stuck up for the pilots this once…because that was the designated parking area!!