To celebrate 80 years of presence on the Italian market, the first flight from Amsterdam to Rome dates back to 1931, KLM has organized a nice initiative by sending in Italy on the weekend of 24-25 September, a Dc 3 painted in the typical livery of '50s.
The aircraft landed on the peninsula in three airports, Milan Linate, Rome Urbe and Venice Tessera. In each of the three cities half an hour scenic flights were made carrying some lucky passengers, who, enlisted in time on the airline's website, for the modest sum of 50 euros, devolved by the carrier to charity in support of humanitarian action, were able to taste what it meant to fly on an airplane of yesteryear.
The aircraft used for the occasion is not any Dc 3. Registered PH-PBA is actually one of the two from DDA Classic Airlines fleet, commercial division of the Dutch Dakota Association, a company that operates tourist flights from its base of Lelystad, general aviation airport located about forty kilometers north-east of Amsterdam.
The PH-PBA (Douglas c/n 19434) was built as C 47A in 1944 and delivered to the U.S. military (U.S. Army Air Force - USAAF) with serial number 42-100971. It was used in Operation Market Garden, the code name assigned by the Allies to command a large and complex operation air and ground combined, put in place since September 17th, 1944 during the Second World War. From 23 different bases located on British soil an impressive fleet of 1043 transport aircraft, 1500 fighters and approximately 500 glider for nine consecutive days, shuttled between UK and the Dutch territory in order to weaken and give the final blow to the Nazi troops already skidding after the attack in Normandy, meanwhile seeking to enter deeply within the territory of the German Ruhr. "Our" Dc 3, assigned to 316th troop transport Squadron and marked by codes "6E-B" transported the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers.
After the war she followed the fate of thousands of other C 47. On February 6th, 1946 was declared surplus and set aside on a German airport. She never returned to the United States since it was bought by His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and later became the first official aircraft of the Netherlands government. Registered (by the initials of the prince) PH-PBA remained in service as "Air Force One" until 1960 when a dutch built and more modern Fokker F 27 Friendship took her place.
She was later used as a "navigation testbed" by the Dutch Civil Aviation and finally retired in 1975. Since then she became part of the Dutch aviation museum Aviodome collection. The aircraft remained exposed at first in the open, then inside for about twenty years. In 1996 by the initiative of the DDA and the encouragement of the Prince Bernhard himself it was decided to restore her back to flying condition. The restoration, carried out by Air Atlantique of Coventry, lasted more than two years. From November 13th 1998, PH-PBA has begun to sail again the skies of Europe.
In 2010, the KLM livery of the '30s was replaced with that of the 50s. At the same time she was baptized with the name "Princes Amalia", after the great-grandson of Prince Bernhard, second in line of succession to the throne of the Netherlands.
Images and text by Dario Cocco
Produced by Giorgio Ciarini