On Saturday the 21st and Sunday the 22nd of May, an iconic plane will fly from Ostend. A unique experience, especially for an aviation enthusiast like our man. He joined him on board to make a half-hour scenic flight over Bruges and Zeebrugge at low altitude.
Royal Dakota DC-3 ‘Princess Amalia’ was built in 1944 and is owned by the Dutch fund DDA Classic Airlines.
The aviation error has hit me for almost 30 years. No wonder I whispered to my wife and daughters about maybe bringing out my dad’s day gift for a few weeks. My aviation heart took a leap when the confirmation email about flying the DC-3 finally landed in the mailbox.
The sound of freedom
Few aircraft are as iconic as the DC-3 Dakota. The sound of the two Pratt & Whitney R 1830-92 ‘Twin Wasp’ radial engines of 1200 hp each is the sound of freedom. Before and during World War II, approximately 11,000 copies of this type were built in various variants.
It played a crucial role as a means of transport to liberate Europe. After the war, many aircraft were resold to civil aviation to resume business. Today, there are still almost 180 units flying regularly worldwide. ‘Our’ DC3 today is one of them.
There are a number of TUI flights departing from the airport departure hall. While the passengers check in, I, along with a few others, am somewhat out of place among the holiday crowd.
We are welcomed by two ladies from the Dutch Dakota Association and introduce ourselves to our pilot Arjan van Adrichem, our pilot for today.
Paratroopers on D-Day
“The DC-3 Princess Amalia is the only DC-3 aircraft still flying in the Netherlands,” explains the pilot, who is a volunteer at DDA Classic Airlines. “The plane is almost 80 years old and has a very rich history. For example, this unit came into action during D-Day in June 1944 to drop paratroopers, and it was used during Operation ‘Market Garden’ (Battle of Arnhem).
“After the war, it served as the first Dutch government aircraft before being used by the Rijksluchtvaartdienst. From 1975, it was exhibited in a museum.”
HRH Prince Bernhard has always wished that his ‘own’ Dakota would one day be made airworthy again. Twenty years after the last flight with PH-PBA, this wish came true. After a thorough restoration, the aircraft made its maiden flight in 1995. “
DC-3 is owned by the DDA Classic Airlines Foundation. DDA Classic Airlines has an AOC (Air Operator Certificate), the highest recognition in civil aviation. With this, she flies the historic DC-3 under the same strict safety regulations as the major international airlines. ”
“The foundation is a 100% voluntary organization committed to preserving Dutch flying heritage so that future generations can also learn about developments in aviation and experience what it is like to fly in a historic aircraft.”
For the pilots – active airline pilots who fly daily with Dutch airlines – it is still real to fly with DC-3. No computers or autopilot, but with hands and feet. It is also a passion for them, because according to them, it also requires extra training to be allowed to fly with the DC3, which they also pay for themselves.
After the security check, we can get on the bus that takes us to the plane. ‘Our’ DC3 lights up on the apron. Before boarding, we can take plenty of time to take photos and take selfies, or the crew likes to take a moment to take a picture of us in front of the plane.
With 18 passengers on the plane, we have significantly more legroom than the average plane. There will of course be a briefing with the safety instructions. The two DDA technicians stand around the plane to help the pilots start the engines.
While the Pratt & Whitneys slowly warm up, an elderly lady treats you with care, the pilot explains as he looks into the cabin. A closed cockpit was not yet a requirement for construction in 1944.
We can leave. The stewardess also takes her place. In a previous life she was a flight attendant at KLM, but in the meantime she works in the health service, but the flight error has also taken hold of her, and she is one of almost a hundred volunteers who with great passion maintain this flying aviation heritage.
Just before turning on the runway, the speed goes up. One last test we are ready for departure. A short run and we feel the tail wheel lift off the ground. The wheels are off the ground.
Admiration for Bruges
We turn inland and below us we see Gistel and E40 pass. We are allowed to fasten our seat belts and are invited to walk around and look for it to our heart’s and take a look at the cockpit. We are approaching Bruges because Jan Breydel Stadium is moving under us
I wait nicely for my turn in the narrow corridor to once again admire ‘my’ city from the air. We also see admiration for Bruges in the cockpit. The other pilot also takes the smartphone in hand to photograph a Bruges: “It’s still unique for us to do this”, says pilot Arjan with a smile as big as ours.
After a round of Bruges, it continues towards the coast. The harbor in Zeebrugge dives in front of us and we swing over Blankenberge to fly parallel to the beach. We follow the coastline to return to Ostend. The end of our half hour of flying fun is almost over.
Back in the chair and fasten your seatbelts, the intercom sounds. The wheels hit the ground again. We receive an official flight certificate. A once-in-a-lifetime experience is over.
The DC-3 will operate a total of five flights from Ostend. The flights all take between 30 and 60 minutes. Ticket prices for these iconic flights started from 150 euros.
Tickets for these sightseeing flights this weekend are sold out. DDA Classic Airlines could not rule out whether they would return to Ostend after this first weekend. But those who want to experience for themselves what it is like to fly with the Dakota DC-3, can book a flight from different places in the Netherlands.
More information can be found at www.dutchdakota.nl/nl/boek-een-vlucht/plan-en-boek/