My first and last flight on the “Dakota” – by Ralf Drescher

My virgin flight took off a year ago for the “Auto City”

On my bulletin board I’ve got an inconspicuous little card pinned up: my ticket, Number 3290398, from the Berlin Air Service.  On the back it reads: “Candy Bomber Wolfsburg, Day Trip April 15th, 2010.” I remember this day so clearly.

At the invitation of the Berlin Air Service and their head, Frank Hellberg, some Berlin journalists were allowed to take part in a very special flight.  The “Candy Bomber”, one of the legendary Dakota DC-3s, was to take us on a flight to tour the “Auto City” of Wolfsburg.

Just before 7 a.m. I showed up at Schönefeld Terminal C, from which only flights for the Berlin Air Service take off.  From here you can take helicopter trips over Berlin, 30-minute circles around the city in the Candy Bomber, or you can take the tour to Dresden or now, to Wolfsburg.  More precisely, to the Wolfsburg-Braunschweig Airport.

On this day we’re only going to be travelling in historical vehicles. After check-in and security, an original American schoolbus takes us to the Candy Bomber, which is waiting in front of the lobby that was originally constructed to receive officials from the GDR.  We are greeted by our flight captain Martin Müller, an experienced flyer who about two months later, after an engine failure, would safely bring the Candy Bomber and its passengers and crew back to the ground with reparable damage.  The two engines spring to life, and at 8:15 a.m. the 66-year-old machine lifts off the runway.  I’m sitting right next to the right-hand emergency exit and watch the starboard motor about two meters away from me.  We quickly climb to 600 meters, heading west over Potsdam, Brandenburg and Magdeburg.  When we reach Wolfsburg, Captain Müller circles over the giant Volkswagen factory several times.  Next to the old VW power plant and countless assembly halls, one can clearly see the two glass towers, from which buyers can pick up their own factory-new VWs.  I photograph the wings along with the VW plant.  Then the machine prepares to land.  As the Candy Bomber rolls onto the strip, almost all the employees of the airport seem to be lining the edge of the runway.  The airport of Braunschweig-Waggum, as it was called at its opening in 1936, is also a piece of aviation history, like our machine.  Constructed for Lufthansa, it served as the base airport for the German Air Travel Research Institute.

After a brief reception with champagne and canapés, we head off to the Auto City, celebrating its 10th birthday.  It is a kind of cathedral to the automobile, in which Carl Benz’s invention of 125 years ago is worshipped.  On display is almost every model of Volkswagen that has ever been built.  Computers allow visitors to design the Volkswagen of their dreams and to wonder at the latest automotive technology.  Some portion of the ca. 20 million visitors that have come since the opening are there with something else in mind, namely buying their own new car.  All the automobiles that are to be handed over each day are presented in the aforementioned glass towers, on average about 550 cars a day.

Before the astounded eyes of the new owners, each vehicle is plucked from its place by a robotic arm and brought to the basement, where it is handed over.  No wonder some people raise the automobile to the status of a god, with so much ceremony.

The excursion also included a short trip to the Midland Canal, which didn’t impress the Berliners so much, used to the green shores of the Wannsee or Rahnsdorf, as they are.  At least the boat was also practically historic itself, built in 1970 at the Berlin VEB Shipyard.  Then on the ship captain’s computer, some news came in that might impact our trip home:  a volcano eruption in distant Iceland was sending out ash clouds over the skies of Europe, already closing down parts of the European air space.  Therefore we were quickly rushed back in the historic bus to the airport, and Pilot Martin Müller threw on the motors.  At around 5:30 p.m., the Candy Bomber lifted off again from Braunschweig-Wolfsburg.

On the flight back to Schönefeld we didn’t see any ash in the sky, but we rose to a much higher altitude than the 600 meters on our flight out.  At the Schönefeld airport the TV van for the Berlin Evening News was already there, starting to report on the beginning chaos in the skies.

Unfortunately, up until now only a few people were able to participate in the flight tours to Wolfsburg.  About two months after my first and last flight with the Candy Bomber, the machine was badly damaged in an emergency landing in Schönefeld.

Today we know that a rebuilding of the historical aircraft is possible.  This is why I am a member of the Friends of the Candy Bomber Association.

by Ralf Drescher

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