The Dakota Hunter

A Film by Axel Ebermann

When it rains it pours…

We were originally scheduled to fly to a different airfield
that morning – but the rain shut everything down.

Well – everything except Hans who got antsy and
went out on a treasure hunt to find Dakota parts
in the backyards of Villavicencio.

 

 

Click here for the video clip:

 

Downpour and steering column discovery

 

 

 

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Bureau-crazy

The Malagasy chain of command to sell airplane wrecks is
a seemingly unpenetrable maze.
It requires countless meetings with officials that may – or may not
be in charge and usually occupy offices with empty shelves doing nothing.

Over breakfast out local fixer Emile finally was so kind
to draft a flowchart of how the local government is organized.

 

 

 

 

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The Barge and the snapped Anchor

The enormous barge that transports the Dakota to the sinking position
is anchored on each side by enormous steel cables.

One morning a loud popping sound like a gunshot wakes everybody
up. One of the cables has snapped and swiped the deck like a whip.

If this would have happened during the day it would have certainly resulted
in serious injuries or fatalities.

 

 

 

 

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Poking holes

A Dakota is so buoyant it can float in water for several hours. Which can come
in handy during emergency landings – but not when you are trying to sink the
planes to form an artificial reef.

Hans Wiesman with his expert knowledge of the legendary plane
advises the local engineers where to poke holes into the hull to make
the plane sink evenly.

 

 

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Malagasy Dakota Boneyard

Much to their dismay the  Malagasy Airforce does not have a single flying plane anymore.
So they are guarding the derelict  Dakotas on their base instead…

 

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Chop, Chop

In order to transport a Dakota as a whole the plane would have to be anchored on deck of a cargo ship.
And that is forbiddingly expensive.

So the only way to get those precious parts to museums and collectors is to chop the plane into
pieces that fit into a standard shipping container.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dakota Reef in Phuket

Loading four derelict Dakotas on a barge to sink them to form an artificial reef
is already an enormous logistical operation for Rainer Gottwald,
the president of the CEO of the Thai Diving Association.

Not even counting in  Hans, who is lobbying to retrieve a few precious
Dakota parts for collectors and museums.

 

 

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On location in Villavicencio, Colombia

Three years ago, when Hans first heard of Dakota parts at this remote airfield he was
not allow to go because it was deemed too dangerous of a place for a Westerner.

Things have changed a lot but we certainly attracted a lot of attention – wanted
and unwanted:

Two gringos with a camera looking for parts of old planes in the middle of the jungle
are still an odd sight in the Colombian Jungle….

 

 

 

 

All pictures courtesy of Javier Franco Topper

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Engine Repair Shop Colombia

While hunting for Dakota parts at some remote jungle airports in Colombia, Hans could naturally not resist to check into one of the last remaining shops that fix and refurbish Dakota engines. The radial 9 cylinder engines consist of countless moving parts (and common wisdom is that ‘if it moves it will wear out’) and you need to be a major engine wizard to keep those engines ticking and Hans beloved Dakotas still in the air over 60 years after they did their maiden flight.

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Lounge Table

Hans does not only chase Dakota parts because he likes the adventure (well, not sure if that is actually a correct assessment) – he actually makes some very cool designer furniture out of Dakota parts. Just to be clear: Hans does not chop up airworthy Dakotas or airworthy spare parts. He simply saves abandoned derelict Dakotas from going into the shredder and becoming Coca Cola cans.

This is Hans’ newest creation: A lounge desk, made from an upper cockpit panel. The light is an actual spotlight  from the Dakota that was pointed towards the engines to allow the pilot to assess potential engine trouble at night.

All these pieces came from original wartime Dakotas that were at one point used as transport planes by the Allied Forces during WW II.

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