This article is reprinted from the CAHS Journal, Volume 41, Number 1, Spring 2003.
Like many members of the CAHS, Russell G.Norman of Hamilton "caught the aeroplane bug early" and has never been cured. Best known for his lifelong accomplishments and keen interest in homebuilt aircraft, Russ has enjoyed a remarkable career in aviation, spanning more than 50 years. To describe Russ as a versatile aircraft owner, pilot and skilled Mr Fix-It around aeroplanes is an understatement.
Russ has flown more than 40 different types of aircraft, including six gliders in the 50s. He has owned different types, including his latest pride and joy, a beautiful all-metal Bushby Mustang II homebuilt. Russ, CAHS member 608, played a prominent role in the growth of homebuilt aviation with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) after the Second World War. In fact, he made history. Flying his EAA Biplane CF-RFG, Russ made the cover of EAA's May 1965 Sport Aviation magazine in a Jack McNulty air-to-air photograph. It was the first time a Canadian pilot and aircraft had been given this prestigious recognition. Russ also has the distinction of having attended every EAA annual fly-in convention since 1958.
If there is a secret to his natural affinity for aviation, it lies in his exceptional mechanical aptitude and a facility for working with his hands. Russ has a confidence and a knack for adapting to changing circumstances that have carried him through many challenges, including the loss of his job in the cancellation of the Arrow at A.V. Roe Canada, and the occasional dicey moment in the air when things didn't follow the script.
Born in Burlington in 1928, Russ was raised in Hamilton. He recalled that he "always wanted to be a flyer." His first recollection of aeroplanes was at the old Hamilton Municipal Airport in east-end Hamilton, officially opened on 6 June 1929. Russ became involved in Junior Air Cadets, which operated out of a church. They met once a week, and built model aeroplanes. Cadet Norman won an award. It turned out to be his first flight, a ride in a J-3, CF-BUG, flown by a chap named Ernie Guzzo. The date was 11 February 1943.
Russ subsequently took the sheet-metal course at Hamilton Technical Institute. A school friend, Roy Byrne, had been flying out of the Cub Flying School at the airport. In 1946, he took Russ to the airport to get acquainted with the school. On 1 December 1946, Russ enjoyed his first instructional flight in a J-3, CF-EFO, flown by Frank Hawkridge. Russ had four hours and 45 minutes of dual instruction before his first solo flight, in a J-3, CF-EEO, on 29 March 1947. He acquired his licence on 11 December 1948, on a Cub L4B (Observer) CF-EGO, then began to check out on various aircraft including a Fleet Canuck, CF-DPX, and a PA-11 Cub Special CF-FTE. In May 1949, after the Cub Flying School folded, Russ went to Peninsula Air Services, also based at the airport. Peninsula had various Piper aircraft, from the J-3 to the PA-12 Super Cruiser, Cessnas, Cornells and other aircraft. Russ checked out on a J-3 on floats, (out of the Hamilton Sky Harbour Air Services seaplane base) two PA-12s, CF-EUX and FIB; and a Tiger Moth.
Aviation was then a magnet for girls who enjoyed the airport scene. Russ recalled that Peninsula had a Cessna 120, which crashed, claiming the life of Jeannie Penthall. "She and some guy who was a minister had gone somewhere on a breakfast flight. They were coming back when he stalled it and they spun into a gully north of the airport. She was a beautiful girl," Russ recalled. Speaking of 120s, Russ flew CF-FPB to the Cleveland Air Races in September 1949. He once flew a man on a photo mission in a J-3. He had a great big camera," Russ recalled. "He hung it out the door and we flew over the Jockey Club in east Hamilton and one of the steel plants." Russ also checked out in a Cornell, CF-ESD, a Peninsula aircraft. In May 1951, Russ enjoyed a flight to North Bay and back in another Cornell, FZA, belonging to Bill Green, a Peninsula instructor. "I had the pleasure of flying a guy, whose car had been stolen, to North Bay. I dropped him off so he could pick up the car."
Russ married his wife, Gloria, at age 19, and soon had a family coming along. The municipal airport, hemmed in by industrial and commercial development, closed in mid-1951. Its eventual fate was sealed in 1940 when the government opted to build an entirely new airport at Mount Hope for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Russ joined A.V. Roe Canada at Malton in 1951 and remained there until Black Friday - 20 February 1959. He worked in the template department on the CF-100, Arrow and Avrocar "Flying Saucer" programmes, but, ironically did not see much in the way of aeroplanes while making templates. He had bought a house at Mount Hope and drove back and forth to Malton.
Russ had started to become involved in gliders at the old airport. He was one of four people who formed The Four Soaring Club of Hamilton, together with Roy Byrne, Charlie Yates and John Wyatt. They started with a Kirby Cadet, CF-ZBA, that had been built by the air cadets in St Catharines. Then they acquired a Schweizer TG-3, CF-ZBU. The club members called it the "bomber." Russ flew gliders out of Mount Hope, Kitchener and Brantford. Four or five clubs in the area formed the Southern Ontario Soaring Association. At one point Russ flew the Schweizer 1-26 prototype in Elmira, NY. Charlie Yates eventually became a world champion in gliding.
For glider tows, Russ at first improvised with his car, then a Tiger Moth, CF-BTF. He used the Tiger Moth to tow a Schweizer 2-22 at an air show in Chatham. On his way back in the Tiger he ran into headwinds and landed at an airport in Kitchener. It was a close call. Russ ran out of fuel as he taxied up to the pumps. He can still remember filling up the tank with the full 18-and-a-half gallons. In 1953, Russ and Roy Byrne upgraded their towing capability. They acquired a Fleet Finch 16B, CF-GDM, which they co-owned. The Fleet needed a fair amount of repair, including wing and engine work. Russ eventually took over complete ownership of 'GDM. Later sold to Harold Stone of Stratford, it went on a cross-Canada air race, then was brought back and restored by the Bouthoorn brothers in the Stratford area. It eventually went to Paul Soles.
In 1955, Russ acquired a Waco, a UPF-7 primary trainer, N30119, which he bought in Hammond, Indiana, under the auspices of M&M Aircraft Services operated by Jack Murphy and Watt Martin. Russ started to fly the Waco home, but crashed at Detroit when he ran out of gas.
Russ was not to be denied. "I paid Murphy the money for the airplane and I hauled it from Detroit to Buffalo," he recalled. "I used to drive to Buffalo every weekend and work on it until I got it back together. Moe Servos flew it to Hamilton for me and I had it certified. As CF-JAU, the Waco was flown by Russ back and forth to Brantford to tow gliders. At the time, it was the only UPF-7 in Canada that Russ knew of.
|The Waco UPF-1 newly restored after its accident in Detroit. NORMAN COLLECTION|
|Russ Norman in his Fleet 16B, CF-GDM, used as a glider tug at Mount Hope in 1953. NORMAN COLLECTION|
One unnerving incident with the Waco at Brantford still stands out. Olaf Woolrich, a Luftwaffe veteran, was checking out the Waco alone, when it swung on him as he took off. He kept going right across the infield to get airborne. Woolrich reacted to the emergency by applying full power, as he had learned while flying Messerschmitt 109s and Focke-Wulf 190s. The banged-up Waco was later sold to the glider club. "They, in turn, wrecked it in about three weeks," Russ recalled with a smile. "The last I heard it was back in Troy, Ohio."
During his time at Avro, Russ really became involved in homebuilts, then known as ultralights. He was attracted by the concept of being able to construct and fly his own aircraft at modest cost. A relatively early member of EAA (No 4,338 in an organization that now has 130,000 members), he had started going to EAA meetings and was a member of Chapter 41 in Brampton, one of the most active chapters. Russ met Ben Keillor, an EAA enthusiast who owned a fleet of aircraft and was the Canadian representative for Jodel aircraft of France at the time. He worked on Ben's Jodel D-9 Bebe, CF-RAM, and test flew the Volkswagen powered aircraft. "I once went to Buttonville with the D-9 and flew a guy's rebuilt J-3," Russ recalled. "I remember coming back that evening. It was so breezy that the guys in the cars below were passing me with their lights on. That D-9 was quite the little machine. It flew on about three litres an hour."
In 1958, Russ rented a Cessna 172 to fly to his first EAA convention, then held at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with Ben, fellow Avro template worker Jack Asher of Oakville and Ed Maxi of Cooksville. Ben had quite a fleet of his own. The highlights included a vintage Welch OW-8, CF-PMH, which went to an air museum in Niagara Falls and then went to the western United States on the museum circuit, and a CallAir A3 cabin monoplane, CF-MMK, which is now in a barn at Harrow in southwestern Ontario. Russ flew both of these rare aircraft. After returning home from the Milwaukee convention, Russ established Chapter 65 in Hamilton. It was chartered in 1959, with Russ serving on the executive for about 30 years.
Considering his long connection with biplanes, it was natural that Russ was "Intrigued by the idea of building his own EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Biplane." He started RFG in 1957, in partnership with fellow Avro employee George Ellis. Russ built the fuselage and tail group of "CF-106" in the basement workshop of his home, while George built the wings in his shop in east Hamilton. The project took five-anda-half years to complete, at a cost of $1,700 including engine and prop. It was the first EAA Biplane built and flown in Canada. Russ and George put in many enjoyable hours flying the aircraft. Paul Poberezny, who founded the EAA at Milwaukee in 1953 and served as president for 37 years, flew it once for two or three circuits at Mount Hope. The Biplane was sold to a man in Boston, who took it to the United States and proceeded to crash it on its first flight. An impressive painting of the Biplane, by the late Hamilton artist Robert Finlayson of the CAHS, is proudly displayed in the living room of the Norman home.
The cancellation of the Arrow was a dark moment in more ways than one. Russ and Gloria had actually bought a house in Brampton and were going to move there before the announcement. "We had the house I built in Mount Hope up for sale, and we had a buyer for it. Fortunately, when A.V. Roe folded, we were able to get out of it and just lost our deposit in Brampton." He recalled that Avro employees had been hearing the rumours of the cancellation "for ages and ages," but just carried on. "It was quite a shock in the end when it was final," he said. Russ has lived on East 14th Street on Hamilton Mountain ever since . The garage, complete with an extension, has been a mini-assembly plant over the years.
Russ was out of work for only a couple of days. His ability to "think things out and work with my hands" was never more valuable. He returned to work for Hamilton Aircraft Services at Mount Hope, a maintenance and repair shop, under Mac Galbraith. They specialized in rebuilding and improving PA-12s among other things. That fall, business slowed down as it traditionally does in the aircraft maintenance field. Russ was laid off. "I bummed around that winter and did little jobs of my own," Russ recalled. "I put a landing light on a guy's aeroplane, and I put the gear back in a SeaBee on the waterfront. Another guy had a Seabee and I had the job of taking the paint off the bottom of it. I can remember being stuck in the hangar till the wee hours of the morning working on that sucker."
At one point the company worked on the well-known Fleet 21M, CF-DLC, usually flown by the legendary Tommy Williams. Russ flew the aircraft from Welland to Mount Hope and back on 2 October 1959 for Williams, who became famous as Canada's oldest pilot. Williams continued to fly it until he retired his licence at age 82. At one point in the early '60s, Russ was asked to restore a Meyers OTW biplane, CF-HAN, which had crashed at Williams Lake near Owen Sound. Jerry Willis gave the aircraft to Russ for restoration, but it would have been too much work. It was sold to a man in Iowa.
Eventually Russ realized that he needed steady work and found employment with the Hamilton Board of Education, where he worked for 25 years until his retirement in 1993. He began as a caretaker and ended up as a supervising foreman. In 1965, Russ started his next homebuilt project - a Corben Junior Ace, which became the new CF-RFG. He liked the two seats and the apparent ease of construction. The Corben was among the homebuilts constructed during the early days of the homebuilt movement prior to the Second World War. "It had a bit of nostalgia to it," Russ recalled. "l talked to a fellow at Rockford, Bill Wessor from Chicago, who took me for a ride in his Junior Ace." Russ first flew the Corben in 1970, and had it for about 30 years until he sold it to Mike Zanstra of Brantford. "Mike was a flier. He flew it about 300 hours in the couple of years that he had it," Russ noted . "I flew it 300 hours in 30 years." Russ has accumulated 1,000 hours flying in all. "You would think it would be more after all of these years, but I guess I've been a tinkerer, a builder, and a maintenance person more than a flier." When he goes to the EAA Convention at Oshkosh, it's usually by car. He flew the Junior Ace there in 1976, a ten-hour flight each way. "It's a long haul and there is Big-B worry - especially with the weather - of getting there and back , when you have Job".
Russ sold the Junior Ace to make way for his third homebuilt aircraft, a sleek high-performance Mustang II, with side-by-side seating. C-GFEL was started in 1977 and finished 23 years later, in 2000. There wasn't any push to finish it, as Russ noted, since he had the Junior Ace to fly as well as a Steen Skybolt, C-GNST, built by his son. Vaughan Norman built the Skybolt - nicknamed The Black Beast - in the basement of his father's home. Russ did the first flight on it on 21 Oct. 1979. He checked Vaughan out on the two-place aerobatic biplane. Vaughan, who lives at Aberfoyle, has been a waste-water treatment operator at Dofasco in Hamilton for 28 years and counting.
Russ was attracted to the Mustang II primarily because he wanted to build a metal aeroplane. The 200-plus miles per hour speed was quite an attraction too. The Mustang II is based on the popular all-metal Midget Mustang racer which made its public debut at the 1948 Cleveland Air Races. Developed by Robert Bushby, the Mustang II made its first appearance at the EAA convention in Rockford, Illinois, in 1966. Close to 400 have since been built around the world.
Russ had a fair amount of help in completing the Mustang II. When the aircraft was completed, Russ needed to make a hole in the wall to remove it from the basement. He did the same thing when Vaughan's Skybolt was finished. "The Biplane came out the cellar," Russ recalled with a smile. He made his first flight in the Mustang II on 20 July 2001, and was honoured with the EAA Chapter 65 All-Metal Award for the project. The aircraft is powered by a 160hp Lycoming, with a Hendrickson fixed-pitch wood prop. Russ has been to Bob Bushby's home in Illinois. At the 2002 EAA convention, he enjoyed meeting with fellow Mustang II owners at their annual dinner.
Like most pilots, Russ has had the occasional tension-filled episode in the air. "One of the most frightening rides came in the summer of 1959. Russ was in the co-pilot's seat of a Grumman Widgeon on Hamilton Harbour. He was working with Hamilton Aircraft Services at the time, doing a hull test for leaks on the Widgeon. All of the floorboards had been removed. The aircraft became airborne and reached an altitude of a few hundred feet when the pilot told Russ "We're going in! I can't get the stick back." Russ grabbed the wheel and pulled. It was solid! "There we were, heading in," he recalled. "I jumped out of my seat and looked to see if I had jammed the control cables down in the floor. Then the pilot hollered, I've got it!" and we started to climb." The pilot told Russ that, when he released the flaps, the spring had broken on the flap handle and fallen through. The aircraft went to full flaps and there wasn't enough elevator control.
|Russ Norman at the controls of his Corben Junior Ace, CF-RFG (II). J. McNULTY.|
|Russ with his award-winning Bushby Mustang II, CF-FEL, at the Hamilton International Air Show in June 2001. G. McNULTY|
Another gripping moment occurred in a Schweizer TG-3 glider CF-ZBU, out of Brantford, on 15 May 1955. Russ was enjoying a nice flight with Marjorie Davidson, who was in the front seat. They were at an altitude of around 4,500 feet when Russ suggested they try a spin. She had never been in a spin before. Russ started the spin, but the aircraft wouldn't come out of it. "She was light in the front and I was heavy in the back," Russ recalled. "The damn thing just kept spinning. I had to undo my shoulder harness and my belt and slide under the instrument panel, to get the weight forward and get that nose down. We came screaming out of the dive at the bottom over the Grand River." Telling the story, Russ flapped his arms energetically to demonstrate how the wings were moving at the end. Talk about a structural test!
While flying the Waco on a test flight, 21 March 1957, Russ was supposed to go up and do aerobatics after the aircraft had been signed out. Russ has never been into aerobatics. He climbed to 3,000 feet, looked down, and decided he wasn't high enough. He went to 4,000, looked down, and made the same decision. "When I got to 5,000, I said to myself, 'Well, I can't go much higher.' So I put it into dive, pulled it up into a loop, reached the top and snapped out of it. I flew away, came around and landed. The boys on the ground said to me, 'Nice roll off the top.' I said, 'Yeah, it sure was.' "As Russ noted in retrospect, "It wasn't intended."
Once he was flying the Waco over to Brantford, accompanied by Ben Keillor in his machine. "I jumped into my aeroplane and away we went. We took off and headed west. Out over Glanbrook Road I hit the goll-darndest bump I had ever experienced. I went that far off the seat and pulled myself in with the stick. Then realized I had not done up my harnesses."
On another occasion Russ was flying with his friend Eric Campbell in Eric's Aeronca K, CF-VQX, on a return flight from an EAA fly-in at the Lake St. John airport near Orillia. They started back in a rainstorm. Before taking off, they used masking tape to seal up the seams against the downpour. They got as far as Halton Hills, where they hit a complete line of fog, right down to the ground. As Russ recalled , "I said, 'Eric, let's get out of here.' He started a gentle turn and I said, 'Now!' I grabbed the wheel and around we went. The wind was blowing so hard that we were heading back to Alliston. We had overflown an airstrip at Beeton where Eric wanted to stop. So we followed the railway track back to Beeton and stopped at the strip there."
Before nightfall, four aircraft had landed at the strip. The owner's wife proceeded to serve what Russ described as "the most beautiful meal for us all." Russ phoned Gloria at home and both of the wives arrived that Sunday night by car. Russ drove home on the Sunday with Eric, then Russ drove Eric back up on the Monday and Eric flew back.
In retrospect, Russ noted that the fundamentals of homebuilt aviation have not changed all that much. Transport Canada regulations have eased up somewhat, helping to promote amateur-built aircraft. One advance has been the use of composite construction, a technique that came into its own in the '70s and has opened up a vast array of new designs. Russ, however, remains a traditional homebuilder. "I like the old rag and steel tube fuselage, the wooden wing," he said. As a strong believer in the EAA, Russ never agreed with the decision of some homebuilders in Canada to break away from the EAA and form the Recreational Aircraft Association of Canada. He felt that EAA always served the Canadian homebuilt movement well and that it wasn't necessary to set up a distinctive Canadian organization. "There were a lot of hard feelings about it, and there still are."
As much as he loves to attend the Oshkosh fly-in, Russ prefers the old days to the new. "EAA has become a great big business," he said ruefully. "It's not as much fun anymore. The whole thing has taken on a carnival atmosphere. I expect to see a Ferris wheel and wooden merry-go-rounds. With Paul (Poberezny), it was more of a volunteer thing."
Chapter 65 , which built a hangar at Mount Hope, now Hamilton International John C. Munro Airport, in 1970. The hangar was donated by Dofasco and manufactured by Butler building contractors. A second portion was added with a grant from Wintario. There are 25 aircraft in the hangar now. Although the airport is much busier today, Russ has not found any problems working with air traffic controllers. He believes the chapter should remain at Mount Hope, as long as it's feasible. Some members are anxious to move to one of the smaller airports or airfields nearby. But Russ has checked out the alternatives and has not been impressed. He feels that once the cost of rented hangars and other expenses are considered, it will cost more to move than to stay put.
Given his traditional approach to things, it's not surprising that Russ is now building a vintage Pietenpol Air Camper, another of the popular pre-war homebuilts. As Russ recalled, "Ben Keillor had welded up the fuselage as part of a group project. Then Ben moved to California and the project went dormant. It was going to go to the dump, but I said no." The Pientenpol went to the basement wall in Russ's home and is now under active construction. In keeping with the relaxed style and emphasis on having fun that Russ likes to take when building homebuilts, there is no set date for completion. But you can be sure that the fourth in the line of homebuilts constructed by Russ Norman will be built with the dedication and care that are the trademarks of this lifelong enthusiast.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air …
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
By Bill Zuk
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, so begins the poem, High Flight, one of the most-recited poems in the world, and it has been since it was written in August 1941 by a 19-year-old Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Pilot Officer, John Gillespie Magee Jr. Born in China to missionary parents, Magee, like many young men when war engulfed the world, was an American who had joined the RCAF in 1940. After successfully receiving his wings through the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, he joined No. 412 Fighter Squadron, stationed at RAF Digby, Lincolnshire, England, flying the redoubtable Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft.
Tragically, three months later, on December 11, 1941, young Magee while flying a Spitfire on a training mission, was killed in a mid-air collision over England, when he encountered a twin-engine Airspeed Oxford flown by LAC Ernest Aubrey Griffin. Both pilots were killed in the collision. Yet 75 years later, the poem Magee had written after a soaring flight in his Spitfire, remains his continuing legacy.
High Flight, a short 14-line “ditty” as he called it, had already been sent home to his parents who lived in Washington, D.C., with the brief note, “I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed.” Magee’s aunt sent the poem on to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Coupled with the news of his death, High Flight was reprinted in newspapers across the U.S.
With the horrific news of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of Magee, so soon after America had gone to war, struck a chord with readers, leading reporters in Washington to seek out more details about the poet. In contacting his father, John Gillespie Magee, the Episcopal priest who served as an assistant minister at St. John’s Church, among the materials he provided to journalists was an issue of the church bulletin in which High Flight had been published.
The poem was subsequently reprinted in countless publications and soon after, the RCAF began distributing plaques with the text of the poem to be displayed at British and Canadian airfields and training stations. Copies of the poem circulated rapidly to many U.S., Canadian and British fighter pilots, who could understand the exhilaration and sense of wonder that Magee had experienced in his soaring paean to flight. High Flight was designated as the official poem of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Canadian Air Force.
High Flight was to come to the attention of Archibald Macleish, poet and Librarian of Congress who immediately hailed Magee as the first poet of the Second World War. On February 5, 1942, the Library of Congress included Magee’s poem in an exhibition called “poems of Faith and Freedom”. High Flight shared a case in the exhibit along with two noted First World War poems, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s “In Flander’s Fields”, and Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier”. English poet Brooke had been Magee’s idol as a youth, with Magee styling some of his poems after Brooke’s work.
High Flight was the only contemporary poem included in the exhibit, and due in part to the Library of Congress exhibition, it quickly became one of the best-known poems of the Second World War. Magee’s parents donated the poem, in its original thin airmail paper form, to the Library of Congress as part of the John Magee Papers on April 14, 1943.
High Flight remains as one of the most requested manuscripts in the Library of Congress collections. The drama and impact of the poem was later featured in a soliloquy performed by Russell Crowe in For the Moment, the Manitoba-made 1993 feature film written and directed by Aaron Kim Johnston, and that’s how this story nearly comes full circle.
For members of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society (CAHS), High Flight strikes a resonant chord with aviation historians. For decades, the poem and its background have been a topic of interest. Recently, historian Linda Granfield and CAHS member, whose book, High Flight: A Story of World War II recounts the familiar story of John Gillespie Magee Jr. and his famous poem, has made a remarkable discovery.
In her research, Granfield was able to locate the November 1941 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where High Flight appeared first, prior to Magee’s death. The earliest publication of the poem had been previously believed to be in the St. John's Church bulletin. She also sought out the Magee family and was able to speak to David Magee, John’s brother, now deceased, who provided some personal artifacts, including the hitherto unknown pencil study by artist Jere Wickwire, derived from young John Magee’s official RCAF portrait that eventually was transformed into an oil portrait.
Granfield notes, “… the entirety of the Magee Family Fonds is now held in the Yale Divinity School Library. The oil portrait for which Wickwire made the sketch hangs in the library at Rugby School, in England.” David Magee would later donate the Wickwire drawing to the Canadian War Museum in 2012.
The story does not end there, but continues in England where Dr. Jay Pinto enters the picture. A couple of years ago, filmmaker Aaron Kim Johnston received a phone call from a Dr. Pinto who had seen For The Moment and tracked the director down to tell him how moved he was by it. Johnston relates, “Jay was born in The Netherlands after the war, but like so many Dutch people, he is passionate in his appreciation for the sacrifices made by the Allied forces, especially Canadians, in the liberation of his homeland. “
Each year in the town of Wilnis, near Utrecht, where Dr. Pinto was born, a candlelight parade takes place to the crash site of a RCAF Wellington bomber. On May 5, 1943, Vickers Wellington (NA-K), a bomber from RCAF 428 “Ghost” Squadron was shot down near Wilnis. Pilot Robert Moulton from Brockville, Ontario, along with two other crew were still aboard the aircraft when it overflew the town, and crashed in a bog. The resting place for the three airmen and their aircraft was exhumed 60 years later. The people of Wilnis and all across The Netherlands never forgot the sacrifice of the Canadians who fought for and ultimately secured the freedom of the occupied country.
In 2014, Dr. Pinto created a memorial program known as the “Gramophone Tour” that resulted in a period-accurate gramophone that was originally brought to Wilnis to take part in a ceremony commemorating the town’s wartime incident. The same gramophone was brought back to England, Pinto’s adopted homeland, as a continuation of his desire to thank Canadians for their role in the liberation of his homeland, where the gramophone was showcased at the former RCAF bases in the United Kingdom.
In 2015, when the “Mynarski Lancaster” toured England, Dr. Pinto was able to arrange that the gramophone continue its tour of RCAF bases in Canada. After the gramophone was flown on the Lancaster back to Canada and its home at the Canadian Warplane Museum, at Mount Hope, Ontario, the gramophone was exhibited for six months at the museum. At the 2015 CAHS convention in Hamilton, the gramophone was passed to the Manitoba Chapter of the CAHS. Dr. Pinto’s gift now resides at CFB Winnipeg, under the custodianship of Captain Gordon Crossley, prior to its display in a future exhibit and tour across western Canada. Pinto recently wrote, “Your green Gramophone was alos in Digby, Wellingore (where Magee took off, but never returned), Gatineau (on the wings of Magee`s Harvard), places where Magee had been.”
Dr. Pinto, however, also had another request, that revolved around his interest in another iconic aviation story.
As Kim Johnston further recounts, “The first time Jay heard High Flight recited was in For The Moment and it seems to have made an indelible impression on him. Besides getting in touch with me, he tracked down John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s younger brother, the Reverend Canon Hugh Magee, who is now 83 years old and lives in Scotland. They have subsequently become quite good friends. Hugh told him that on August 18th 1941, John took a Spitfire up to 30,000 feet and became euphorically dizzy from the lack of oxygen. Inspired by this overwhelming experience, when he returned to earth, he went straight to his quarters and wrote the poem. Three months later, John was killed in a mid-air collision over a village in England where Jay practiced medicine.”
Dr. Pinto and Hugh Magee (and others) are planning to celebrate the 75th anniversary of High Flight on August 18, 2016. Kim says, “The poem will be recited simultaneously at the airfield in Wales where it was written, in Shanghai where John was born, in Ottawa where he was a part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and in Melbourne, where his cousin Chris Magee will recite it. Collectively, they will reach out and touch the face of God.”
Johnston learned that the Royal Air Force (RAF) and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC ) are interested in such an anniversary. He recounted that the dramatic scene in For The Moment started it all where two young people, LAC Lachlan Curry (Crowe) and Lill Anderson (Christianne Hirt) shared a moment in a time of war. Dr. Pinto wanted to extend to both Russell Crowe and his Canadian co-star Christianne Hirt, an open invitation to come to England for the dedication ceremony.
Recently, Christianne Hirt has accepted his invitation and will tour the former RAF DIgby with Dr. Pinto. He will have a lot to share.
4005 at UACL Plant 9 April 1964.
Credit: UACL and Don MacNeil Collection
Author: Col. John L. Orr, CD, Ret’d - Former Sea King pilot and author of "PERSEVERANCE: The Canadian Sea King Story”
This article first appeared in the Shearwater Aviation Museum Foundation Newsletter, THE WARRIOR, and is reprinted with permission.
Do individual aircraft have personalities?
I’m sure that all those Sea King personnel who read the WARRIOR (https://www.samfoundation.ca/) will recall the pre-embarkation scramble as each HELAIRDET struggled to ensure that they would get a ‘flier’ for the upcoming deployment. This led to an almost totemic trust in the ‘personality’ of a particular aircraft and drove maintenance officers crazy as they sought to ensure that there were enough aircraft available to deploy with sufficient hours to preserve the stagger of aircraft into and out of heavy maintenance.
The purpose of this article is not to engage in a theological (or even metaphysical) debate about aircraft ‘personalities’ – but I’m sure that your editor would entertain any reflections that you may have on this topic. Rather, the intent is to tell the story of the introduction of one particular aircraft - CH 12405 – the first of the ‘Canadian’ Sea Kings (1).
Those who have studied the topic will know that only the first four Sea Kings acquired by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) were manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft at their plant in Stratford, Connecticut. So why were the remaining 37 aircraft assembled in Canada? The answer gives an interesting insight into the state of the Canadian aircraft industry and the defence industrial policy of the day.
United Aircraft Canada Limited (UACL) – (later Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) - was a subsidiary of Pratt and Whitney America under the overall umbrella of United Aircraft. Importantly, within this framework, UACL was a sister company to Sikorsky Aircraft.
UACL had, over the years, built up a profitable business as the technical representative for the overhaul and maintenance of Pratt & Whitney engines in Canada. Following the Second World War, UACL expanded and became the agent for the sale and repair and overhaul of Sikorsky helicopters for both the Government of Canada and the emerging commercial helicopter market.
According to Milberry and Sullivan (2), in the late 1950s UACL became aware that the Government of Canada was planning to acquire more than 90 S-58 helicopters for both the RCN and RCAF. Seizing this opportunity to break out of the relatively routine helicopter R&O business, UACL suggested that this large order should be used to establish a helicopter manufacturing base in Canada. This proposal did not come to pass, because the 1957 federal election replaced the Louis St. Laurent government with that of John Diefenbaker. But a marker had been laid down for the future.
A number of years later, the RCN again submitted a bid for a new ASW helicopter to replace the aging Sikorsky HO4S-3. Without going through the machinations of the selection process, the Sikorsky Sea King was eventually chosen to become the Navy’s new ASW helicopter.
At the urging of the Department of Defence Production and the RCN, a proposal to provide a significant ‘Canadian’ content for this order was once again submitted by UACL. According to Rear Admiral Bob Welland, the RCN’s Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Air and Warfare), the prospects were excellent for combined orders of up to 500 Sea Kings for the military and civilian markets in Canada!
Where would UACL get the expertise to carry out such a venture? Fortunately, Montreal, UACL’s home base, was, and remains, a hub of Canada’s aviation industry. Canadair was entering a slack period with little on their order books so a good deal of ‘poaching’ of talent took place. Furthermore, with the decision to assemble rather than manufacture the Sea King in Canada - using sub-assemblies provided by Sikorsky - the engineering challenges were somewhat reduced as the sub-assembly approach was in many ways quite similar to UACL’s R&O work, but obviously on a larger scale.
Accordingly, once the contract was signed for the purchase of the Sea Kings, UACL formed a Helicopter and Systems Division and company technicians and aircrew were sent to the Sikorsky plant and integrated into the Sea King assembly line. There they not only learned the ‘tricks of the trade’ but also developed the processes that would be transferred to the UACL plant at Longueil near Montreal. It was a daunting task but with the willing cooperation of Sikorsky, it was accomplished.
As mentioned above, Sea Kings 4001 – 4004 were manufactured in Stratford, Connecticut. Acceptance flights of these aircraft were conducted by the UACL test pilots, John MacNeil and Ross Lennox in Stratford and eventually, on 24 May 1963, 4001 was formally transferred to the RCN. 4001, 4002 and 4003 ultimately found their way to the RCN ‘Fleet Introduction Program’ for RCN aircrew and maintenance personnel conducted under the auspices of the USN at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. 4001 and 4002 were flown back to Canada and arrived at Shearwater on 1 August 1963. 4003 remained at Patuxent River for instrumentation by the USN and 4004 was ‘bailed’ to Sikorsky for evaluation of the Canadian Marconi Doppler system (AN/APN 503 (V)) and an HF radio.
First RCN helicopter in assembly area 1964.
During the next year, 4005 slowly took shape at the UACL plant and on 9 April 1964, the first test flight was carried out by company test pilots John MacNeil and Ross Lennox. On completion of the company test flights, 4005 was transferred to the RCN on 27 August 1964 to begin its ‘first’ half-century of service to Canada and Canadians.
While the record of 12405 over the intervening fifty years is only available in the log books of those that flew her, we can happily record that through the good offices of the Commanding Officer and personnel of 443 (MH) Squadron, a fitting tribute was paid to this stalwart warrior on 27 August 2014 on the occasion of her fiftieth anniversary.
Fifty Years On!
|Fiftieth anniversay cake|
In a note from the CO, LCol Pat MacNamara, it was explained that on the day, 12405 was assigned to HMCS WINNIPEG operating in local waters. As fate would have it, the aircraft developed a snag while at sea and required maintenance ashore - thereby ensuring that she would celebrate her ‘birthday’ at Pat Bay – complete with a birthday cake!
And who says that aircraft don’t have personalities?
(1) The original Royal Canadian Navy side number of this aircraft was 4005.
(2) Larry Milberry and Kenneth H. Sullivan. Power: The Pratt and Whitney Canada Story. Toronto, ON: CANAV Books, 1989.
By Bill Upton
All images accompanying this article are via the author's collection unless attributed otherwise.
Part 2: CL-41 Prototype No.1
The CL-41 design reflected in the detailed, full-scale mockup was well received by all interested parties. Very few critical comments emerged from the engineering mockup review due in part to the RCAF Directorate of Training’s Jet Trainer Liaison Committee having worked closely with the Canadair design team and Canadair test pilot Ian MacTavish in the final overall aircraft layout. Canadair and the Canadian government funded the manufacture of two prototypes, along with several airframes destined for static and fatigue testing. A small, dedicated design team produced them in a hand built, "Skunk Works", fashion.
Places, Powerplants, and Prototypes
The basic configuration of the new trainer had been finalized by August 1957, and by November 1957 construction of the two prototypes, using shop-aid type tooling, commenced at Canadair’s somewhat secretive Plant 4 facility. Originally the home of the Curtiss-Reid Aircraft factory, and later, the Canadian Car & Foundry (CC&F) Aircraft Division, where the first prototype Burnelli CBY-3 Loadmaster, CF-BEL, was built and flown from in July 1945, these facilities later became home to Canadair’s Missiles & Systems Division. The classified Velvet Glove and Sparrow II air-to-air missiles were developed and tested here, for use with the RCAF’s interceptors. At least four Avro CF-100 Canucks were based at these facilities during the course of the missile programmes.
As an aside, the historical Plant 4 complex was eventually demolished in 1994 to make way for an encroaching housing project and golf course. Fellow retired Canadair employee and CAHS author Wayne Saunders and I had the original Curtiss-Reid Aircraft Limited stone plaque above the main entrance photographed, carefully removed, and preserved for posterity at a local aviation museum.
The completion date for the two airframes was originally set for November 1958, with the first flight planned for early 1959. However, numerous problems with engine availability meant that the scheduled first flight would be seriously delayed.
Five examples of a new generation of compact turbojet engines in the 2,000 lb (907 kg) thrust range had been investigated by Canadair for possible use in the new trainer. These were the Armstrong-Siddeley Viper ASV11, the Continental Gabizo, the Rolls Royce RB.108, the General Electric MX-2273 (later to become the J85), and the Fairchild J83-R-1. The CL-41 airframe had been designed from the outset to permit, without any structural modifications, the widest possible choice of engines.
Initially the RB.108 was the preferred choice, albeit this engine was a first generation lift-engine concept, with the alternate being the J83 to satisfy British and US criteria. Later, emphasis shifted to the use of the Fairchild engine, and studies were made to optimize the airframe design around this power plant. Final selection of the J83 in 1958 for installation in the prototypes proved improvident, as the USAF soon withdrew its backing for this engine in the aftermath of the cancellation of the unmanned Fairchild SM-73 Bull Goose long-range decoy missile project, for which it was originally intended. This unforeseen event left the two completed prototype airframes idle at Canadair, awaiting an alternate available power plant.
Ultimately, a loan arrangement was quickly worked out with Pratt & Whitney in Hartford, Connecticut, to make the first installation of its new lightweight JT12 turbojet engine in the CL-41 prototypes. This engine, originally called the DS-3J, had been under development for a forecasted small jet engine market for executive aircraft, and soon was chosen to power the Lockheed JetStar and the North American T-39 Sabreliner.
The engines for the CL-41 prototypes were built in Hartford; however Pratt & Whitney Canada, located in nearby Longueuil, Quebec, had performed much of the initial design and testing. There were hopes that this Canadian designed and built trainer/power plant combination would result in a long production partnership. However, politics came into play to the extent that such a result could not be realized.
With little fanfare, the first prototype aircraft was rolled out in early 1959 to perform some ground-based, non-destructive tests. During these tests, the forward fuselage of prototype No 2 had been mated to the rear fuselage of prototype No 1. Similarly, the forward section of prototype No 1 was attached to the rear section of prototype No 2 complete with the under-tail attachment bracket for the spin chute and associated release cable. For this aircraft, the civil / military registration would follow that assigned to the forward fuselage / cockpit assembly.
In May 1959, a trial installation of the complete JT12A-1 prototype engine mockup into the first prototype’s airframe proved satisfactory. It was deemed necessary to confirm the design layout of the aircraft’s internal structure prior to the acceptance of an actual engine. These first form and fit checks paved the way for the employment of the flight rated engine. Soon thereafter the prototype aircraft / engine combo began a thorough ground and flight test and evaluation programme from Canadair’s Cartierville facilities.
First Flight and Evaluations
The first of the newly developed JT12 engines, cleared for ground run purposes only, was installed in the airframe on 18 September 1959. Initial ground run engine tests were performed in what was colloquially called “the pit” at Canadair’s Plant 2 complex. The engine, weighing only 430 lb (195 kg), was derated by controlling the fuel flow via mechanical throttle stopping from 2,900 lb (1,315 kg) static thrust in order to achieve better fuel consumption to improve range, reliability and overhaul life. During one of these ground test runs, a technician monitoring the aircraft walked next to the intake and items from his pocket were sucked in, damaging the engine. Apparently, at the time, the FOD screens had been retracted for some reason. This event necessitated an engine change, delaying the first flight attempt.
Finally, following a series of successful engine runs in December with the second delivered JT12, all was ready for the premiere flight of Canadair’s first original aircraft design. Bearing civil experimental registration CF-LTW-X, the CL-41 prototype was first flown by project pilot Ian MacTavish on 13 January 1960, powered by the new Canadian designed Pratt & Whitney JTC12A-2 axial-flow turbojet, with 2,400 lb (1,089 kg) static thrust, which was also making its first flight as a prototype engine. The aircraft responded remarkably well as MacTavish took it up to 15,000 ft (4,572 m) altitude, and to a speed of 278 knots (515 km/h / 320 mph), during its 1 hour and 10 minute maiden flight around the Montreal area. A second flight was conducted with the aircraft on 25 January. MacTavish had company on this flight, with a flight test engineer joining him to monitor test instrumentation and record data, as had also been the case on the first taxi runs in December.
Speed trials were conducted at nearby St. Hubert airport, which afforded a longer runway and was less densely populated compared to the immediate Cartierville environs. Four series of cold weather, and trailing static ‘bird’ flight tests were conducted in Prince Edward Island during late February 1961.
An official RCAF survey team, made up of one pilot from the Central Flying School and two from the Air Training Requirements and Directorate of Air Training, AFHQ, gave the CL-41 prototype preliminary flight evaluations during a week-long workout in March 1960. Only 30 flight hours had been accumulated on the airframe by this time. This evaluation almost didn’t come about as originally planned. The day prior to the RCAF evaluation team’s arrival, a test flight of the aircraft was made to ensure that all was in order, and somehow during the flight the canopy was accidentally jettisoned. The “topless” CL-41 immediately returned to Cartierville Airport, and was landed successfully, with the crew of MacTavish and flight test engineer Colin Harcourt quite chilled but none the worse for wear. With daylight fading rapidly, a team of Canadair employees went up in a chartered aircraft to search the test area for the missing canopy. Then from a glint of reflected sunlight on the snow, they spotted it lying in a farmer’s field. It was found to be relatively intact with minor damage to a couple of defrosting pipes, all of which was easily repaired following its recovery back to Canadair. The canopy was reinstalled and the aircraft was ready by the next morning for the RCAF evaluation. All who flew it were suitably impressed with the new aircraft’s performance and handling. This was the final trainer in a series of international aircraft types from the United Kingdom, France, and the United States previously evaluated by this survey team.
Some of the tests conducted with the CL-41 prototype aircraft went somewhat beyond the typical scope of ground-based and flight-related testing.
In April 1959, Canadair began investigations into branching out from pure aircraft and tracked vehicle products and entering the field of design, engineering, and manufacturing of architectural structures due to the rapidly expanding building programme then underway in Eastern Canada. Thus was born the Architectural Products Division, later to be formally named Canarch Limited. This new division was initially asked to bid on the exterior aluminum curtain wall construction of Montreal’s new Place Ville Marie (PVM) high rise office building. They lost that contract, but soon put in a bid and won the contract to supply the exterior curtain walls of the 34-story CIL House (named after owners, Canadian Industries Limited) , also located in downtown Montreal. This project was assigned the Canadair model number CL-92.
Canadair’s Experimental Engineering Department performed the necessary stress and structural material strength calculations. Of note was the architectural design requirement to dynamically test the single pane glazing design with actual wind and rain loads imparted upon it, and it was also necessary to prove that it would be suitable for the harsh summer and winter weather conditions of the region.
At Canadair’s Plant 4 facility, where the Missiles and Systems Division was located, a representative test specimen panel of three modules was erected on the exterior facade of Building 409 along with a simulated interior office area of the planned building. The office area was set up with heating and air conditioning systems precisely controlling the temperature, humidity, and airflow.
A preliminary series of dynamic wind tests was conducted on the specimen using the Trans-Canada Air Lines Merlin engine test vehicle, affectionately known as “Oscar”, on short-term loan from nearby Dorval Airport. The vehicle was backed up next to the building and the Merlin’s propeller wash was concentrated across the three modules. As the latter months of 1960 approached, colder weather provided the need to test the specimen with higher velocity airflow that could not be met with Oscar. That was when the CL-41 aircraft design made its contribution to the CL-92 architectural design.
This excerpt is part of a series published in the CAHS Journal about the development of the Tutor. The full article, in Volume 52, Number 2, is available to CAHS members. For more information on CAHS membership, please go to http://cahs.ca/membership/become-a-member.
The Maple Leaf of Mexico
By Richard I. Bourgeois-Doyle
Lying on her deathbed in November 1980, 75-year-old Elsie Gregory MacGill could think back on a life that influenced Canada in many ways. As the effective Vice-Chair of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and a leader in the manufacture of fighter aircraft during the Second World War, she had helped to change laws, advance the cause of women in education and the professions, and develop the Canadian aviation industry.
She might have even reflected on the fun and energy of her early career as an aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer. But to her last days, Elsie remained oblivious to the effect one of her projects had in another country. She was not alone.
Although her creation, the Maple Leaf Trainer II, has status as the first aircraft fully designed by a woman, its ultimate fate remains a bit of a mystery and its impact rests largely undocumented. Aviation histories that cite the aircraft periodically mention that a few trainers modeled on its design were built outside of Canada, but rarely do they speculate on the fate of the prototype. Elsie had been told that it was sold to Republic Aviation and that Republic shared it with the U.S. Navy. Documents for its export say something other, and evidence that includes declassified military reports, photographs, and inconsistencies in public statements suggest that all of this was a ruse.
The best guess now suggests that the manufacturer, Canadian Car and Foundry (Can-Car), sent the aircraft surreptitiously into Mexico where it and the others modeled on it played a unique role in the birth of that country’s modern air force.
Elsie, the aircraft’s then 34-year-old designer, beamed on the late fall day when the Maple Leaf II rolled out of the hanger at Can-Car’s Fort William plant. The project marked a high point in what had been a challenging career. Now widely recognized as the world’s first woman aeronautical engineer, because of her gender, MacGill had initially been rejected by educational and professional institutions. Nevertheless, she survived in the crucible of all-male engineering classes at the University of Toronto where, in 1927, she became the first woman in Canada to earn a degree in electrical engineering. Two years later, at Michigan, Elsie added to her firsts with a Master’s in Aeronautics, and in the early 1930s, at M.I.T., she pursued doctoral studies with pioneers in aerodynamic research. Later in the decade, the Engineering Institute of Canada admitted Elsie as its first woman member and then recognized her with its Gzowski Medal in 1940. Dozens of honours like this marked her life.
But none of the intellectual and professional challenges these accomplishments embody matched the personal one that arrived on the eve of her graduation at Michigan.
After going to bed with a flu-like cold, she woke up paralyzed from the waist down due to a form of polio that she labelled acute infectious myelitis. For three years thereafter, MacGill struggled to regain strength at her family’s Vancouver home. At first, Elsie was bed-ridden, then she moved to a wheelchair, and finally she rose to walking sticks and a cane. The ability to walk gave her the capacity to resume her engineering career, but the time in bed was not a professional waste. After a year at M.I.T., Elsie moved to the Fairchild plant in Longeuil where she conducted stress analysis and designed components for iconic Canadian bush aircraft such as the Super 71, the 45-80 Sekani, and the 82.
At Fairchild, she made contacts that brought her that job offer as Chief Aeronautical Engineer at the revived Can-Car manufacturing facilities in Fort William. Arriving there in the summer of 1938, she stepped into an operation that had been struggling. While Can-Car had showed some capability in the manufacture and even engineering of innovative aircraft (one was the first Canadian-designed fighter - the Gregor Biplane), it had not found a dependable market for its products and had even managed to offend the U.S. and Canadian governments by circumventing the arms embargo around the Spanish Civil War. A story in itself, the Can-Car manufacture and meandering Spanish sale of its version of the Grumman FF-1 fighter (the G-23/ GE-23 “Goblin”) did not affect Elsie MacGill’s career profoundly, but it helped create the ambiance of uneasy subterfuge that surrounded the eventual disposition of her own aircraft. In the year prior to Elsie’s arrival, Can-Car also produced a prototype biplane trainer based on the design work of American engineer Leland Stamford Wallace. The firm dubbed the modified aircraft the Maple Leaf Trainer I and was poised to produce a quantity for export when performance problems and poor test results forced it to scrap 1 the project.
Before this happened, however, a group of Mexican military and government officials, visiting Fort William in connection with plans to build Goblins in Mexico, saw the biplane in the Can-Car Shops and added a trainer to their aero-equipment wish list. This, along with the growing prospect of Canadian military demand, led Can-Car to task Elsie MacGill with reviving the project and designing something that would work.
In a way, Elsie had been preparing over a decade for this opportunity. Even when bed-ridden in the early 1930s, she studied, read and wrote articles for magazines and journals that not only fantasized about the ideal aircraft, but flying them herself. She understood well what needed to be done. Within a year, she and the team at Can-Car had the prototype aircraft (registered eventually as CF-BPU), The Maple Leaf Trainer II, in the air and on the way to receiving its Certificate of Airworthiness 2 (Acrobatic Category) in a time that was cited as “a record-breaking achievement.” The aircraft drew some attention because of the novel gender of the designer in stories that stressed that an "attractive young lady” was behind the “very attractive” machine. But most reports focused on the aircraft’s smooth handling and operation. 3
The unfolding British Commonwealth Air Training Program offered a tremendous market for trainer aircraft at bases across Canada and one might think that there might have been special interest in something Canadian designed and made.
But the aircraft’s performance in the air may perversely signaled future problems, as it did not provide an adequate challenge to trainee pilots. At the same time, the British military were calling the shots early in the war and leaned to British designed equipment such as the de Havilland Tiger Moth series which had already been adopted by the RCAF.
When it came to aircraft purchases in the early 1940s, the Mexicans could not be that picky. Officially neutral in the first part of the war when equipment was in demand everywhere, they were happy to acquire a certified device that could also be manufactured in their country. With rigours of mountain flying and other hazards, they were also inclined to the easier to fly Canadian designed trainers.
They were all set up to receive parts and start work at the Can Car plant at Balbuena, and Can-Car and its Chief Engineer Elsie MacGill, who were by then preoccupied by the production of Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft for Britain, were happy to pass the project to the Mexicans. But when it came to a proposal to send the prototype to Mexico, they ran into a glitch.
Earlier in the year, the Government had rejected an application to ship the Can-Car Gregor biplane to the country. So, Can-Car never went ahead with an export application to send the prototype Maple Leaf II to Mexico. Instead, Can-Car produced papers to sell Elsie’s prototype to an individual associated with Columbia Aircraft in New York. In the fall of 1940, Elsie’s aircraft was photographed on Long Island around the time of the documented sale. But the aircraft disappeared shortly thereafter, and there is no record or remembrance that Columbia ever flew the prototype, kept it at its plant, or produced any examples of the design.
At the same time, Can-Car finalized negotiations with the Mexicans to wrap up their deal on the trainer and to transfer parts and plans to Mexico. The Mexicans were frustrated because the shops in Balbuena had not managed to finish a single aircraft under the contract for Grumman Goblins even though it was working with a proven and well-defined design. Given that Elsie’s aircraft had been sent to New York months before, it is significant that the Mexicans came to “la cuidad de Nueva York” 4 to conclude their negotiations with Can-Car rather than Fort William or the firm’s head office in Montreal.
Less than four months after the deal-sealing trip to New York, they had an entirely new design built and in the air over Mexico City.
Before Mexico’s decision to officially support the Allies in the war, at the time, the country was riddled with German spies, and other countries, besides Canada, were uneasy about shipping military equipment to it. U.S. intelligence officers kept a close watch on the Mexican military activity, and on August 8, 1941, a U.S. military attaché based in Mexico City filed Report No.75 stating: “The first training plane constructed entirely in Mexico City was tried out on August 6  by pilot Captain Luis Noriega Medrano, who put the plane through the most rigid tests, from which it came out alright ... General Fierro states that he has all the parts, including engines, for 10 more planes of this type and design.” 5
Experts who have reviewed the photographic evidence from that day, say the aircraft looks exactly like Elsie’s prototype although it was touted as having been built in Mexico. The suggestion that this aircraft was discrete from the Mexican production of trainers is also supported by later historical references that only cite ten (10) of the aircraft having been built in Mexico and with different parts and external features than the first.
Regardless, the aircraft flew well and impressed the crowds, and as noted in the Military Attaché report, Mexican General Fierro announced on the spot, a commitment to take the proven design, equipment and parts to build another ten. Yet it took two years to produce a second aircraft. It took four months for the first - the reverse of the normal timeline for aircraft design, development and manufacture.
Eventually, 10 additional aircraft using Can-Car parts and Elsie’s design were built under the supervision of celebrated engineer Roberto de la Barreda. The aircraft were dubbed the Ares models (numbered and named Ares 01 to Ares 10), celebrating the mythical Greek god of war and recognizing Mexico’s entry into the Second World War on the side of the Allies on May 22, 1942.
Mexico supported the Allies with supplies and many other forms of assistance throughout the war. But when it came time to participate militarily, all concerned, the Mexicans and the other Allied nations, pointed to the country’s small but well-trained air force as the best resource. About 300 members of the Mexican air force formed El Escuadrón 201,which took part in fighting in the Pacific theatre in 1945. Dubbed “the Aztec Eagles”, the pilots and aircrews are still celebrated as heroes in both Mexico and the Philippines.
While most of the Aztec Eagles and other Mexican airmen took their flight training in the United States, the records show that at least one pilot gained key experience in the cockpit of the Maple Leaf II.
By the time German U-boats began their attack on Mexican shipping in May 1942, Noriega Medrano, the man whom U.S. Military Intelligence recorded as being in the Maple Leaf II-like biplane in August 1941, was in command of patrols off the Mexican coast. 6 On July 7 that year, he spotted U-129, the German sub responsible for sinking two Mexican tankers, and hit it with two “one-hundred-pound” bombs. The act and subsequent patriotic publicity paved the way to the formation of the Aztec Eagles.
Through its contribution to the Allied effort, Mexico gain many benefits, including a “combat experienced air corps” and a new role on the world stage. Those Mexican airmen are also credited with building a school. On July 20, 1944, the pilots, aircrews and mechanics who were to form Escuadron 201 assembled at the Balbuena base to listen to President Avila Camacho before shipping out. He ended his speech with an invitation to assembled servicemen “to petition me with whatever you may desire.”
A soldier in the rear ranks took two steps forward, smartly saluted, and said in a loud voice, “Mi Presidente, I request that a school be built in my home town of Tepoztlan, Morelos.” The Escuadrón 201 Heroes primary school still stands in that town today. 7
As these events unfolded during the war, Elsie MacGill was consumed by other pressures. In many quarters, she is best known for having led the Can-Car Engineering Shop during the time that over 1,400 Hawker Hurricanes were built at the plant. Later, Elsie contributed to international aviation safety as a consultant to governments and as the first woman to chair a United Nations Technical Committee.
Yet given Elsie Gregory MacGill’s later life dedication to equal access and educational opportunity, had she known, she might have been most moved by the story of the Mexican primary school and its association with the final days of her biplane trainer.
1 The Maple Leaf Trainer I was evidently built with the intent of sales to Nicaragua, as the prototype tested in Fort William Apr. 18, 1938, bore identification (GN-3) from that country. K.M. Molson and H.A. Taylor, Canadian Aircraft Since 1909. Stittsville, ON: Canada’s Wings, Inc.,1982, 165.
2 F.H. Ellis, Canada’s Flying Heritage. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1954, 298.
3 “Introducing The Maple Leaf Trainer”, Canadian Aviation, August 1940, 20 said a number of civilian pilots “enthused over its performance.” Similar quotes in Gordon Burkowski, Can-Car: A History 1912–1992. Thunder Bay, ON: Bombardier Inc., 1995, 46.
4 José Villela Gomez, Breve historia de la aviacion en México, D.F. Mexico (s.n.) 1971, 228–230.
5 Interview with Dan Hagedorn, Archives Research Team Leader and Adjunct Curator, Latin American Aviation, Archives Division, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC (Nov. 17, 2006), in the U.S. National Archives at College Park, MD 2007
6 Schwab, Stephen I., “The role of the Mexican expeditionary air force in World War II: Late, limited, but symbolically significant”, Journal of Military History, 66 (2002): 1119
7 http://www.historynet.com/world-war-ii-mexican-air-force-helped-liberate-the-philippines.htm September 4, 2014
Dick Bourgeois-Doyle is a developing writer, government administrator, skilled daydreamer, and aging jogger living in Ottawa, Canada. Currently Director of Corporate Governance at Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), he has worked on a number of special projects since joining the NRC Executive Offices in 1987. Bourgeois-Doyle previously served as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Science and Technology and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and was start-up manager of successful technology and public relations firms.
A former broadcaster and journalist, he has contributed to many books, articles, TV features, and radio programs on science history. Bourgeois-Doyle authored the
Canadian Science Publishing (CSP) Biographies – George J. Klein: The Great Inventor and Her Daughter the Engineer: The Life of Elsie Gregory MacGill and edited
and co-wrote CSP’s Renaissance II: Canadian Creativity and Innovation in the New Millennium. His other works include the story of survival and Northern Ontario
firefighting Stubborn: Big Ed Caswell and the Line from the Valley to the Northland and the satirical novel The Most Integrated, Strategic and Aligned Servant of the Public Don Quincy de la Mangement. Bourgeois-Doyle is one of several people sometimes referred to as “The 6th Beatle.”
51st Annual Convention of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society
Check back next week for convention photos.
Our annual convention took place in Regina, Saskatchewan, from 4 to 7 June 2014. Hosted by Regina's Roland Groome Chapter, MC Will Chabun and his team of volunteers led attendees through a fascinating tour of Saskatchewan's aviation past and present.
The convention started with the traditional meet and greet, helping participants find old friends and make new ones. The book sale and silent auction also started on Wednesday evening, with several tables' worth of enticing aviation related books, articles, and CAHS merchandise for sale.
Thursday morning started bright and early with a bus trip to 15 Wing Moose Jaw and the Western Development Museum. Our first stop was the 15 Wing Headquarters, where we met our tour guides. They took us first through the safety systems shop, where we saw the ejection seat trainer for the pilots and students. From there, we entered the hangar, where CT-155 Hawk and CT-156 Harvard II aircraft were undergoing maintenance. Participants found the ability to see under the skin of the airplanes to be a unique, fascinating experience. Our guides described the training programmes, and a typical day as a pilot trainee. A short walk took us to the hangar housing the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, our world famous air demonstration team, also known as 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron. We sat in the squadron briefing room, with some attendees occupying the numbered (odd numbers on the left of the table, even numbers on the right) chairs used by the pilots. We watched a short video showing the training and preparation carried out by the team, and then we walked into the hangar to see the airplanes. While the team was away, there were several Canadair CT-114 Tutor aircraft in various stages of disassembly for us to examine. We then took a lengthy walk against a chilly, brisk wind, to the control tower. We got a controller's eye view of the airport as several Hawks came in to land. A short walk took us to the Officer's Mess. We had a very good lunch and finished the base tour with a visit to the historic panelled bar area, with artefacts and memoribilia imported from RCAF Station Marville, France, complete with a boar's head over the fireplace.
We boarded the bus for a short trip across town to the Moose Jaw Western Development Museum. WDM is actually one of four across Saskatchewan, all dedicated to different themes. Moose Jaw's theme is transportation, and it holds extensive displays of railway equipment, boats, cars, farm machinery, and aircraft. We were set loose unsupervised to explore the many interesting exhibits. After two hours, we returned to the bus for a bumpy ride back to the Travelodge Hotel in Regina.
Our Annual General Meeting took place on Thursday evening. The main business, besides election of directors, was the approval of a new set of by-laws. This was required to comply with changes to federal corporation law. While not compelling reading, the new by-laws will allow us to continue to operate the CAHS in the manner we prefer, instead of having to comply with default provisions in the Act that don't really suit our operation. We thank national directors Mat Joost and Rachel Lea Heide for their extensive work in reviewing the by-laws, and for working with our lawyers to ensure it was done by the deadline. The following directors were elected for 2014 - 2015 (officer positions in brackets): Gary Williams (president); Richard Goette (vice president); Rachel Lea Heide (treasurer); John Chalmers (membership secretary); Mat Joost; Richard Mayne; Colin Webster. The following chapter president directors were elected for 2014 - 2015 (officer positions in brackets): Jerry Vernon - Vancouver; Jim Bell - Manitoba (secretary); Kyle Huth - Ottawa; Richard Pickering - Montreal.
Friday and Saturday were taken up with speakers on a variety of aviation subjects, such as Bill Cameron's autobiographical "A Prairie Boy's War - from Air Cadet to a 38 Year Career with Canadian Pacific Airlines"; Russell Isinger's provocative talk, "The Avro Arrow - and why Dief made the Right Decision"; Richard Mayne's behind the scenes discussion of maintenance issues in "Keep Them Flying - the RCAF and the C-119 Flying Boxcar", and John Chalmers' review of this year's inductees to Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, in "Who's Who in Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame". The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was a central focus, with John Higenbottam's fascinating examination of Relief Landing Fields of the BCATP; the history of the BCATP airfield at Caron, Saskatchewan by Joel From; and Bill Zuk's "Inside Story of 'For the Moment' a Feature Film on the BCATP". Friday evening was a free evening, for attendees to take in Regina's famous multicultural Mosaic Festival, or to perhaps rest up a bit after the hectic pace of the previous two and a half days.
The convention ended with our annual Awards Banquet on Saturday evening. After a delicious buffet dinner that loaded up our belt buckles, we listened to an inspiring presentation by Todd Lemieux, the former Chairman of the Board of Vintage Wings of Canada. Last summer, Vintage Wings embarked on a goal to fly five hundred air cadets, to inspire them to pursue their dreams. To do so, they flew aircraft from their collection to various sites across Canada, and took selected cadets on familiarisation flights in their Stearman, Cornell, Harvard, and Tiger Moth aircraft. We also presented awards to recognise the achievements of some of our dedicated members: the C. Don Long Award, for the best article published in Volume 51 of the Journal, was presented to Paddy Gardiner for his article "Mr Brown's Secret Trip", in Issue 2; the Mac MacIntyre Research Award was presented to Rachel Lea Heide for her article "Jealous Regard for Reputation" in Issue 4; the Douglas MacRitchie Memorial Award was presented to Tim Dubé, for his long and dedicated leadership of the CAHS Ottawa Chapter, and also to Bob Winsom, for his long and dedicated service to CAHS Toronto Chapter; and the William Wheeler Award was presented to Toronto Chapter member Gordon McNulty, for his dedicated service to the Canadian Aviation Historical Society.
The weekend concluded with an optional visit to the Regina Flying Club's open house on Sunday, where the CAHS had a promotional booth.
We thank all the organisers and participants for an excellent 2014 convention, and look forward to next year's convention, tentatively scheduled for June 2015 in Hamilton, Ontario.
The Air Cadet League of Canada
by Alen T. Hansen
To Learn. To Serve. To Advance.
Such is the motto of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, 25,000 of whom in 440 squadrons, and close to one million former cadets who have preceded them have celebrated more than seventy years of learning, service and advancement in personal and national terms. In so doing, pride will be evident among today’s 5,000 civilian volunteers who are the Air Cadet League of Canada and their antecedents, as well as partners in the Canadian Forces; a partnership that is the reason for the outstanding success of the Air Cadet movement.
To understand why and how the Air Cadet League of Canada came into being, it is necessary to recall the early days of the Second World War. France had fallen, the Low Countries had been invaded, and Great Britain was under heavy attack from the air. The critical need was for planes and more planes - and for trained young men to fly them in defence of freedom.
As early as 1938, an interest was shown in such a youth program when a member of the Winnipeg Lions Club, Albert Bennett, formed one of the first air cadet squadrons in Canada. The squadron eventually numbered 800 youths in training. In 1941, the squadron became #6 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron with the Winnipeg Lions Club continuing till today, as the sponsor of #6 Squadron and its predecessor. Prior to the formal creation of the Air Cadets, other units in Vancouver, Penhold, Windsor and Montreal, did exist on an ad hoc basis.
In 1940, the then Minister for Air, the Hon. Charls G. Power, gathered together a group of influential civilians and asked them to develop a country-wide organization to sponsor Air Cadet Squadrons. The national response was immediate, and on the 19 November 1940, Order-in-Council PC 6647 was passed, authorizing the formation of the Air Cadet League of Canada, to work on a partnership basis with the Royal Canadian Air Force; terms and objectives being clearly described. Such an act took place about the same time in other countries of the then British Empire. In England, New Zealand and Australia, for example, it was, and is known as the Air Training Corps.
On the 9 April 1941, the Air Cadet League of Canada received its National Charter to operate as a non-profit entity. Air Marshal William (Billy) Bishop, George B. Foster and Hugh P. Illsley were instrumental in obtaining the charter. To meet its mandate, it was structured on a national, provincial and local sponsoring committee level, each with its recognized part to play and each with its corresponding liaison level in the RCAF. A National Board of Directors in Ottawa was chosen and met for the first time on the 2 June 1941. One of its first acts was to appoint a chairman in each of the then nine provinces.
The provincial chairmen then established their committees, and according to the responsibilities transcribed, achieved the vital business of recruiting sponsoring committees for each squadron wishing to be formed. This latter portion has come to be recognized over the years as the most vital segment of the three tier structure for without a sponsoring committee to finance, provide needed accommodations, squadron staff, efficient management and other amenities, a squadron can not come into existence, and emphasizes the valuable contribution to society of its volunteer members. This was most evident when less than six months later at the end of 1941, 79 squadrons were approved.
In May 1942, the movement grew to over 10,000 cadets in 135 squadrons, and 23,000 cadets in 315 squadrons in 1943. By 1944, a peak was reached encompassing 29,000 cadets, 374 squadrons, 1,750 officers, instructors and over 2,000 civilians supplying financial and volunteer support. Accurate records do not exist to compile the contribution made by Air Cadets who joined the wartime forces, however, it is known that over 3,000 graduated and entered the Royal Canadian Air Force in varying capacities.
The primary purpose of the Air Cadet movement during its formative years was a military one, but its founders were also thinking in terms of the long-range benefits of Air Cadet training. Through participation in supervised squadron activities, they would find opportunities to develop those qualities usually associated with good citizenship. It was the character-building aspect of Air Cadet training which appealed most strongly to the youth leaders of the country. Service Clubs, Educators, Boards of Trade and Veterans Groups offered their services to the League, not only as a contribution to the war effort, but also as a means of assisting the youth of the country along the road to good citizenship.
To successfully carry out this peacetime conversion, the League and its partnership had to find and provide incentives that would appeal to the age group of 13 to 19 years that could replace the wartime goals. How best to do this? The answer was found within and by a re-affirmation of the valued partnership. Over a period of time, a system of challenges and rewards in a variety of ways beginning with an annual two-week basic summer camp for deserving cadets, at a number of RCAF stations across Canada. This has come to be greatly sought after by 1st and 2nd year cadets.
In 1946, the RCAF introduced Flying Scholarship Awards for competition among Senior Cadets. In 1947, with the co-operation of the Air Training Corps of the United Kingdom, the first Overseas Exchange Awards were introduced and since expanded to over 12 countries in Europe and Scandinavia, United States, Eastern Middle East and the Pacific Rim.
An example of the acceptance of the Air Cadet movement occurred in 1949. Within six weeks of Newfoundland entering Canadian Confederation, the provincial and sponsoring structures were in place and six squadrons were approved. 1952 saw the first Leadership Training Course of seven weeks duration, and in 1953 a course for Drill Instructors. In 1958, the establishment, (maximum number allowed) of cadets was 25,000. In order for the League to operate within this number, it was necessary to introduce quotas. The result was a waiting list for boys wishing to join, and new units to be formed. In 1962, in view of the growing demand, the League was granted authority to increase, by stages, Air Cadet establishments to 30,000 cadets. In terms of numbers, peaks and valleys have alternated over the years, but the cadets and the League continued to flourish.
In 1968, the three elements of the Canadian Forces were unified. At this time, the Air Cadet League lost its original partner, the RCAF, and started a new partnership with the Canadian Forces. In 1969, a Directorate of Cadets was formed at National Defence Headquarters to create policies and coordinate the activities of the three different cadet movements- Air, Sea and Army Cadet units.
In the early seventies, a pleasant challenge presented itself. For some time girls had shown interest and willingness to be part of the cadet programme. Recognizing the valuable factor of family participation, the League authorized the formation of girl cadet “flights” attached to established squadrons, and by 1974, this had grown to 115 flights and 2,500 girl cadets across the country. While the girls participated in the formal squadron training, certain activities were denied them by virtue of wording in the original Charter. One of the purposes stated in the original Charter being: “… to establish Air Cadet units for boys under 18 years of age.” A whole chapter of chagrin and laughter can be written on alternative subjects and activities suggested by the girls themselves. Something had to be done.
The League made it clear that all activities and opportunities would be available to girl cadets. In 1975, the National Defence Act was minutely amended to read “persons” in lieu of boys. This made provision for females to participate fully in all segments of the cadet programme. (Perhaps it can be said, as a result, elsewhere in the Canadian Forces.) Today, girls represent a large percentage of the cadet establishment.
|Air Cadet Wings Parade (power flying scholarship graduation), St Andrews, Manitoba, 2008|
The cadet training year coincides with the school year. From September to the following August, during 50 periods of approximately one-hour duration at the squadron, the syllabus covers a number of mandatory subjects which the Junior Cadets are required to pass, usually in their second year, before graduating to Senior Level and advanced aviation subjects, practical leadership exercises and special activities. In unison is assembly and parade training.
Leadership and citizenship is paramount in Air Cadet training. So, is it any wonder that today, tonight, tomorrow, Air Cadets stand possessed of immaculate appearance, impressive bearing, and a future that is not a rudderless future, by accepting the knowledge that before you can lead you must be led. As their experience advances, cadets may qualify for higher rank, added responsibilities and compete for special summer activities and training awards.
The principle being with increased knowledge comes increased responsibility, and added opportunity. Apart from absorbing the attributes of good citizenship, standards of mental alertness, physical fitness and qualifying for rank structure up to Warrant Officer First Class, what are some of the opportunities earned by this personal discipline? Space and time does not allow for a full description of each. All are summer courses, and while locations may change from time to time, the majority are conducted at Canadian Forces bases.
The DND provides the control, graduate and Senior Cadets form the staff. Several objectives are attained, among which being the valuable advancing experience gained by all and the opportunity to utilize such, usually during July and August of each year, when the DND conducts what is possibly the largest Glider Pilot Training programme in the world. To conduct and sustain such an all- encompassing programme requires the continuous development of skilled personnel.
It would not be proper for me to end without emphasizing the Air in Air Cadets. The Air Cadet League Of Canada has quite an “Air Force” of its own, consisting of over 50 gliders and 30 tow aircraft, winches, trailers etc; owned by individual Provincial Committees. Each is civilian-licenced. Each year across the nation, thousands of Senior Cadets will have earned the opportunity to compete through squadron and Provincial Selection Boards for the coveted Private Pilot and Glider Pilot Scholarship Awards. All are
worthy candidates. Up to 300 are selected and trained, mainly at Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association locations, to Transport Canada Private Pilot Licence Standards. Over 300 are selected and trained to Transport Canada Glider Pilot Standards at DND designated Glider Pilot Training Schools. In time the product of the two meld and become what may be termed a “Cadet Air Operation.”
Throughout the spring and fall, a Glider Familiarization programme is conducted in each Province. This provides for an added squadron activity when, subject to the vagaries of weather, an attempt is made to expose each cadet in each squadron to an air experience at least twice per year.
Thus, the spring and fall gliding operation and the Regional Training Schools supplement each other. This is paramount. It includes the participation of our Private Pilot graduates as they qualify as Tow Pilots, our Glider Pilot graduates as Fam pilots, and as they too qualify as Instructors, plus other cadets in logistic support.
Many volunteers in this youth movement must have been asked the same question. Why? Whatever the myriad of volunteer time, whatever the funds invested personally, privately or otherwise throughout half a century, a true added value is on record. While there is always the odd exception to the rule, and weed themselves out very quickly, our cadets do not squander time, pr, the time of the courts. What price factor may be attached to this? What price to parental peace of mind as a result? Volunteer time is well spent. The system achieves much via the required activities. The paramilitary discipline is not overly strict. No reward or award comes automatic or exactly easy. As a result each cadet experiences pride in achievement and thus self-esteem.
How do we know these things? When the Charter was born many like myself were among the first Air Cadets in the country of our birth, served in wartime with former Air cadets; and thankfully, when accompanied by the joys of peace, watched our children and succeeding generations benefit and graduate from what we feel is the finest youth movement in Canada.
In the staff of every squadron, on each Sponsoring Committee, Provincial Committee, and at the National level of the Air Cadet League of Canada are a preponderance of former Air Cadets, giving back' something of which they received and perpetuating the movement. There for with pride in our past let us celebrate proudly. With faith in our future let us bow to that past and roll up our / sleeves to a challenging future, for in this day and age of questionable standards of conduct, rapidly expanding technology, man
having been and returned from the moon and continues to explore outer space, advance the science of extended life, we can not expect this age group of our nation to accept a programme that does not contain a challenge. A programme chosen by them because it contains a challenge not found elsewhere.
Contrary to some opinions, cadets are not committed to any military service. Some, utilizing their options in life do join, and are eagerly accepted; promotion to the rank of General being on record. Among many law enforcement officers of the land are former Air Cadets. In my capacity as an Airline Transport Licenced pilot over 40 years crossed trails with many Captains and First officers of today’s major and regional carriers, and how nice it was to recognize and be recognized by former Air Cadets; but most are and will be good and leading citizens in all walks of life.
Alen T. Hansen
Alen T. Hansen, born in New Zealand, trained in Canada as a Wireless Air Gunner in 1943 before going overseas, completing an OTU on Wellingtons just prior to war’s end. Returning to New Zealand, he emigrated to Canada, attending the University of Manitoba, and gaining a Business Management certificate. He later became a bush pilot and worked for Trans Canada Pipelines, inspecting thousands of miles of pipelines and logging over 20,000 hours of flying time.
Mr. Hansen dedicated a significant portion of his life to the Royal Canadian Air Cadet Program and aviation in Manitoba. He was President of the Wartime Pilots' and Observers' Association in 2006-2007, also serving as the Chairman of the Flying Committee with the Winnipeg Flying Club for eight years, as well as a founding member of the Western Canada Aviation Museum.
Mr. Hansen served on Manitoba Provincial Committee of the Air Cadet League for 24 years, active in the Gliding Program. He was awarded a Certificate of Honour in recognition of outstanding service in 1981, the Douglas Inglis Award for exceptional long-term service in 2011 and also awarded the distinction of Life Member of the Air Cadet League of Canada (Manitoba) Inc. Mr. Hansen has sponsored the Alen T. Hansen Trophy since 1973. This trophy is awarded annually to the top Manitoba Glider Pilot Scholarship graduate. Alen T. Hansen passed away on Friday, May 23, 2014.
Janusz Żurakowski: Glider Pilot
by Bill Zuk
Now one of Canada’s aviation icons, Janusz Żurakowski’s first flights were in gliders in Poland.
Ten of the burliest boys grabbed up the ends of the long rubber bungee cord laid out in front of the glider in the shape of a “V.” One of them attached the end of the line to the tow hook on the glider’s nose. Another boy standing behind the glider, reached behind the tail and attached a long length of rope to an eyehook. That rope was securely attached to a stake driven into the ground. In the open cockpit, sixteen- year-old Janusz Żurakowski snuggled down in the seat, tightly cinching up the lap belt.
At a command, “pochod” “march”, the group moved forward and down the ridge, drawing up the slack on the cord. The club members had now pulled the bungee cord tight. “Przesuwany szybko” came the cry and the boys as one struggled forward against the tension of the rubber cord. “Teraz!” “now!” shouted Janusz who raised his hand and dropped it swiftly as a signal to the boy at the tail. He cut the line with one swift slash of a long kitchen knife.
The Wrona [Crow] glider jumped into the air directly into the wind, sailing over the launch crew who had thrown themselves face first on the ground. Bronek looked up as the glider gracefully dipped and turned. He smiled as he saw his brother was skillfully riding an updraft. Janusz was having an easy time, swirling around on a thermal deflected by the ridge.
|Bungee launch of a Komar glider|
That summer in 1932 would be an exciting one for young Janusz Żurakowski who had caught the “flying bug” at the age of seven, when he had been trudging home from school in Garlowin, Poland, and had been startled by the sight of a beautiful “white bird” swooping above him. That day, Żurakowski had breathlessly chased after the humming contraption until it was out of sight. He never forgot that first glimpse of a flying machine.
In 1927, the Żurakowski family moved to Lublin, where his father, Dr. Adam Żurakowski was a district medical inspector. Janusz attended the Stanislaw Staszic High School but did not take a great interest in his studies. He loved skating, skiing and swimming but he commented later, “I didn’t show too much enthusiasm for learning; I would rather follow in the footsteps of my brother,” who was studying aeronautical engineering and had become an accomplished glider pilot.
By the 1920s, Poland was establishing an aviation industry producing “home” designs for both civil and military aviation demands. Civil aviation in Poland developed along the lines of other European nations with the Polskie Linie Lotnicze (LOT), state airline established at Strachowice Airfield in 1928. Civilian airfields provided training facilities as recreational flying in both glider and powered aircraft became popular.
Air-minded young Poles were in the forefront of gliding and sailplane advances in the inter-war years. Whereas Germany had embraced gliding as a means of training a generation of future military pilots, the Polish gliding movement had developed as a recreational activity. During this exciting period in Polish aviation history, Janusz’s brother, Bronislaw, three years his senior, studied aeronautics at Warsaw Polytechnic.
Żurakowski emulated his brother’s interest in flying and began to build flying models at an early age. Both he and Bronislaw were members of a school model club where larger and more elaborate models were constructed. This hobby became Żurakowski’s preoccupation where he excelled at the construction of intricate balsa and cloth models. His memories of that period reveals that there were numerous model plane competitions between schools and at regional and national levels.
In 1929, when Żurakowski was 15 years old, he won first prize in a national competition for flying models. His award included a flight in a small single-engine Lublin LKL-5 trainer at the Lublin Flying Club, piloted by a First World War veteran, Sergeant Żuromski. His account of the flight came later in 1959 when he wrote: “I remember what was surprising to me as we got up: that everything on the ground seemed to move very slowly. We were up 20 minutes. Coming down, everything moved faster … I knew two things: that I had to finish school and that then I would fly!” This brief first flight was the beginning of Żurakowski’s life- long passion for flying.
One obstacle had to be overcome, however. Żurakowski intimated that “the idea of becoming a pilot met strong opposition from my father, who made sure that his doctor friends at the Aviation Medical Examination Centre in Warsaw refused my application. I allegedly suffered from tuberculosis in the collarbone.”
Although upset over his treatment, Żurakowski persevered, and, in 1932, as a youth in high school, he gained flying skills at the controls of gliders. He signed on for a gliding course at the Gliding School in Polichno-Pinczow, instructed by Tadeusz Ciastula, attaining a Category A and B there. During his next holidays, after his matriculation exams, at another gliding club camp, he attained his Category C, which called for greater proficiency and the ability to climb above the launch point.
His first piloting experiences were still memorable years later. “Flying in the right kind of weather over a beautiful countryside is wonderful. Seeing the sunset above the clouds is not to be forgotten; and flying is relaxing. It takes the tension out of me … The best flying really, which I remember, was flying gliders and sailplanes.”
The operation of the single-place glider involved a team of helpers stationed near the ramp at the apex of a hill. Unlike modern gliding or sailplane launches, Janusz recalled “… one started, without using a tow plane or takeoff winch, just with the help of two rubber lines and six people, who on order pulled and ran downhill, stretching the lines, the tail of the glider being secured by a quick-release peg. On the pilot’s command, ‘release,’ the tail was released, and the glider shot in the air like from a catapult. The pilot started flying figure eights trying to catch either up-draughts or thermals. Considering the low height of the launching field, that was quite an achievement.”
By 1934, Żurakowski had completed his matriculation at Lublin. While his sisters intended to study in Warsaw, he dreamed of becoming a pilot, although his father did not approve. Dr. Żurakowski threw up many objections but his son determined there was another way to achieve his goal. He volunteered to join the Army. “As a graduate, I had a choice of service. Of course, I choose the Aviation Reserve Cadet Officers’ School at Deblin and as an 20-year-old candidate, I joined the Polish Air Force.” That year, Żurakowski enrolled in Deblin as one of only 40 successful applicants out of 2,000 prospects. At that time, the fledgling air arm was part of the army, which had a long and proud history, and, from 1935 to 1937, much of Żurakowski’s studies prepared him for a military career.
Even after completing his flight-training course under the able tutelage of Stefan Witozenc, and a promotion to Sub-Lieutenant, Żurakowski continued to fly gliders in his spare hours, and loved the sheer exhilaration of flying. He spent his holiday leave soaring in gliders at the Pinczow gliding field. There he carried out a 15-hour flight in a Komar [Mosquito] glider, which was an extraordinary accomplishment, considering the crude construction of gliders and the primitive conditions of flying at the time.
In July 1938, Żurakowski went to the famous Gliding Academy in Bezmiechowa near the Carpathian Mountains. Earlier, in May of that year, the school had received worldwide acclaim when one of its young pilots, Tadeusz Gora, had set an international record. After starting from Bezmiechowa, Gora had reached the city of Wilno, his family home, establishing a new record for the longest flight (578 km) and winning first place in the World Lilienthal Medal Competition. A year earlier Wanda Molibowska had flown above
Bezmiechowa for over a day (exactly 24 hours and 14 minutes), a record that wasn’t surpassed for two decades.
Żurakowski was determined to leave his mark on Bezmiechowa, a quest which almost led to tragedy. The school’s gliders were constantly in use, so he arranged to take a Delphin [dolphin] high-performance glider out at night when he had a better chance of having it for a long period of time. The dangers of a night launch were apparent but with the proper use of the variometer, a climb indicator mounted in the glider, Żurakowski judged that he could manage the flight safely. He recalled that on the night he chose for his flight, “It was pitch black and I could not see the top of the hills that I knew were just below.” Soon after the takeoff, Żurakowski sensed that the wind had shifted and taken him over the hilltop.
At the last moment, Żurakowski glimpsed the dim outline of the horizon and the hill in front of him. Banking the Delphin steeply, his wingtip caught the top branches of a fir tree on the slopes of Slone and he crashed heavily. The young pilot cracked his head and didn’t remember how he managed to crawl back to the Academy buildings as he lost his memory for a couple of days.
With his head wound healed, Żurakowski reported back to his squadron. Despite his crash, gliders remained his first love in the air. Recalling the period later, he remembered that he had begun his first aerobatics in gliders, and had attracted a great deal of interest from both civilian and military officials as a leading glider pilot in Poland.
In early 1939 came news that Poland would field a team for a gliding competition at the 1940 Olympic Games to be held in Rome. Żurakowski was selected to be one of two military pilots that along with two civilian fliers would make up the Polish team. As war neared in the late summer of 1939, the plans for the Polish Olympic gliding team were suddenly dropped.
After his return to the squadron, Żurakowski learned that his skills in the P.11c single-seater fighter had led his flight commander to identify him as a possible instructor with responsibilities for tactical and weapons training. Orders for Zurakowski to return to the Central Flying School in Deblin as an instructor came in the spring of 1939. He bitterly complained to his commanding officer about the transfer. “I asked him ‘why would you lose a fully qualified fighter pilot at this time?’ He stared at me and then pointed his
finger at me, exclaiming, ‘I had no choice. They asked for you.”
It would soon be evident why Żurakowski had been chosen as an advanced flight instructor. That summer Poland prepared for war; there would be little opportunity for Janusz Żurakowski to think about gliders again.
Wrona Glider at the Polish Aviation Museum in Krakow, Poland
It was a pleasure to represent the Toronto Chapter of the CAHS and the national CAHS for the presentation of the Douglas MacRitchie Memorial Award at Centennial College in Toronto on Feb. 19, 2014. Andril Ralko of North York was the recipient of the $500 scholarship, presented to the top graduating student in the highly regarded Aircraft Maintenance Technician Course at Centennial during the college’s gala Student Awards Night 2014.
The scholarship was established by Douglas’ family and friends. Douglas (CAHS member no. 76) was an exceptional volunteer for the society, who played a key role for many years in the production and distribution of the CAHS Journal, and had many friends in the aviation community. He was a national director at the time of his death at Burlington, August 20, 1980, while flying his Stinson 108, CF-DAF, to Fort Erie, to visit his brother, Bruce, at Fleet Industries Ltd. in Fort Erie and help in the restoration of a Cornell.
Andril told me he had tried to research information on Douglas from the Internet, but wasn’t successful. I was able to mail him a copy of Bill Wheeler’s excellent In Memoriam tribute to Douglas in the Journal Vol. 18, No. 4, winter 1980 (transcribed below - Editor). I also referred Andril to a story in the Welland Tribune, headlined “Niagara College urged to spread wings and teach pilots.” The story described how the Welland Aero Center, of which Bruce is president, has trained about six hundred pilots over the years - many of whom have gone on to successful careers in civil or military aviation.
Bruce also ensured that Douglas’ memory continues to live on through the presentation of an award presented in Douglas’ name for a volunteer in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum maintenance restoration program. The award is presented at the CWHM Annual General Meeting.
Centennial College, established in 1966, is Ontario’s first community college. It primarily serves the eastern Greater Toronto Area, with four campuses and seven satellite locations. Led by President Ann Buller, who became president in June 2004, Centennial is best known for exemplary teaching, innovative programming and extensive partnership building.
Douglas Graham MacRITCHIE
1924 - 1980
By William J. Wheeler
Reprinted from the CAHS Journal Vol 18 No 4 Winter 1980
(Note: the first several paragraphs describing Doug's aircraft accident and the subsequent search have been omitted. Other than minor spelling corrections, the rest of the article is as it appears in the Journal - Editor)
Doug MacRitchie was one of those capable and quietly enthusiastic people who are the real strength of an organization like the CAHS. He was the sort of person who, when once convinced of an organization's value, makes a whole-hearted commitment. It is difficult to fully assess the extent and importance of his contribution to our JOURNAL. His name seldom appeared in its pages although his efforts were acknowledged occasionally (but all too rarely it now seems) in our Editorials. And yet, almost since the beginning every copy of every issue passed through Doug's hands in his capacity of Distribution Manager.
Doug joined the CAHS in June 1963 at the Oshawa Airshow (member no. 76) along with so many others who became prominent in our Society and within weeks he was taking an active part in its operation. At that time the executive of our young and relatively small group was searching for a location where our JOURNALS could be collated and stapled on a regular basis; Doug immediately offered the use of his basement playroom.
A typical JOURNAL issue would arrive at the MacRitchie home in the form of sixteen cartons each containing 1000 pages. These were laid out in sequence on the ping-pong table for collation by a crew of volunteers who circled it endlessly, it seemed. Stapling was done on a machine which came to be known as the "Long MK. II", designed and built by the late Don Long. Doug presided over the entire operation and then undertook to mail each issue (usually with the help of son Peter) and store the remaining several hundred copies. As our stock of back issues grew, Doug constructed shelves to hold them, filling an entire wall of the room which was now unofficially but effectively devoted to CAHS use. These back issues which have always been an important source of revenue eventually overflowed the basement and had to be stored in the MacRitchie attic. Although it became necessary a few years ago to disperse stock to one or two other members of our executive, Doug still kept the largest portion while retaining an amazingly accurate mental record of our, by then, extensive inventory. With Shel Benner, our Membership Secretary, he shared an equally impressive faculty for remembering with accuracy those among our hundreds of members who were currently paid up.
In 1972, with the switch to professionally done saddle stitching our collating sessions came to an end and were succeeded by "stuffing and stamping" sessions. These get-togethers also proved valuable as informal meetings where a great deal of JOURNAL planning was carried out. Often there was input from members who, because of the continually changing make-up of the group, might not otherwise have been involved. While serving a practical purpose they were enjoyable social occasions thanks to the hospitality of Doug, his wife Fae and the entire MacRitchie family. None of those who were ever present will forget how good the coffee and doughnuts tasted as we surveyed with satisfaction the stock of brand new JOURNALS ready to be taken to the post office in the morning. Doug's role in the CAHS was obviously a key one, particularly in the production and distribution of our JOURNAL. He will not easily be replaced.
Doug's unfailing readiness to help showed itself in many other ways and few who knew him could not recall some thoughtful act on his part. Charlie Catalano, our longtime Toronto Chapter President, remembers just such an incident. On a winter day a year or so ago Charlie had driven out to the Markham airport for a flight in his own elderly aircraft, an Aeronca Chief of 1946 vintage. At the airport he ran into Doug who had just flown in from Maple (near Toronto - Editor) and together they walked over to where the Chief was tied down. Charlie was about to climb into the aircraft when he discovered that the cabin floor was inches deep in a pink sludge and smelled strongly of gas. Immediately he realized that his gas tank, located just ahead of the instrument panel, must have sprung a leak and he was now looking at its contents.
As Charlie stood wondering how to handle the problem Doug went over to DAF (CF-DAF, his Stinson - Editor) and returned with his tool kit. Immediately he pitched in and with Charlie helping soon had the cowling off, the gas lines disconnected and the tank removed ready to be taken in for repairs. All this, done in temperatures below freezing and in an exposed location, demonstrated the rare sort of practical meaning Doug gave to simply being a friend.
Doug MacRitchie was born in Toronto on 24 December 1924 and grew up there, attending Earl Grey Public School and Danforth Tech. He joined Sangamo Electric early in 1942 and his employment with that firm, until his death 38 years later, was interrupted only by war service. In December 1943 he enlisted in the RCAF and became an LAC Aero Engine Mechanic. He was stationed successively at No. 1 Technical Training School; No. 8 Repair Depot, Stevenson Field Winnipeg; and No. 19 Service Flying Training School, Vulcan, Alberta. Upon his discharge in March 1946 he returned to Toronto and three years later married Alice Fae McLellan, formerly of Drinkwater, Saskatchewan, and at that time a registered nurse in Toronto. Two children were born, Peter and Sharon.
Doug had always been fascinated by aviation and Fae recalls that when he first learned of the CAHS she sensed immediately that our Society was exactly the sort of interest he had been looking for. His long and energetic involvement must bear out her supposition. In 1977, after actively supporting the CAHS for so many years Doug finally agreed to become a director.
During the early 'sixties Doug often worked weekends for Carldon Aviation, a Toronto Island Airport Cessna dealership, in which his brother Bruce was a partner. One result was that the Carldon "Bus" regularly appeared at southern Ontario air shows, used by Doug to transport the CAHS display panels. In payment for his work with Carldon, Doug was given flying lessons by Maple Air Service, gaining his pilot's licence in July 1966. He bought his Stinson 108 in the U.S. in April 1972 and immediately applied for and obtained a dormant registration, CF-DAF, containing both his and his wife's initials. The Stinson was always beautifully maintained and was given a tasteful red, white and ultramarine colour scheme. Doug flew it an average of 100 hours per year, mainly in Ontario. Longer trips included participation in the "Great Canadian Air Race" to Montreal and a flight to a Waco Club meeting at Dayton, Ohio. The elegant old Stinson was a cherished possession and afforded its owner much pleasure and satisfaction.
Two separate annual CAHS awards are to be instituted in Doug's memory. While precise criteria are still in the process of being finalized the basic ideas have been agreed upon. (Donations to the "Doug MacRitchie Memorial Fund" made payable to the Canadian Aviation Historical Society will be acknowledged with tax deductible receipts.) A scholarship will be presented by the CAHS in Doug MacRitchie's name to a top student in the highly regarded Aircraft Maintenance Technician's Course at Centennial College of Applied Arts and Technologies. The College will select the recipient and the presentation will be made at the annual Transport Canada Maintenance Symposium (Ontario Region) by a member of the MacRitchie family.
Within our Society recognition in the form of a scroll and possibly a small honorarium will be given to a member whose involvement has been substantial but unsung. Where our C. Don Long and Research Awards acknowledge our writers and researchers the new award will be for the sort of person whose contribution emulates that made to our Society for so long and in such unselfish fashion by the late Doug MacRitchie.
We tend to think
There is no end,
And then one day
I lost a friend.
- from a poem written by Bruce MacRitchie 6 September 1980 en route to Munich, Germany.
All photos of Doug MacRitchie were provided to the Journal by the MacRitchie family and used with permission.
BRISTOL BOLINGBROKE MK. IV DONATED TO 17 WING
TRAINER SLOWLY SANK INTO PRAIRIE SOD FOR 60 YEARS
By Sgt Bill McLeod – 17 Wing Photojournalist
Briefly and at a very low altitude, a Bristol Bolingbroke Mark IV aircraft took to the sky for the first time in over 60 years near MacDonald, Manitoba, as it was lifted from its resting place in the prairie sod on October 23, 2013. The Bolingbroke was donated to 17 Wing by David Morris, Ian Morris, Stephen Morris and Royal Canadian Air Force Captain 20940 Sean Morris – Class of 1997. The Bolingbroke was originally purchased in 1946 by George Morris, grandfather of the men, for $150 as surplus from British Commonwealth Air Training Plan RCAF Station Macdonald. The aircraft was towed from the rear wheel by a grain truck to the family farm, just a few miles away.
“I think the intention was to use the bits and pieces of it for farming,” says Captain Sean Morris, a helicopter pilot who was just posted from 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School in Portage la Prairie, just a few miles from the family farm, to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Esquimault, British Columbia. “From what I’ve been told, all they really took off was the tail wheel, used on a wheel barrow, and the gas tanks for use on a sprayer,” he added. “My dad remembers pumping up the hydraulics and spinning the turret around,” says Captain Morris. “In reality, it is probably his love of the plane and aviation that got me into it. So I guess I am a second generation inspired pilot.”
From October 21 until October 30, the 17 Wing Recovery and Salvage Team led by Warrant Officer Steve Sagriff and assisted by members of 17 Wing Transport, Electrical, Mechanical Engineers carefully dug the aircraft out of the ground and gently disassembled the aircraft for trucking back to 17 Wing. “We had to dig down about four feet with the excavator,” said Warrant Officer Sagriff. “The guys on the Recovery and Salvage team are a great bunch of guys,” said Sagriff. “They didn’t even stop for lunch on Tuesday (October 22) until 3:00 p.m. They just kept saying, ‘We’re so close, so close’,” he said. “The TEME (17 Wing Transport, Electrical, Mechanical Engineers) guys were great too,” he added. “They were slinging lumber around with us and everything.”
On Tuesday, October 29, the last and biggest piece of the Bristol Bolingbroke Mark IV, the fuselage, was lifted off the flatbed in Winnipeg under the watchful eye of 17 Wing Heritage Officer Lieutenant Amber Dodds. “It’s going to be a long process to restore it,” Lieutenant Dodds said. “Our Ghost Squadron is a group of 5 volunteers who come in every Monday so it would be impossible to provide a guess on when the aircraft would be completed,” she said. RCAF Station Macdonald is one of the waypoints for the students doing pilot training with 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School at Portage la Prairie so the aircraft is familiar to everyone at the school. “If you ask anyone who has been flying at the school in Portage for any length of time, they will know the plane,” says Captain Sean Morris. “It’s an easy thing to see from the air.
In the early to mid-thirties, the Royal Air Force was woefully under-equipped to wage any kind of modern war. Both fighters and bombers were typically fabric-covered bi-planes not capable of much more than 200 miles per hour. Armament of a .303 or two was considered adequate. Government exercises seemed to prove that bombers flying in neat boxes could properly cover each other with those rifle calibre machine guns. Because fighters were nearly as slow, it was assumed that bombers would always get through – speed being considered relatively unimportant.
With hindsight, of course, this stance can be seen to be completely ridiculous ...
By 1935, Germany began to re-arm, in flagrant disregard for the Treaty of Versailles. They busily began building a totally modern air force ... that finally convinced Britain to grudgingly begin upgrading.
The impetus for a totally new aircraft came from Lord Rothermere, a British newspaper magnate. With foresight, he had seen what would be required in the future.
The Bristol Aircraft Company had begun work on a high-speed commercial monoplane with retractable gear capable of at least 250 miles per hour. When Rothermere's rival, Lord Beaverbrook, ordered an American DC-1, he was stung into action. Lord Rothermere had a Mercury-engined version of the new Bristol aircraft built to his specifications. This machine, he christened "Britain First", and presented it to the air ministry for testing. It did indeed catch the air ministry's attention and pointed up the inadequacies of their existing craft. Tests showed a top speed of 307 mph, or 285, fully loaded.
A military version (now known as the Blenheim) was soon produced, with the wing mounted higher to provide for a modest bomb bay area. It had a controversial powered upper turret, as well (this last item reduced the speed to 265 mph). The government was committed heavily to this new type.
Events, however had overtaken them.
By this time, of course, the norm was for eight-gun fighter planes capable of well over 300 miles per hour, e.g. Spitfires and Messerschmitt Bf 109s. The latter had proven themselves amply during the Spanish Civil War.
The Blenheim's cruising speed with a load was barely, or even less than 200 mph. With only a single machine gun pointing forward and another in the turret, it was incapable of defending itself. It had virtually no armour plating. Its radios, navigation equipment, oxygen systems and heaters were all outdated. Even the British bombs and bombsights were grossly inefficient, compared to the current German items.
But ... it was the best Britain had, and consequently, they were used in a variety of roles at the outbreak of hostilities, including flying the very first sortie of the war. The type was even operated as a fighter in the intruder role, usually under cover of darkness ... surprisingly with some success.
As soon as other types became available, the Blenheims remaining in service were relegated to training, utility, and communications roles.
|Bristol Bolingbroke recovered by WCAM. Photo by Gord Nowicky|
|Bristol Bolingbroke in flight. Photo via the Canadian Museum of Flight|
The RCAF wanted a maritime patrol general reconnaissance (GR) aircraft and, in accordance with Canadian policy, looked to Britain for its supply. The Bristol 142M Blenheim was being tested primarily as a bomber; the Bolingbroke, a maritime GR development of the Blenheim [there were substantial differences], was designed as an interim replacement for the Avro Anson GR aircraft of RAF Coastal Command. The Blenheim was ruled out because of its poor visibility. This narrowed the choice to the Bolingbroke.
Although the British Air Ministry had decided to drop Bolingbroke development, at the RCAF’s request the Bolingbroke was continued and it first flew on 24 September 1937. When the excellent performance of the Bolingbroke became known, the Air Ministry decided to redesign the Blenheim to incorporate some of its features, resulting in the Blenheim IV which, in outward appearance, is very similar to the Bolingbroke.
The Bolingbroke was of all-metal, stressed-skin construction. It carried a crew of four and had one fixed forward firing 0.303 Browning machine gun in the port wing and a turret-mounted 0.303 (first a single, and later twin Brownings) for rear defence. It carried up to 1,000 lb (454 kg) of bombs.
The contract for RCAF Bolingbroke production was given to Fairchild Aircraft of Longueil, Quebec in November 1937 and covered 18 aircraft. The first Bolingbrokes had all-British equipment and were designated Bolingbroke Is. The first of these made its maiden flight in September 1939.
Fairchild was also given the contract to develop the type as a seaplane for coastal GR. To improve the performance, the RCAF ordered 920 hp Mercury XV engines installed in place of the 800 hp Mercury VIII inherited from the Blenheim and so created a new version, the Bolingbroke III, that was first flown as a seaplane on 28 August, 1940. Only one of the Bolingbroke seaplane variant was completed.
The principal version of the Bolingbroke was the Mk. IV which had the basic British airframe fitted with Mercury XV engines and numerous Fairchild Canada designed refinements including new cockpit instrumentation and equipment to better accommodate both overwater and cold weather operations. The latter included, for example, rubber de-icing boots installed on all wing and tail leading edges. In RCAF Service the type was nicknamed the "Bolly" with the initial variant of the Mk. IV used in the intended Bomber Reconnaissance (BR – the RCAF equivalent to the RAF's GR) role.
The most numerous of all Bolingbroke variants was the Mk. IVT for bombing and gunnery training. Like the later-service Mk. IVs of the BR squadrons, this variant was fitted with a Boulton Paul Type C turret mounting two Browning machine guns. Some of these aircraft were later modified as target tugs with the armament removed. A total of 626 Bolingbrokes were built between December 1939 and September 1943.
Early Bolingbrokes served operationally on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and two squadrons also served in Alaska during the Aleutians campaign. The most prolific users of the Bolingbrokes were in the bombing and gunnery schools of the BCATP.
TECHNICAL DETAILS (Mk. IV/IVT):
Engine: Two 920 hp Bristol Mercury XV radial engines
Maximum speed: 262 mph (421 km/hr at 14,000 ft (4,267 m)
Cruising speed: 214 mph (344 km/hr at 14,000 ft (4,267 m)
Empty weight: 8,963 lb (4,069 kg)
Loaded weight: 14,500 lb (6,583 kg)
Span: 56 ft 4 in (17.17 m)
Length: 42 ft 9 in (13.03 m)
Height: 9 ft 10 in (3.0 m)
Wing area: 469 sq ft (43.57 sq m)
Armament: One 0.303 Browning machine gun in the wing, and one, later two, 0.303 Brownings in a dorsal turret; 1,000 lb bomb load.
|Bolingbroke from the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum on display at Brandon, Manitoba. Photo by Bill Zuk|
|A Bolingbroke sits in the long grass in the reclamation yard at Westbourne, Manitoba. Photo by Bill Zuk|
- by Will Chabun
The Royal Canadian Air Force had a certain wartime tradition: when mechanics finished repairs on an aircraft, one, perhaps more, of them got to go on the test flight. It helped keep up mechanics' morale. It meant trained eyes and ears checked for problems when in the air. It meant that mechanics put their own lives, or those of buddies, on the line when a repaired aircraft flew again.
And that was how Anne Heath-Moulding faced one of the most frightening moments of her life. It was 1943 or ’44 and her new husband, an aero engine mechanic at the sprawling (she was told it had about 3,000 personnel in late 1943) wartime 5 Bombing and Gunnery school at Dafoe, 150 kilometres north of Regina, was scheduled to go up in an aircraft. Mere hours later, she heard sirens, then saw smoke on the horizon. As she stood, transfixed, a buddy of her husband blurted out a question: “What are you going to do if George is in there?”
“Some friend!” Heath-Moulding, sharp as a tack at 89, said last autumn. George was in another aircraft, so he was OK. But it was the kind of thing you don't forget. Nor does she forget Boomtown, the ramshackle strip of shacks and converted granaries where 450 airmen, wives and children lived. None had electricity, running water or indoor toilets. Lacking insulation, the tiny stove left the young couple's shack so cold she routinely slept in three pairs of her husband's long johns.
Aircraft took off all day and all night until 3 a.m. — with machine gun fire on the training range starting at 5 a.m. “I think I cried, that first year, more than I ever cried in my life,” said Heath-Moulding.
Born near Wolseley but raised in Regina, she met George Moulding (from Abernethy, northeast of Regina) at Regina's famous Trianon Ballroom on April 1, 1943. They married on Sept. 4 and after he rented living quarters near the Dafoe station, she took the 4 1/2 hour bus trip to join him. She was only 20. Just about the first thing she saw upon arrival was a young woman, “barely dressed”, brushing her teeth near one of the adjacent shacks; she was an airwoman who’d moved into an officer’s shack while his wife was in a Winnipeg hospital, recovering from a miscarriage. Another shack’s resident was a civilian pharmacist traumatized when the car he was driving was in a collision, killing his father; he would throw his head back and laugh hysterically for no apparent reason. “I was just terrified,” she recalled.
Near as she could determine, Boomtown's shacks were owned by farmers and businessmen from the district around it. With only coal-oil lamps for light, she couldn't read at night. Nor could she work on the base because of RCAF regulations. Thinking back on how she passed her time, she said, “I don't know — I really don't know!” A major improvement in her life came when George secured a battery-powered radio for his wife.
The RCAF gave remote stations like Dafoe, facilities like a bowling alley, skating rink, movie theatre and swimming pool that doubled as a reservoir for firefighting. Mart Kenney brought his famous band to play at a dance — though the night ended with mass food poisoning. There was even inadvertent humour, like when a tipsy airman tried to crawl over the perimeter fence -- mere feet from the guardhouse at the main gate. At the bowling alley, Heath-Moulding, her husband and their friends once began an evening with five consecutive strikes — causing the large, tipsy American setting up pins that night to emerge from his cubbyhole and ask, with much bafflement, “Wheah y’awl folks from???”
But times were tough, too. She remembers another young wife waiting in Boomtown for her husband to arrive at Dafoe. “He was flying in from Burma — and he never made it.” Near the station, one training aircraft accidentally landed atop another, decapitating the pilots in the lower one. Another, carrying five men, crashed near a school, “and the kids saw them burned to death”, said Heath-Moulding, who remembers a crash — perhaps this one — where she and a friend walked to the crash site and were struck by the odd sight of the airmen’s boots, every one yanked off by G-forces, lying separate from the bodies. The memory remains with her to this day.
Heath-Moulding decided to stay in Regina when George was posted in 1944 to a base in Manitoba from Dafoe. He survived the war, farmed for many years in the Abernethy district and lived until 2007. On her year at Boomtown, she looks back and says simply: “I grew up a lot.”
This is a lengthened version of an article that originally appeared in the Regina Leader-Post on November 10, 2012 and was republished in the CAHS Windsock, the newsletter of CAHS Roland Groome Regina.
The chapter is named in honour of Roland Groome, the first commercial pilot in Canada, a member of the Royal Air Force in the First World War, and a founder of the Regina Flying Club - and the CAHS Regina Chapter strives to represent all these areas of aviation. To do this, the chapter established ties with the Saskatchewan Aviation Council, the Airport Display Committee, and played a role in the launch of the Silver Dart stamp in 2009.
CAHS Regina also explores Saskatchewan’s rich and varied aviation history through monthly meetings. These gatherings range from popular film and photo nights to guest speakers from around the province and beyond. Past topics have include: military careers, continental air defense, international museum collections, ratio-controlled aircraft races, civilian flying operation and aviation entrepreneurs.
Their monthly newsletter, Windsock, records these fascinating talks and events and provides articles, announcements and other notable aviation news. CAHS chapters that have similar newsletters or newspapers are encouraged to share articles that would be of interest to the wider range of CAHS membership, to be posted on the CAHS History Newsreel of the national website.
For more information on CAHS Regina, see:
CAHS National website: http://www.cahs.ca/chapters/regina
CAHS Regina Chapter website:
Follow the chapter on Twitter: @CAHSRegina
The CAHS Roland Groome Regina Chapter will be hosting the 2014 CAHS AGM and Conference in Regina. Author Will Chabun is presently working on a “Call for Papers” for the conference, inviting authors, researchers and historians to submit written as well as media presentations for the speakers’ program of the conference.