Updated: Jul 22, 2021
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain was the workhorse of the Allied Air Forces in WWII and some might argue that it was one of the most decisive aircraft of the war, with its versatility proving invaluable. Whilst not a "combat" aircraft, its ability to deliver Airborne Infantry to the front lines made it as dangerous a weapon as any in delivering a blow to the enemy.
One such aircraft is currently under restoration by Charlie Walker and his team at Coventry Airport, one with a rich history and a very exciting future. This particular aircraft, nicknamed "Night Fright" by its crew, was built at the Douglas Long Beach plant in October 1943 as a C-47A-65-DL and soon became a long serving aircraft of the 79th Troop Carrier Squadron, 436th Troop Carrier Group. Having travelled to the UK in January 1944, the aircraft was temporarily stationed at RAF Bottesford in Lincolnshire, before moving to its more permanent home at RAF Membury, in Berkshire.
Jump forward nearly 80 years. "Night Fright" owner Charlie Walkers family have long been the custodians of part of what remains of RAF Membury, where their family business, Walker Logistics, is based. Having become interested in the airfields history prior to it's closure as an operational base, Charlie was keen to bring the airfields history back to life again, and the best way to do that is to bring back the sights, sounds, and smells of wartime aviation.
RAF Membury served as the home for a varied array of aircraft in WWII, but it will always be best known for it's involvement in two of the largest Airborne Operations of the war. On the evening of June 5th 1944 Paratroopers of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division boarded aircraft of the 436th TCG, including "Night Fright", bound for Normandy on the 6th, and later the Group dropped elements of the 506th PIR into the Netherlands as part of Operation MARKET GARDEN. Sandwiched in between those two missions, the aircraft flew to Italy, from which it flew a mission in support of Operation DRAGOON, and in December 1944 it dropped supplies to the beleaguered 101st at Bastogne in Operation REPULSE. In March 1945, with the Group having relocated to France, "Night Fright" flew elements of the 17th Airborne Division to Germany as part of Operation VARSITY.
The Aircrafts history is far from unique, and whilst special, it is a distinction that a number of flightworthy C-47's can lay claim to. But what does make the restoration of Night Fright unique, and particularly exciting, is the fact that it will be permanently housed and operated from RAF Membury making it, by our reckoning, the only flightworthy warbird on earth to fly from it's Wartime airfield.
Aside from the aircraft, what makes the project so incredibly important is the teams plans to establish a museum dedicated to the men and women of IX Troop Carrier Command. No such museum currently exists, and it is well overdue. The aircrew who flew the vital Operations in WWII are often criticised, and regularly overlooked, and the Night Fright teams efforts to change that are commendable. It is therefore a pleasure for us here at the Warbird Coffee Company to have established a working relationship with the Night Fright team, and to have our Night Fright Coffee directly contribute to the project makes us extremely proud.