History of Douglas C-47A PH-PBA, a genuine D-Day veteran
On the 11th of January 1944 the United States Army Air Force takes delivery of a Douglas C-47 Skytrain with construction number 19434 and gives it serial 42-100971. On the 20th of February 1944 ‘971 is assigned to the 8th Air Force, IX Troop Carrier Command, 52nd Troop Carrier Wing, 316th Troop Carrier Group, 36th Troop Carrier Squadron, based at Cottesmore airfield in England.
On the 6th of June 1944, a group of paratroopers board their assigned aircraft ‘971, chalk #3, the future PH-PBA. The flight crew are Lt. Lee Ross (pilot), Lt. John, T. Farrell Jr. (co-pilot), Lt. Joseph E. Judge (navigator), SSgt. Frank W. Feteke (radio) and Sgt. John O. Williams (crew chief). The C-47 ‘971 chalk 3 is flying on the left in the leading three ship formation of serial 17 on mission Boston, the assault element formed by the 82nd Airborne Division. Their objective is dropzone ‘O’ to the west of Sainte-Mère-Eglise. Their assignment: "Seize Sainte-Mere-Eglise, La Fiere, Chef-du-Pont. Hold a defensive line between Neuville and Baudienville.”
On the 2nd of June 2014, PH-PBA revisited dropzone ‘O’ for the second time, circling the historic grounds during the Daks over Normandy commemorations in that year! Like many of her sisters, the C-47 42-100971 continued to give sterling service for the remainder of the war. On the 26th of September 1944 she landed on the provisonal airstrip of Keent near Grave, the first time her wheels touched Dutch soil, a bond which would never go away.
In February 1946, his Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands buys the surplussed ‘971 for the princely sum of $25,000. He does not bother to register the aircraft, but the Dutch CAA urged the Prince to do so and on the 25th of February 1947 it was taken up as PH-PBA, Prince Bernhard Alpha. The C-47 was extensively used on all kinds of flights, taking the Royal family on numerous journeys abroad, flown by the Prince himself most of the time. He amassed more than 2000 hours at the helm of PH-PBA.
On the 19th of May 1960 PH-PBA was replaced by a Fokker F-27 and the C-47 was transferred to the Dutch CAA, taking up calibration duties on navigational and instrument landing systems. She was finally retired in 1975 to the Aviodome museum at Schiphol airport. For twenty years PH-PBA was in good care, but on the 31st of July 1995 her original Dutch registration was once again activated on behalf of the Prince Bernhard Foundation. Over a two year period she was brought back to airworthiness by Atlantic Aero Engineering at Coventry and in November 1998 was officially presented to Prince Bernhard.
PH-PBA has been flying again ever since, courtesy of DDA Classic Airlines also known as the Dutch Dakota Association. It was successively flown in its original Royal colors, in a combined KLM/Air France scheme and in a smart 1960 KLM color scheme. In the summer of 2017 it is once again back in its former Royal colors. PH-PBA is used on pleasure flights for members of DDA Classic Airlines.