A Memorable Festive Season
By G.R. Waver
December 1944; Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, England; home to two RCAF heavy bomber squadrons, namely No. 426 and No. 408. Ours is No. 408 "Goose" Squadron. We flew in Halifax aircraft; each of the four engines gave a 1,650 hp output. We are members of 6 Group, which has 14 RCAF heavy bomber squadrons in Yorkshire.
Here's a wee bit of background information. On 25th August 1944, our crew was posted to No. 408 Squadron at Linton-on-Ouse, from 1659 Conversion Unit, Topcliffe, Yorkshire.
Pilot F/O R.M. Armitage J.35566 “Bob”
Navigator F/L W.G. Heughan J.13150 “Gord”, or “Brother Heughan”
Bomb Aimer F/O S.R. Lloyd J.36908 “Lloyd,” or “Roy”
Wireless Air Gunner F/S G.R. Waver Rl66339 “Gordie” or “Chorchie”
Mid-Upper Gunner Sgt H.W. Sullivan Rl15588 “Sully”
Rear Gunner Sgt K. Beresford R69482 “Ken”
Flight Engineer Sgt J. Green (RAF) 1895570 “Jack”
(Ranks shown are as of 23 December 1944)
The three commissioned officers have living accommodation on the base. The four of us NCOs are billeted in Beningbrough Hall located about two miles from the field. Beningbrough Hall was commandeered during the war by the military. The Hall is the home of Lady Chesterfield; she currently lives in an adjacent building on the property. The Countess makes periodic inspections of the Hall accompanied by a senior air force officer. We have a room on the “attic” floor. Our Sergeants Mess is located about a ¼ mile from the base. Via bicycles and trucks for transportation, we survive.
Now, let's get back to the story. On the 24th of December we have a big party planned in our Sergeants’ Mess.
On the 23rd, a battle roster is posted for tomorrow’s operation—and our crew is on it. Why would anybody want us to go on a bombing trip on Christmas Eve, especially when we have a big mess party planned? Obviously we're going to miss the groggy shindig, and end up celebrating Xmas by having people shoot at us whilst we spoil the festive season for them.
December 24th: It’s foggy out. It’s pea soup weather; why even the birds are walking. Initial briefing is at 0800 for pilots, navigators, and bomb aimers; this is followed by the general briefing with all the crew members present. Unfortunately Sully is late reporting in to the Gunnery Section prior to briefing, and, as a consequence, a spare gunner is assigned to take over the mid-upper turret duties for this operation — F/Sgt A.W. Greig is the incumbent.
Fourteen bases used by German air force single-engine fighters operating over the Ardennes battle area are to be attacked today by both the 8th USAAF and the RAF Also, the objective is to hinder the movement of supplies by transport aircraft from the Ruhr to the German forces pressing forward in this area. Lohausen Airfield (now the civil airport for Dusseldorf) is the target allotted to RCAF Six Group. The American ground forces are having a rough time at St. Vith and also at Bastogne. The “Battle of the Bulge” is in full swing!
At briefing, we are told that there should be no problem with take-off. Visibility is at least 150 yards, and to assist us there will be three 45-gallon drums of burning oil spaced out along the left side of the runway to guide us. After passing by the third drum, you have a maximum, often seconds to lift off.
Our bombload? It’s 9 x 1,000 lb, 2 x 500 lb, and 2 x 250 pounders.
After briefing, a lorry drops us off at our dispersal unit where "L-Love” is parked. A pre-flight inspection is made by all crewmembers. A trolley accumulator is wheeled into position to relieve the aircraft's internal batteries of the initial starter load. One after another, the stone cold engines cough into life; it takes 50 gallons of petrol just to warm the four of them up.
Bob gives a hand signal. Chocks away. The entrance hatch is closed and secured. Our kite slowly moves to join the others wending their way along the perimeter track to the runway for take-off. Which runway to use? Why, the longest one of course; in fog there is no wind, no crosswind to cause troubles. Taxiing these heavy bombers is not easy. The pilots have to keep them on the narrow 50-foot wide perimeter track using the brakes, rudders and carefully judged bursts of power on the outer engines. If an aircraft should wander off the concrete, it could have problems in this wintertime Yorkshire muck.
The Thunderbird types, No. 426 Squadron are also on this do. They are coming around the perimeter from their dispersals across the field. Aircraft from the two squadrons alternate turns at take-off. There is radio silence. No R/T or W/T (radio telephony & wireless telegraphy). Visual instruction is received via a control van that is located to the left of the runway. As one bomber begins its take-off run, the next one turns onto the active runway, and is held there by the controller's red Aldis lamp until the runway is clear.
Finally it's our turn; there's the "Green" signal from the control van. At the side of the runway there's a small group of station personnel to wave us, "safe trip”. Keeping the bomber on the runway requires intense concentration; if it swings off at any speed the undercarriage could collapse. Bob opens the throttles slowly at first, then fully as the aircraft accelerates. There is a slight tendency to swing to starboard but the aircraft can be kept straight initially on the throttles, and, as the speed increases, by the rudders. The tail comes up easily as speed develops.
Jack is beside Bob assisting him with take-off. I'm in the Flight Engineer's section to operate the engine cowling gill controls. As we took off, we were watching the left side of the runway and counting. It seemed like an eternity until we saw the first drum of burning oil and we shouted “ONE”, a seemingly long pause followed, and then “TWO”, and finally “THREE”. In a few seconds, we lifted off in dense fog at 1145. Our speed was 110 knots. Upon gaining altitude, bright sunshine greeted us. This December 24th operation was our 17th and it was the one and only time that we took off in fog out of 34 operations.
It was rather an uneventful flight all the way to the target, and then things got a wee bit hairy with all the heavy flak coming up. We were continually flying through these huge black balls of smoke lingering in the sky, with the accompanying acrid smell of cordite that permeated the aircraft. On our bombing run at 16,000 feet, I was standing beside Bob (pilot), when all of a sudden there was this huge red ball of fire right in front of us that instantly turned black. There was a sound like hail rattling against our aircraft. I've seen enough of this scary tomfoolery, and I stepped down into my wee cubbyhole located right below Bob. I closed the curtain over my small window, held my breath, and quietly said "let's get the hell out of here". At 1452 hours, I listened to Roy's chatter via the intercom, "left, left, steady, s-t-e-a-d-y", and finally, "Bombs Gone".
On the way back to base, I received a coded Morse Code message instructing our squadron to divert to an airfield by the name of Earls Colne. It appears that we're going to miss the big Christmas Eve party in our mess, What else can go wrong?
Earls Colne, Essex. It's the home of two RA.F. Halifax squadrons, namely 296 and 297. They are actively involved in towing Horsa gliders. We landed at 1610. Being an RAF station means that the food is just on a par with our home field. We prefer to make a diversionary landing at an American Air Force base—the food is better, or at least it's prepared in a tastier manner.
It's Christmas Eve, and we are stuck down here in Essex. We have to stay overnight. It so happens that most of the station ground personnel have been granted Xmas leave. From some of the WAAF gals on the station, we heard that the “erks” are having a big party on New Year’s Eve, and furthermore, that they already have seven kegs of beer on hand for the occasion. After a bite to eat, we are assigned a bunk and given a blanket.
We tossed off our flying toots, and then it's goodnight; we are tired from our harrowing trip.
On Christmas morning, with not much else to do. Ken and I sauntered over to the Airmens’ Mess to check things out. Not a soul was around, and sure enough those seven tubs of joy were sitting there, just waiting to be plucked. We lifted one keg off its stand, and rolled it over to the Sergeants Mess, but alas we had forgotten all about a tap for the keg. So back we traipsed to the Airmens’ Mess, and, by this time, a chap was on location. We inquired if he could let us have the loan of a spout as we needed one for a keg of beer over at the Sergeants’ Mess. He checked around and finally came to the conclusion that the brewery had left him an extra one, as there were six kegs and seven taps. He handed us the extra tap, we thanked him, and returned triumphantly to our Mess. Catastrophe had struck. The impatient lads had emptied the round-bottomed fire pails of sand, hacked the keg open with the fire axes, and as the beer spewed forth, they rinsed out the fire pails with beer, refilled them, and drank heartily. The floor in one corner of the Mess was awash with beer and sand. So much waste, and Ken and I never got a drop of the suds for our efforts; it's just another wartime frivolity that went sour.
The best thing that is going to happen this Christmas day is that the Glenn Miller band has a radio program at 1 PM. Glenn is the greatest of the great band leaders of the ‘40s. The program began with the announcer reporting, "Major Glenn Miller, Director of the United States Army Air Forces Band, is missing. No trace of the plane has been found". The band duly made the promised broadcast from Paris on Christmas day - but without its devoted leader. The first number played was a special rendition by Glenn of an Old English ballad, “Oranges and Lemons". His band played as usual; it sounded better than ever. The announcements were made in the same clipped American drawl by a voice that was quite unmistakably Glenn Miller. It was a recording. The band had recorded six programs to ensure there would be no interruption in the weekly BBC broadcasts whilst the band was in France.
So how does one go about enjoying the Xmas festivities? Well, so far, we’ve had to go on a bombing operation. We had to take off in fog. We had a rough time over the target. We were diverted to Earls Colne; the “Beer Keg” fiasco. And now the sad news about Glenn Miller. Merry Christmas.
It was a considerable time later that I had information regarding Glenn Miller's disappearance. On Sunday, 15th December 1944, he took off from RAF station at Twin Woods, near Bedford, in a Norseman aircraft. The Norseman is a small utility transport plane with a high wing and a radial engine. It is officially designated a UC-64A. On board, in addition to Glenn, were Colonel Norman Basselle and an experienced American transport pilot, Flight Officer John R.S, Morgan of the 35th Depot Repair Squadron from Abbots Ripton. They were flying to France to prepare for a special show, which was to be broadcast live from Paris on Christmas Day. There had been no flying by RAF planes at Twin Woods all day; conditions weren’t good enough for training flights. But the field wasn't technically closed. If the Americans liked to take the responsibility, that was up to them, (the RAF had, in fact, advised them not to go). The fog was drifting in more thickly now, and as the Norseman taxied out towards the runway its outline became indistinct. Soon it disappeared altogether in the mist and fog. As the hours passed and Glenn didn't arrive in Paris it became apparent that he must be missing somewhere and most possibly it was in the vast area of the North Sea. A search was begun along the route from Bedford to Paris, a search which revealed nothing. RCAF aircrews participated in the search.
On the same day that Glenn went missing, 138 Lancasters of RAF No. 3 Group set out on a raid to bomb Siegen (a city about 100 miles east of Cologne), but the raid was recalled because bad weather prevented their fighter escorts from taking off. The raid was aborted south of Brussels, and on the homeward flight the usual procedure was carried out to jettison some of the bombload over the North Sea to get down to safe landing weight. Several RAF crewmembers recalled seeing a Norseman aircraft plunge into the sea below them as each of the bombers discharged a 4,000 lb blast bomb and a stream of incendiaries. While the evidence is inconclusive regarding Glenn’s final flight, it is possible an aborted RAF raid was involved. The jury is still out on this one.
Let's get back to Earls Colne. It’s the afternoon of Christmas Day. Ken and I are itching to do something, anything to alleviate our frustration caused by this unwelcome "Merry Christmas” scenario. So—with the wee little military issued penknife that each of us has "hidden” (stowed away) in one leg of our sheep-lined flying boots, we cut off our "rank" insignia and wandered over to the Officers Mess and spent the afternoon enjoying life as well as could be expected. According to the Geneva Convention (Red Cross), the penknife with the short blade is not considered a wartime weapon.
Boxing Day, Linton-on-Ouse is still fogged in. About a dozen of us chaps "borrowed” bicycles parked around the station. Remember, most of the personnel were on Xmas leave. We peddled our way into the town to visit a pub where we enjoyed a few grogs. Back on base whilst chatting with a few RAF types, I suggested (with tongue in cheek) that possibly we might be taking a few bicycles back home with us to Linton; we would hide them in our bomb bays.
December 27th: In the morning the weather is clearing; we can fly back to base. It will be so nice to get these flying boots off; after wearing them steadily for three days the wool lining in the insoles becomes matted and bunched up under the toes.
Prior to take-off, the local Service Police visited each aircraft and made us open our bomb bays to ensure there were no bicycles hidden there. Finally we are back home at Linton-on-Ouse.
So how did our squadron make out on our operation to Lohausen airfield? The usual interrogation of each crew revealed that the bombing carried out was "bang-on”, but unfortunately a number of our squadron's aircraft were damaged by the vicious flak being thrown up. Of the 13 that bombed the target, eight (including ours) had flak damage. Also, one of our aircraft has not been heard from; the kite captained by Flying Officer Dunwoodie is missing.
It wasn't until after the war that the 'hairy do” Dunwoodie's crew was subjected to, came to light.
The report reads as follows:
This all-Canadian crew took off from Linton-on-Ouse at 11:38 A.M. on the 24th of December 1944, in their Mark 7 Halifax bomber for what they thought was a four-and-a-half hour trip to bomb the airport at Dusseldorf in the heart of Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley.
Over the target, the bomb aimer had just released the bomb load when a German 88 mm shell came through the aircraft and on its way out the top took with it the pilots control column, blinding the pilot and leaving him unconscious. Other No. 408 Squadron aircraft were near enough to see the roof of the aircraft explode as the shell and debris tore through on the way out. They were also close enough to see five of the crew toil out a moment later and then slowly disappear from sight as their parachutes carried them safely to the ground.
Dusseldorf was no stranger to Bomber Command and No. 408 Squadron had visited there 11 times previously. The total damage inflicted in the area had been widespread and serious; serious enough to enrage the local population to take action of their own. The five crewmen who were seen to safely bail out were soon reported dead by the German authorities. The evidence is, of course, not clear but the family of one of the dead crewmen received a letter from a German padre years later asking forgiveness for the rash and hasty action the local townsfolk had taken.
When the pilot regained consciousness a few moments later, the aircraft was still in stable flight. He was unable to see but after he got no response from the nearby crew stations, he pressed the signal key to indicate bail-out to anyone still in the aircraft. As it happened, the rear gunner was still in the turret but somewhat uncertain as to what had happened in the front office.
When the rear gunner received the signal to bail out, he rotated his turret to get out and after getting part way out he found that his parachute had become caught and had partially opened. He struggled his way back into the turret and as he did so he saw the parachute holding the pilot go drifting past. Finally he was free of the aircraft. The pilot and rear gunner landed, not together but nearby, about 18 miles from where the rest of the crew had landed. The pilot, with the splendid kind of irony the gods of war sometimes use, landed in a farmer's pigpen - unable to see but his other senses were receiving loud and clear. The farmer soon had him in the hands of the local authorities and after some hours in a barn with cows for company, he was taken to the hospital in Krefeld where he spent the next few months.
With partial sight returning in one eye, the local hospital authorities gave him a treatment which again rendered it of no use and so Dunwoodie was unable to move far from his bed. The next time there was some partial sight recovery, he somehow forgot to bring this to the attention of the staff.
Allied air raids brought the sirens into play and all the patients were locked into their rooms while the staff went to the air raid shelters. One day, a thoughtful United States Army Air Forces pilot blew a hole in the wall of the hospital and Dunwoodie, accompanied by a British Marine from the next room, casually vacated the premises, and made their way out into the unfriendly German world. They were recaptured later that evening and sent to Dulag 111 to be guests there until General Patton and his army were able to persuade the German authorities to release them. Dunwoodie found himself back in England on Easter Day, 1945.
Upon landing, the rear gunner was quickly taken prisoner by some of the local army who proceeded to beat him with their rifle butts. He was saved from certain death by the fortuitous arrival of a Luftwaffe officer whose un-holstered pistol persuaded the soldiers to desist and hand the prisoner over for more normal treatment. It meant marching, with a crowd of other prisoners to the Polish border where they were kept until the arrival of the Russian Army. An American Army group was nearby but there seemed to be more friction than cooperation between the two "Allies”. No prisoners were released and it was only after some of the prisoners, including this rear gunner, provided themselves with forged exit authority cards that they were able to get past their illiterate guards at the camp gate and make their way to the American camp and so back home.
As a small footnote to history, the two German soldiers who were intent on beating the rear gunner to death shortly after his capture, were later tried and sentenced to 10 and 20 years in prison.
So - it's still the 27th of December. We missed the big party on the 24th, but we're back home at Linton. Living in Beningbrough Hall and flying from Linton down the road gives a contrast to life, which is paradoxical. One night we enjoyed the peace and tranquility of country life and the next, sweated it out over Germany.
There's a battle roster posted, and we are on it. We've been assigned to fly in "N-Nan"; our regular kite is undergoing repairs. It's an early morning take-off on the 28th, and when I say early, it’s real early. Our bomb load is 1 x 2000, 3 x 1000 and 8x 250 pounders. Our target was Opiaden, which is located about 12 miles north of Cologne.
We began our take-off at 0325. As we picked up speed down the runway, we heard a loud explosive noise, and the aircraft tilted to the starboard. Our speed was about 95 knots. Bob quickly lifted the starboard wing and got us airborne. It was nip-and-tuck as we seemed to “float” until we had sufficient speed to gain altitude. There was dead silence for a few minutes, and then someone asked, “What happened?" "The starboard tire blew!"
I thought to myself, this is going to be an uneventful bombing raid. The enemy is not going to give us any trouble at all, we're going to have to come home to Linton and land on one wheel—the port wheel.
Bombing was carried out at 0630 from 18,000 feet, now we’ve got to go home. We arrived back in the Linton circuit shortly after 0900, and Bob, via the R.T. radio, advised the control tower of our problem. All the other aircraft from both squadrons were permitted to land prior to us; we were stacked at the top.
At 0943, we received permission to land but— not on the runway in use. We were instructed to land on a cross-runway, and not to touch down until after we had passed over the runway in use. This shouldn't be any problem, we've only got a few hundred yards available for landing, but we aren't going to travel too far. As we made our approach the undercarriage was lowered. A visual inspection revealed the starboard tire was in shreds. The crew took our “ditching positions”, the same as if we were preparing to ditch in the North Sea (my instruction sheet is attached). The fire engines and meat wagons (ambulances) were parked on the perimeter, and as we passed overhead on our approach, they followed us down the runway. Bob brought "N-Nan" down on the port wheel, and as we lost a wee bit of momentum, he gently lowered the starboard side of the kite onto the damaged wheel. We made a long swing off the runway onto the green infield. It was a spectacular landing. Our crew was able to walk away.
On the 29th, there is a Battle Roster posted, and yes, we're on it. The target is Troisdorf marshalling yards near Bonn, We took-off in "H-Harry" at 1526K. Our bombload was16 x 500 pounders. Upon returning to Linton, we landed at 2203. There was nothing noteworthy about this trip.
On the 30th of the month, we're on another raid. The target is Cologne Kalk-Nord marshalling yards. We took off at 1740 in "H-Harry"; our bomb load was 1 x 2000, and 12 other smaller bombs. We landed back home at 0022 on the 31st. Unfortunately upon landing, the tail of our kite came in contact with the runway first, resulting in the tail wheel being pushed up into the rear turret (the gunner is not in his turret during take-offs and landings). It was soon determined that the longerons were sprung (the fore and aft members of the framing of the aircraft fuselage), not to mention the damage to the tail turret. That's just one more of our kites undergoing repairs. There's no Battle Roster posted; we're going to be home for New Year's Eve - HOORAY!
In our Sergeants Mess, we were bragging that we're the only crew that has three kites; two in the hanger undergoing repairs, and one out at the dispersal unit.
Early on New Year’s Eve, Bob, Brother Heughan and Roy came over to the Sergeants’ Mess for a couple of drinks. Brother Heughan was noticeably upset; there were a few tears in his eyes. He had just received word that his brother had been shot down and killed on a raid to Politz, near Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) on 21st/22nd December. It was a sad moment. Gord Heughan was not an imbiber, but he had a few groggs, and possibly a couple more than he should have, to drown his sorrows.
Later the seven of us sauntered over to the Officers’ quarters. We visited in the sleeping quarters; not being officers, we NCOs were not permitted in the lounge area. As all of us were a wee bit “oiled”. Bob loaned me one of his uniforms, and he and I entered the lounge. Bob told me to sit down, don’t move, and be quiet, whilst he got us a beer from the bar. A "happy" F/L Andy Scheelar sat down beside me. He recognized me but he couldn't remember where we (pilots) had met. For him, everything was out of context as I was sporting pilot's wings on my borrowed uniform. He questioned me about various places “we” had trained. The guy sees me just about every day but didn’t twig that I was Bob's WAG. Bob suggested we return to the sleeping quarters before either of us got in trouble; impersonating an officer is a “no-no”. We tucked Brother Heughan in bed; he was drunk and sobbing. We called it a night. Happy New Year!
On the 5th of January we went on our 21st bombing sortie, it was to Hannover. There were 664 aircraft on this raid; of the 340 Halifaxs participating, 23 were shot down. One of them was Andy Scheelar's kite from our squadron. Data obtained later offered the following info:
F/L A.F. Scheelar, piloting “A-Able” of the Goose Squadron, had bombed the target and was setting course for home when a night fighter made a surprise attack from below. One engine caught fire as the Hally dived steeply. Scheelar then leveled out while he and the flight engineer sought in vain to extinguish the flames. The side of the fuselage was red hot when the pilot gave the bale out order. Three of the crew jumped but immediately after they left, the Halifax exploded in mid-air. The others were lost.
During these harrowing times, one seems to become oblivious to the horrors of war and isolates his feelings accordingly.
This ends my thoughts of "A Memorable Festive Season".
For any given 100 aircrew in Bomber Command, 1939-45, the daunting breakdown was:
Killed on operations........................51
Killed in crashes in England............9
Prisoners of war...............................12
Evaded capture................................ 1
Survived unharmed......................... 24
First of all, kudos to Tim Dubé for organizing a fine convention, The Big Five-O, in Ottawa for the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, and keeping it running right on time.
I enjoyed very much all the program sessions presented at the hotel, as well as the evening at Vintage Wings, the air show at the Gatineau airport, the time at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Battle of Britain Parade there on Sunday. As my flight home to Edmonton on Monday didn't leave until 7 pm, I had the day to myself and spent four hours in a return visit to the Canadian War Museum.
However, one of the main reasons I attend CAHS conferences is to meet again friends and colleagues I know, and to make new acquaintances who share an interest in aviation history. It was great to see you all!
The session by Edward Soye, dealing with the Fokker trophies of the First World War and the first CNE Airshow, was all new information for me. I was particularly interested to learn that one of the Fokkers obtained from the war was to be assigned to my alma mater, the University of Alberta. Some time ago I learned a little about that, but only a little. See attached image, a photo I shot of the screen in Ed's presentation, which is a letter that names the U of A as a Fokker recipient.
I inquired about the U of A Fokker D.VII to Dr. Rod Macleod, professor emeritus of history at the U of A. I had the pleasure of serving on the board of the Alberta Aviation Museum with him for five years. Rod is a past president, and I believe back on board for another term. We have a Fokker biplane at the museum and I asked for details about it.
Rod replied with the following note. Henry Marshall Tory, mentioned in the note, was first president, and president at the time the Fokker was offered to the University:
"Our Fokker is a D.VIII, not a D.VII and is a replica. The story of the U of A Fokker is interesting. Henry Marshall Tory wanted to set up an aeronautical engineering program at the end of the war and requested war trophy aircraft. Whether or not any were ever delivered is a mystery. The UFA government that came in was opposed to any government spending that didn't directly benefit farmers. They also had a strong pacifist element. For both those reasons they killed Tory's initiative. I suspect the aircraft were never delivered. Certainly there is no indication in the university archives that they were ever here."
So now I'm more curious than ever! What happened to the U of A Fokker? Does anybody know? Is the engine still somewhere?
Yesterday I stopped at the magazine stand in the grocery store and out of idle curiosity, picked up a copy of the October/November issue of Our Canada, a magazine that once published an article of mine, and which I buy from time to time. Amazingly, there is an article in there about the Fokker D.VII in the museum of the Brome County Historical Society in Québec, which Ed Skoye mentioned in his presentation!
Attached, from the Glenbow Museum and Archives in Calgary, is a picture of a Fokker D.VII. Could it be the U of A Fokker? Seated in the cockpit is Elmer Fullerton (1891-1968), a Member of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, the person who designed the RCAF tartan.
For more information and photos of that aircraft, see:
Scroll to the bottom of this page: http://www.aerofile.info/fokkerd7/d7html/canada.htm#Alberta to see a note about the U of A Fokker.
More information about the Fokker D.VII is at: http://www.outerzone.co.uk/plan_files_01/1018/fokkerd7.pdf (PDF file), including the plans for building a model!
Here are some YouTube clips of Fokker D.VII models or replicas flying:
and some air to air video of a Fokker replica.
While there seems to be doubt about whether the University of Alberta received a Fokker D.VII in 1920, and if it did, its whereabouts appear to be unknown. However, Edward Soye in my previous letter, has provided some excellent information.
To start with, here is a news clipping he sent from the December 6, 1935 front page of The Gateway, the student newspaper of the University of Alberta.
The aircraft that was shipped to Alberta was none other than Fokker D.VII 8493/18. This was one of the aircraft that had been used widely by the CAF in England. In fact, it was the one that had been emblazoned with the No 1 Squadron logo. I showed a photograph of the squadron's CO, Andrew McKeever, leaning against the leading edge of this very machine while it was still in England.
It was shipped from Borden on May 12th, 1920. Apparently it was displayed at the university between the 6th and 8th of July, 1920. The engine from this aircraft (45105) is the one that is now in a flying D.VII Replica in the Netherlands - via Tasmania.
See Edward's impressive, highly informative and well illustrated about the Fokkers that came to Canada, published by Vintage Wings of Canada, at: Those Canadian Fokkers - War Trophies and the Nascent Canadian Air Force.
More to come...
The Big Five-0
The Canadian Aviation Historical Society held its fiftieth annual convention in Ottawa, from September 11th to the 15th.
By Gord McNulty
A hearty thumbs-up is in order for everyone who made the CAHS 50th convention in Ottawa a five-day aero-extravaganza enjoyed by approximately 90 people. The milestone celebration was organized by Timothy Dubé, Chairman of the host Ottawa Chapter, and CAHS President Gary Williams, actively supported by our friends at Vintage Wings of Canada and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
From excellent historical presentations at the convention headquarters at the Albert at Bay Suite Hotel in downtown Ottawa, through to closing day events including the 73rd annual Battle of Britain Parade and Flypast and the CAHS Banquet and Awards, the program more than lived up to expectations. A 50th anniversary silent auction enriched this year’s event. Good weather prevailed for an exceptional Wings Over Gatineau-Ottawa Airshow at Vintage Wings of Canada on September 14, where afternoon sunshine ensured impressive flying demonstrations.
|Speakers and the Annual General Meeting, Albert at Bay Hotel, September 12th and 13th|
|Rob Fleck, president of Vintage Wings of Canada, spoke about the "Cross-Canada Air Cadet Programme" they flew in the summer of 2013||Dan Dempsey, former commanding officer of the Snowbirds air demonstration team, spoke about Canada's air display team heritage|
|Photo by Bill Zuk||Photo by Bill Zuk
|Linda Granfield spoke about Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, author of High Flight. The portrait of Magee was unveiled during her talk, and will hang in the Canadian War Museum||The national executive committee presents reports to the membership - from left, Caitlin McWilliams, vice president, Gary Williams, president, Jim Bell, secretary, and Rachel Lea Heide, treasurer|
|Photo by Bill Zuk||Photo by Bill Zuk|
Presentations opened on September 12, with a fine discussion on War Trophy Fokkers and the First CNE Airshow by Edward Soye. An experienced glider tow pilot, he flies the First World War replica aircraft of the Great War Flying Museum and the Harvard with the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association. He also flies the John Gillespie Magee Harvard with Vintage Wings of Canada as one of the volunteer pilots on its Yellow Wings Tour. Edward outlined how famous wartime fighter pilots William Barker and Billy Bishop brought factory-new examples of the German Fokker D.VII to bring military aviation to the public. Bishop Barker Aeroplanes Limited (BBAL) gained access to six D VIIs that were used widely in 1919 and 1920.
The Canadian Air Force in England had used some of these spoils of war during the spring of 1919, before packing them for shipment to Canada. Upon arrival, the aircraft reached the zenith of their popularity while being flown at the CNE in 1919. Thereafter, they faded from public memory until historians, such as Fred Hitchins and Ken Molson, began to uncover this fascinating story. Only one of the D. VIIs is extant today: 6810/18, “The Knowlton Fokker,” on display at the Brome County Historical Society museum in Knowlton, Quebec.
Edward also explored the role of Sir Arthur Doughty, Dominion Archivist and Keeper of the Record, in developing the Canadian war trophy program, both during and after the Great War. He underscored Doughty’s role in safeguarding the artefacts that eventually formed the nucleus of the Canadian War Museum and the CASM collections. For more, search “Those Canadian Fokkers” on the Vintage Wings of Canada website.
The next speaker, Lieutenant Col (Ret’d) Dan Dempsey, presented From Siskins to Snowbirds: Canada’s Airshow Team Heritage, a history of Canada’s military air demonstration teams. Having flown two tours with the Snowbirds, including Commanding Officer and Team Leader in 1989-1990, Dan’s expertise on the subject is second to none. His outstanding flying career of more than 14,000 hours also includes flying the Vintage Wings of Canada F-86 Sabre Hawk One with the Centennial Heritage Flight in 2009, and team leader and demonstration pilot for Hawk One in 2011 and 2012. He authored the classic A Tradition of Excellence: Canada’s Airshow Team Heritage.
Dan’s engaging presentation traced the early days of aerial demonstration flying by pioneers like Lincoln Beachey in 1914 and covered all of Canada’s legendary military teams – from the RCAF Siskins through to today’s RCAF Snowbirds. It was enhanced by scores of photographs and the impressive 14-minute video “Pursue Your Dreams.”
Jay Hunt, the next speaker, reviewed his colourful personal flying story in The Adventures of a Competition Aerobatic Pilot. Jay described his preparations for the World Aerobatic Championships at Kiev in 1976, the challenges of getting to the Soviet Union, and the experience of being a first-time competitor at a world contest. Returning to Canada convinced of the benefits of a monoplane over the biplanes of the day, Jay partnered with Chris Heintz of Zenair to design and develop the Super Acro-Zenith CH-180. Jay competed and flew airshows in the prototype aircraft, C-GZEN, dubbed “The J-Bird,” through the 1980s. Jay’s extensive accomplishments and experiences in aerobatic flying made for a lively presentation, bolstered with video excerpts from the National Film of Board of Canada’s short Video Roll.
Rob Fleck, president of Vintage Wings of Canada, then made a presentation outlining the organization’s policy of dedicating the aircraft in its collection to distinguished airmen. As he reviewed each aircraft, and the people whose names are recognized, Rob said that honouring Canadian aviators who have made a difference in wartime or in civilian service helps to get the Vintage Wings message across to the public in a way that the public can relate to.
Rob, who is one of the pilots of the Fern Villeneuve F-86 Sabre and the Robillard Brothers P-51 Mustang, covered various aspects of the Vintage Wings including Vintage Wings West. The growing Yellow Wings program, paying tribute to the BCATP, touched 6,000 air cadets in the Cross-Canada Air Cadet Tribute of 2013. With the support of Raytheon Canada and others, some 500 cadets were selected to fly in a Vintage Wings aircraft. Rob’s dedication to the leadership of VWoC and confidence in its future was readily apparent as he emphasized the importance of grooming the leaders of tomorrow on the wings of history.
Next, three key figures with Project North Star: Richard Lodge, president; Bruce Gemmill, project manager, overseeing the airframe and the interior; and Garry Dupont, deputy project manager, responsible for the engines – discussed restoration of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s Canadair C-54GM North Star. RCAF 17515, retired in December, 1965, is the last remaining example of the North Star in the world. Restoration has proven to be a challenging task. The classic aircraft stood outside the hangars of the museum, unattended, for almost 40 years.
In 2003, Project North Star was launched as a collaborative effort between the museum and an all-volunteer group to restore the aircraft to its former glory. About 20 stalwart volunteers are actively working to overcome many challenges, from tackling the effects of corrosion to the need for fundraising. To their great credit, they are making progress with the engines and the interior of the fuselage in methodical fashion.
That evening, we boarded buses to visit the CASM, for a barbecue and a tour of the storage hangar, workshops and library. We enjoyed a much-appreciated opportunity to see the interior of the once-mighty North Star, courtesy of Project North Star volunteers. For additional details, visit the website, www.projectnorthstar.ca.
The next day’s presentations opened with author Hugh Halliday, a founding member of the CAHS Ottawa Chapter, discussing Canadians in the Battle of Britain: Where did they come from, and where did they go? True to form, Hugh gave a comprehensive overview of more than 100 Canadian fighter pilots who flew in the struggle, either as members of the RCAF or as men who had enlisted in the RAF before the outbreak of hostilities.
Hugh, who previously wrote about this subject in the CAHS Journal, updated his findings with previously unavailable personnel records, squadron diaries, and other official files. Outlining the service of pilots such as Willie McKnight, Stan Turner, Ernie McNab, Gordon McGregor, Hartland Molson and Edwin Reyno, Hugh showed that the Battle of Britain was as much a turning point in personal lives as in military events.
A moving presentation on the life of Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr., author of High Flight, was provided next by award-winning author Linda Granfield. An Associate Air Force Historian with the RCAF’s Office of Air Force Heritage and History, Linda showed photographs and art revealing fascinating personal and family details about the poet-pilot. The materials became available while she met John’s brother, David, in 1998 while collecting materials for her book, High Flight: A Story of World War II. So began a close friendship with David, and later another brother, Hugh, that has continued to grow.
Some stories told to Linda by David and Hugh, and the men who trained with John, had not been heard before. Linda has transcribed Magee writings and facilitated donation of Magee materials to various collections including, most recently, a charcoal portrait of John Jr., done for the family just after his death by the New York artist Jere R. Wickwire. It was given to the Canadian War Museum in 2012 by the Magee family. Linda unveiled the portrait, which the museum loaned for the occasion to Linda’s pleasant surprise. It was, as she said, “a nice first public welcome here in Canada.”
Linda also replayed a brief 1938-vintage audio tape of John which is the only known voice recording of him. She is currently working on a major biography of John’s father, the Reverend John Magee. The Internet has numerous references to Linda’s work and the VWoC website also has an excellent story, Finding Magee: The Story Behind the High Flight Harvard. Linda’s presentation was compelling and her passion for the subject was readily apparent to everyone.
Peter Allen, a familiar figure to everyone in the CAHS, closed the presentations by outlining his remarkable personal flying story in Views from the Cockpit: An Aviation Biography. Peter, CAHS national president from 1985 to 1987, has accumulated more than 2,500 flying hours. He’s flown in more than 120 different aircraft types covering the history of flight from the Silver Dart to the Concorde. Peter drew from his extensive slide collection as he described his many accomplishments and adventures in flight.
Among other things, Peter described ferrying Citabrias from the factory in Wisconsin while a university student, overnight deliveries of car parts in C-47s for Millardair, and his involvement in the Great War Flying Museum and the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. He recalled his considerable experience with the GWFM’s Dr. 1 Triplane, and also working for Antilles Air Boats, flying both the Grumman Goose and Short Sandringham (a civilianized Sunderland). Peter’s wide-ranging aviation background and personal reflections engaged the audience from start to finish.
The CAHS Annual General Meeting and Election of Directors took place at the hotel on September 13. Various reports were presented, including updates from the Chapters. The membership update showed that 822 members were on the spring 2013 mailing list for the Journal.
|Vintage Wings of Canada "Wings over Gatineau" Airshow, Saturday September 14th|
|Vintage Wings Canadair Sabre "Hawk 1", commemorating the RCAF Golden Hawks air display team. The fiftieth anniversary of their final show was September 30th, 2013||Vintage Wings North American Mustang Mk IV in the colours of 442 Squadron|
|Photo by Bill Zuk||Photo by Bill Zuk|
|Vintage Wings Vought Corsair commemorates Lt Robert Hampton Gray, VC||The Canadian Warplane Heritage's Fairey Firefly, painted as an aircraft that flew from HMCS Magnificent in 1949|
|Photo by Bill Zuk||Photo by Bill Zuk|
|Vintage Wings Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVIe is painted in the colours of No 421 Squadron, RCAF||Vintage Wings Westland Lysander flew with Nos 110 and 112 Squadrons, RCAF, in Rockcliffe in 1939|
|Photo by Bill Zuk||Photo by Jim Bell|
|Convention attendees watched the show from the Veterans Tent, close to the flight line. Sheldon Benner, William Wedderburn, George Fuller, and Brian Griffiths chat with Vintage Wings of Canada pilot Rob Erdos||Vintage Wings fighters peel off before landing, the Corsair first, then the Spitfire, Mustang, and Kittyhawk|
|Photo by Jim Bell||Photo by Jim Bell|
After the AGM, we boarded the buses to enjoy an evening barbecue and engage in hangar flying at VWoC in Gatineau. An overcast, chilly evening eliminated any potential sunset pictures of visiting aircraft that arrived for the air show the following day, but it was a great opportunity to touch base with guests such as Buffalo Airways’ Mikey McBryan of Ice Pilots fame. Skies cleared beautifully for the Vintage Wings Wings Over Gatineau-Ottawa Airshow, an aerial circus that included formation flypasts of the CWHM Lancaster with the Vintage Wings fighters and many other highlights during five hours of flying. Convention attendees enjoyed Veterans Tent seating, close to the flight line, with lunch and hospitality provided by the Vintage Wings of Canada and its volunteers. For more show photos, go to: www.Gusair.com.
Plan to attend our fifty first convention in Regina, Saskatchewan, 4 - 7 June 2014!
Images are copyright by the photographer, and used with permission.
Mississauga’s Doors Open Features Avro Arrow Display
by Bill Zuk
On September 28, 2013, the City of Mississauga, in conjunction with the Ontario Doors Open program, will host a display on the Avro Arrow at the International Centre (6900 Airport Road, Mississauga). A unique collection of documents, newspaper accounts and artifacts was recently donated in April to the archives of the City of Mississauga, by the estate of J.H. (Bert) Scott, Deputy Chief Engineer, Avro Orenda Engines Limited. Mississauga City press release
With the addition of artifacts on loan from the Canadian Air & Space Museum, including the full-scale replica of RL-203, the showpiece of the museum’s collection, the Avro Arrow Display at Hall 1, Upper Mezzanine of the International Centre, is part of the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS), September 30–October 3, 2013. The Avro Arrow exhibit at CMTS, Canada’s largest manufacturing event, will “showcase a remarkable Canadian manufacturing and technological innovation, which is representative of what the show’s all about,” said Nick Samain, Group Manager of SME Canada, organizer of CMTS.
|Once it was different. The first Avro Arrow at roll out, 1957.|
In recent years, the saga of the Avro Arrow has taken on mythic proportions. A cottage industry has materialized with countless books, movies, and a stage play about the Arrow. Among those who designed, built, and flew the Avro Arrow, there is unanimous consent that their beloved aircraft would have achieved greatness. Quoting Avro Canada’s Chief Experimental Test Pilot, Janusz Zurakowski: “It was far ahead of its time, and it showed that this country was in the forefront in aircraft technology worldwide. There will never be another Arrow.”
One of the most enduring elements of the Avro Arrow myth was the tale of the “one that got away.” The story was perpetuated by a Maclean’s magazine article by reporter June Callwood that appeared shortly after the Arrow’s cancellation. Callwood, like many of the period, was enamoured with the aircraft; she once wrote, “it was the most beautiful plane I will ever see… When it lifted straight up into the sky, a slim white arrowhead, it was poetry. I never saw it take off without my eyes stinging…” She had flown in the B-47/Orenda testbed and knew one morning when she was startled awake by the roar of an Arrow’s engines filling the sky above her, that, as she wrote, “someone had flown an Arrow to safety.” Most Avroites knew the truth. None had escaped the wrath of the demolition crew’s axes. But one Avro engineer had almost pulled it off.
The date was April 22, 1959. Gerry Barbour, an Avro Aircraft engineer in the Lofting Department, where blueprint drawings were scribed on metal sections before being cut out, was furious at the decision to cancel the Arrow, but was even more enraged by the scrapping of all the aircraft. As he watched foreman Al Cox begin the butchering of the five flying examples, Barbour formulated an elaborate heist. He had access to the high-security area where he would steal a “mule” (a small tow truck) and tow one of the complete airframes to a horse-breeding farm he had in mind as a hiding place. His plans had gone as far as imagining his friend, Lorne Ursel, as the pilot of the aircraft. He settled on RL-204 as his target. This Arrow sat at the end of the row and unlike RL-205 which was flat on its belly, looked complete. RL-202, RL-203, and 201 were in pieces, but his early morning tour of the area confirmed that the RL-204 was intact. Barbour even mused to his boss, Wilhelm “Woo” Shaw, about the possibility of a plan like his working.
Signing in that evening at the security gate was no problem, and Barbour immediately deked out of the hangar and slipped into the experimental flight test section. Moving stealthily in the dark along the row of Arrows, he stumbled noisily over the remains of RL-201’s wings. Pausing for a few moments to ensure he hadn’t been heard, Barbour found a set of tools he needed in a tool crib and prepared a mule. Returning to RL-204 to hitch up the tow bar, he stared into the darkness, trying to make out its shape. Something was wrong. The plane hunched down on its front undercarriage leg, but the nose wheel had been cut off. Shaw! Now Barbour remembered on his morning visit that he had seen his boss take the foreman off to the side. Abandoning the mule, he stormed off in a rage. When the guard at the gatehouse greeted him with the request to sign out, he angrily refused and stalked off into the night. It would be the last time that he saw the Arrows.
Today, the Avro CF-105 Arrow is only a memory, although the nose and front landing gear of RL-206, the outer wing panels of RL-203, and an Avro Iroquois engine are displayed in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. The chopped-off nose section of the ground-breaking Avro C-102 Jetliner sits nearby. Visitors often marvel at the sleek lines of the Avro Arrow, but are saddened when they notice the jagged end of the cockpit where years before, wreckers had sawn and chopped it apart.
At the back of the same museum is a Boeing Bomarc missile. The Bomarc proved to be an expensive dud, only to be replaced by the McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo. Prime Minister Diefenbaker had reluctantly ordered this American fighter to replace the long-departed Arrow. A prime argument he had invoked in cancelling the Arrow was that the manned interceptor had been “overtaken by events” in the missile age. Recently released cabinet documents reveal that Diefenbaker recognized the political ramifications of ordering a successor for the Avro Arrow. Only after the Chiefs of Staff demanded a replacement for the obsolete Avro CF-100 Canuck, was the Canadian government forced to act. Some military advisors poignantly noted in the initial development of the Avro Arrow, that the Voodoo had once been rejected as unsuitable.
Not far from the original Avro and Orenda factories in Toronto, the Avro Arrow has been reborn in the form of a replica of RL-203, the third of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrows that flew. Unlike recreations such as the movie model used in the CBC television mini-series, The Arrow, the Canadian Air & Space Museum (formerly Toronto Aerospace Museum) at Downsview Park, has faithfully replicated the Arrow, albeit as a static model.
|Claude Sherwood (centre)|
Led by Claude Sherwood, the volunteer crew, including many ex-Avro Canada personnel began their work in 1998. Dating back to his final days at Avro, Sherwood had located technical drawings that he had “squirrelled away” and on the basis of these drawings, the Avro Arrow project was created. Sherwood’s background with the Avro story began in 1956 when he was hired as a draftsman at the age of 18 to work on the CF-105 Arrow. Three years later, along with thousands of other Avro employees, he was out of work, but landed back on his feet with a position at the Ontario Department of Transportation (Ministry of Highways at the time). After a lengthy career with the department, he retired and became one of the leading figures in the Toronto Aerospace Museum.
The steel-framed replica began with a cockpit and nose section, fuselage, tail, and various outer wing panels completed as modular components. One of the project's dilemmas was building the Arrow’s complex landing gear. Messier-Dowty built and donated new versions of the original undercarriage units. Other industry partners include Associated Tube who donated 3,000 metres of stainless-steel tube, Sico who provided paint, and Bombardier Aerospace, who looked after related tools and hardware necessary for the project.
Although the replica was finally completed and shown to the public in 2009, the ravages of time eventually caught up to the museum and many of its supporters. The initial plans that Sherwood had formulated involved introducing the recreated Avro Arrow to the public with its first test pilot, Janusz Zurakowski, in the cockpit. Sadly, the famed pilot passed away on February 9, 2004, in his hometown of Barry’s Bay, Ontario, after courageously battling leukemia for years. The sprawling 400-acre Avro plant, after going through a number of new owners, ceased to exist after 2004, as successive buildings were torn down until only rubble remained as the Toronto Lester Pearson International Airport consumed the facility as part of its expansion.
The giant Avro Orenda plant managed to survive in the form of the International Centre which took over what was formerly Plant #1 where Avro Orenda undertook research and manufacturing of their signature family of jet engines. Even the Canadian Air & Space Museum which had resided in the former de Havilland Canada factory, and whose mandate was to preserve the aviation heritage of the Toronto area, which included the Curtiss-Wright, de Havilland, and A.V. Roe Canada companies, was forced to close its doors in 2013, and is presently looking for a new home.
As of this writing, despite the efforts of a group of historians and concerned citizens in Toronto, there is little left of the Avro Canada legacy. Janusz Zurakowski had once written, “It is impossible to destroy everything … Governments and torches can destroy an aircraft but they cannot destroy hope and aspiration, and the majesty of the questing spirit. In the hearts of the people, the dream lives on.”
All photos from the Bill Zuk collection.
Editor’s Note: Local CAHS chapter newsletters often have fascinating stories that are shared with the chapter membership. Occasionally, articles from the newsletters will also be featured in the History Newsreel, beginning with the following article that originally appeared in the CAHS Manitoba Chapter Newsletter, April 2010, which details use of new photographic technology in aviation museum displays.
A Trip into the World of the Future for Photography
by Bill Zuk
Our last Canadian Aviation Historical Society (CAHS) meeting in March was an unusual session led by Professor Jean Vouillon. For the last six years, he has been teaching in the Multimedia Communication program at Winnipeg’s Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface, particularly the use of software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, Dreamweaver, Flash and Director. M. Vouillon is also known by the moniker, “Pixel Manipulator” as his background is in incorporating a wide range of “cutting edge” technical electronic media innovations, literally “manipulating pixels”. See his site: jeanvouillon.com for examples of his work in graphic and photographic illustration.
After completing his Master’s in Image Art and Technology (Art et Technologies de l’Image) at the University of Paris VIII, Vouillon worked for eight years as an independent multimedia developer and 3D illustrator. Among his clients were the French space agency (CNES), the publishing house Flammarion, and the lottery corporation La Française des Jeux. During the same period, he gave many training sessions on the principal online and offline multimedia creation software for professional development organizations in Paris and Marseilles.
The main focus of the evening presentation was in illustrating the projects Vouillon has undertaken as a volunteer with the Western Canada Aviation Museum, working closely with Gary Styrchak, the Graphics and Displays Coordinator. Two intriguing projects based on the artifacts and display aircraft in the museum collection were presented, the first being High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography.
High dynamic range (HDR) images enable photographers to record a greater range of tonal detail than a given camera could capture in a single photo. This opens up a whole new set of lighting possibilities that previously were almost impossible to duplicate. The HDR image allows the photographer to combine a series of bracketed exposures into a single image that encompasses the tonal detail of the entire series. At least three exposures taken of a subject, bracketing a “proper” along with an underexposed and overexposed image are required.
Nearly every modern digital camera has the capability to adjust for a dynamic range and the “sandwiching” of the multiple exposures creates an image that brings out detail that was previously hidden. The multiple exposures have to be merged through a computer application to produce a true HDR image. The only restrictions to this process is that to ensure three identical images are shot, a very stable camera platform (tripod or other) has to be used, and that only “still” photography is usually possible. The results, however, are spectacular.
The other photography project at the Western Canada Aviation Museum that Vouillon has taken on is creating Cubic VR galleries of the aircraft on display, a first for the museum. Cubic VR is a 360-degree viewable panoramic image constructed with the use of a high-resolution digital camera, a wide-angle lens (Vouillon uses a “fish eye” lens), a sturdy tripod with several levels (because you need to be absolutely level when you photograph the images), and a special panoramic head made specifically for the model of camera.
The aircraft that have become Vouillon’s subjects are the WCAM’s display aircraft that every visitor can see but not typically from the inside. His work will eventually be posted on the museum site as an interactive tour of the collection, but for now the images are found on his personal website. Taking a photo tour inside the Fairchild 71 provides a fascinating look inside an aircraft that was previously “out-of-bounds.” See: www.wcam.mb.ca/virtualcockpits/.
Thanks to both Jean Vouillon and Gary Styrchak for arranging the presentation and giving the CAHS crowd a foretaste of what the future for interactive museum displays will entail.
de Havilland Mosquito returns to Canadian Skies!
by Donald Nijboer
June 18, 2013
|Photo by Gavin Conroy|
Jerry Yegan’s beautifully restored de Havilland Mosquito FB.26 KA114 made its Canadian debut during the Hamilton Air Show this past weekend. It was an amazing site to see a Canadian-built Mosquito fly for the first time since, I believe, since the late 1940s. Bought by Jerry Yagen’s Fighter Factory, based in Virginia Beach and beautifully restored by Glyn Powell and his Mosquito factory in New Zealand, KA114 is an incredible feat of perseverance and ingenuity. It’s one of the finest restorations to come out in years and it’s the only flying Mosquito in the world. Great to hear the growl of the twin Merlins, and, to top it all off, the mass formation of the Mosquito, Lancaster, two Hurricanes and a Spitfire was, well, awesome. Hats off to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Jerry Yagen and Glyn Powell for making it all happen.
Editor’s Note: The Military Aviation Museum’s Mosquito arrived early at Hamilton in order to be the subject of a special featured event at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum on Friday June 14th that included discussions with several former Mosquito pilots including 89-year old RCAF veteran and Mosquito pilot, George Stewart, who had recently shared his knowledge and experience with a new generation of Mosquito pilots in New Zealand. The Mosquito departed from Hamilton on Sunday, June 16th to fly to Washington D.C.
|Photo by Lisa Sharp|
The de Havilland FB.26 KA114 was built at the Downsview plant in Toronto in 1945, too late to see action in the Second World War. Used briefly for training, the RCAF declared it surplus in 1947. Along with another Mosquito purchased by a farmer in Milo, Alberta, KA114 was parked in the open for a decade. The Museum of Flight and Transportation at Langley, British Columbia, obtained the pair of wartime fighter-bombers in 1978. After the sale of the best of the examples, warbird owner Jerry Yagen purchased KA114 in 2004, intending to restore the badly deteriorated aircraft to flying condition. Shipped to Glyn Powell’s AVspecs in Ardmore, New Zealand for restoration, the project turned into an eight-year long process of recreating the distinctive Mosquito construction. Emerging in September 2012 for flight testing as “EG-Y", KA114 appeared in the 487 Squadron (RNZAF) colour scheme, as a tribute to the restorers in New Zealand who undertook the painstaking restoration. The newly rebuilt aircraft was shipped back to the United States in 2013 to become one of the showpieces of Yagen’s Military Aviation Museum.
|Photo by Stephen Parry|
Photo Caption (above): October 1954 at The Pas, Manitoba, Gord Emberley, pilot of Fairchild 24W CF-EKC (and husband of the writer), has just changed over from floats 'to wheels. Gord Emberley Photo
Living and Flying in the Wilderness 1954-1955
The Wife of a Bush Pilot Tells her Story
By Verna Emberley
Some time ago, I read Connie Dickins' reminiscences on her first year of marriage to renowned bush pilot Punch Dickins, titled "I Married a Bush Pilot." She presents a very interesting and amusing account of what it was like for women who followed their husbands to live in the bush in 1928. A generation later at the tail end of the bush-flying era, I was to accompany my husband Gord to northern Manitoba along with our two sons, David (three), Douglas (one), and our black Labrador, Patty.
Gord, a forest ranger, and I had married in 1949 and, for the next five years, resided at the forestry stations of Stead and Rennie, Manitoba. During that time, Gord's long interest in flying was revived and he began to work towards his private pilots licence in 1952. He purchased a de Havilland D.H. 82C Tiger Moth, CF-CTA, from the Brandon Flying Club in order to accumulate the necessary time for his Commercial Licence which he received in June 1953. He soon discovered that available flying positions were few and far between — there were many trained pilots with experience who had returned to Canada following the Second World War. Finally he was offered a position at Ilford, Manitoba, by a group of four who were interested in starting an air service there.
Gord resigned his position as a forest ranger, and we packed up our belongings on 1 January 1954, in preparation for our move to northern Manitoba. We were to rent a 10x20 ft one-roomed house from Oliver Lindal, the storekeeper, so we put most of our things in storage and shipped the remainder to Ilford. Gord made the day-and-a-half trip by train, and I followed a week later with our two boys. We left Winnipeg at noon, expecting to arrive at Ilford early the next evening.
|Mile 99 on the Lynn Lake Railroad in 1954, Verna Emberley with sons David and Douglas. Gord Emberley Photo|
It was the middle of winter and, due to the fact that trains drawn by steam engines were liable to freeze, the trip often took longer than expected. I remember spending all day in The Pas station, waiting for the train to leave for the final leg of our Journey on the Hudson Bay Railroad. It was fortunate that I had brought along enough food for the three of us, and diapers for the baby, but the wait was tedious, especially for two energetic youngsters.
When the train at last departed, the trip north turned out to be long and slow — we arrived at Ilford in the middle of the night. How weary I was after two nights sleeping upright and spending a day in the station! And how happy I was to find Gord there waiting for us after our long journey into the unknown! We set up housekeeping in our little house behind the store and were quite comfortable. We brought two cribs, a davenport which made into a bed, a table and chairs, a gasoline-powered washer, a Coleman space heater, a two-burner Coleman gas stove and the necessary pots and dishes.
While Gord carried on with his flying career, piloting a Cessna 170 to such places as Shamattawa, York Factory, and fish camps on South Indian Lake, I kept busy looking after our family, doing the usual cooking, washing, etc. There was quite a community at Ilford to conduct the local business along with numerous CNR employees and local native residents who came from Reserves such as Gods Narrows, Oxford House, and Split Lake.
When we needed water for baths and washing—which we heated on our space heater — Gord was kept busy carrying it by the pail full from the CNR water tower across the tracks. This took some planning as he was usually away flying every day. One of the trips Gord recalls very well was his flight to York Factory to pick up Toots and Madelaine Mclvor after that post was permanently closed in the spring of 1954 by the Hudson's Bay Co.
We left Ilford in June of 1954 — Ilford Airways was granted its charter and the owners decided to employ pilot-engineer Al Nelson instead of having two employees, and Gord was let go.
At Mile 99 on the Lynn Lake Railroad; Ed Clarkson and his horse, Judy, have just met the Reliant to haul fish from the aircraft to the packing station. Gord Emberley Photo
When John Bodnar of The Pas offered Gord a position flying north of The Pas for the summer, we again packed up our belongings and shipped them north on the Lynn Lake rail line. Gord was to fly in fish from outlying lakes for Keystone Fisheries. We were based at Herriot Point where there was a fish-packing shed and a camp of fishermen with their families — living in tents. Three-foot board walls and a tent frame were erected on a platform built on the ground. Everything we had in Ilford was now moved into this canvas-covered structure, which was to be our home from June to September.
Gord was now flying a Fairchild 24W, CF- EKC, (165 hp Warner Super Scarab-powered) similar to the Fairchild 24W in the Western Canada Aviation Museums collection in Winnipeg. On the trip north from Winnipeg, we were given a preview of the Scarab engines dependability, or lack thereof. We were traveling north on the first leg from Winnipeg to The Pas, with Dave and Doug in the back seats, when we decided to put down on Lake Winnipegosis for a bathroom stop. On attempting to take off, Gord had difficulty in obtaining sufficient power to become airborne.
We returned to shore, which was just a stretch of pebbly beach along the edge of the bush. By the time Gord located the problem (the cold-air butterfly valve was turned the wrong way), a thunderstorm was fast approaching and there was not enough time left to reach The Pas before dark. That night we dined on pints of preserved fruit and vegetables we had with us, and bedded the boys down in the back seat covered with clothing. Gord and I spent the night sitting up in the front seats.
The storm was a wild one with plenty of thunder, lightning and rain. Happily the morning dawned bright and clear, and we were anxious to get airborne for The Pas — we were certain that we had been expected there the previous evening. But before we could take off, another problem presented itself. Due to the storm and the pounding waves, which we endured most of the night, our floats had filled with water and were submerged. Using the sealers emptied for our meal, we baled out the floats, starting with the back compartments and ... Wait a second, where's the rest of the story; glad you asked, check out the CAHS Journal, Vol. 44, No. 3, Fall 2006. That issue is available as a back issue on the CAHS website.
About the Author
Verna Emberley was the second eldest of four children born to Bill and Lily Wiley. Raised and educated in Winnipeg; she graduated from Kelvin Technical High School and enrolled in Normal School where she received her Manitoba Teaching Certificate. After a short time in the classroom, she married Gord Emberley and they moved to a Forestry Station in rural Manitoba There she commenced the life of a Forest Ranger's wife, experiencing life without electrical power/ the convenience of a refrigerator and the normal amenities of city life. This would be a prelude to her move to northern Manitoba when husband Gord obtained a pilot's job. Her story illustrates her adaptability to harsh conditions, her appreciation of the beauty of the northern wilderness and her love of and concern for family.
The aircraft mentioned in this story are: D.H. 82C Tiger Moth, CF-CTA Cessna 170, CF-HDM Cessna 180, CF-HJN Fairchild 24W, CF-EKC Stinson Reliant (SR-9F), CF-EZD My own Stinson Voyager 108-2/ CF-EYD
The RCAF needs women in its ranks to work shoulder to shoulder with the men... Indeed, service in the RCAF must fill everyone with a sense of deep satisfaction, knowing, as each one must, that she is playing her part in a supreme effort to bring into being a better and happier world.
HRH Princess Alice
Honorary Air Commandant, RCAF (WD)
Waiting for the call
By 1941, Canadian women were eager to serve their country in uniform. Since the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe nearly 7,000 had received volunteer training through unsanctioned women's service groups. These organizations lobbied for the acceptance of their gender within the ranks of the Canadian military. Two factors led Ottawa to finally reconsider its stance on women in the Forces: Already, there existed a shortage of available manpower, and the British Air Ministry had suggested sending members of its Women's Auxiliary Air Force to work at Royal Air Force training schools in Canada. The Canadian Women's Auxiliary Air Force was officially established by an Order-in-Council on 2 July 1941. It was eventually renamed "Royal Canadian Air Force (Women's Division)", to reinforce that the women were, in fact, full members of the RCAF. It was the first female military service unit in North America.
|WD training in navigation|
The RCAF (Women's Division) organized Precision Drill Squads to tour Canada for publicity and to recruit new members.
With the assistance of a handful of British WAAF members and under the direction of Canadian appointees Kay Walker and Dr. Jean Davey, the first 150 officers and NCOs were appointed at a five-week administration course in Toronto in the fall of 1941. Preference was given to women who had been officers in paramilitary organizations. The RCAF anticipated the need for up to 2,000 women for the first five months, and promised "special support opportunities for advancement" to the first recruits. The recruiting process was much the same for the women as it was for the men. A lack of space in the recruiting centres meant a lack of privacy from the men, so women were allotted specific time slots for interviews and medical examinations until separate facilities could be built. Although the administration had intended to draw all new officers from the enlisted personnel, it proved difficult to persuade women with more sought after skills to leave jobs where they already had good standing. Therefore, some candidates were promised officer status even before signing up.
Entrance Criteria required a Canadian airwoman to be:
• In good health
• Between the ages of 21 and 49
• At least five feet tall
• Within a standard weight range
• Educated at a "High School Entrance" level
• Able to pass a trade test
• Free of a criminal record.
Enlisted women took an oath of allegiance and vowed to serve their country wherever they were needed.
Shoulder to Shoulder
The ranking system within the WD was separate from, but parallel to that of the men. New recruits entered the service as Aircraftwomen, 2nd Class, equivalent to Aircraftmen, 2nd Class. HRH Princess Alice served as Honorary Air Commandant, but the most senior attainable position for women was Wing Officer, the equivalent of Wing Commander. Kathleen O. Walker, Winnifred Taylor and Kathleen L. Jells were the only women to ever achieve this rank.
All military personnel, in theory, were expected to abide by the same disciplinary codes and faced the same punishments, regardless of gender. In practice women were generally treated more leniently than men. They never received detention as a punishment; instead they were fined or were given extra duties.
Women were not required to parade early in the morning for fear they would catch colds. Funding was reallocated from the men's canteens to the women's, even though the women's canteens were already better equipped. The favourable treatment of women became a point of consternation among certain men, some of whom believed that the female recruits should be dealt with through a "general program of ascetic monasticism," segregated behind high walls through the duration of their short stay with the military, however, this attitude was atypical, and most men were enthusiastic about the new recruits.
|A WD cleaning the Perspex of an Avro Anson trainer.|
Initially, women were accorded 2/3 the salary of their male counterparts. This discrepancy was crudely justified by the assumption that it would take three women to do the work of two men. In truth, only those jobs involving heavy lifting required extra women. However, fewer women than men were needed to handle many of the more traditional women's roles, and the end result was a ratio of one for one or better. When the real statistics were brought to light, women were granted a salary equal to 4/5 that of the men, with the explanation that men were to be paid for the possibility of going to war.
"Overseas duty? Everyone wanted it. I can't think of a single person who wouldn't have given her eyeteeth to get over there. That was the whole point."
In spite of this inequity, women quickly enlisted by the thousands. The new option of joining the military was enticing, especially to women already working in other industries. Over 70% of the women who joined the various women's military branches in Canada had abandoned another job to do so. It seems that the military offered better opportunities than had been available in the civilian work force. The wage gap in civilian industries was more pronounced than that within the military; outside the Forces, women were never granted more than 2/3 the pay accorded to men for the same work. Airwomen in particular, were also entitled to all of the benefits enjoyed by their male peers, excepting, at first, a dependent's allowance. They were given allowances for civilian clothing, as well as travel and transport expenses. They received free medical treatment and dental work, paid sick leave and paid vacations. Perhaps most significantly, a WD was relieved of the single woman's most onerous expenses, as she was housed and fed free of charge.
The function of the new organization would be to "release for other duties those members of the RCAF presently employed in administrative, clerical and other comparable types of work employment." For this reason, the WD selected as their motto "We serve that Men may Fly". In the first months, only eight trades within the Air Force accepted women. These included:
• Equipment sextants
• Fabric workers
• Hospital assistants
• Military transport drivers
• Telephone operators
• General duties
Although women were never included in combative duties, by the end of the war, 65 different jobs were open to them, including aero-engineering, photo interpretation, radar mechanics, and wireless operators.
The first group of trained female recruits arrived at their posts in January of 1942. Once the 16 Service Flying Training Schools of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan were fully staffed, the women began to head out to other schools and stations across the continent and across the world.
Ultimately 17, 038 women served as WDs; about 600 were sent to the United States, and about 1,500 were stationed overseas. These women often faced unforeseen dangers, and 28 of them died while in active service. Fifty women were honoured for their outstanding service: 27 received Mentions-in-Despatches, one received an Order of the British Empire, eight were declared Members of the British Empire, and 14 received British Empire Medals.
Despite their motto, many airwomen did not sign up so that men could fly. Often, they joined for the challenge and the chance to leave home. Many felt that it was their patriotic duty to enlist. Others needed the financial stability to pull them out of the Depression. Regardless of the circumstances that brought them to the recruiting centres, women who joined the Air Force were quickly thrust into roles that were traditionally handled by men. Many experienced both discipline and independence for the first time. Overwhelmingly, they proved to be capable and hard working.
In 1942, the RCAF's Air Marshal L. S. Breadner told a group of airwomen that "the WD has become an integral part of the RCAF and soon we shall wonder how the service ever got along without you."
End of Duty
It was assumed that the end of the war would naturally spell the end of the Women's Division. However, first came the monumental task of discharging the men. The RCAF had instigated a policy of "First in. First out," and in the interest of fairness, being among the last to enter the Air Force, women were among the last to be discharged. By this time the women had demonstrated proficiency for administrative duties, and would prove to be an asset in the speedy repatriation of the servicemen.
Women were discharged according to their marital status and circumstances. Married women were demobilized beginning in November 1944. Widows were considered single, and were kept on duty, while women whose husbands were prisoners of war were given special consideration and could apply to remain in service. The last woman to serve with the RCAF (WD) was discharged on 1 March 1947.
Honorary Air Commandant Princess Alice presented the RCAF (Women's Division) with a Gold Cup on behalf of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (RAF) on 1- November 1943.
Air Marshal Breadner's prophecy would soon come true. Stimulated by the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, and by a lull in male enlistment, in 1951, the RCAF began to see women as an asset even in peacetime. Once again, the call went out for women eager to serve in the Air Force, this time with a few new terms. Women would be fully integrated within the RCAF, and were subject to the same ranking system.
Women were accorded equal pay for equal work, and were now eligible for pensions. The successful and permanent reintegration of women in the Air Force was made possible only through the expertise of a number of wartime WDs who saw to the planning of procedures and the training of new members.
Whether through military service or civilian duties traditionally performed by men, the women who involved themselves in the war effort paved the way for women's empowerment in later decades. Nowhere were women given a better chance to establish themselves as capable workers than in the RCAF, where only combat duties were limited to men.
In spite of the restrictions of military life, WDs have generally reported that their time in the RCAF was a positive and liberating experience. The Air Force offered security in a time of uncertainty, and a taste of independence tempered with challenging new responsibilities. The women who rose to meet these challenges provided support that proved essential to winning the war, and affirmed that the abilities of their gender could no longer be overlooked.
Arthur Bishop 1923–2013
Meeting Arthur Bishop was an event in itself; irascible, charming, outspoken and just plain fun to talk to. He had appeared in 1994 at the Western Canada Aviation Museum as part of the cross-country tour associated with the launch of his latest book, The Splendid One Hundred: True Stories of Canadians Who Flew in The Battle of Britain. Signing copies of his book at a front table set up in the foyer, he was there for only a fleeting time, but was immediately surrounded by admirers, both young and old, who hung on his every word. He answered every query with aplomb, even when some of the questions touched on the controversy that had haunted the memory of his famous father. His unvarnished comments would raise eyebrows and a chuckle as he dissed and dished it out with the views of contemporary historians whom he dismissed as "revisionists."
Despite his own illustrious career as a fighter pilot, journalist, advertising executive, entrepreneur, historian and author, in the public's eye, Arthur Bishop was inextricably linked to "Billy" Bishop.
Born in London on June 13, 1923; Arhur's godfather was Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, a former governor general of Canada, and his godmother was Princess Louise, cousin to Queen Mary. At 10, he was flying with his father and three years later, trained as a student pilot at the Montreal Light Air¬plane Club. When war came, at 18, like his father, Arthur enlisted and on July 30, 1942, at Uplands, Air Marshal W. A. Bishop, director of Royal Canadian Air Force recruiting, pinned his wings on his son. The striking resemblance of the two men, was clearly evident but Arthur did not trade on the fame of his forebear, rather he was determined to forge his own way. There were other similarities; "He has enough of the devil in him to make a good fighter pilot." This was the recommendation given by Arthur Bishop's headmaster in a character reference required by the RCAF for all new recruits.
Arthur became a fighter pilot, serving with 401 Squadron RCAF flying Spitfires as part of 83 Group in the then recently formed 2nd TAF. Flying hundreds of missions over France, he scored a victory, but was also shot down twice. By 1945, Arthur was rotated back home and a new life began as he married Priscilla Jean Aylen, the daughter of John Alden Aylen QC, and Jean Oliver Anderson of Ottawa. The marriage brought two children, Diana and William.
Discovering a talent for the written word, Arthur began a professional life as a reporter for the Windsor Star, then joined Ronalds Advertising Agency, where he rose to become senior partner, director and vice president. In 1967, in partnership with his wife, he formed PPS Publicity, working with some of Canada's leading corporations. Upon retirement, he began another career as a distinguished aviation historian and author. In 1956, before his father had died, he had hoped that his son would write his biography, subsequently to become The Courage of the Early Morning (1965). Another score of important books followed, Courage In The Air (1992), Courage On The Battlefield (1993), Courage at Sea (1994), The Splendid Hundred True Stories of Canadians Who Flew in The Battle of Britain (1994), Our Bravest and Best: Stories of Canada's Victoria Cross Winners (1995), Canada's Glory: Battles That Forged A Nation 1795-1953 (1996), S*A*L*U*T*E: Canada's Great Military Leaders From Brock To Dextraze (1997), The Air-Raid Coded Bodenplatte (1998), Destruction At Dawn (1998), co-author of Our Lasting Bond: The Canadian Fighter Pilots Association Memoir (1998), Unsung Courage (2001) and Winged Combat: My Story as a Spitfire Pilot in World War II (2002).
By the time of his last works, Arthur had lost his wife and had moved to The Kensington Gardens Retirement Residence in Toronto, where he lived out his last years, in company of those he would probably characterize as "old f*ts." Arthur was also the co-founder and director of the Canadian Fighter Pilots Association, as well as director of the Canadian International Air Show. In 1999, he was awarded the Bear Hickle Award for his contribution to Canadian military history by the York Garrison of the 78th Fraser Highlanders. In 2003, Arthur Bishop was named Guardian Commander of the Canadian Veterans Hall of Valour for his outstanding contributions to the history of Canada's military heroes.
William Arthur Christian Avery Bishop died in his sleep on February 14, 2013. Did he ever overcome having to live in the shadow of a legend? Diana Bishop recalled, "My father followed in his father's footsteps as a fighter pilot, right into another war. It couldn't have been easy, and I often wondered whether he constantly had to seek his father's approval, and whether he was always trying to measure up." On his passing, his son, Bill, succinctly noted that his father "never once complained" about being constantly compared to a legend. "That's one of the amazing things about him ... He had to carve out his own life. And he did it very well."
In his obituary, his family invited well-wishers to "raise a glass and share their favourite Arthur Bishop story at a memorial celebration at The Badminton & Racquet Club of Toronto on Saturday, February 23rd."
The RCAF Retiree's Luncheon is held annually in Yuma, Arizona, and in February 2013, celebrated its 11th successful year. Yuma is a smaller city in the deep southwest corner of Arizona where California, Mexico and Arizona meet along the Colorado River. It is well known as a major military area as there is a large marine air base, an U.S. army proving ground and several air weapons ranges. Two large weapons ranges are nearby: the Barry Goldwater Range and the Chocolate Mountain Range. The desert location is why so many bases were here from the Second World War; Patton's Army trained just north of here. With the warm desert climate it is not surprising so many Canadian "snowbirds" choose to make this their winter home.
This year a short history of the event was prepared and delivered by one of the original founders of the luncheon, Don Reader, a long-time RCAF member, retired. This short story is based on Don's report to the 238 guests who were in attendance at the American Legion Post 19 this year. The lunch was opened by a piper which is a tradition we are so pleased to continue as the Prince Albert Highlanders from Saskatchewan joined us and delivered a rousing performance.
The event had started out with four vacationing couples getting together: Jim and Marge McGrath, Des and Ann Dessario, Ron and Joanne Murray and Don and Shirley Reader. The first organizational meeting took place 12 years ago at Jim and Marge's place over breakfast. It all began as a retiree's breakfast. The first one was held at a local 55+ resort called Country Roads and 50 retirees were in attendance. Jim McGrath was the first committee leader. The success of this breakfast led to an annual event and Des Dessario became the leader. The next breakfast hosted 150 attendees. When Des and Ann quit coming to Yuma, Bev and Andy St. Amant took over the committee leadership.
In 2011, Bev and Andy stepped down after dedicating five years to the event and passed the leadership over to Roger and Gerry Beebe. We outgrew the Country Roads site and on Shirley Reader's suggestion we approached the American Legion Post 19. They were pleased to support us and we now have a fine facility to meet in. The Legion prepares and serves the food, provides the sound system, sets the tables, and does the cleanup which makes the event much easier to manage by the committee. We continue to grow, last year we had 200 in attendance and this year 238.
The luncheon gives people a chance to renew old friendships and swap stories about their RCAF time and careers. It also allows us a time to honour our veterans and serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Last year, we had a Second World War veteran in attendance but he passed on. This year, no Second World War veterans but some from 50s, lots from 60s and 70s and even few from after the year 2000. A large attendance came in from British Columbia and Alberta, a few from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, five or six from Ontario, two from Quebec, another five or six from the Maritimes and two from Newfoundland, but no one from the three northern territories.
The event is getting bigger every year and I assume it will continue for years, as we get a lot of support from the Royal Canadian Legion, RCAF Association and many others.
Author Roger Beebe is a former RCAF veteran who served from 1963 to 1969, spending four years in France and Germany maintaining CF-104s and many other NATO aircraft of the time. Then he headed back to CFB Cold Lake to work in 434 Squadron on T-33 and CF-5 aircraft. In the CAHS, Roger was also Edmonton Chapter President, and National Western Director for several years, as well as serving as interim President in 2008.
On February 23, 1909, the pioneering efforts of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell's AEA (Aerial Experiment Association) culminated in the Silver Dart taking to the skies, launching Canada's air age. What is not as well known is that the first powered flight by a "fixed wing" aircraft was matched by the rudimentary experiments in rotary wing and vertical take off and landing (VTOL) craft that took place in Winnipeg in the same year. While being in the forefront of aeronautical development for a century, vertical flight development in Canada has been inauspicious and fraught with only a handful of tentative projects destined never to achieve production status.
At the dawn of aviation, Manitoba was the scene of experiments and demonstrations with "birdmen" and "birdwomen" investigating flight in the form of balloon ascents and parachute flights. The next development occurred in 1909 when 25 enthusiasts gathered at the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau to form the Aero Club of Canada on March 31, 1909 "in order to assist and promote practical aeronautics by encouraging Canadian Inventors." Their initial ambitious project resulted in the first aircraft designed and built entirely in Canada, the "Aero Car Canada", which was unveiled to the public shortly after the association's inauguration; their second program led to the design of Canada's first helicopter.
In describing the efforts of this pioneering association, newspaper accounts noted that it was the first "of its kind in Canada". The eventual Chair of the club was to be Hon. Sir Hugh John MacDonald, the former Premier of the province and the son of Sir John A. MacDonald. One of the first functions of the Aero Club of Canada was to establish headquarters in Winnipeg and create a constitution that would enable aeronautical research and support of individual projects by providing communication with other scientific associations worldwide.
Soon after its creation, founding member, William J. Robertson commenced on the first of the Aero Club of Canada's efforts, the "Aero Car Canada" (also variously described as the "Aerocar Canada"), the first aircraft designed and built in Canada. Despite its innovative design, the Aero Car Canada displayed on July 14-15, 1909 at the Happyland Ball Grounds in Winnipeg, was not successful. Its first flight was delayed partly by weather as well as a lack of parts that were being sent from the United States. It was not until the arrival of Eugene Burton Ely, demonstration pilot for Curtiss Aircraft who flew in Winnipeg on July 15, 1910, that the first powered flight in Manitoba was recorded.
A second aircraft design was initiated in 1909 under the auspices of the Aero Club of Canada, although it was not able to proceed beyond research and design. The Kelsey Helicopter, named after its Winnipeg inventor, Edwin E. Kelsey, was revealed to the public on April 6, 1909. Described as a "dirigible helicopter", although the design proved to be successful in scale model form, lifting into the air and flying even in a confined space, it never progressed to final construction. A further five aeronautical projects commenced by members of the Aero Club of Canada were similarly fated to never be completed.
In other rotary wing developments at the turn of the century, engineers and designers in France struggled with the basic configuration of contra-rotating rotors. In 1907, Paul Cornu and Louis Brequet had both built rudimentary craft that could lift into the air, but could hardly be considered successful designs as both suffered from control problems and were abandoned. The following year, a young Igor Sikorsky in Russia also experimented with a similar design but the resulting unmanned machines that were tested in 1909-1910 were only able to rise a few feet into the air. It was not till decades later, that Brequet with the Gyroplane (1935), Professor Henrich Focke with the Focke-Achgelis Fa-61 (1936) and later Sikorsky with the VS-300 (1939) returned to tackle the inherent conundrums of rotary wing flight, to create the first truly successful helicopters.
In Canada, during the same period, a number of designers struggled with rotary wings. In the 1930s, the Hess Helioplane and Duben Helicopter were unsuccessful designs that were constructed and tested but proved unable to sustain hover or flight. However, in Homewood, Manitoba, an almost unheralded project, designed and built by brothers Douglas, Nicholas and Theodore Froebe was undergoing testing. In 1936, using a "backyard mechanics" approach, the brothers had cobbled together a simple, but functional contra-rotating helicopter. The open tube frame and rotors were built from aircraft chrome molybdenum steel while other components were either handcrafted or derived from available automotive or farm machinery. The sturdy machine utilized two concentric, contra-rotating rotor blades powered through a right-angled drive by a used 4-cylinder air-cooled, front-mounted de Havilland Gipsy engine.
Doug Froebe was the primary test pilot during a series of test flights undertaken in 1937-39, recording Canada's first controlled, manned vertical flights. His notebooks, logbook and letters (now preserved at the Western Canada Aviation Museum) provide a vivid picture of the pioneering flights. "During the first attempt to fly, the tail came off the ground about three feet. I hauled the stick clear back and the front wheels came off one at a time... when I'd shut the throttle down, it would just take its time coming down – didn't stall – just float down like a feather." Although the helicopter suffered from severe torsional vibration, it easily transitioned into vertical and hovering flight, and while only flights of short duration were attempted, a total of four hours and five minutes was logged before the test flights were ended on March 2, 1939.
Throughout the 1940s, the Froebe brothers continued to modify their experimental design and made efforts to sell their concept to Canadian and American interests including the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. Gradually, they realized that more viable production helicopters rolling out of Bell, Hiller, Piasecki and Sikorsky companies, doomed any hope of commercial or military contracts. Despite their record of successful test flights, the Froebe brothers did not apply for a patent, with their helicopter being largely forgotten, although the original machine resides today at the Western Canada Aviation Museum.
In the immediate postwar years, Canada's only certified helicopter was developed, the Grey Gull designed by Bernard Sznycer (assisted by mathematician Selma Gottlieb). Designed for Intercity Airlines with the same basic configuration of the successful landmark Sikorsky designs, the SG-IV-C single rotor prototype helicopter was designed and built in Montréal as a purpose-built machine able to withstand Canada's harsh northern environment. The test pilot, aptly named Henry J. Eagle Jr., carried out its maiden flight on July 9, 1947, noting a completely vibration free flight. After successful completion of the test program, the first production machine, SG-IV-D Grey Gull, was flown on February 6, 1948, and granted a Certificate of Airworthiness on March 15, 1951.
During tests, the Grey Gull managed to fly in the most adverse conditions, with comments such as "Temperature – 10 degrees below zero. Altitude- instrument covered with snow. Wind – Terrible. Aircraft – normal in all respects." Despite the error-free test program and glowing reports revolving around its robust construction, stability and flight control, after no contracts were obtained, financial backing was withdrawn in 1954, leading to the program's demise. The Grey Gull is now restored to display condition at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskawin, Alberta.
Although no other helicopters have been designed and constructed in Canada since the 1950s, three notable rotary and VTOL concepts have emerged as historical footnotes. The first two designs owed their existence to the Avro CF-105 Arrow project that dominated the late 1950s headlines. In the aftermath of the cancellation of the Avro Arrow on "Black Friday, February 20, 1959, engineer Peter Payne, together with a small group of fellow designers and engineers, created Avian Aircraft Ltd. with headquarters at Georgetown, Ontario. Their "start-up" concentrated on the design and construction of helicopters and autogyros, resulting in the design of the Avian 2/180 Gyroplane.
The diminutive two-seat experimental Gyroplane was a compound aircraft powered by a "buried" 200hp Lycoming LO-360 air-cooled engine. It could take off as a helicopter and once in flight, power being transferred to a tail-mounted, four-blade, dueled pusher propeller, while the rotor free-rotated. The Avian 2/180 first flew in spring 1960 with a small production run following. During a protracted development period, the Avian 2/180 underwent various modifications and improvements before being granted approval as a civil aircraft in 1967 in both Canada and the USA. In spite of its spirited performance, high production costs prevented further development.
The second VTOL project coming as a result of the Avro Aircraft company was the improbable story of the Avro VZ-9 AV Avrocar, a "black" project that had been underway in relative secrecy while the Avro Arrow had received star treatment. Initially funded by United States Air Force, the two-seat Avrocar was designed in 1958 as a "proof-of-concept" test vehicle for a future line of supersonic disc-shaped "flying saucers". During its conception, the United States Army showed interest in the project as a contender in a "flying jeep" competition. The Avrocar intended to exploit the Coandă effect to provide lift and thrust from a single ducted "turborotor". Three Continental J69-T-9 jet engines at 660 lbf (2.9 kN), mounted inside the fuselage "blew" onto the rotor, which in turn, diverted the exhaust out the rim of the disk-shaped aircraft to provide anticipated VTOL-like performance.
The futuristic Avrocar had its first untethered flight on November 12, 1959 with the second of two production machines completing a flight test program during 1959-1961, never able to rise out of "ground cushion". The performance fell far short of design objectives, and stability remained elusive resulting in both the U.S. Army and Air Force funding being cancelled in March 1961. Both examples still exist with the wind-tunnel model in storage at the Garber Reclamation Facility of the Smithsonian's National Air And Space Museum and the flight test model under restoration in the U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Ft. Eustis, Virginia.
The only other VTOL project coming out of Canada is the "convertaplane" Canadair CL-84 Dynavert, Canadair designed and manufactured a series of V/STOL (vertical and short take off and landing) turbine tilt-wing monoplanes between 1964 and 1972. Only four of these experimental aircraft were built with three entering flight-testing. Two 1,500 shp (1,100 kW) Lycoming T53 shaft-turbines were used to drive the two 14 ft (4.3 m) four-bladed propellers. The wing was tilted vertically to provide lift and hovering capability much like a helicopter and then could be lowered into a horizontal position to convert the Cl-84 into a "conventional" aircraft. The U.S. military became the prime focus of the subsequent development, with the CL-84 intended to serve as a high-speed shipboard transport.
The CL-84 prototype, CF-VTO-X, first flew in hover on May 7, 1965 and although the airframe and a subsequent production example: CX8401 were lost in accidents, the sole remaining test aircraft underwent a grueling evaluation in 1973 onboard the USS Guadalcanal aircraft carrier. In the face of gale storm conditions, the 84 performed magnificently in tasks such as ferrying troops and "blind-flight." In spite of rave reviews from over 40 pilots, with the wind-up of the Vietnam War, the CL-84 did not land any production contracts.
The two surviving CL-84s ended up in museums: CX8402 resides in the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa alongside another faded dream of technological greatness in Canada – the Avro Arrow.
CX8403 was never flown; it was donated to the Western Canada Aviation Museum. Today, only the fuselage sits forlornly in the main display gallery.
Museum visitors who have seen either examples of the Canadair CL-84 Dynavert, sometimes take time to read the displays that tell the story of one of Canada's greatest achievements in V/STOL development and may pause to ponder "what if?" With the end of the last indigenous vertical flight program, the Canadian aviation industry has now been relegated to purchasing "off-the-shelf" helicopters from abroad.