Night Fright on target

The rebuild of D-Day veteran Douglas C-47A Skytrain 42-100521 Night Fright is now progressing well with Ben Cox and his team at Coventry Airport for Charlie and Philip Walker, the owners of Membury airfield in Wiltshire. The historic transport flew from Membury at the start of Operation ‘Neptune’ — the initial assault stage of Operation ‘Overlord’ — during the early hours of 6 June 1944. The team is still aiming for completion in early 2019 and remains on schedule to fly in the Daks over Normandy event in June next year.

The aircraft was acquired by Philip and Charlie Walker of Walker Logistics during 2012. The Walker family had purchased the Membury estate during 1993, and in 1999 the family business, Walker Logistics, which specialises in warehousing, transport and distribution, moved onto the old airfield, using some of the T2 hangars dating from the war. Charlie Walker is a commercial pilot with a keen interest in aviation history, so he set about trying to track down an aircraft that had flown from Membury. With the help of several contacts, Night Fright was located on an airfield in Arkansas, and acquired during November 2012. The aircraft arrived at Coventry by road from Southampton in April 2017, following a sea crossing from the USA.

Charlie Walker says, “A huge amount of painstaking work has gone in to repairing corrosion in the centre section; new pieces have been spliced in to seven of the 12 spar cap extrusions. Primer has now been applied to the whole centre section and we are almost ready to start building up the bays one at a time.

“The rear fuselage has been stripped and the necessary skin repairs carried out. A new rib at the front of the fin has been fitted as has a new web at the base of the rudder, which was missing. Cargo door frames, upper and lower channels are currently being replaced, and all of the floor beams are being inspected and, where necessary, new ones fitted. A new rear bulkhead has been installed and painted.

“Our first engine is about to go into a cradle ready to be built up, and the second is en route by sea from the USA. The next job is to look at putting the original cargo floor back in. We can then look to mate the sections back together and the aircraft can stand on its wheels. From there we need to build up the undercarriage and brakes, build up both engines, research the layout of the original instrument panel, then make it and source all the instruments both old and new.”

The Skytrain was operated from Membury by the 475th Troop Carrier Group. After returning from the first para drop, Night Fright was one of 50 C-47s that towed Airspeed Horsas during the evening of D-Day on the ‘Elmira’ mission to a landing zone near Sainte-Mère-Église. The aircraft returned to Membury with serious flak damage and was out of action for several days. Some of the skin repairs are still evident, particularly on the crew entry door.