Historic flying workhorse takes to Illawarra skies

It was lunchtime yesterday, a warm and sleepy autumn afternoon, when a museum piece from the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society hurtled unexpectedly down the runway at Albion Park Rail and launched its ageing 8000-kilogram mass into the sky.

As it climbed skyward, the sunshine caught a spider's web over an exit hatch in the roof, adding to the olde worlde quality.

The web was a good sign, suggested someone on board. No emergency escapes necessary lately.

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The plane is a Douglas C-47 Dakota, a 68-year-old ex-RAAF aircraft, whose joy flight between Albion Park Rail and Clifton yesterday was a prelude to Sunday's Wings Over Illawarra festival.

Pilot Doug Haywood considers the aircraft was the Airbus A380 of its time.

"It's almost indestructible," he said.

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The pilots face a dashboard impossibly crowded with dials - almost all of them outdated.

Mr Haywood cradled an iPad with a modern GPS on display. The outside air passed freely through the cockpit.

"You can't do that on a big plane," he said of the open windows.

It smells clean and workshop-like on board, a testament to the vigilant maintenance regime at HARS and to the C-47 Dakota's many adventures.

A taut wire used to run down the middle, to be hooked up to departing paratroopers. It was possibly one of the aircraft used to transport Australian prisoners of war home from Japan.

The plane was part of the VIP squadron during the Queen's first visit to Australia in 1954, and carried the royal baggage.

Planes of the same model played starring roles in World War II, said former Qantas pilot Lynn Cowan, a crew member on yesterday's flight.

"They used this [type of] aircraft to supply the French resistance," Mr Cowan said.

"They'd have lights on the ground at night.

"They would push the guns out [in a container] with a parachute on it. The [French resistance operatives] would grab the stuff before the Germans got them," he said.

The passengers sat like the soldiers would have - on stretcher style seats, facing one another, with red cargo nets at their backs.

Back on the tarmac, it bounced once, twice, thrice, four times on landing, and then everyone on board found themselves at an angle, for the C-47 is made to rest with her tail near the ground.

The Douglas C-47 Dakota will fly again on Sunday as part of a program that starts at 11am with the Red Berets and concludes at 2.45pm with the RAAF Roulettes.

The program includes a display by aviation performer Matt Hall, and formation flying by Southern Biplane Adventures.

See Wings Over Illawarra for details.

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