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Dakota Flight: A Tale of the Canadian North and of World War Ii

Dakota Flight: A Tale of the Canadian North and of World War Ii

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Dakota Flight: A Tale of the Canadian North and of World War Ii

227 pages
3 hours
Feb 25, 2014


Flying rescue missions is part of George Youngs job, and he accepts the risks of a night flight through a blizzard to a remote Canadian village, despite a finicky engine. Although dicey, the long journey provides George with time to reminisce:

The lure of flight to a 17-year-old boy, proud to have earned his pilots license. The exciting, terrifying disruption of World War II to everything hes known. Insane flying missions in the Aleutians, where less than ten percent of the weather is fit for aircraft or airmen. A suicide sortie after intelligence on a prototype Japanese bomber with a range that threatens US soil. The bittersweet success of a guerilla movement in the Philippine jungles. Dynamic pilots who taught George how to survive, whose dedication to duty cost them their lives. And a patchwork love, never fully realized, always just out of reach.

As he wrestles his aircraft and the storm on this errand of mercy, George also wrestles with eternal questions of destiny. What is his purpose, that he should live and others die? Is he doomed to drift, his heart hardening as he struggles to survive in civilian life even more than he did during the war?

Feb 25, 2014

Tentang penulis

Paul Wankowicz was born in Poland and came to the United States in the 1930s. During World War II, he flew as a Royal Air Force pilot in midwestern Canada, sometimes out of Gimli, the airfield in Dakota Flight. Since then he has worked and flown in many countries. He is married and lives near Boston.

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Dakota Flight - Paul Wa?kowicz


Copyright © 2014 by Paul Wańkowicz.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Certain characters in this work are historical figures, and certain events portrayed did take place. However, this is a work of fiction. All of the other characters, names, and events as well as all places, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

iUniverse books may be ordered through booksellers or by contacting:

iUniverse LLC

1663 Liberty Drive

Bloomington, IN 47403


1-800-Authors (1-800-288-4677)

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

ISBN: 978-1-4759-7963-3 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4759-7965-7 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4759-7964-0 (e)

iUniverse rev. date: 02/19/2014


Photograph of DC-3 used with permission from Russell A. Strine, President, Mid-Atlantic Air Museum of Reading, PA.

Photograph of DC-3 throttle quadrant used with permission from Brian Lausmann, Avel Flight School, Schaumburg Regional Airport of Schaumburg, IL.

Photograph of author by Francis Wankowicz, taken at the direction of the author.

Cover art by Sally M. Chetwynd.


Author’s Notes

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Dakota Flight is not just another war story. Paul Wańkowicz’ characters exhibit that indomitable esprit which emerges when ordinary souls rise to extraordinary challenges. Along with his first novel, The Ulysses Flight, it honors the tradition of Nevil Shute, whose deceptively simple, richly crafted stories—once avidly followed and often prophetic—ought not to have dropped into obscurity. Wańkowicz and Shute—both offer a good read. I can hardly wait for Paul’s next story!

Sally M. Chetwynd, author of Bead of Sand

Author’s Notes

The DC-3, the various models of the C-47, and, in the British service, the Dakota are all variations on the same airframe. The British call their variation the Dakota because some wag in the Air Ministry made an acronym from Douglas Airplane Company (spelled with a K) Transport Aircraft, and the name stuck. After the war, many surplus ones found their way into civilian outfits such as CanAir.

During the war, I flew from Gimli, Manitoba, but Avro Ansons, not Dakotas. The winter experience was similar, however, if not worse.

Chapter 1

George was thinking of Judy and Frank, when Peter interrupted. Now that he had flying work again, these memories didn’t hurt quite as much.

Rotten weather, Peter said, as he looked at the anemometer indicator set in the ceiling of the control room. Thirty-five knots and gusting. Lord knows what it will blow up to before the night’s over.

In the midst of winter’s plains northwest of Winnipeg, snow and high winds were not unusual. Weather from the Pacific would slowly climb the Rockies, accelerate down the other side to mix with the cruelly cold air spreading southward from the Arctic, then race turbulently across the plains. The long fetch from the Rockies to Winnipeg gave it time to develop all of its deadly tricks. Now, an occluded front lay diagonally from the U.S.-Canadian border all the way north to the Hudson Bay. Probably blow up to eighty miles an hour before this is all over, Peter added, to no one in particular.

It was already night. Outside of the large fog-covered windows, the snow thickened. At the bottom of the glass, where years of moisture had condensed and dripped, the wood shone black under the peeling paint. Above the sill on the windows and along the sides, the moisture had frozen into white hoarfrost leaves. The pot-bellied stove in the center of the room was losing the fight against the mid-western Canada chill.

A single lamp on a crooked and rusty bracket illuminated the catwalk that ran around the outside of the control tower. The timbers of the war-time tower, a temporary, shoddily built structure never intended for use beyond the war, creaked under a new onslaught of wind. Where the fog on the window pane was thin, George rubbed a clear spot with his hand: a porthole into the darkness. In the faint light, he could see horizontal lines of wind-driven snow.

The two men were keeping the vigil in the dim upper room of the control tower. A solitary twenty-five-watt bulb, set on top of the radio, was the sole source of light, except for what came through the frosted windows from the catwalk lamp.

The radio, another relic of World War II, suddenly crackled loudly in the corner. Shellfish One. This is Beaver. Do you read? Over. It was Winnepeg.

Peter picked up the mike. Beaver. This is Shellfish One. Read you strength four plus. Over.

Winnepeg identified the aircraft on its way by its registry lettersALHwith the international phonetic alphabet. Alpha Love Hotel, airborne. ETA yours, thirty minutes. Over.

Shellfish One to Beaver. What type aircraft? Over.

Norseman. Out.

Message understood. Runway lights, kerosene bombs. Listening out. That told the Norseman pilot what to look for. Kerosene bombs were about the only thing that would stay lit in this wind. Peter followed up with instructions to the pilot that CanAir would stay alert by the radio receiver.

He put down the mike and turned to George. I guess we’re committed, he said.

Was there any question?

Not really. But I can still take the flight. All you have to do is to say so.

More is riding on you than me. All of CanAir. Not that things will be impossible. At ten thousand feet, it might be pretty smooth.

Ten thousand might just as well be fifty. You know damn well that you’ll never get over about three. At ten thou, the wind would blow you all the way to Montreal, ass backwards!

George gave his shoulders an invisible shrug. "If you’re worried about your bird . . ." he trailed off.

Hell, no! More worried about you.

Then shut up and let me worry. Pour me another cup of coffee, and then I’ll risk the weather to go see how Heinie is making out with the Dakota.

Heinie is all right. He can take care of the bird, Peter said, much to George’s relief. Going out into that snow, even the short distance to the hangar, was not his idea of sport.

None of this made sense. Not flying on a night like this. The anemometer repeater now swung from twenty to fifty miles an hour. Visibility was, maybe, a quarter mile, in driving snow. The meteorology people in Winnipeg said it would get worse. There could also be icing up there, lots of heavy, clear ice that would change the airflow around the carefully designed profile of the wing, choke the engines, bring the airplane down.

But there had been a disastrous fire in one of the gold-mining villages on the edge of Hudson Bay. The fire had swept through one end of the village, burning out the local church and the hospital, which was nothing more than a clinic. With the clinic went the whole stock of medicines possessed by the village. Several people, children included, had been burned. Some of them needed medicines as well as doctoring if they were not to die. The situation in the village was desperate.

The Canadians had a health service with sufficient airplanes to cover such an emergency. But the Norduyn Norseman aircraft based at Churchill, the closest station that normally would have taken the call, had broken a ski, injuring the medical technician in the accident. Winnipeg had two Norsemen, one of which was now on the way to them, carrying a paramedic. The Norseman, a single-engine airplane built for the Canadian bush, didn’t have the range to get from Winnipeg to the burnt-out village and back. Not in this storm.

So the health service asked the newly formed CanAir. Peter’s war-surplus twin-engine Dakota not only had the range for the round-trip, but also the power to face the storm, if only theoretically. Peter agreed, although he knew it was a risk; there was no other way to get the medicines and a paramedic to the village. CanAir was just getting off the ground, and the old Dakota, registered CF-VDA, was the only decent freight hauler he had. Back in the hangar, there was a single-engine Harvard, which he used as a hack for transportation, and an old DH Dragon Rapide that had not flown for five years. If the Dakota went down on this trip, there would be no more CanAir, only debts left like a condensation trail behind a bomber.

On the other hand, a successful delivery would make CanAir and its pilot heroes for the day. It had happened before. But that would be poor recompense if the storm forced the Dakota down. Until only recently, the maps of the area north of Gimli, Manitobatheir airfieldshowed white with the legend unexplored territory in light brown over featureless paper. And with the sorry state of the government rescue equipment, if the Dakota were lost, Peter doubted that any sort of successful rescue could be mounted before the snow covered over the wreckage.

Few people realized how much of Canada stretched north, away from the thin band of settlements, and how much of that had not been mapped.

George tossed back his coffee and looked at his watch. The Norseman carrying the jumper-medic should be somewhere near. Out through the freshly cleared window, he could barely see the five flares that Heinie, their German rigger, had laid along the border of the only useable runway. Hell, George thought to himself, I have been associating with Peter for too long already. Rigger for mechanic, Dakota for a C-47: I’m beginning to talk like the Brits.

George had joined CanAir a brief six months ago, after months of a hobo-like existence during which he had thought that he’d never fly a civilized airplane again. Peter, the founder and owner of CanAir, had recognized George’s redoubtable flying skills and, like George, had found that he needed a challenge to survive in the post-war world. Not only did he appreciate George’s ability, but from the first he saw in George a restless spirit, albeit beaten down, almost a mirror of his own. Together, the two men made an excellent and a rare team.

Peter got up and walked to the door leading to the catwalk around the tower and cracked it open. A gust of Arctic wind accompanied by a swirl of snow chilled the control room. The stove hissed, as if in anger at being disturbed, as snowflakes drove through the door and hit its overheated sides. Over the wind’s noise came the thin sound of an aero engine.

Peter picked up the mike. Shellfish One to Alpha Love Hotel. We hear you. You are north of the field. Come down to four hundred, no obstructions at that altitude. He paused to look at the precision barometer. QFE is twenty niner point oh one, he said into the mike, giving the pilot the accurate barometric pressure over the field, vitally necessary for the near-instrument landing the Norseman would have to execute in the poor visibility and driving snow. Acknowledge.

QFE twenty niner point oh one. Over.

Correct. Twenty niner point oh one. Over.

The Alpha Love Hotel pilot acknowledged with a click of his transmitter switch. Not procedure, but apparently he was busy up there.

The distant sound of the engine died and then swelled as the plane made a reverse turn and headed for the field. Shellfish One, see your lights. Over.

Alpha Love Hotel cleared to land. Out.

George watched through the driving snow as the fat yellow bulk of the Norseman appeared, a red and green jewel at the tip of each wing, and banked into a steep turn to line up with the kerosene bombs. It ghosted over the first two and landed by the third. George had to admire the man’s technique, but then he remembered that the pilots flying the Norduyns for the rescue service had flown dull-black-painted Lysanders from England to the occupied countries, landing at makeshift airfields, supplying the partisans with arms and ammunition for their fight against the Nazis. Hand on the throttle, ready to blast off, if the field were betrayed and the Germans started shooting at them. Delivering trained French-resistance Maquis fighters, landing by the light of rapidly-doused flashlights. This was probably child’s play in comparison.

Whew! How can I find the tower?

Follow the red ink.

Earlier in the day, covering the runways with a truck, Heinie had spread lines of red paint to help with the pilot’s depth judgment; without this the snow turned the runways as bland as a sheet of newly-minted typewriter paper, making it impossible to judge accurately how high one was over the runway on landing. Both George and Peter hoped the driving wind had blown the frozen red paint clear. They stood by the window watching through the frosted panes as the Norseman struggled to land in the crosswind. The plane taxied up to the front of the tower, and the passenger emerged, turning to pull a bulky, padded pack of medicines already attached to a parachute harness. When George and the medic got to the village, there would be no chance of their landing. George would just have to make a low pass, and the man and his kit would finish the journey by parachute. George didn’t envy him in the slightest.

Before the medic had a chance to get up the stairs, the Norseman had begun to move. The pilot’s voice came booming over the radio. Alpha Love Hotel ready to roll. Thanks, goodbye and good luck. Over.

Alpha Love Hotel cleared takeoff. Listening out.

George watched through the driving snow as the yellow monoplane rolled out into the blizzard and toward the flickering flares. Then he turned towards the figure who reached the top of the stairs.

Evening, Peter said.

Bloody weather! Why do these things always have to happen when the birds are afoot? The fellow dropped his bag on the floor. Name’s Burroughs. Got any good coffee, mate?

Peter. And this is George, your pilot. Flew all kinds of things during the war.

The paramedic eagerly accepted the offered mug. Delighted, I’m sure. They told me it’s a Dak. Need something sturdy for a night like this. Burroughs took a swig from the mug. His accent was unmistakably Australian. You can call me ‘Digger.’ As soon as I get through this java, we can go aviating, if you’re ready.

Within fifteen minutes, with Heinie’s aid, they had inched the Dakota from the hangar, George in the left-hand seat and the Aussie beside him. Burroughs’s gear was stowed in the back of the fuselage, ready to be shoved out through the door whenand ifthey arrived. George checked the mags and the props as they rolled through the snow and punched the Direction Indicator to zero as they lined up at the head of the runway. There was no question of other traffic; tonight they would probably be the only aircraft up over north-central Canada. Ten degrees of flap and a quick glance at the engine instruments. Make sure that Burroughs was securely strapped in. They were ready.

George swung the Dakota into the wind at the head of the line of kerosene bombs and yelled over the noise of the buffeting wind, Here we go! He had to yell. He added Hang on! as his right hand shoved the twin throttles forward, and the airplane begun an uncertain roll between the flares.

Just as they became airborne, a rogue gust hit their left wing, slamming it down towards the snow. George’s heart stopped. He kicked full right rudder and forced the yoke over.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the puddle of red light from his wingtip light racing over the snow. The engines roared at full power, but the wind held the airplane as if in a vice. If the engines faltered now, they would slide down no more than a foot, the tip of the wing would hit the snow, and they would instantly be a rolling ball of flaming gasoline and aluminum. They hung there for what seemed like eternity. Then, slowly, agonizingly slowly, as George hardened himself for another gust that could be their end, the engines met the challenge. The fence around the airfield flashed under them. George began breathing again.

A portent of things to come? he thought. He cast a glance at his passenger. In the dim light of the instrument panel he saw the Aussie was smiling, his eyes alight, as if he were vicariously enjoying the contest.

Noble work, George, Burroughs said. You’ve just earned your pay. He turned to stare at the turbulence beyond the windshield.

As he regained normal breathing, George let the airplane build up speed and height until they were at eight hundred feet. The gusts still hammered them, but at least they now had a safe speed and were climbing. He reached over and throttled back the howling engines and adjusted the propellers to cruise. He knew that the short and thin respite the altitude gave them would not last. The storm was still across their path. It’s going to be a damned long haul, uneventful, with nothing for you to do, he said toward the Australian.

Uneventful for some, Digger said.

George leveled under the overcast at fifteen hundred feet. At that altitude, the gustiness roiled a little less, but there were still eddies strong enough to snatch at the controls and try to throw several tons of airplane on its side. Out of George’s side window, the

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