By Alan Barnett
There were occasions when the ground crew was given the chance to fly in the Dakota, even sometimes to be able to take over the controls. On one such flight, the Captain, and to this day I do not remember who this was (we ground crew did not keep logbooks) invited me to take his seat and fly the Dak. This was wonderful. Just follow that railway line he said, then vanished with the rest of the crew to the back — I think they had a card school going there. I was as happy as a pig, following the track and admiring the view until the line vanished into a tunnel in a mountainside. Oh dear! Fortunately I did keep to the route, more or less, and eventually the line reappeared. Super, I carried on following the line. Some time later we reached our destination. At least I thought it was our destination. At least it was an airfield. We were getting closer and closer, almost on top. What do I do, the pilot was still at the back and no way was I going to attempt a landing. What a relief it was to get a pat on the shoulder -—“OK I’ll take over now.”
Another time when I had the opportunity to fly as a ‘flying fitter’ and I have no idea now when this was, where or who the crew were, but it was probably the most sticky experience of my life.
It was very dark outside, black, then the heavens opened up — it poured with rain completely obstructing our view out of the windows. Well, visibility was almost nothing. We had no landmarks and our navigator was completely lost -I am only a lay man — I don’t know about navigational aids. So there we were — four of us — pilot, co-pilot, navigator and me — staring out of the windows, desperately looking out for a sign of life in the black void. Our fuel tanks were getting dangerously low, nearly empty. It was at about this time that I retired to the back, got out my paybook and filled in the ‘will’ bit. Back in the cockpit I joined the others still looking out for landmarks, was that a light? — a line of lights. I pointed out to the pilot what appeared to be a landing strip. We made for this. Coming in to land both engines came to a halt — out of fuel, but we made it safely — what a relief.