A FACTORY full of women built the Dakota DC-3 because at the time of its creation most working age men were fighting in the Second World War.

In 1944 it was delivered to the American Air Force’s Troop Carrier Squadron where it took part in major assaults including the D-Day landings and Operation Market Garden – the largest airborne operation of its time.

In fact, D-Day could have spelled the end of the line for the Dakota as it was hit by enemy fire over Normandy.

The German bullet passed up through its belly and missed the pilot and fuel tank by a mere metre-an- a-half.

You can still see the square repair patch on its shell.

After the war and a period in storage, Prince Bernard of the Netherlands acquired the Dakota and used it for official state visits.

It later became the Netherlands’ first Government plane and after a second period in storage – this time in a Dutch museum – the Dakota was restored by volunteers and painted in the livery of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

It was put back into service in 1998 and is now completing a tour of four British airports to celebrate KLM’s 95th anniversary.

It is visiting Newcastle, Durham Tees Valley, Humberside and Norwich to give a select group of passengers, including businessmen, competition winners and KLM supporters a real taste of aviation history.

Among those onboard the 30-minute pleasure flight from Durham Tees Valley to Saltburn was Edward Parkhouse who travelled nearly 200-miles from Leamington Spa to climb aboard after winning the chance of a flight on Facebook.

He described himself as having a life-long fascination with aviation and said: “The DC3 is one of the icons of aviation, so to be able to take a flight on one is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“It has been a fantastic experience being able to look round the aircraft and the recent anniversary of the D-Day Landings has made it quite poignant.

“You can see the doors where the guys were ready to jump out; it brings a special dimension to the flight.”

Northern Echo competition winners Roy Clack of Durham and Jenny Eaglesham of Eaglescliffe also enjoyed the flight, with Mr Clack saying it was good to see so much of Teesside from the air.

KLM pilot Rudolph Schoenmakers described flying the Dakota as “a privilege” and Gijs Van Popta, sales director for KLM UK said the Dakota pleasure flights were a nice way for the airline to thank its customers.

Once the Dakota has completed its UK visit, it will return to its base at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam where it is maintained by volunteers and operated by the non-profit airline DDA Classic Airlines.