Rudy’s Operation Overlord
In response to popular demand, here is a guest post from Rudy Jakma. Rudy is a rare breed: an old, bold pilot who is still here to tell the tale. I asked him for some personal details to write a quick introduction and his response was too good to cut down. I’ve added it at the bottom of his piece.
Operation Overlord was the codename for D-Day (the Battle of Normandy). The allied assault launched on the 6th of June 1944 with 1,200 aircraft, followed by more than 5,000 vessels and 160,000 troops.
It must have been around 1984. The aircraft was an Aerospatiale Corvette, EI-BNY. It was owned by Guinness Peat Aviation, well before Dr. Ryan had even thought of Ryanair. GPA was still in its infancy and they did not operate the aircraft themselves, it was on the AOC of Shannon Executive Aviation and therefore could be chartered out to reduce the cost of ownership for GPA.
We were operating a charter for a few retired Americans, wealthy judges. They were on a vacation in Ireland when they decided to visit the beaches in Normandy where D-Day had taken place 40 years previously. Apparently, they were veterans of the Normandy landings themselves and were going to revisit the landing sites and pay homage to the soldiers who had not been as lucky and had given their lives. We landed in Dinard where a hired limousine waited to bring them to the sites of the D Day landings.
I am Dutch and was born in 1943. My parents were from Amsterdam and witnessed the German occupation first-hand. For me, these Americans were Gods. People to whom we owed a debt that we could never, ever even hope to repay. They had been willing to sacrifice everything, risk dying a horrible death riddled with bullets on a cold, wind-swept beach far from home so that I could grow up to be given the ultimate honour of flying them to Omaha beach again.
Later in the afternoon, when we wanted to prepare our return flight back to Shannon, ATC told us that we would not be allowed to depart. French ATC had gone on strike and we would have to stay until the strike was over.
Neither we, the crew, nor the passengers had been prepared for an overnight stop and the aircraft was required for another flight the next day. Pleading with the airport authorities proved futile. NON ! and that was that. ATC was en grève and therefore could not coordinate our departure with UK airspace. Tant pis !
Now, I already mentioned that our passengers were in the category of people that I would just do about anything for. And so, as time was ticking away and the passengers surely could not be far away, I had a brainwave.
The Corvette is a French-built business jet, manufactured by Aerospatiale in their plant at Saint Nazaire on the south of the Brittany peninsula. Nearly all our training had been done at the factory and I knew the area very well. Local ATC was in French, but I was well able for that. Later, the maintenance base was transferred to Le Bourget, but in those days most maintenance was done at St. Nazaire. And I had all their internal direct phone numbers.
I called them and put great emphasis in the war heroes’ plight. St. Nazaire had been a German U-Boat base and had suffered a lot during the war. The people on the other end of the line (there were no mobile phones yet in those days) knew instantly what I wanted.
“Yes, I like to use the opportunity to position to St. Nazaire and get some small defects fixed”.
Within minutes, Dinard had been called by Aerospatiale to inform them that they were expecting us that evening. It is only a ten minutes’ hop and for a positioning flight, VFR at 1,000 feet, there was no objection.
Our passengers had just arrived, we boarded and we were allowed to depart. We were handed over to St. Nazaire and cleared “VFR direct 1,000 ft” as arranged.
Only, whilst my co-pilot did the RT the official way, I had already dialled the frequency of Jersey into our VHF 2. Jersey is very close and, at 1,000 feet, well within radio range. They replied at once, gave us a “squawk” and an IFR clearance with initial climb to FL 150. We turned right, set altimeter to 1013 and shot out of the clutches of the French. We called St. Nazaire, informed them that the technical problems had cleared and that we were on an IFR clearance from Jersey.
Which, of course, did not surprise them. They had kindly played the game with us. Perhaps they, too, felt that this was the very least they could do for people without whose bravery and the sacrifices made by thousands more, they would probably have been shot if they had gone on strike.
But I must admit that, for quite a while, I did not want to go back to Dinard. Not in EI-BNY!
Who is Rudy?
I am Dutch and born when a criminally insane Austrian with a silly toothbrush mustache and a very big mouth was the German dictator, still on his way to rule Europe – and wanting more.
During my school days I often hung around at the local aerodrome and did little jobs like wet sandpapering an old Fairchild for a respray or assisting with advertising banners.
After school I had to do my military service. I rose to the rank of sergeant but was demoted to corporal when I countermanded the lieutenant. Which happily reduced my time in the army from 21 to 18 months, and my earnings from 1.25 to 1.10 Dutch guilders per day. Representing roughly the same in Euro.
After leaving the army I wanted to become an artist, was rejected by the art college and got a job in the office of a flying school at the same aerodrome, Hilversum. Here I took my first flying lessons, as an employee at very cheap rates. The aircraft were Piper J3 (L4J) Cubs, later PA 18 with 90 HP engines.
This led to a job in Africa as flight ops dispatcher with a local charter airline. The flagship was a DC-6A, 5N-AFT, previously owned by Japan Airlines. The name “City of Kyoto” was still visible on the aluminium skin.
Later the civil war broke out and DC-4 cargo planes arrived to fly Red Cross relief flights, but also arms for the government.
I did my PPL in Nigeria.
Later I returned to Europe, got my CPL, did more than 3,000 hours banner towing (the ultimate “cowboy” outfit) in Germany and the Netherlands. I did my IF rating, got a job flying a Cessna 310 and later a Citation (spanking new). In order to gain jet experience I got rated on a SN601 Corvette, but the company had grown too rapidly. I was made redundant, flew 6 months with the new owner of the Citation and next a Learjet 25, again in Nigeria.
After that I went to Ireland, became captain of Corvette EI-BNY. Then I joined Digital Equipment Corporation on a King Air B200, later a Ce550 (N121C). For family reasons I left, back to Ireland, joined Ryanair (BAC 1-11 and ATR 42) and left when it looked as if Ryanair would cease operations in 1991. I went to fly Fokker F27 cargo, this operation went bankrupt. Flew Fokker 50 with KLM Cityhopper, had to retire at age 56, back to the Fokker F27 (a Swiss-Dutch company), briefly with Aer Arann on Shorts 3-60 but was bought back by the Swiss.
Worked for them for another 3 years but had to retire at age 60. The French rule prohibiting pilots flying commercially over the age of 60 was successfully challenged by Easyjet and I flew Citations (C500, Ce550 Bravo, Stallion and Ce650) as well as a Turbo Commander which I flew to the USA to be sold.
At age 65 it was over. The recession caused nearly all private jets to disappear.
I am now nearly 75.
I became a tourist guide in Ireland and did my coach driving licence at age 72 (YES you read that right!)
And I am a full-time university student (Maynooth University in Ireland).
Next lecture in 5 minutes.
Thank you, Rudy, for taking the time to write about your experiences for us.
If you would like to read more of Rudy’s stories, be sure to read the comments across the site; Rudy offers many insights in the discussions on these pages.