A couple of years ago when I was starting this YuAF Dakota feature, I believe I’d mentioned one further example rumored to be rotting away at an automotive junk yard somewhere in Serbia. Preciously few information about this machine had then been available on the Net, so on a week-long pleasure trip to Belgrade with a friend back in January, I decided I might just as well set this right :). Surprisingly – proof that the Internet is still not omnipotent – we’d found the exact location out within an hour or so of first asking, and with a break in the day’s snow, we set out to find it…
Indeed located at a scrap yard on the Ibarska magistrala, a regional fast road leading south out of Belgrade, this poor-looking thing is most likely coded 71245 – but given the snow and the ad-hoc paint job, it’s really hard to tell for sure. Its exact version, series and serial number are also unknown – but given previous Dakotas, I’m inclined to believe it is a B model.
Despite its apparent sorry state – and significant dismemberment – the aircraft is actually in pretty good nick, no doubt helped by its location on fenced-off private property. Its life story is a bit muddled, but at some point in the not-too-distant past it had been turned into a cafe by the owner of the scrap yard (but was never used in that capacity). Interestingly, the owner had kept most of its major components, and even a handful of cockpit instruments and internal fittings. The largest missing piece of this puzzle, the engines – which were said to have had only 1100 hours total time on them – had been bought by a well-known local pilot and collector, and are today preserved in his hangar some 150 km south of Belgrade.
Realistically probably the last Dak to be found in the lands of former Yugoslavia – here’s to hoping I’m wrong! – 71245 had brought the total score up to 11 examples accounted for:
71203: derelict at Zemunik Airbase near Zadar, Croatia
71212: derelict at the former Željava Airbase, Croatia
71214: preserved at the Aeronautical Museum at Belgrade Airport
71237: still flying as a turboprop C-47TP in South Africa
Despite wry and humorous remarks from the side about what am I going to do in life after I photograph the last known Dakota in the lands of former Yugoslavia, I was genuinely looking forward to finally seeing it at the first opportunity I got :D. Last weekend’s torrential downpour – and the occasional floods it had spurred in both Croatia and Slovenia – had ruled that out at the time, but this week’s clean, crisp air and sunny skies were just begging for some photo ops. So, catching a free afternoon (a Friday no less), I decided to finally make the leisurely 90 km drive to Otok pri Metliki, just a hop across the border away…
Now, given the track record established by our three surviving Daks in Croatia, all sad and broken, I had expected 71253 to be in pretty much the same state – especially since Google Earth imagery had shown it to be apparently isolated on a small hill, far from anything or anyone. However, driving up that hill, my view obscured by the crops on the sides of the road, I was in for quite a big surprise…
On somewhat of a discovery spree lately with my YuAF Dakotas – buoyed by finally having photographed 71203 and 71255 🙂 – I decided to carry on browsing the reaches of the Net and see what other interesting things I would inevitably stumble upon. I didn’t have to go far before I fell flat on my face, because within a minute or two of Googling I’d found an interesting list of the various C-47s and DC-3s operated by the YuAF at one time or another. Despite being rather vague with the airframe details – rarely listing anything more than their YuAF code and possible location – and out of date, it did bring my attention to two more easily traceable examples :)…
1. 71253 / C-47… / cn unknown:
Located just outside the small town of Otok near Metlika in south-eastern Slovenia (there’s an NDB there too), not much is known about this aircraft – and a cursory search revealed that the rest of the Net was not much wiser either. The only photo I managed to find (a Panoramio photo from Google Earth) showed it to be in an apparently good state, which makes it a prime target for my next photo mission :D. It’s not really that far away either…
2. 71288 / C-47A-20-DK / cn 12830:
A much more debatable example is 71288, now residing in the “Rahmi Koc Industry Museum” in Istanbul, Turkey (the latest on the long list of reasons to finally go there 😀 ). According to a number of online sources, it had started life as 42-92970 of the USAAF, before changing a raft of N-numbers in the years after WW2, to finally become TC-ALI in 1991. Interestingly, only two sources mention its YuAF service, so this should be treated with suspicion until verified :). Be that as it may, a photo on Airliners.net mentions that it had been converted to DC-3 standard at some point in its life, while another photo on JetPhotos.net shows that it definitely had a well-appointed cockpit for a Dak :D.
Up to 10 examples now, or about a third of the way there. To make navigation among the ever increasing number of posts a bit easier, I’ve linked each code to the post in which it is covered, but given that my posts tend to be a bit… long, you may have some scrolling to do :).
Having been in doubt about the history of 71255, in my previous post on the subject I’d stipulated that it had actually flown in French service before bought by the Yugoslav AF in the early or mid 70s. What gave me this hunch was a very faint code on the tail, almost barely visible through successive layers of paint: 349296. So, to try and clear this up and see what’s what, I ran this code through Google – and interestingly enough, got a match almost immediately :).
It turns out that 71255 is actually a C-47B-15-DK, manufactured in 1943 under the serial 15112/26557. Its first service was with the RAF as a Dakota Mk.IV coded KK107 until 1947, when it was returned to the USAAF. Indeed sold to the French Air Force soon afterwards (I think maybe the same year), it then became 349296, also known by its radio callsign of F-RAVA. Flying in this guise for more than twenty years, it had been transferred to the Yugoslav AF in the early 70s as 71255, most probably operating out of our very own Zagreb airport :). The records are moot from that point on, and I haven’t (yet 😀 ) been able to determine when it was withdrawn from service…
Photos are even harder to find, but once again Airliners.net came to the rescue:
EDIT: with many thanks to Marko Beloglavec for the heads up, I’ve managed to confirm that 71255 had actually been produced on 8 November 1944, and not in 1943 as I had previously thought. A more detailed search under its temporary USAAF serial of 43-49296 – and with some very helpful input from Marko – revealed that the ’43’ in the serial is actually the fiscal year in which it was ordered; but given the huge backlog of orders, the aircraft had left the production line only at the end of 1944…
As it so often happens, the things that are closest to you in the end turn out to be the furthest ones away. You always think “naw, it’s close, I can visit any time” and you never do, as it inevitably slips your mind, shoved aside by the more exotic, distant places. Case in point is 71255, one of the ex-Yugoslav AF C-47s that I’ve wrote about in a number of previous posts (readable here). Located at Otočac airfield, it is pretty much a stone’s throw away from the country’s biggest north-south highway, a highway I go down at least 5-6 times a year. In a dazzling display of consistency, I’ve never ever stopped to photograph it, reckoning “it’s just an hour’s drive away, I can visit it anytime”…
Well, today I’ve finally decided to make good on that promise :D. Returning from an Open Day celebration at Zadar’s Zemunik airbase with a couple of friends, we unanimously decided that, while we’re there and having plenty of time to spare, we can just as well finally get it over with :). And this is what we’ve found…
EDIT: using the power of my 400 mm anti-aircraft Canon ( 😀 ), I’ve also managed to nail Zadar’s 71203 at extreme range while at the base during the Open Day. Distorted by heathaze, it isn’t up to my usual standard, but for now it’ll do :).
Having also posted photos of the Željava C-47 71212 on a local aviation forum, I was pleasantly surprised recently to find that some knowledgeable members had chimed in, keeping the discussion going with some very juicy details and stories of Dakotas in former Yugoslav service (both with the the YuAF and JAT, the state air carrier). Among these were the fates of three examples that had ended up with the South African Air Force – are still happily flying today in turboprop form! 🙂 So to update my small list – and with a lot of help from both the guys on the forum and the website they had directed me to – here goes:
1. 71237 / C-53D-DO / cn 11746:
A very interesting one this, apparently the only Skytrooper to have been operated by the YuAF. Essentially a stock C-47A fully adapted for paratroop drops, the Skytrooper was a common sight towards the end of the war, but few seem to have survived till today. Originally completed in 1943 as Hay Stack Annie – and taking part in the D-Day landings of 1944 – 71237 had served its first post-war decade in Scandinavia, where it flew for various small airlines before becoming part of the SAS fleet in 1949. Like all the three aircraft to be mentioned here, it was part of the batch bought from France in the 70s, serving with the French Air Force as 68819 from 1959 until it was transferred to the civil register as F-BRGI in November 1972. According to reports, it was sold to the YuAF “later that year”, operated now out of Zagreb (finally a local! 🙂 ). Just four years later, in 1979, it was back on the civil register as YU-ABW of the Obrazovni Centar Zračnog Saobraćaja (OCZS) training center, also based at Zagreb. Seeming to have bad luck with civil life, it was sold the same year to the Atlas Aircraft Corporation, becoming N8017Z – a “career path” also shared by the other two aircraft in this entry. Like them it would be returned to army life with the SAAF in 1981, where it became 6875. Today, it is a smart C-47TP, fittingly fitted with Pratt & Whitney PT6s 🙂 (of note, this is not the more common Basler BT-67 conversion, but a broadly similar South African modification – many thanks to Marko Beloglavec for the correction).
2. 71241 / C-47A-15DK / cn 12704:
71241, an “ordinary” C-47A this time,has had an even more interesting life. Manufactured in 1944, it was transferred to the Soviet Air Force the same year (an interesting fact, given the license-built Li-2 had entered service five years before), which had in turn passed it to the reborn Polish Air Force within several months. Following the end of the war, it had served with LOT Polish Airlines for 14 years, being sold to Finland as OY-AIC (a Nordic theme seems to be emerging here 🙂 ). Heading south, it had then flown with the French Air Force as 92857 – and on the civil register as F-BRGM – until sold to the YuAF in the later part of 1972. Like 71234, it was based at Zagreb and became YU-ABU of OCZS in 1979, while its subsequent “career path” had seen it registered as N8071X with Atlas Aircraft Corporation and 6887 with the SAAF, where it too received the C-47TP turboprop conversion in 1995.
3. 71254 / C-47B-1-DK / cn 14101/25546:
Finally a confirmed B model! 😀 The only one of the three ultimately ending up on the civil register, 71254 had followed the usual USAF-French AF-YuAF path, flying as 348285 and F-BTDE while in France. A bit of a registration melee ensued, the aircraft first becoming 71254 (1972) and then YU-ABV (1979), N8071Y (1979), 6880 (1980), N330RD (2000), ZS-OJL (South African civil register), 9U-BHL (Burundi, raising a few eyebrows) and finally back to South Africa as ZS-OJM, where it remains to this day, flying for the Red Cross :).
4. The tally:
With the total now at eight aircraft – about a sixth of the number bought, if my calculations are correct – this is coming along pretty nicely :). So far we have:
Hopefully I’ll be able to dig out more info of my own soon, just as soon as I get my head out of my ATPL studies and realize that yes, there is a world with fresh air outside… 😀
Having been in doubt about the true identity of the Željava C-47 – mislabeling it as 212-something – I was pleasantly surprised to find out that someone had done some research where I haven’t :). After having posted one of the photos seen here on Airliners.net (link here), someone – to whom I’m very grateful – quickly corrected the registration to 71212.
This got me thinking (by an odd, circuitous route): why not try and track down all the surviving Dakotas that were operated by the former Yugoslav Air Force (surviving being a very loose term here)? This of course necessitated some thorough research, so to start myself off, I decided to concentrate on the five examples I’m familiar with (having remembered another one yesterday and found the fifth in a magazine):
71203 at Zadar-Zemunik, Croatia
71212 at Željava, Croatia
71214 at Belgrade, Serbia
71248 formerly at Rajlovac near Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, now at Merville, France
71255 at Otočac, Croatia
I believe that in the end these will probably represent the sum total of all the survivors – at least those still in Europe (some may have been sold overseas). Lacking proper aviation museums – except the Aeronautical Museum at Belgrade airport – many of these aircraft have either been sold, scrapped or dumped as gate guardians across the countries of former Yugoslavia, with little effort made to preserve them. But despite that – and the fact that an object the size of a C-47 is not all that easy to hide – I wouldn’t be surprised to find several more in out-of-the way backwoods places across the length and breadth of the western Balkans…
Daks in the Jugoslovensko Ratno Vazduhoplostvo:
A bit of history first, to put it all into perspective. As far I’ve been able to find out while browsing though various magazines, the YuAF had acquired about 50 C-47s/DC-3s between 1945 and the mid-70s in two batches (in addition to 11 Li-2s/Li-3s). A number have been dismantled for spare parts outright – notably those from the second batch – while the rest were split between three squadrons:
the 675. transportna avijacijska eskadrila (transport aviation squadron), based at Batajnica airbase in Belgrade, which was a VIP outfit reserved for President Tito
the 677. transportna avijacijska eskadrila based at Niš in Serbia
and the 679. transportna avijacijska eskadrila based at “my own” Pleso airport here in Zagreb
All of these were phased out in 1976 (the Lisunovs in 1971) with the arrival of new Antonov An-26 turboprop transports, still used today by the Serbian AF.
1. 71203 / C-47… / cn unknown:
The first Dak on the list is a “new” one I’ve found while browsing through Aeronautika magazine. It is located at Zemunik airbase near Zadar, an active training base of the Croatian Air Force, but that’s as far as the information I have goes. Being on base, it is not freely accessible to the general public, so there’s – so far – very little chance of taking down its construction number and using the resources of the internet for something useful :).
2. 71212 / C-47B / cn unknown:
This C-47 you’re already familiar with from my previous post. The least-known of the lot, I think this may be the only B model here (though I have my doubts now about whether it may actually be a non-supercharged A version) and is arguably the worst one off. If it were just missing a couple of parts, it’d be okay, but some crossfire during the Balkan Wars has done its bit as well…
3. 71214 / C-47A-35-DK / cn 16472/33200:
On the other side of the scale is the best preserved C-47 I’ve been able to find in the area, on permanent exhibit at the Aeronautical Museum at Belgrade airport. Thinking this was a B model as well – was given this information on a visit to the museum several years back – I subsequently found out it was an A model, which cast some doubts on whether 71212 was of the same sort, given that their Yugoslav AF serials were very close.
71214‘s history is still eluding me, but given that it was one of the most versatile aircraft of WW2, I’m sure it has a few interesting stories to tell :). Having the serial will also help during my upcoming thorough search…
4. 71248 / C-47A-80-DL / cn 43-15073:
The most fortunate Dakota from these parts is of course 71248, now happily living out its days, restored, in a proper aviation museum in Merville, France. Quite a famous machine, 71248 was originally the “SNAFU special” of the 440th Troop Carrier Group, 95th Troop Carrier Squadron, USAAF 9th Air Force, and has a combat record that makes for some very impressive reading – D-Day, Italy, Market Garden, the Ardennes and Operation Varsity, the last large-scale paratroop operation of WW2. Sold to the French Air Force after the war, by the early 70s it had found its way into the Yugoslav armory and survived the breakup of Yugoslavia as a sad, neglected derelict, sporting the locally-famous “MAY BE AIRLINES” sign.
Found in 2007. by enthusiasts from France, it was donated to the “SNAFU team” by the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is now – after a year’s restoration and €90.000 euros invested – gracing the grounds of Normandy looking better than new! 🙂 You can find a lot of information and “Before” and “After” photos on the aircraft’s official website, www.the-snafu-special.com.
5. 71255 / C-47… / cn uknown:
The last on the list is another “mystery C-47”, which I believe may be an A model. Serving as a gate guardian at Otočac sport airfield in mid-Cro (ICAO location indicator: LDRO), this one is in a tiny bit better state than 71212 – differing in the fact that it was not shot at :). Its history is muddled too, with almost no information on it available after some cursory Googling – and very few good pictures, which I’m hoping to put right one day… 🙂
On my way back from Korenica, I had decided to stop at the abandoned Željava military airfield some 20-30 km away. I’ve always wanted to go there and now I was in the area, so what harm could a quick stop do. Quick, because 1. the weather was awful and 2. I wasn’t really prepared with maps, charts and a passport… but that’s another story, one which I will hopefully write soon, with many juicy photos :). In the meantime, I had wanted to bring you a couple of photos of one poor old classic bird I’ve found there – a nowadays rather rare B model of the venerable C-47 Dakota.
The C-47B was something of a niche model in the Dakota line, produced for one thing only – flying across “The Hump”, the western ranges of the Himalayas on the often perilous WW2 India-Burma supply route. To enable to it cope with the high altitudes and longer distances, the B was uprated with supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90 engines rated at the same 1,200 HP as the normally-aspirated variants, and additional fuel capacity. During WW2 they mostly served with the USAAF, while some were also transferred to the US Navy, where they served under the naval designation R4D-6 for cargo variants and R4D-7 for navigation trainers.
With the rapid downsizing of the Allies’ air forces after the war, many C-47s were disposed of at dirt-cheap prices, with the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia snapping up a few to complement it’s existing Lisunov Li-2s (DC-3s built under license in the USSR) and Li-3s (Yugoslav Li-2s re-engined with the DC-3 line’s original R-1830 engines). As far as I’ve been able to find out, most of these C-47s were B models…
One of these is our example, coded 212, so far the third ex-Yu C-47 I’ve been able to find (the others being at Otočac airfield and Belgrade airport). By the looks of it, it had been sitting here for quite awhile and is – according to a sketchy, Eyeball Mk.I analysis – beyond any reasonable repair, especially given that there are many other C-47s/C-53s/C-117s/R4Ds in better condition…
(the third Otočac-based aircraft I still haven’t photographed, but here are some shots from Airliners.net: