Royal Canadian Air Force (Women's Division)
The RCAF needs women in its ranks to work shoulder to shoulder with the men... Indeed, service in the RCAF must fill everyone with a sense of deep satisfaction, knowing, as each one must, that she is playing her part in a supreme effort to bring into being a better and happier world.
HRH Princess Alice
Honorary Air Commandant, RCAF (WD)
Waiting for the call
By 1941, Canadian women were eager to serve their country in uniform. Since the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe nearly 7,000 had received volunteer training through unsanctioned women's service groups. These organizations lobbied for the acceptance of their gender within the ranks of the Canadian military. Two factors led Ottawa to finally reconsider its stance on women in the Forces: Already, there existed a shortage of available manpower, and the British Air Ministry had suggested sending members of its Women's Auxiliary Air Force to work at Royal Air Force training schools in Canada. The Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force was officially established by an Order-in-Council on 2 July 1941. It was eventually renamed "Royal Canadian Air Force (Women's Division)", to reinforce that the women were, in fact, full members of the RCAF. It was the first female military service unit in North America.
|WD training in navigation|
The RCAF (Women's Division) organized Precision Drill Squads to tour Canada for publicity and to recruit new members.
With the assistance of a handful of British WAAF members and under the direction of Canadian appointees Kay Walker and Dr. Jean Davey, the first 150 officers and NCOs were appointed at a five-week administration course in Toronto in the fall of 1941. Preference was given to women who had been officers in paramilitary organizations. The RCAF anticipated the need for up to 2,000 women for the first five months, and promised "special support opportunities for advancement" to the first recruits. The recruiting process was much the same for the women as it was for the men. A lack of space in the recruiting centres meant a lack of privacy from the men, so women were allotted specific time slots for interviews and medical examinations until separate facilities could be built. Although the administration had intended to draw all new officers from the enlisted personnel, it proved difficult to persuade women with more sought after skills to leave jobs where they already had good standing. Therefore, some candidates were promised officer status even before signing up.
Entrance Criteria required a Canadian airwoman to be:
• In good health
• Between the ages of 21 and 49
• At least five feet tall
• Within a standard weight range
• Educated at a "High School Entrance" level
• Able to pass a trade test
• Free of a criminal record.
Enlisted women took an oath of allegiance and vowed to serve their country wherever they were needed.
Shoulder to Shoulder
The ranking system within the WD was separate from, but parallel to that of the men. New recruits entered the service as Aircraftwomen, 2nd Class, equivalent to Aircraftmen, 2nd Class. HRH Princess Alice served as Honorary Air Commandant, but the most senior attainable position for women was Wing Officer, the equivalent of Wing Commander. Kathleen O. Walker, Winnifred Taylor and Kathleen L. Jells were the only women to ever achieve this rank.
All military personnel, in theory, were expected to abide by the same disciplinary codes and faced the same punishments, regardless of gender. In practice women were generally treated more leniently than men. They never received detention as a punishment; instead they were fined or were given extra duties.
Women were not required to parade early in the morning for fear they would catch colds. Funding was reallocated from the men's canteens to the women's, even though the women's canteens were already better equipped. The favourable treatment of women became a point of consternation among certain men, some of whom believed that the female recruits should be dealt with through a "general program of ascetic monasticism," segregated behind high walls through the duration of their short stay with the military, however, this attitude was atypical, and most men were enthusiastic about the new recruits.
|A WD cleaning the Perspex of an Avro Anson trainer.|
Initially, women were accorded 2/3 the salary of their male counterparts. This discrepancy was crudely justified by the assumption that it would take three women to do the work of two men. In truth, only those jobs involving heavy lifting required extra women. However, fewer women than men were needed to handle many of the more traditional women's roles, and the end result was a ratio of one for one or better. When the real statistics were brought to light, women were granted a salary equal to 4/5 that of the men, with the explanation that men were to be paid for the possibility of going to war.
"Overseas duty? Everyone wanted it. I can't think of a single person who wouldn't have given her eyeteeth to get over there. That was the whole point."
In spite of this inequity, women quickly enlisted by the thousands. The new option of joining the military was enticing, especially to women already working in other industries. Over 70% of the women who joined the various women's military branches in Canada had abandoned another job to do so. It seems that the military offered better opportunities than had been available in the civilian work force. The wage gap in civilian industries was more pronounced than that within the military; outside the Forces, women were never granted more than 2/3 the pay accorded to men for the same work. Airwomen in particular, were also entitled to all of the benefits enjoyed by their male peers, excepting, at first, a dependent's allowance. They were given allowances for civilian clothing, as well as travel and transport expenses. They received free medical treatment and dental work, paid sick leave and paid vacations. Perhaps most significantly, a WD was relieved of the single woman's most onerous expenses, as she was housed and fed free of charge.
The function of the new organization would be to "release for other duties those members of the RCAF presently employed in administrative, clerical and other comparable types of work employment." For this reason, the WD selected as their motto "We serve that Men may Fly". In the first months, only eight trades within the Air Force accepted women. These included:
• Equipment sextants
• Fabric workers
• Hospital assistants
• Military transport drivers
• Telephone operators
• General duties
Although women were never included in combative duties, by the end of the war, 65 different jobs were open to them, including aero-engineering, photo interpretation, radar mechanics, and wireless operators.
The first group of trained female recruits arrived at their posts in January of 1942. Once the 16 Service Flying Training Schools of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan were fully staffed, the women began to head out to other schools and stations across the continent and across the world.
Ultimately 17, 038 women served as WDs; about 600 were sent to the United States, and about 1,500 were stationed overseas. These women often faced unforeseen dangers, and 28 of them died while in active service. Fifty women were honoured for their outstanding service: 27 received Mentions-in-Despatches, one received an Order of the British Empire, eight were declared Members of the British Empire, and 14 received British Empire Medals.
Despite their motto, many airwomen did not sign up so that men could fly. Often, they joined for the challenge and the chance to leave home. Many felt that it was their patriotic duty to enlist. Others needed the financial stability to pull them out of the Depression. Regardless of the circumstances that brought them to the recruiting centres, women who joined the Air Force were quickly thrust into roles that were traditionally handled by men. Many experienced both discipline and independence for the first time. Overwhelmingly, they proved to be capable and hard working.
In 1942, the RCAF's Air Marshal L. S. Breadner told a group of airwomen that "the WD has become an integral part of the RCAF and soon we shall wonder how the service ever got along without you."
End of Duty
It was assumed that the end of the war would naturally spell the end of the Women's Division. However, first came the monumental task of discharging the men. The RCAF had instigated a policy of "First in. First out," and in the interest of fairness, being among the last to enter the Air Force, women were among the last to be discharged. By this time the women had demonstrated proficiency for administrative duties, and would prove to be an asset in the speedy repatriation of the servicemen.
Women were discharged according to their marital status and circumstances. Married women were demobilized beginning in November 1944. Widows were considered single, and were kept on duty, while women whose husbands were prisoners of war were given special consideration and could apply to remain in service. The last woman to serve with the RCAF (WD) was discharged on 1 March 1947.
Honorary Air Commandant Princess Alice presented the RCAF (Women's Division) with a Gold Cup on behalf of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (RAF) on 1- November 1943.
Air Marshal Breadner's prophecy would soon come true. Stimulated by the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, and by a lull in male enlistment, in 1951, the RCAF began to see women as an asset even in peacetime. Once again, the call went out for women eager to serve in the Air Force, this time with a few new terms. Women would be fully integrated within the RCAF, and were subject to the same ranking system.
Women were accorded equal pay for equal work, and were now eligible for pensions. The successful and permanent reintegration of women in the Air Force was made possible only through the expertise of a number of wartime WDs who saw to the planning of procedures and the training of new members.
Whether through military service or civilian duties traditionally performed by men, the women who involved themselves in the war effort paved the way for women's empowerment in later decades. Nowhere were women given a better chance to establish themselves as capable workers than in the RCAF, where only combat duties were limited to men.
In spite of the restrictions of military life, WDs have generally reported that their time in the RCAF was a positive and liberating experience. The Air Force offered security in a time of uncertainty, and a taste of independence tempered with challenging new responsibilities. The women who rose to meet these challenges provided support that proved essential to winning the war, and affirmed that the abilities of their gender could no longer be overlooked.
Arthur Bishop 1923–2013
Arthur Bishop 1923–2013
Meeting Arthur Bishop was an event in itself; irascible, charming, outspoken and just plain fun to talk to. He had appeared in 1994 at the Western Canada Aviation Museum as part of the cross-country tour associated with the launch of his latest book, The Splendid One Hundred: True Stories of Canadians Who Flew in The Battle of Britain. Signing copies of his book at a front table set up in the foyer, he was there for only a fleeting time, but was immediately surrounded by admirers, both young and old, who hung on his every word. He answered every query with aplomb, even when some of the questions touched on the controversy that had haunted the memory of his famous father. His unvarnished comments would raise eyebrows and a chuckle as he dissed and dished it out with the views of contemporary historians whom he dismissed as "revisionists."
Despite his own illustrious career as a fighter pilot, journalist, advertising executive, entrepreneur, historian and author, in the public's eye, Arthur Bishop was inextricably linked to "Billy" Bishop.
Born in London on June 13, 1923; Arhur's godfather was Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, a former governor general of Canada, and his godmother was Princess Louise, cousin to Queen Mary. At 10, he was flying with his father and three years later, trained as a student pilot at the Montreal Light Air¬plane Club. When war came, at 18, like his father, Arthur enlisted and on July 30, 1942, at Uplands, Air Marshal W. A. Bishop, director of Royal Canadian Air Force recruiting, pinned his wings on his son. The striking resemblance of the two men, was clearly evident but Arthur did not trade on the fame of his forebear, rather he was determined to forge his own way. There were other similarities; "He has enough of the devil in him to make a good fighter pilot." This was the recommendation given by Arthur Bishop's headmaster in a character reference required by the RCAF for all new recruits.
Arthur became a fighter pilot, serving with 401 Squadron RCAF flying Spitfires as part of 83 Group in the then recently formed 2nd TAF. Flying hundreds of missions over France, he scored a victory, but was also shot down twice. By 1945, Arthur was rotated back home and a new life began as he married Priscilla Jean Aylen, the daughter of John Alden Aylen QC, and Jean Oliver Anderson of Ottawa. The marriage brought two children, Diana and William.
Discovering a talent for the written word, Arthur began a professional life as a reporter for the Windsor Star, then joined Ronalds Advertising Agency, where he rose to become senior partner, director and vice president. In 1967, in partnership with his wife, he formed PPS Publicity, working with some of Canada's leading corporations. Upon retirement, he began another career as a distinguished aviation historian and author. In 1956, before his father had died, he had hoped that his son would write his biography, subsequently to become The Courage of the Early Morning (1965). Another score of important books followed, Courage In The Air (1992), Courage On The Battlefield (1993), Courage at Sea (1994), The Splendid Hundred True Stories of Canadians Who Flew in The Battle of Britain (1994), Our Bravest and Best: Stories of Canada's Victoria Cross Winners (1995), Canada's Glory: Battles That Forged A Nation 1795-1953 (1996), S*A*L*U*T*E: Canada's Great Military Leaders From Brock To Dextraze (1997), The Air-Raid Coded Bodenplatte (1998), Destruction At Dawn (1998), co-author of Our Lasting Bond: The Canadian Fighter Pilots Association Memoir (1998), Unsung Courage (2001) and Winged Combat: My Story as a Spitfire Pilot in World War II (2002).
By the time of his last works, Arthur had lost his wife and had moved to The Kensington Gardens Retirement Residence in Toronto, where he lived out his last years, in company of those he would probably characterize as "old f*ts." Arthur was also the co-founder and director of the Canadian Fighter Pilots Association, as well as director of the Canadian International Air Show. In 1999, he was awarded the Bear Hickle Award for his contribution to Canadian military history by the York Garrison of the 78th Fraser Highlanders. In 2003, Arthur Bishop was named Guardian Commander of the Canadian Veterans Hall of Valour for his outstanding contributions to the history of Canada's military heroes.
William Arthur Christian Avery Bishop died in his sleep on February 14, 2013. Did he ever overcome having to live in the shadow of a legend? Diana Bishop recalled, "My father followed in his father's footsteps as a fighter pilot, right into another war. It couldn't have been easy, and I often wondered whether he constantly had to seek his father's approval, and whether he was always trying to measure up." On his passing, his son, Bill, succinctly noted that his father "never once complained" about being constantly compared to a legend. "That's one of the amazing things about him ... He had to carve out his own life. And he did it very well."
In his obituary, his family invited well-wishers to "raise a glass and share their favourite Arthur Bishop story at a memorial celebration at The Badminton & Racquet Club of Toronto on Saturday, February 23rd."
RCAF Retirees in the Yuma Sun
The RCAF Retiree's Luncheon is held annually in Yuma, Arizona, and in February 2013, celebrated its 11th successful year. Yuma is a smaller city in the deep southwest corner of Arizona where California, Mexico and Arizona meet along the Colorado River. It is well known as a major military area as there is a large marine air base, an U.S. army proving ground and several air weapons ranges. Two large weapons ranges are nearby: the Barry Goldwater Range and the Chocolate Mountain Range. The desert location is why so many bases were here from the Second World War; Patton's Army trained just north of here. With the warm desert climate it is not surprising so many Canadian "snowbirds" choose to make this their winter home.
This year a short history of the event was prepared and delivered by one of the original founders of the luncheon, Don Reader, a long-time RCAF member, retired. This short story is based on Don's report to the 238 guests who were in attendance at the American Legion Post 19 this year. The lunch was opened by a piper which is a tradition we are so pleased to continue as the Prince Albert Highlanders from Saskatchewan joined us and delivered a rousing performance.
The event had started out with four vacationing couples getting together: Jim and Marge McGrath, Des and Ann Dessario, Ron and Joanne Murray and Don and Shirley Reader. The first organizational meeting took place 12 years ago at Jim and Marge's place over breakfast. It all began as a retiree's breakfast. The first one was held at a local 55+ resort called Country Roads and 50 retirees were in attendance. Jim McGrath was the first committee leader. The success of this breakfast led to an annual event and Des Dessario became the leader. The next breakfast hosted 150 attendees. When Des and Ann quit coming to Yuma, Bev and Andy St. Amant took over the committee leadership.
In 2011, Bev and Andy stepped down after dedicating five years to the event and passed the leadership over to Roger and Gerry Beebe. We outgrew the Country Roads site and on Shirley Reader's suggestion we approached the American Legion Post 19. They were pleased to support us and we now have a fine facility to meet in. The Legion prepares and serves the food, provides the sound system, sets the tables, and does the cleanup which makes the event much easier to manage by the committee. We continue to grow, last year we had 200 in attendance and this year 238.
The luncheon gives people a chance to renew old friendships and swap stories about their RCAF time and careers. It also allows us a time to honour our veterans and serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Last year, we had a Second World War veteran in attendance but he passed on. This year, no Second World War veterans but some from 50s, lots from 60s and 70s and even few from after the year 2000. A large attendance came in from British Columbia and Alberta, a few from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, five or six from Ontario, two from Quebec, another five or six from the Maritimes and two from Newfoundland, but no one from the three northern territories.
The event is getting bigger every year and I assume it will continue for years, as we get a lot of support from the Royal Canadian Legion, RCAF Association and many others.
Author Roger Beebe is a former RCAF veteran who served from 1963 to 1969, spending four years in France and Germany maintaining CF-104s and many other NATO aircraft of the time. Then he headed back to CFB Cold Lake to work in 434 Squadron on T-33 and CF-5 aircraft. In the CAHS, Roger was also Edmonton Chapter President, and National Western Director for several years, as well as serving as interim President in 2008.
Canada’s Rotary Wing Heritage
On February 23, 1909, the pioneering efforts of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell's AEA (Aerial Experiment Association) culminated in the Silver Dart taking to the skies, launching Canada's air age. What is not as well known is that the first powered flight by a "fixed wing" aircraft was matched by the rudimentary experiments in rotary wing and vertical take off and landing (VTOL) craft that took place in Winnipeg in the same year. While being in the forefront of aeronautical development for a century, vertical flight development in Canada has been inauspicious and fraught with only a handful of tentative projects destined never to achieve production status.
At the dawn of aviation, Manitoba was the scene of experiments and demonstrations with "birdmen" and "birdwomen" investigating flight in the form of balloon ascents and parachute flights. The next development occurred in 1909 when 25 enthusiasts gathered at the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau to form the Aero Club of Canada on March 31, 1909 "in order to assist and promote practical aeronautics by encouraging Canadian Inventors." Their initial ambitious project resulted in the first aircraft designed and built entirely in Canada, the "Aero Car Canada", which was unveiled to the public shortly after the association's inauguration; their second program led to the design of Canada's first helicopter.
In describing the efforts of this pioneering association, newspaper accounts noted that it was the first "of its kind in Canada". The eventual Chair of the club was to be Hon. Sir Hugh John MacDonald, the former Premier of the province and the son of Sir John A. MacDonald. One of the first functions of the Aero Club of Canada was to establish headquarters in Winnipeg and create a constitution that would enable aeronautical research and support of individual projects by providing communication with other scientific associations worldwide.
Soon after its creation, founding member, William J. Robertson commenced on the first of the Aero Club of Canada's efforts, the "Aero Car Canada" (also variously described as the "Aerocar Canada"), the first aircraft designed and built in Canada. Despite its innovative design, the Aero Car Canada displayed on July 14-15, 1909 at the Happyland Ball Grounds in Winnipeg, was not successful. Its first flight was delayed partly by weather as well as a lack of parts that were being sent from the United States. It was not until the arrival of Eugene Burton Ely, demonstration pilot for Curtiss Aircraft who flew in Winnipeg on July 15, 1910, that the first powered flight in Manitoba was recorded.
A second aircraft design was initiated in 1909 under the auspices of the Aero Club of Canada, although it was not able to proceed beyond research and design. The Kelsey Helicopter, named after its Winnipeg inventor, Edwin E. Kelsey, was revealed to the public on April 6, 1909. Described as a "dirigible helicopter", although the design proved to be successful in scale model form, lifting into the air and flying even in a confined space, it never progressed to final construction. A further five aeronautical projects commenced by members of the Aero Club of Canada were similarly fated to never be completed.
In other rotary wing developments at the turn of the century, engineers and designers in France struggled with the basic configuration of contra-rotating rotors. In 1907, Paul Cornu and Louis Brequet had both built rudimentary craft that could lift into the air, but could hardly be considered successful designs as both suffered from control problems and were abandoned. The following year, a young Igor Sikorsky in Russia also experimented with a similar design but the resulting unmanned machines that were tested in 1909-1910 were only able to rise a few feet into the air. It was not till decades later, that Brequet with the Gyroplane (1935), Professor Henrich Focke with the Focke-Achgelis Fa-61 (1936) and later Sikorsky with the VS-300 (1939) returned to tackle the inherent conundrums of rotary wing flight, to create the first truly successful helicopters.
In Canada, during the same period, a number of designers struggled with rotary wings. In the 1930s, the Hess Helioplane and Duben Helicopter were unsuccessful designs that were constructed and tested but proved unable to sustain hover or flight. However, in Homewood, Manitoba, an almost unheralded project, designed and built by brothers Douglas, Nicholas and Theodore Froebe was undergoing testing. In 1936, using a "backyard mechanics" approach, the brothers had cobbled together a simple, but functional contra-rotating helicopter. The open tube frame and rotors were built from aircraft chrome molybdenum steel while other components were either handcrafted or derived from available automotive or farm machinery. The sturdy machine utilized two concentric, contra-rotating rotor blades powered through a right-angled drive by a used 4-cylinder air-cooled, front-mounted de Havilland Gipsy engine.
Doug Froebe was the primary test pilot during a series of test flights undertaken in 1937-39, recording Canada's first controlled, manned vertical flights. His notebooks, logbook and letters (now preserved at the Western Canada Aviation Museum) provide a vivid picture of the pioneering flights. "During the first attempt to fly, the tail came off the ground about three feet. I hauled the stick clear back and the front wheels came off one at a time... when I'd shut the throttle down, it would just take its time coming down – didn't stall – just float down like a feather." Although the helicopter suffered from severe torsional vibration, it easily transitioned into vertical and hovering flight, and while only flights of short duration were attempted, a total of four hours and five minutes was logged before the test flights were ended on March 2, 1939.
Throughout the 1940s, the Froebe brothers continued to modify their experimental design and made efforts to sell their concept to Canadian and American interests including the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. Gradually, they realized that more viable production helicopters rolling out of Bell, Hiller, Piasecki and Sikorsky companies, doomed any hope of commercial or military contracts. Despite their record of successful test flights, the Froebe brothers did not apply for a patent, with their helicopter being largely forgotten, although the original machine resides today at the Western Canada Aviation Museum.
In the immediate postwar years, Canada's only certified helicopter was developed, the Grey Gull designed by Bernard Sznycer (assisted by mathematician Selma Gottlieb). Designed for Intercity Airlines with the same basic configuration of the successful landmark Sikorsky designs, the SG-IV-C single rotor prototype helicopter was designed and built in Montréal as a purpose-built machine able to withstand Canada's harsh northern environment. The test pilot, aptly named Henry J. Eagle Jr., carried out its maiden flight on July 9, 1947, noting a completely vibration free flight. After successful completion of the test program, the first production machine, SG-IV-D Grey Gull, was flown on February 6, 1948, and granted a Certificate of Airworthiness on March 15, 1951.
During tests, the Grey Gull managed to fly in the most adverse conditions, with comments such as "Temperature – 10 degrees below zero. Altitude- instrument covered with snow. Wind – Terrible. Aircraft – normal in all respects." Despite the error-free test program and glowing reports revolving around its robust construction, stability and flight control, after no contracts were obtained, financial backing was withdrawn in 1954, leading to the program's demise. The Grey Gull is now restored to display condition at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskawin, Alberta.
Although no other helicopters have been designed and constructed in Canada since the 1950s, three notable rotary and VTOL concepts have emerged as historical footnotes. The first two designs owed their existence to the Avro CF-105 Arrow project that dominated the late 1950s headlines. In the aftermath of the cancellation of the Avro Arrow on "Black Friday, February 20, 1959, engineer Peter Payne, together with a small group of fellow designers and engineers, created Avian Aircraft Ltd. with headquarters at Georgetown, Ontario. Their "start-up" concentrated on the design and construction of helicopters and autogyros, resulting in the design of the Avian 2/180 Gyroplane.
The diminutive two-seat experimental Gyroplane was a compound aircraft powered by a "buried" 200hp Lycoming LO-360 air-cooled engine. It could take off as a helicopter and once in flight, power being transferred to a tail-mounted, four-blade, dueled pusher propeller, while the rotor free-rotated. The Avian 2/180 first flew in spring 1960 with a small production run following. During a protracted development period, the Avian 2/180 underwent various modifications and improvements before being granted approval as a civil aircraft in 1967 in both Canada and the USA. In spite of its spirited performance, high production costs prevented further development.
The second VTOL project coming as a result of the Avro Aircraft company was the improbable story of the Avro VZ-9 AV Avrocar, a "black" project that had been underway in relative secrecy while the Avro Arrow had received star treatment. Initially funded by United States Air Force, the two-seat Avrocar was designed in 1958 as a "proof-of-concept" test vehicle for a future line of supersonic disc-shaped "flying saucers". During its conception, the United States Army showed interest in the project as a contender in a "flying jeep" competition. The Avrocar intended to exploit the Coandă effect to provide lift and thrust from a single ducted "turborotor". Three Continental J69-T-9 jet engines at 660 lbf (2.9 kN), mounted inside the fuselage "blew" onto the rotor, which in turn, diverted the exhaust out the rim of the disk-shaped aircraft to provide anticipated VTOL-like performance.
The futuristic Avrocar had its first untethered flight on November 12, 1959 with the second of two production machines completing a flight test program during 1959-1961, never able to rise out of "ground cushion". The performance fell far short of design objectives, and stability remained elusive resulting in both the U.S. Army and Air Force funding being cancelled in March 1961. Both examples still exist with the wind-tunnel model in storage at the Garber Reclamation Facility of the Smithsonian's National Air And Space Museum and the flight test model under restoration in the U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Ft. Eustis, Virginia.
The only other VTOL project coming out of Canada is the "convertaplane" Canadair CL-84 Dynavert, Canadair designed and manufactured a series of V/STOL (vertical and short take off and landing) turbine tilt-wing monoplanes between 1964 and 1972. Only four of these experimental aircraft were built with three entering flight-testing. Two 1,500 shp (1,100 kW) Lycoming T53 shaft-turbines were used to drive the two 14 ft (4.3 m) four-bladed propellers. The wing was tilted vertically to provide lift and hovering capability much like a helicopter and then could be lowered into a horizontal position to convert the Cl-84 into a "conventional" aircraft. The U.S. military became the prime focus of the subsequent development, with the CL-84 intended to serve as a high-speed shipboard transport.
The CL-84 prototype, CF-VTO-X, first flew in hover on May 7, 1965 and although the airframe and a subsequent production example: CX8401 were lost in accidents, the sole remaining test aircraft underwent a grueling evaluation in 1973 onboard the USS Guadalcanal aircraft carrier. In the face of gale storm conditions, the 84 performed magnificently in tasks such as ferrying troops and "blind-flight." In spite of rave reviews from over 40 pilots, with the wind-up of the Vietnam War, the CL-84 did not land any production contracts.
The two surviving CL-84s ended up in museums: CX8402 resides in the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa alongside another faded dream of technological greatness in Canada – the Avro Arrow.
CX8403 was never flown; it was donated to the Western Canada Aviation Museum. Today, only the fuselage sits forlornly in the main display gallery.
Museum visitors who have seen either examples of the Canadair CL-84 Dynavert, sometimes take time to read the displays that tell the story of one of Canada's greatest achievements in V/STOL development and may pause to ponder "what if?" With the end of the last indigenous vertical flight program, the Canadian aviation industry has now been relegated to purchasing "off-the-shelf" helicopters from abroad.
In Korean Skies
IN KOREAN SKIES
F/L Ernie A. Glover of the RCAF, attached to the 334th (F) Squadron USAF, flying a Canadair Sabre F-86E-6 (Mk. II), brings down one of the three MiGs with which he was credited. Illustration by Peter Mossman.
The following account was written by Hugh A. Halliday, former curator of War Art with the Canada War Museum in 1963, when he was a Flying Officer in the RCAF on the staff of the Directorate of History. It appeared originally in the RCAF publication, Roundel for December 1963 and January/February 1964 and was made available by the author for Journal publication.
Although both the Luftwaffe and the RAF employed jet aircraft during World War II, there were no engagements between the jets of the two air forces. It was not until the Korean War that jet versus jet combats took place. Then, the Sabres of the USAF won against Mi G-15s with a kill ratio of 10 to 1, despite heavy odds. Among those Sabre pilots was a score of Canadians who contributed their share, shooting down at least nine MiGs and damaging many more.
At the outbreak of the Korean War, the UN air forces under American command quickly eliminated the small North Korean Air Force. When the Communist Chinese intervened in the fall of 1950, they introduced a new factor in the air war. On 1 November 1950 six MiG-15s crossed the Yalu River and attacked a flight of F-51 Mustang fighter-bombers.
The swept-wing MiG-15 was the most advanced Russian fighter of the day, superior to every UN plane in Korea at that time, and was being supplied in growing numbers to the Red Chinese. Although American F-80 Shooting Stars and F9F Panther jets were able to shoot down a few MiGs, it was clear that the newer aircraft threatened UN air superiority, vitally needed to stem the enemy's overwhelming strength on the ground. The only comparable airplane in service in the West was the North American F-86 Sabre. In a crash program, the USAF moved one wing (the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing) from Wilmington, Delaware, to the Far East in November 1950. One of the pilots was an RCAF officer on exchange duties, F/L J.A.O. Levesque, who became the first Canadian to participate in all-jet air battles.
Omer Levesque was an old hand on fighters. During World War II he had resigned a commission in the Royal 22nd Regiment to join the RCAF. As an NCO pilot in No. 401 Squadron he had destroyed four German fighters before being shot down and taken prisoner in February 1942. Now he was on his way to another war.
The 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing could only operate its Sabres from Kimpo airfield, northwest of Seoul. The field was already crowded with bombers and fighter-bombers, so the wing's commander, Col. G.F. Smith, left a large part of the unit at Johnson Air Force Base in Japan. He then established Detachment "A" at Kimpo with pilots drawn from the Wing Headquarters and all three squadrons, the 334th, 335th, and 336th. Levesque was among the pilots sent to Korea.
The Sabres flew an orientation flight on 15 December and two days later they took off on a sweep over North Korea. Lt. Col. B.H. Hinton shot down one MiG, the first of many which were to fall to the Sabres. Initially flying at about Mach .62 in order to save fuel, the Sabre pilots were at a disadvantage, as they first had to accelerate before countering the high-flying MiGs. After several inconclusive combats, the Sabres switched to cruising at Mach .85 or more, and this paid off. They shot down five more MiGs in December for the loss of one of their own.
Early in January 1951, advancing Communist armies forced the Sabres to abandon Kimpo and return to Japan. However, late the same month the American 8th Army opened a counter-offensive, retaking Suwon airfield on 28 January and Kimpo on 10 February. The airfields were badly damaged, and when the Sabres returned to Korea they had to be based temporarily at Taegu, using Suwon for staging. In February, however, the 334th Squadron moved to Suwon, while the 336th, based at Taegu, staged its Sabres through the more advanced field and Sabres and MiGs resumed their duel.
On 30 March i951, a force of B-29s was sent to bomb the bridges over the Yalu at Sinuiju, under the very noses of the MiGs based in Manchuria. The 334th Squadron was included in the escort, and Levesque was flying as wingman to Major Edward Fletcher, one of the flight leaders.
The MiG response that day was feeble, and only a few brushed with the Sabres. Fletcher and Levesque attacked two, which split up, each with a Sabre in hot pursuit. Levesque's MiG made a few evasive manoeuvres and then leveled off, as if the pilot thought he had shaken the Sabre. At more than 600 yards Levesque opened fire, and the sleek enemy fighter went spinning down, crashing on the Manchurian side of the Yalu River. It was Levesque's fifth victory in two wars.
Caption: F/L (later S/L) J.A.O. Levesque was the first Canadian to fly with the USAF in Korea and the first to take part in an all-jet dogfight. His MiG kill was the first by a Canadian and he is seen receiving his American DFC from Col. H.A. Sebastian. DND PL51603
He remained with the wing until May 1951, when his exchange tour expired and he was returned to Canada. He came home wearing the ribbons of the American Air Medal (for having flown 20 missions in December) and the American Distinguished Flying Cross (for his combat on 30 March 1951).
Editor's Note: Want to read more? This article is found in the CAHS Journal, Volume 24, No. 4, Winter '86 found on the CAHS website.
To order your copy for $7.00, click here.
Aviation Museum Completes First Historical Airplane Replica
Aviation Museum Completes First Historical Airplane Replica
By Bruce McLeod and Mark Whittaker
For the first time in about 8 decades, the Montreal sky becomes the backdrop for a piece of Quebec's aviation history. The Fairchild FC-2, nicknamed the "Razorback" after its triangular sectioned fuselage, emerged on 27 October 2012 from the Canadian Aviation Heritage Centre's (CAHC) workshops (at the Old Cow Barn on the Macdonald Campus of McGill University) after over 12 years of work.
Built from scratch with original plans, and supplemented by the creativity, ingenuity, craftsmanship and enthusiasm of volunteers in the restoration team led by Jake Wilmink, Mark Whittaker and John Duckmanton, this full scale 1926 "multi-tasker of the skies" aircraft is the first of several aviation projects currently underway at the CAHC.
The Canadian Aviation Heritage Centre – a non-profit organization and Montreal's only aviation museum – is located in the "old stone barn" on the Macdonald Campus of McGill University in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec on the Macdonald Campus of McGill University. Hours of operation are Monday, Tuesday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The CAHC invites the public to come and visit our aircraft restoration projects, workshops, aviation art gallery and artefact displays. The FC-2 will be on permanent display beginning on Saturday, 17 November 2012.
The Fairchild FC-2 "Razorback" was part of a family of light, single engine, high wing utility monoplanes, originally designed in the 1920s to provide a camera platform for aerial photography and mapping/survey work. The Fairchild series was the product of the innovative aerial photography and survey business that stemmed from inventor Sherman Fairchild's need for a suitable aerial platform. Designed by Alexander Klemin and Norman McQueen, the configuration of a conventional strut-braced high-wing monoplane with tailwheel undercarriage, (featuring wooden wings able to be folded back against the tail for storage) and a fully enclosed, extensively glazed, heated cabin, led to a sturdy multipurpose aircraft that found its niche in the Canadian wilds.
Manufactured initially at the new Fairchild factory at Farmingdale, New York, the FC-1 prototype for the series, flew on 14 June 1926 and despite being considered underpowered (equipped with the ubiquitous Curtiss OX-5), with subsequent Wright J-4 and later J-5 Whirlwind powerplants, soon found a market in both civil and military applications. The RCAF encouraged Canadian Vickers to obtain licence rights in 1927 to manufacture the definitive FC-2, leading to a small production run of 12 airframes.
In civil use, the Northern Aerial Mineral Exploration Ltd (NAME) used the type in northern Canada. FC-2s flown by Canadian bush pilots Duke Schiller and Romeo Vachon, the Canadian Transcontinental Airways Company's Chief Pilot, were also prominently used in the 1928 rescue of the crew of the aircraft ''Bremen'' at Greenly Island, in Blanc-Sablon, Quebec, near the border of Newfoundland and Labrador.
While the FC-2 proved to be useful in bush flying, operating on skis, floats and wheels, the RCAF utilized the type in both aerial photography and mapping as well as light transport roles. The adaptable design, converted to a later Model 51 standard, was even modified to serve as a trainer, fitted with bomb racks. Due to a RCAF requirement to standardize engines, the basic FC-2 design was re-engineered with a 215 hp Armstrong Siddeley Lynx radial engine as the FC-2L. In this form, the type flew with RCAF units, primarily in northern operations. A further version for the RCAF, known as the FC-2V, was also developed.
Emerson International Airport
Emerson International Airport
January 15, 1940
It was miserably cold that morning when Joe Wilson hitched his team of horses to a wagon. He looked up in the sky to see two aircraft circling overhead. Joining a procession of cars and a truck laden down with fuel barrels, he lumbered his way to the front, coaxing his workhorses, Prince and Fred, forward along the wind-swept field. The assembled crowd began to gesture at the swooping twin-engined planes now clearly in view. Piling out of one of the lead cars was a film crew that hastily set up a tripod and movie camera.
Jimmy Mattern, the famous test pilot, peered out the side cockpit, astonished at the sight below. It was a wind sock planted in the middle of the prairies. After the long cross-country excursion from Burbank with numerous stops along the way, he was nearly at the end of his ferry flight. Lining up for an approach, he maneuvered the Lockheed Hudson bomber downwind for a landing short of the international border that straddled his landing site. Following closely behind was an identical Hudson bomber, also painted in a dark drab, with only civilian markings on the underside of the wings to identify it. The subsequent touchdown was hard, the second bomber swerving off the improvised runway and nearly tipping on its nose, before righting itself.
Ron Lendrum, the customs officer on the Canadian side of the border had just arrived for his shift, bemused at the gathering outside his small white frame building. He did a double take as he looked over to the U.S.- Canada border. The low rumbling came from two bombers taxiing up to the international boundary line. The pilots idled their engines as they swung the planes to a few feet from the border.
While movie cameras rolled and flash bulbs went off to record the scene, Joe Wilson drove his horses up to the border and then slipped a hook and rope from the harness. Striding quickly over to the first bomber’s main landing gear, Wilson cinched up a tow rope and hook, pulling back on the harness and driving his team forward. In seconds, the bomber had rolled across the border and Wilson was on to the next plane. Wilson hauled the bomber, which had shut down its engines, across the border to greet the fuel truck that pulled up. The truck driver and his helper were dressed in military overalls, quickly busying themselves with 45-gallon fuel drums, they began to refuel the Hudson bombers.
Wilson’s wife dutifully noted the aircraft number; her job was to keep a meticulous record of the Wilson “towing company” since her husband would be paid $3.00 per plane. Mattern and his crew hustled into one of the idling cars to get warm while his plane was being fueled. Within half an hour, the crews emerged from their cars, waving to the small crowd of locals and reporters before jumping into their bombers and starting up their engines. Rushing down the long prepared strip, they took off in succession, circling the Customs House where the dumbfounded agent was still trying to piece together what he was seeing. What he had witnessed was an incredible smuggling operation that was taking place at the Emerson International Airport as one local wag, Jim Johnson, had christened the impromptu landing field.
1940- much of the world was at war but the Neutrality Act passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Aug., 1935 was designed to keep the United States out of a possible European war. The law specifically banned shipment of war materiel to belligerents. Amended in Feb., 1936, to prohibit the granting of loans to belligerents, and later (Jan. and May, 1937) The Neutrality Act was extended to cover civil wars, a step inspired by the Spanish civil war. In Nov., 1939, the act was further revised in favor of supplying warring nations on the “cash-and-carry” principle.
Roosevelt was carefully treading between the “America First” isolationist movement and others who wanted to see the United States line up on the side of the Allied nations fighting the Axis Powers. He may have privately been supportive of the British efforts although any public pronouncements in this vein were denounced roundly by one of the leading isolationists, Senator Gerald Nye from North Dakota. With the looming Battle of France, efforts had been made to procure U.S. military weapons, especially modern fighting planes. The Neutrality Act allowed purchase of war material but disallowed their movement out of the United States. Foreign pilots could not come to the United States to “fly away” aircraft while American pilots could not fly the planes to international territory unless…
The next part of the story– a massive “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” enterprise involved two countries and a “hands-across-the-border” operation. Before the shooting war had begun, the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the L’Armeé de L/Air had placed millions of dollars of orders with various aircraft manufacturers, chiefly Lockheed Aircraft Company and Douglas Aircraft Company in California. The aircraft were fitted out to the customers’ specifications and painted in foreign liveries before company officials realized the dilemma of ensuring delivery to their foreign customers.
Rather than breaking the aircraft apart, a scheme was concocted to spirit the aircraft out to Canada as a way-point to their final destinations. Looking at the map there were many sites that were ideal for a smuggling operation. Agents from Lockheed and Douglas and other aircraft manufacturers began to secretly buy up land on both sides of the border at various locations, including Alberta and Montana border towns. A few test flights in late 1939 proved the concept when 15 Harvard trainers were shepherded across at the Sweetwater, Montana– Coutts, Alberta landing strip.
The secret nature of the work was somewhat negated by the arrival of newspaper and film crews in Coutts. A cowboy actually lassoed a propeller and a tow truck pulled the planes over the border. F/L Bervens, one of the four Canadian Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots assigned to fly the trainers recalled that the scene was more farcical than clandestine. The pilots were all wearing civilian clothes and were confronted by a rancher who demanded a $150.00 “landing fee” for each plane they accepted. The rough terrain and changeable weather conditions made the delivery treacherous although, between December 1939 and June 1941, over 500 aircraft slipped across the border at Coutts.
Negotiations had progressed late in 1939 between the American aircraft companies and the Canadian military to choose a more favorable landing site, especially for larger bombers that were also awaiting delivery. After checking possible landing strips, the decision was made to switch to a new secret landing strip at Pembina, North Dakota. Alex Milne Jr. owned the farmland near Emerson and he agreed to clear a landing strip adjoining the international crossing with his caterpillar tractor. On the other side of the border, George Kochendorfer’s land became the other half of the international landing strip. In January 1940, the ground was still frozen and was uneven in spots, making each landing an adventure in itself, however, the Lockheed and Douglas delivery pilots were all pros and learned to bring in the aircraft without suffering any damage.
Mrs. Wilson recorded 33 aircraft in the next year-and-a-half that Emerson International was in service. Many other aircraft arrived, many of them unceremoniously pushed across, to the consternation of Custom Agent Lendrum. He told onlookers that none of the airplanes had ever paid a duty and when one hapless pilot had accidentally landed on the Canadian side of the border, he had demanded a customs duty from the startled pilot.
Residents on both sides of the border showed up for the regular visits made by Lockheed Hudson and Douglas Digby bombers joined by Harvard trainers, Boeing-Stearman PT-17 Trainers and Cessna T-50 Cranes. The local Emerson movie theatre, the Deluxe, showed a newsreel on Friday and Saturday, March 29- 30, 1940 of the bombers at Emerson. Even the New York Times and Newsweek covered the story. Newsweek called the Emerson-Pembina crossing, the “Neutrality Dodge, ” which was especially galling to Senator Nye who recognized that the subterfuge was taking place in his home state.
The U.S. government had understandably been concerned that aircraft manufacturers had been flaunting the provisions of the Neutrality Act yet the Nazi advances in Europe had pushed Britain’s back against the wall and Roosevelt realized that aircraft destined for the RAF were desperately needed. Representative E.H. Foley proposed a revision to the law in June 1940 to permit both an American and British flight crew onboard to transport a plane. The amendment provided a loophole for a transfer of ownership and crews as the aircraft crossed the Canadian border. Bombers now merely circled the Pembina-Emerson crossing as they made the cross-over. If enough fuel was available, the flight would proceed directly to Stevenson Field in Winnipeg before the American aircrew was sent back.
For nine months until the Lend-Lease act of March 1941 was enacted, aircraft still were over-flying the Pembina-Emerson border. Effectively, the Emerson International Airport was out of business, ending a curious but vitally important wartime program. Soon enough, the warplanes would be needed by all the Allied powers.
Bombing the South Saskatchewan River in 1951
Alfred, Lord Tennyson declared in his poem Locksley Hall: In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. However, if you're the mayor of a Canadian city located on a major river, flooding is probably a greater concern for you. In 1951, an ice jam on the South Saskatchewan River threatened to flood the city of Medicine Hat. So what do you do? You call in the RCAF to bomb the ice jam.
Bombing ice jams was nothing new. In 1929, the Canadian government decided to bomb the ice in the St. Lawrence to speed the opening of the river. Canadian Airways pilot D.S. Bondurant, flying a Fairchild 71, dropped explosive charges onto the ice which produced a lot of ice chips and dead fish but no expedited break-up of the ice. In May 1945, two Liberators from Gander bombed the Hamilton River near Goose Bay to reduce the ice jam that was backing up water and threatening some of Goose Bay's infrastructure. On 29 March 1951, the South Saskatchewan River broke through its banks and flooded fields when two ice jams downstream began to raise water levels. The rising river was threatening the city of Medicine Hat and its buildings. The efforts to dislodge the ice jams became Operation Floodhat, as the RCAF named it.
The first calls to the RCAF were made at 1:20 PM on 29 March. Mr. Shoulton, the city's Public Works manager, requested assistance in that the RCAF bomb the ice jam. After that, things moved very quickly. Mr. C.E. Gerhart, Alberta's minister of municipal affairs called at 1:45, while Northwest Air Command (NWAC) staff called RCAF Unit Ralston (Suffield) to authorize an aerial recce. At 2:10 RCAF station Calgary reported that they did not have bombs or rockets. However, Group Captain Z.L. Leigh at AFHQ approved asking the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC) at Rivers, Manitoba for support. He also stated that a written waiver for any damages be obtained from the provincial government.
By 5:00 PM, Squadron Leader Laurence Virr at Ralston (RCAF Station at Suffield) had taken Mr. Shoulton on an aerial recce, the NWAC legal officer had prepared and had Mr. Gerhart sign the waiver and the CJATC at Rivers said they would send two Mustangs each armed with two 500 lb bombs and a Dakota loaded with eight additional 500 lb bombs. At 6:45 Flight Lieutenant D.F. Archer and Flying Officer A. Mehlhaff in Mustangs 9573 and 9580 dropped their four bombs with accuracy; however, this did not dislodge either ice jam. Both were bombed, with S/L Virr performing the role of master bomber and acting as safety aircraft. However, further bombing efforts could not be made that day as daylight was fast disappearing.
The next morning, the 30th, the two Mustangs were again loaded with two 500 lb bombs each and Mitchell 641, from Suffield, with four. Archer and Mehlhaff and Flying Officer Morrison in the Mitchell waited for S/L Virr in the Norseman to carry out a recce and advise that all was clear for their work. At 8:45 all three aircraft started their work, again bombing with accuracy and again with negative results. In the afternoon, Flying Officer D.L. Osborne in Mustang 9577 arrived from Rivers and bombed the ice but this did no good.
The assessment was that the delay on the fuzes was too long with the result that the blast was being directed in the mud of the river bottom and not on the ice. Besides the problem of the fuze setting, the ice was 6 feet thick and lodged into the mud at the bottom of the river. The bombing opened up small holes in the ice jams but these were quickly filled by more ice.
On the 31st, the first to have a go was the Mitchell with the 1000 lb bomb brought in from Rivers the previous evening. Before the drop could occur, a nearby farm house was evacuated while the Norseman acting as safety aircraft had to drop two messages to spectators who were getting too close. The arrival of spectators was not unexpected. The use of the 1000 lb bomb had been advertised in Lethbridge's newspaper and the prospect of front-row seats for a bombing display was a rare treat.
At 9:28 AM, the Mitchell dropped its lone bomb. With the fuze on a shorter setting, the blast effect was greater and the ice cracked considerably but still did not cause the ice jam to break. The three Mustangs then came in to do their job, dropping another 3,000 lbs of bombs. The main ice jam was now being held together by one piece of ice but would still not move.
For the RCAF, they considered the bombing effort complete at this time. However, the spectre of failure had always been there and so Dakota 261 from 435 Squadron flew explosives from Edmonton to Medicine Hat on the 30th and then picked up more in Kamloops the next day. These were for the use of the Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE), who were the back-up plan. As the diarist for 435 Squadron put it, the fact the engineers had to finish the job was an embarrassment for the RCAF. And the ice jams, they began to shift on the 31st and the work of the engineers helped to further dislodge them.
Unfortunately, these bombing runs produced two pieces of unexploded ordnance. These were the targets of several searches over the next several years with the first efforts being made two days after the last bomb run. This first effort was supported through a RCAF Sikorsky helicopter. Unfortunately the two bombs were not found despite efforts over the next three years. Whether they ever were found is not recorded.
The bombing weakened the ice jams and provided some valuable lessons in bombing ice. Nature provided the ultimate push to break up the jams, with assistance from RCE and their demonstrations. The river's muddy flow and springtime flooding moved and covered up the unexploded bombs, which may still be somewhere in the river. And thus endeth the tale of the RCAF bombing of the South Saskatchewan River.
[My thanks are extended to CAHS member Jerry Vernon for his assistance on points related to the Mustangs and the Mitchell, Mathias]
Canadian Army Aviation
Canadian Army Aviation
During the First World War, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) 1912–1918 is a British Army Corps in which Canadian troops operate independently. The RFC has a firm Army support focus - air photos, liaison, operating air observation posts (AOP) and close air support of troops on the ground. The first direction of artillery by an air observer occurs on 13 September 1914.
On 8 December 1915, Capt H.C.T. Dowding, Royal Artillery (later ACM Lord Dowding, the commander of Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain), was assigned to improve aerial observation as the commander of 9 Squadron RFC.
After these tentative beginnings, between the wars, the Canadian Air Force (CAF) 1918–1920, has one fighter and one day bombing squadron, and is reorganized as the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) 1924–1932, predominantly focused on civil aviation tasks, such as forestry patrols and mapping. Although No.3 (Service) Squadron B Flight is dedicated to Army Cooperation, from 1932 onwards, most RCAF Army Cooperation squadrons are disbanded or converted to other roles.
In the Second World War, No.122 Sqn RCAF has Coast Artillery Cooperation Flight (1942–1945) while AOP support to Canadian Army units becomes essential for most of the conflict, with 664 (RCAF) Air OP Squadron Operational March 1945, 665 (RCAF) Air OP Squadron Operational April 1945 and
666 (RCAF) Air OP Squadron, formed but not operational. The Auster series aircraft were in use throughout the war.
The main AOP missions included:
In postwar operations, the following units were formed, with the Cessna L-19 "Bird Dog" becoming the primary aircraft in service:
- 444 Air OP Squadron RCAF 1947–1949
DHC-1 Chipmunk and Auster VI
- CJATC RIVERS 1949–1971
Auster VI / VII / L-19
- 1 & 2 Air OP Flights, RCA 1953–1961
CO, IR Pilot & 6 Pilots - 6 Auster VI / VII / L19s
- 5 x Regimental Air OP Troops 1960–1972
OC & 3 Pilots – 3 L19s
In Korea, four Canadians serve with No.1903 Ind AOP Flight RAF. Captain Peter Tees won the DFC in the war.
After 1972, the Canadian army operations were taken over by units of Air Command, now renamed the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Shaking Hands with the Ghost of Charron Lake
Shaking Hands with the Ghost of Charron Lake
The saga of James A. Richardson's pioneering efforts in creating a bush air carrier and his dreams of developing Canadian Airways into a transcontinental airline is well known. Sadly, Richardson's vision was not fulfilled and his company's aircraft were absorbed into other operations. During the summer of 2005, an underwater archaeological expedition has announced a monumental discovery - the location of one of lost Canadian Airways transports that plied the northern routes of Manitoba.
The story begins on December 10, 1931, somewhere north of Little Grand Rapids.
Stewart McRorie clenched at the controls of Fokker Universal "G-CAJD," peering into an increasingly bleak sky in front of him. This was to have been a "milk run" for James A. Richardson's Canadian Airways. Their cargo was food and supplies for the prospectors up at Island Lake in northern Manitoba where a gold strike had recently brought a flurry of activity. For the last few minutes, over the roar of the engine and fighting against the bitter wind in the open cockpit, pilot McRorie had been shouting back to his flight engineer, Neville "Slim" Forrest, that their prospects were looking exceedingly grim.
There were only two viable options in a line squall, push on and hope for the best or start looking for a landing site. As precious moments ticked by, McRorie made his decision. Descending in shallow dives from 2000 ft. to 200 ft., he could make out the icy shape of a lake directly ahead of him, still on his original compass heading. Seeing a bluish hue, McRorie judged the lake as solid.
McRorie later recalled in a 1981 interview, " I wanted to land while I knew where I was." He stretched his glide to "a long stretch on the lake on the northern, north-east side," aiming for a spot 200 yards out and then taking it in "about 25 or 30 yards from the shore."
Marking the time of landing as approximately "noon," McRorie expertly touched down in his ski-equipped plane and cut "JD's" throttle to idle. Slowly steering for the shoreline, the heavily-laden Fokker Universal suddenly began crashing through the thin upper layer of ice.
Photo: Stewart McRorie c. 1935, the McRorie family via the Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM)
Scrambling out of the transport, McRorie and Forrest, abandoned the plane. For the first night, a lean-to had been fashioned on the side of the aircraft to protect Forrest, who had escaped the aircraft through the side cabin door and was drenching wet after plunging into the lake.
Two other Canadian Airways transports, much faster and newer Fokker "Super" Universals on the same cargo run were already in the air, setting off ahead of McRorie, trying to beat out the storm. Scanning the grey, violent storm, the duo knew that they could survive if they just kept their wits about them. Their best chance for rescue would be to wait out the storm and stay put; their companion planes just had to retrace McRorie's flight path to locate the downed plane.
The pair made their way to shore next day to set up a campsite. They lit two fires on islands and kept them going during the daylight, hopping to draw attention to their plight. Even without modern aerial maps or other air navigation supports, bush pilots had made their reputation as rugged survivors who could get out of perilous situations. Many intrepid fliers had even packed snowshoes for the inevitable trudge back home.
After nearly using up their emergency rations and canned goods retrieved from the cargo hold, McRorie and Forrest were spotted by Tom Boulanger, a local fur trapper who had seen one of their campfires. Knowing that although overhead, the swirling storm and heavy overcast prevented aerial searchers from finding the downed aircraft, the group decided to set out for Little Grand Rapids, their starting-point on the fateful flight. Two days into their trek, McRorie and Forrest, accompanied by Boulanger and another native guide, made their way back to safety.
The abandoned Fokker Universal sat forlornly imbedded in the ice of Charron Lake until spring breakup in 1932 when it gracefully floated to the bottom, seemingly lost for all time in the remote northern Manitoba lake. Canadian Airways dutifully wrote the aircraft off their books shortly after.
July 4, 2005, in a survey vessel on Charron Lake, the five members of the search team peered into the monitor. The ghostly image was unmistakable, the lost Fokker Universal, G-CAJD, was resting on the bottom, 40 meters below the gently swaying boat. It was the realization of a quest that had spanned over 70 years.
The story over the years had been respite with rumours and false hopes and after nine fruitless expeditions, the lost Fokker had become known as the "Ghost of Charron Lake." George Lammers, the late museum curator of the Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM) had given the aircraft that tagline but it had been chillingly close to the truth.
Photo: Side-scan sonar image courtesy of Patrick Madden and Annette Spaulding
Long before, the First Nations people that had lived nearby had considered Charron Lake as the home of the spirits but the haunting quality of the lost Fokker Universal had also exerted a spell on all those who had come looking for it. George Richardson, son and heir of James A. Richardson's empire, had passed the legal title for "JD" to the Western Canada Aviation Museum in the hopes that the last remaining example of the 44 Fokker Universals would eventually surface. The first efforts to locate the lost plane began in 1974 but it was only lately, that a new recovery team emerged to take on the hunt.
In 1991, Corporal Patrick Madden, the supervisor of the RCMP Provincial Underwater Recovery Team called in for rescue and recovery operations, received an unusual request from Gordon Emberly, founding member of the Western Canada Aviation Museum. Emberly wanted to locate and recover McRorie's sunken Fokker Universal in a northern lake, 350 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg. Madden's first inconclusive diving exercise at Charron Lake began more than a decade-long odyssey to locate its elusive prey. Even after his retirement from the RCMP as a Sergeant, the allure of the lost Fokker bush plane brought Madden back to the chilly waters of Charron Lake to direct renewed search efforts.
Whimsically nicknamed the "Fokker Aircraft Recovery Team," (F.A.R.T. for short) in its third incarnation, with his wife, Annette Spaulding, Madden had assembled a formidable group of marine and aviation experts. Patrick Madden, Ken McMillan, Gordon Nowicky, Annette Spaulding and W.R. "Bil" Thuma all brought unique skills to the project.
Both Madden and Spaulding are divers who had met due to their mutual involvement in the International Association of Dive Rescue Specialists (IARDS). They now operate Dolphin Underwater Professionals (LLC) in Vermont. Spaulding had been internationally recognized from her work on many wreck sites. McMillan, a marine geophysicist and president of McQuest Marine Sciences Limited from Burlington, Ontario and geophysicist Thuma, president of GeoTec/Plus Ultra consulting firm (Toronto) not only bring scientific expertise, they have previously been involved in countless historic searches and recoveries together and on their own, including the fabled "Lost Squadron" in Greenland and the Halifax bomber recovered from a Norwegian fjord. Nowicky, a retired Air Canada ground equipment technician and tireless WCAM volunteer, was an aviation expert and a remarkable "jack-of-all-trades" who could design and build nearly anything the team needed.
What drives this team of volunteers is the elusive come-hither of Charron Lake's Ghost. Year after year for six summers, based out of a fishing camp run by Selkirk Air on this remote northern lake and working 14-hour days, at times buffeted by severe wind and rainstorms, the search team plied the waters of Charron Lake with sophisticated underwater side-scan sonar forays. "Mowing the grass" was how Ken McMillan described the search, but the systematic exploration of the depths of the 35-square-kilometre lake did not easily reveal the ghost's secrets. In 2004, a final sweep completed a two-week long survey of nearly the entire lake and its rocky bottom. Scans had indicated tantalizing "hits" although each dive would frustratingly bring back evidence of a rock shelf or other anomaly. In one dive to confirm a reading, even five feet away in the murk of the bottom, Annette had been sure that she was looking at a wing structure until closer examination would again reveal another rock formation.
The team leaders, Madden and his wife, who now reside in Rockingham, Vermont, were acknowledged by the others as being the "heart and soul" of the search. Throughout their lengthy quest, Annette and Patrick, have become passionately immersed as true historians in the minutiae and details of the final flight. Bil Thuma described their dedication in this way, "They just dug, and dug, and dug – that's what you have to do. I can't stress enough what their contribution to the search was."
Through their delving into archival records held at the Manitoba Provincial archives and at WCAM, they have plumbed the depths of the mythology surrounding the last flight of G-CAJD. The 1999 magnetometer survey done for the museum identified areas of the lake with unusually high magnetic metal content based on the belief that the aircraft's cargo hold included steel drill rods. After carrying out intensive interviews of surviving McRorie family members (Stewart McRorie had passed away in the 1980s) and others, it became increasingly clear that many of the initial reports including the existence of drill rods were false leads.
Two significant developments occurred recently. Patrick and Annette's research led them to the grandson of the fur trapper who found the stranded pilots in 1931. Tom Berens now recalled, "When he was five years old, Mr. Boulanger, the fur trapper, took him and showed him where this plane landed." Armed with that vital knowledge, the 2005 expedition was able to concentrate on this likely landing spot. "We used that information, the weather report, and ... more sophisticated equipment. We knew right where we wanted to start this year – and talk about being right on target." Ken McMillan placed the team precisely over the Ghost. "You can't get any better than this," said Annette.
Armed with the recent extensive survey of the lake, one other distinctive feature had to be explored. The existence of a lengthy reef, often barely eight feet below the surface would turn out to be the final key to the ultimate discovery of the Ghost. In other sweeps, the rocky reef had been considered problematic in the trolling of the sonar side-scan "fish" with both McMillan and Bill Thuma taking care to fly the fish out of harm's way. This summer, the team re-deployed new side-scan sonar equipment over familiar territory and on only the third pass near the reef, Patrick Madden recalled seeing "an eerily clear image of the ghost plane resting on the lake's bottom."
Looking at the other members of the search team, Thuma said, "The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I got goose bumps." Madden remembered his initial reaction as, "How do you describe the moment of finding the last remaining aircraft of this type in the world? You can't describe it. It's a moment of elation, excitement and relief. It's very emotional."
After 74 years entombed in its watery grave, the Ghost of Charron Lake was revealed. A remotely-controlled ROV brought back video confirmation of the skeletal remains of Fokker Universal G-CAJD sitting upright in the bottom silt. In tracing the outline of the aircraft, Ken McMillan noted, "the wooden wing had shed its plywood cover but spars and ribs remained with the steel tube fuselage structure similarily intact." Gordon Nowicky surmised that the missing engine was probably torn from its mounts when the transport began to break through the ice but he believed the Wright J-5 Whirlwind and prop were nestled under the fuselage.
Photo: L-R Audrey McLennan (daughter of Stewart McRorie) and her husband, Mr. G.N. McLennan meeting Gordon Nowicky, Annette Spaulding and Patrick Madden Photo: Bill Zuk
Shirley Render, Executive Director of WCAM and George Richardson who had funded the search expeditions. From his summer home on Lake of the Woods, Richardson praised the team's efforts, "We've waited years for this, and now we've found it." He said, "It was a very wonderful airplane and it's the last one in the world, so it's very significant." Richardson forecast that the next stage will be critical, "It will be raised and ... will be part of the museum."
Render noted that, "The discovery of the plane and the retrieval of the plane is important not just to the Western Canadian Aviation Museum. It's part of Canada's aviation heritage." She describes the Fokker Universal or "Standard" as a key element in the development of Canada's remote northern and western regions. Only one other Fokker Universal exists, albeit in pieces as part of the Canada Aviation Museum "study" collection. James A. Richardson purchased 12 of the sturdy single-engine, open cockpit planes to haul mail, cargo and passengers for the seminal Western Canada Airways that later morphed into Canadian Airways. The first Fokker transports bore the names, "City of Winnipeg" and "City of Toronto." G-CAJD was built in 1928.
Photo: WCA Fokker Universal, "G-CAJD," Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM)
As Richardson's business grew, the original craft were soon supplemented by the Fokker Super Universal. The modernization of the original design featured a more powerful engine and an enclosed cockpit for the pilot. The only flying example of the later variant, Clark Seaborn's 1929 "CF-AAM" is scheduled to come back home to the Western Canada Aviation Museum in the fall, 2005 where it will be reunited hopefully someday with the Ghost of Charron Lake.
For a few days, the search team basked in the glow of media attention garnered after the release of the underwater images of the Ghost before planning the process of recovery. Annette Spaulding wistfully confided, "I can't wait to be able to touch this plane that nobody else has touched or seen for almost three-quarters of a century."
Photo: L-R The "Fokker Aircraft Recovery Team" – Gordon Nowicky, W. R. "Bil" Thuma, Patrick Madden, Annette Spaulding,
Ken McMillan, Photo: Bill Zuk
The Fokker "Standard" Universal
Photo: WCA Fokker Universal, "City of Winnipeg," Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM)
There are both single- and tri-motor planes under production, and the factory is working on a revolutionary new single-engine model specially adapted for the Arctic. It is called the Fokker Standard Universal, a sturdy high-wing job, and my fingers itch to handle its controls as I see it rolled out on the line.
Bob Noorduyn, Fokker's assistant, asks me if I have ever flown a type like this, and I say, "No, we have nothing as advanced as this in Europe." Noorduyn sees my eagerness and grins. "Why don't you take it up and see what you can get out of it?" I can feel its great lifting power as I ease back on the stick, surging upward and banking in a steep climb. I have never felt better stability in the air. Its rugged build and large cargo space are destined to make it the pioneer bush plane of Canada.
Bernt Balchen Come North wih Me, 1958
First manufactured in 1926 by the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of the Fokker Aircraft Company, the Fokker Universal was designed by Robert Noorduyun. He closely followed the conventional Fokker engineering dictums of building a solid and reliable aircraft.
The Standard featured a welded steel tube fuselage and tail surfaces mated to a strut-braced plywood wing. The transport had an enclosed cabin for 4-6 passengers below and to the rear of the pilot who was seated in an open cockpit, as was the preferred custom of the time.
The Fokker Universal sold new at the Teterboro Airport factory, Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, in 1928 for $14,200. Western Canada Airways purchased 12 of the production run of 45 Universals.
Photo: WCA Fokker Universal "Fort Churchill," Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM)
Span: 47" 9"
Weight (empty): 2,192 lbs., (gross): 4,000 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 78 U.S. gals.
Powerplant: 225 h.p. Wright J-5 Whirlwind (late production)
Service Ceiling of 11,500 feet
Cruise speed: 98 mph.
Maximum Speed: 118 mph.
Stalling speed: 48 mph. Climb rate: 800 ft./min.
Range: 535 miles