Peter Garrod was a wartime pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) whose job it was to ferry aircraft to operational bases or to Maintenance Units where they would be prepared for operational service. Here, in his own words, are some insights into that operation.
As an ATA ferry pilot in World War Two I flew a small number of Dakotas, collecting them principally from Prestwick after they had been flown across the Atlantic by another ferry organization, ATFERO (Atlantic Ferry Operation). The Dakota was classified 4+ in ATA and no pre- flight instruction was given; it would simply appear one day on your program and you were expected to "get in and go" without significant delay. But we were well prepared early in our training by a very intensive technical course covering all aspects of every kind of engine, propellers etc and systems that we would encounter in both British and American aircraft, and some excellent pilot’s notes for all types in a small ring-backed folder.
Any ATA pilot reaching 4+ qualification would already have had significant experience on British heavy twins - Wellington.Whitley, Beaufighter etc - most of which we flew solo as their engine operation was more automated than American types and their systems - hydraulics for example - were simpler. For this reason they did not require a second pilot for which they had no provision. Dakotas were not demanding aircraft to fly but they had certain features, such as operation of undercarriage retraction, which made it desirable for us to have a flight engineer who saw to many of the tasks that the second pilot usually performed in RAF units. Dakotas arrived in the UK with an excellent Sperry autopilot and automatic radio direction finding equipment (ADF) which was fascinating for us to use, well in advance of what was fitted to British multi engined aircraft of that time.
Many ATA Dakota flights did not go direct to operating squadrons but to maintenance units where, for example, the overload fuel tanks that had seen them across the North Atlantic were removed. One unusual feature of the pilot’s position was the control column which was not mounted between the pilots knees but to the left of them, arching over to support the control yoke. In application of full right rudder a tall pilot would find his left knee fouling the column. The Twin Wasp engines were smooth but noisy on take-off, mainly "blare" from propeller blade tips. Good design of forward fuselage profile allowed the engines to be closely spaced, giving good single engine performance.
Altogether a fine aeroplane which I always enjoyed.
Of the 110,000 flights made by ATA in WW2 on twin engine aircraft - all types - only 609 were made on Dakotas, compared with 2023 in the B25 Mitchell and 26,176 in Wellingtons, easily the most numerous. Most of my Dakota flights were from Prestwick, taking over aircraft that had been flown from the US by ATFERO pilots
Progression on to twins in ATA was on the Oxford (Class 3); about 5/6 hours; then Blenheim and Wellington (Class 4); about 10 hours dual and solo. I did these two sequentially although with some pilots they were spaced apart. Then, after about 200 hours on British heavy twins (Wellington, Whitley, Hampden, Beaufighter, Beaufort, Botha etc ) there was a short course on Hudsons (4/5 hours) classed as 4 plus. This qualified you for Dakota and other American heavy twins.
My memories of the Dakota are of a slightly cramped pilot's position. The control column rose up to the left of the pilots legs. If you were tall (I am 6ft 2ins) your left knee would foul the column on applying full right rudder. Otherwise a pleasant and viceless aircraft with mainly good systems and nicely weighted and responsive controls for an aircraft of this size and weight. The rudder was a little heavy on take off but centre locking of tail wheel castoring helped you to keep straight. Then the tail soon came up without notable pilot input.
We always flew with a flight engineer (but no second pilot) as the engines did not have automatic boost or mixture control - as did most British heavy twins. The undercarriage operation was also somewhat complex - see ATA pilot’s notes, extract to follow... Three point touch downs were possible - the usual recommendation for ATA - often landing on unfamiliar airfields that were sometimes none too large. But rotation from typical final approach "alpha " required a fairly large and well timed pull back on the column, and most pilots seemed happy with a tail down "wheelie " The closely spaced engines gave a good single-engine performance at ferry loadings, but although I had a few single engine failures the typically reliable Twin Wasps of the Dakota never gave me a moments concern.(although I did have a total engine failure at point of take off in a Wasp engined Beaufort - got it down OK and gained a commendation ) .
Total time on Dakotas as first pilot only 10 hours, compared with 160 on Mosquito, 100 on Wellingtons, 80 on Beaufighters. All quite short flights as was typical of ATA experience.
I was seconded in April 1944 to our Air Movements Flight in order to fly various senior service officers on duties connected with D Day preparations. This was mainly in Dominies and also Proctors. Over May 6th/7th I took Sir John Keeling of MAP (Ministry of Aircraft Production) to witness at Netheravon the trial drop of the first British parachutists to land in France on D Day from six Albemarles, staying for the night and overflying the drop site the next day..Security was very tight and I was bound to a special security commitment. I only mention this as of possible interest to you and as an indication of some of the special tasks undertaken by ATA other than ferrying, and also because of your involvement with D Day as an historic event. Sir John K sent a special letter of appreciation after. I returned to ferrying duties on June 15th.
My Dakota flights included
Dakota 111 FZ679 Sherburn in Elmet to Doncaster, March 17th 1944 with ATA Flt Eng Kingston
Anthony Bassett, among the listed, was a distant cousin of mine.
Watch Peter fly a Spitfire simulator at the age of 92 in this video
Sub-Lieutenant (A) Anthony Hastings Bassett, of 885 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve died at the age of 21 on 6 June 1944 while on a Seafire Mission from Lee on Solent. He is buried at Hermanville War Cemetery.