Aviation Museum Completes First Historical Airplane Replica
By Bruce McLeod and Mark Whittaker
For the first time in about 8 decades, the Montreal sky becomes the backdrop for a piece of Quebec's aviation history. The Fairchild FC-2, nicknamed the "Razorback" after its triangular sectioned fuselage, emerged on 27 October 2012 from the Canadian Aviation Heritage Centre's (CAHC) workshops (at the Old Cow Barn on the Macdonald Campus of McGill University) after over 12 years of work.
Built from scratch with original plans, and supplemented by the creativity, ingenuity, craftsmanship and enthusiasm of volunteers in the restoration team led by Jake Wilmink, Mark Whittaker and John Duckmanton, this full scale 1926 "multi-tasker of the skies" aircraft is the first of several aviation projects currently underway at the CAHC.
The Canadian Aviation Heritage Centre – a non-profit organization and Montreal's only aviation museum – is located in the "old stone barn" on the Macdonald Campus of McGill University in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec on the Macdonald Campus of McGill University. Hours of operation are Monday, Tuesday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The CAHC invites the public to come and visit our aircraft restoration projects, workshops, aviation art gallery and artefact displays. The FC-2 will be on permanent display beginning on Saturday, 17 November 2012.
The Fairchild FC-2 "Razorback" was part of a family of light, single engine, high wing utility monoplanes, originally designed in the 1920s to provide a camera platform for aerial photography and mapping/survey work. The Fairchild series was the product of the innovative aerial photography and survey business that stemmed from inventor Sherman Fairchild's need for a suitable aerial platform. Designed by Alexander Klemin and Norman McQueen, the configuration of a conventional strut-braced high-wing monoplane with tailwheel undercarriage, (featuring wooden wings able to be folded back against the tail for storage) and a fully enclosed, extensively glazed, heated cabin, led to a sturdy multipurpose aircraft that found its niche in the Canadian wilds.
Manufactured initially at the new Fairchild factory at Farmingdale, New York, the FC-1 prototype for the series, flew on 14 June 1926 and despite being considered underpowered (equipped with the ubiquitous Curtiss OX-5), with subsequent Wright J-4 and later J-5 Whirlwind powerplants, soon found a market in both civil and military applications. The RCAF encouraged Canadian Vickers to obtain licence rights in 1927 to manufacture the definitive FC-2, leading to a small production run of 12 airframes.
In civil use, the Northern Aerial Mineral Exploration Ltd (NAME) used the type in northern Canada. FC-2s flown by Canadian bush pilots Duke Schiller and Romeo Vachon, the Canadian Transcontinental Airways Company's Chief Pilot, were also prominently used in the 1928 rescue of the crew of the aircraft ''Bremen'' at Greenly Island, in Blanc-Sablon, Quebec, near the border of Newfoundland and Labrador.
While the FC-2 proved to be useful in bush flying, operating on skis, floats and wheels, the RCAF utilized the type in both aerial photography and mapping as well as light transport roles. The adaptable design, converted to a later Model 51 standard, was even modified to serve as a trainer, fitted with bomb racks. Due to a RCAF requirement to standardize engines, the basic FC-2 design was re-engineered with a 215 hp Armstrong Siddeley Lynx radial engine as the FC-2L. In this form, the type flew with RCAF units, primarily in northern operations. A further version for the RCAF, known as the FC-2V, was also developed.
Emerson International Airport
January 15, 1940
It was miserably cold that morning when Joe Wilson hitched his team of horses to a wagon. He looked up in the sky to see two aircraft circling overhead. Joining a procession of cars and a truck laden down with fuel barrels, he lumbered his way to the front, coaxing his workhorses, Prince and Fred, forward along the wind-swept field. The assembled crowd began to gesture at the swooping twin-engined planes now clearly in view. Piling out of one of the lead cars was a film crew that hastily set up a tripod and movie camera.
Jimmy Mattern, the famous test pilot, peered out the side cockpit, astonished at the sight below. It was a wind sock planted in the middle of the prairies. After the long cross-country excursion from Burbank with numerous stops along the way, he was nearly at the end of his ferry flight. Lining up for an approach, he maneuvered the Lockheed Hudson bomber downwind for a landing short of the international border that straddled his landing site. Following closely behind was an identical Hudson bomber, also painted in a dark drab, with only civilian markings on the underside of the wings to identify it. The subsequent touchdown was hard, the second bomber swerving off the improvised runway and nearly tipping on its nose, before righting itself.
Ron Lendrum, the customs officer on the Canadian side of the border had just arrived for his shift, bemused at the gathering outside his small white frame building. He did a double take as he looked over to the U.S.- Canada border. The low rumbling came from two bombers taxiing up to the international boundary line. The pilots idled their engines as they swung the planes to a few feet from the border.
While movie cameras rolled and flash bulbs went off to record the scene, Joe Wilson drove his horses up to the border and then slipped a hook and rope from the harness. Striding quickly over to the first bomber’s main landing gear, Wilson cinched up a tow rope and hook, pulling back on the harness and driving his team forward. In seconds, the bomber had rolled across the border and Wilson was on to the next plane. Wilson hauled the bomber, which had shut down its engines, across the border to greet the fuel truck that pulled up. The truck driver and his helper were dressed in military overalls, quickly busying themselves with 45-gallon fuel drums, they began to refuel the Hudson bombers.
Wilson’s wife dutifully noted the aircraft number; her job was to keep a meticulous record of the Wilson “towing company” since her husband would be paid $3.00 per plane. Mattern and his crew hustled into one of the idling cars to get warm while his plane was being fueled. Within half an hour, the crews emerged from their cars, waving to the small crowd of locals and reporters before jumping into their bombers and starting up their engines. Rushing down the long prepared strip, they took off in succession, circling the Customs House where the dumbfounded agent was still trying to piece together what he was seeing. What he had witnessed was an incredible smuggling operation that was taking place at the Emerson International Airport as one local wag, Jim Johnson, had christened the impromptu landing field.
1940- much of the world was at war but the Neutrality Act passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Aug., 1935 was designed to keep the United States out of a possible European war. The law specifically banned shipment of war materiel to belligerents. Amended in Feb., 1936, to prohibit the granting of loans to belligerents, and later (Jan. and May, 1937) The Neutrality Act was extended to cover civil wars, a step inspired by the Spanish civil war. In Nov., 1939, the act was further revised in favor of supplying warring nations on the “cash-and-carry” principle.
Roosevelt was carefully treading between the “America First” isolationist movement and others who wanted to see the United States line up on the side of the Allied nations fighting the Axis Powers. He may have privately been supportive of the British efforts although any public pronouncements in this vein were denounced roundly by one of the leading isolationists, Senator Gerald Nye from North Dakota. With the looming Battle of France, efforts had been made to procure U.S. military weapons, especially modern fighting planes. The Neutrality Act allowed purchase of war material but disallowed their movement out of the United States. Foreign pilots could not come to the United States to “fly away” aircraft while American pilots could not fly the planes to international territory unless…
The next part of the story– a massive “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” enterprise involved two countries and a “hands-across-the-border” operation. Before the shooting war had begun, the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the L’Armeé de L/Air had placed millions of dollars of orders with various aircraft manufacturers, chiefly Lockheed Aircraft Company and Douglas Aircraft Company in California. The aircraft were fitted out to the customers’ specifications and painted in foreign liveries before company officials realized the dilemma of ensuring delivery to their foreign customers.
Rather than breaking the aircraft apart, a scheme was concocted to spirit the aircraft out to Canada as a way-point to their final destinations. Looking at the map there were many sites that were ideal for a smuggling operation. Agents from Lockheed and Douglas and other aircraft manufacturers began to secretly buy up land on both sides of the border at various locations, including Alberta and Montana border towns. A few test flights in late 1939 proved the concept when 15 Harvard trainers were shepherded across at the Sweetwater, Montana– Coutts, Alberta landing strip.
The secret nature of the work was somewhat negated by the arrival of newspaper and film crews in Coutts. A cowboy actually lassoed a propeller and a tow truck pulled the planes over the border. F/L Bervens, one of the four Canadian Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots assigned to fly the trainers recalled that the scene was more farcical than clandestine. The pilots were all wearing civilian clothes and were confronted by a rancher who demanded a $150.00 “landing fee” for each plane they accepted. The rough terrain and changeable weather conditions made the delivery treacherous although, between December 1939 and June 1941, over 500 aircraft slipped across the border at Coutts.
Negotiations had progressed late in 1939 between the American aircraft companies and the Canadian military to choose a more favorable landing site, especially for larger bombers that were also awaiting delivery. After checking possible landing strips, the decision was made to switch to a new secret landing strip at Pembina, North Dakota. Alex Milne Jr. owned the farmland near Emerson and he agreed to clear a landing strip adjoining the international crossing with his caterpillar tractor. On the other side of the border, George Kochendorfer’s land became the other half of the international landing strip. In January 1940, the ground was still frozen and was uneven in spots, making each landing an adventure in itself, however, the Lockheed and Douglas delivery pilots were all pros and learned to bring in the aircraft without suffering any damage.
Mrs. Wilson recorded 33 aircraft in the next year-and-a-half that Emerson International was in service. Many other aircraft arrived, many of them unceremoniously pushed across, to the consternation of Custom Agent Lendrum. He told onlookers that none of the airplanes had ever paid a duty and when one hapless pilot had accidentally landed on the Canadian side of the border, he had demanded a customs duty from the startled pilot.
Residents on both sides of the border showed up for the regular visits made by Lockheed Hudson and Douglas Digby bombers joined by Harvard trainers, Boeing-Stearman PT-17 Trainers and Cessna T-50 Cranes. The local Emerson movie theatre, the Deluxe, showed a newsreel on Friday and Saturday, March 29- 30, 1940 of the bombers at Emerson. Even the New York Times and Newsweek covered the story. Newsweek called the Emerson-Pembina crossing, the “Neutrality Dodge, ” which was especially galling to Senator Nye who recognized that the subterfuge was taking place in his home state.
The U.S. government had understandably been concerned that aircraft manufacturers had been flaunting the provisions of the Neutrality Act yet the Nazi advances in Europe had pushed Britain’s back against the wall and Roosevelt realized that aircraft destined for the RAF were desperately needed. Representative E.H. Foley proposed a revision to the law in June 1940 to permit both an American and British flight crew onboard to transport a plane. The amendment provided a loophole for a transfer of ownership and crews as the aircraft crossed the Canadian border. Bombers now merely circled the Pembina-Emerson crossing as they made the cross-over. If enough fuel was available, the flight would proceed directly to Stevenson Field in Winnipeg before the American aircrew was sent back.
For nine months until the Lend-Lease act of March 1941 was enacted, aircraft still were over-flying the Pembina-Emerson border. Effectively, the Emerson International Airport was out of business, ending a curious but vitally important wartime program. Soon enough, the warplanes would be needed by all the Allied powers.
Canadian Car & Foundry / Burnelli CBY-3 Loadmaster
Perhaps the most unusual aircraft design ever built in Canada was the Burnelli CBY-3 Loadmaster, built by Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F) in Montreal. The development of the aircraft, of a lifting body design, is a story in itself, covered in Ray Conrath's article "The Cancargo CBY-3 Loadmaster" in the Spring 2004 edition of the CAHS Journal. However, its operational usage forms another story, as it almost seemed as if it was always seeking a home.
The Loadmaster was in built in Montreal at the former Curtiss-Reid plant that CC&F bought. First flown on 17 July 1945 and registered as CF-BEL, the airplane received only a limited Domestic Certificate of Airworthiness, as it did not meet the stall requirements. CC&F formed a subsidiary, Cancargo, in February 1947 to market the aircraft, which soon resulted in an operational trial.
In March 1947, Canadian Pacific Airlines became a participant in the airlift of mining equipment to the Knob Lake area of northern Quebec, in what was to become the site of Iron Ore Company of Canada's Schefferville operations. CPA operated two DC-3s while Bristol Aircraft of the UK crewed its Bristol Freighter for demonstration. The DC-3s operated by Hollinger Ungava Transport formed the bulk of the transport effort, which would carry on until 1954. In March and April 1947, a total of 300 tons of equipment was airlifted from Mont Joli and Sept Isles, Quebec. The CBY-3 carried 28 tons of this; however, CPA decided not to buy any Loadmasters.
Thereafter, the Loadmaster made various test flights in the Montreal area before proceeding to Uplands at Ottawa on 28 August where it conducted two test flights, one for the Department of Transport and one for the Royal Canadian Air Force. In early September there was even a demonstration for the Argentinean Navy. Cancargo's marketing efforts produced another chance to demonstrate the Loadmaster, when from 24–29 May 1948, the Loadmaster flew demonstrations in the Washington, DC area and then flew further tests for the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from 16–20 June. The USAF concluded that the aircraft's cargo configuration was not suited for their cargo loads and complained of the lack of heat in the cabin when carrying passengers. More flights were made for the RCAF on 20 and 21 December 1948 and in April 1949, the Loadmaster dropped paratroops at the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre at Rivers, Manitoba.
In February 1951, CC&F gave up trying to have the Loadmaster certified in Canada and exported it to the United States. There it was registered as N17N to the Central Aircraft Corp. of New York (the successor to Burnelli Aircraft) on February 9. More marketing followed, with a potential chance at glory being announced on 29 December 1954. The Loadmaster had been selected to land an Arctic expedition at the North Pole in March 1955; however, after the Loadmaster had been reconfigured to carry 20 passengers and 41 sled dogs, the expedition was cancelled.
In 1956, it appeared that the Loadmaster would get a break when the Venezuelan national airline Rutas Aereas Nacionales leased the aircraft, where it was registered as YV-C-ERC or possibly YC-X-ERC). Despite the fact that the Loadmaster served well, no orders were forthcoming. When the decision was made to upgrade the engines, which could not be done in country, the Loadmaster was flown back to the United States on 8 December 1959. And there it was allowed to languish before finding a final resting place in 1964 at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, north of Hartford.
The Loadmaster was an aircraft whose benefits from its lifting body design could apparently not overcome its most unusual design. It also could not compete with surplus Second World War Dakotas going for $5,000, which Canadair was refurbishing for Trans-Canada Air Lines, Canadian Pacific Airlines and other customers. In addition, newer designs offering greater speed and comfort. The Loadmaster was simply not the right aircraft at the right time.
Editor's Note: The CBY-3, retired to the New England Air Museum, has shown noticeable deterioration from its extended time in outdoor display. In 2011, the museum announced that the one-of-a-kind Burnelli CBY will be moved into the restoration facility for its restoration, anticipated to begin in mid-2012, and take several years.
Bombing the South Saskatchewan River in 1951
Alfred, Lord Tennyson declared in his poem Locksley Hall: In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. However, if you're the mayor of a Canadian city located on a major river, flooding is probably a greater concern for you. In 1951, an ice jam on the South Saskatchewan River threatened to flood the city of Medicine Hat. So what do you do? You call in the RCAF to bomb the ice jam.
Bombing ice jams was nothing new. In 1929, the Canadian government decided to bomb the ice in the St. Lawrence to speed the opening of the river. Canadian Airways pilot D.S. Bondurant, flying a Fairchild 71, dropped explosive charges onto the ice which produced a lot of ice chips and dead fish but no expedited break-up of the ice. In May 1945, two Liberators from Gander bombed the Hamilton River near Goose Bay to reduce the ice jam that was backing up water and threatening some of Goose Bay's infrastructure. On 29 March 1951, the South Saskatchewan River broke through its banks and flooded fields when two ice jams downstream began to raise water levels. The rising river was threatening the city of Medicine Hat and its buildings. The efforts to dislodge the ice jams became Operation Floodhat, as the RCAF named it.
The first calls to the RCAF were made at 1:20 PM on 29 March. Mr. Shoulton, the city's Public Works manager, requested assistance in that the RCAF bomb the ice jam. After that, things moved very quickly. Mr. C.E. Gerhart, Alberta's minister of municipal affairs called at 1:45, while Northwest Air Command (NWAC) staff called RCAF Unit Ralston (Suffield) to authorize an aerial recce. At 2:10 RCAF station Calgary reported that they did not have bombs or rockets. However, Group Captain Z.L. Leigh at AFHQ approved asking the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC) at Rivers, Manitoba for support. He also stated that a written waiver for any damages be obtained from the provincial government.
By 5:00 PM, Squadron Leader Laurence Virr at Ralston (RCAF Station at Suffield) had taken Mr. Shoulton on an aerial recce, the NWAC legal officer had prepared and had Mr. Gerhart sign the waiver and the CJATC at Rivers said they would send two Mustangs each armed with two 500 lb bombs and a Dakota loaded with eight additional 500 lb bombs. At 6:45 Flight Lieutenant D.F. Archer and Flying Officer A. Mehlhaff in Mustangs 9573 and 9580 dropped their four bombs with accuracy; however, this did not dislodge either ice jam. Both were bombed, with S/L Virr performing the role of master bomber and acting as safety aircraft. However, further bombing efforts could not be made that day as daylight was fast disappearing.
The next morning, the 30th, the two Mustangs were again loaded with two 500 lb bombs each and Mitchell 641, from Suffield, with four. Archer and Mehlhaff and Flying Officer Morrison in the Mitchell waited for S/L Virr in the Norseman to carry out a recce and advise that all was clear for their work. At 8:45 all three aircraft started their work, again bombing with accuracy and again with negative results. In the afternoon, Flying Officer D.L. Osborne in Mustang 9577 arrived from Rivers and bombed the ice but this did no good.
The assessment was that the delay on the fuzes was too long with the result that the blast was being directed in the mud of the river bottom and not on the ice. Besides the problem of the fuze setting, the ice was 6 feet thick and lodged into the mud at the bottom of the river. The bombing opened up small holes in the ice jams but these were quickly filled by more ice.
On the 31st, the first to have a go was the Mitchell with the 1000 lb bomb brought in from Rivers the previous evening. Before the drop could occur, a nearby farm house was evacuated while the Norseman acting as safety aircraft had to drop two messages to spectators who were getting too close. The arrival of spectators was not unexpected. The use of the 1000 lb bomb had been advertised in Lethbridge's newspaper and the prospect of front-row seats for a bombing display was a rare treat.
At 9:28 AM, the Mitchell dropped its lone bomb. With the fuze on a shorter setting, the blast effect was greater and the ice cracked considerably but still did not cause the ice jam to break. The three Mustangs then came in to do their job, dropping another 3,000 lbs of bombs. The main ice jam was now being held together by one piece of ice but would still not move.
For the RCAF, they considered the bombing effort complete at this time. However, the spectre of failure had always been there and so Dakota 261 from 435 Squadron flew explosives from Edmonton to Medicine Hat on the 30th and then picked up more in Kamloops the next day. These were for the use of the Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE), who were the back-up plan. As the diarist for 435 Squadron put it, the fact the engineers had to finish the job was an embarrassment for the RCAF. And the ice jams, they began to shift on the 31st and the work of the engineers helped to further dislodge them.
Unfortunately, these bombing runs produced two pieces of unexploded ordnance. These were the targets of several searches over the next several years with the first efforts being made two days after the last bomb run. This first effort was supported through a RCAF Sikorsky helicopter. Unfortunately the two bombs were not found despite efforts over the next three years. Whether they ever were found is not recorded.
The bombing weakened the ice jams and provided some valuable lessons in bombing ice. Nature provided the ultimate push to break up the jams, with assistance from RCE and their demonstrations. The river's muddy flow and springtime flooding moved and covered up the unexploded bombs, which may still be somewhere in the river. And thus endeth the tale of the RCAF bombing of the South Saskatchewan River.
[My thanks are extended to CAHS member Jerry Vernon for his assistance on points related to the Mustangs and the Mitchell, Mathias]
Canadian Army Aviation
During the First World War, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) 1912–1918 is a British Army Corps in which Canadian troops operate independently. The RFC has a firm Army support focus - air photos, liaison, operating air observation posts (AOP) and close air support of troops on the ground. The first direction of artillery by an air observer occurs on 13 September 1914.
On 8 December 1915, Capt H.C.T. Dowding, Royal Artillery (later ACM Lord Dowding, the commander of Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain), was assigned to improve aerial observation as the commander of 9 Squadron RFC.
After these tentative beginnings, between the wars, the Canadian Air Force (CAF) 1918–1920, has one fighter and one day bombing squadron, and is reorganized as the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) 1924–1932, predominantly focused on civil aviation tasks, such as forestry patrols and mapping. Although No.3 (Service) Squadron B Flight is dedicated to Army Cooperation, from 1932 onwards, most RCAF Army Cooperation squadrons are disbanded or converted to other roles.
In the Second World War, No.122 Sqn RCAF has Coast Artillery Cooperation Flight (1942–1945) while AOP support to Canadian Army units becomes essential for most of the conflict, with 664 (RCAF) Air OP Squadron Operational March 1945, 665 (RCAF) Air OP Squadron Operational April 1945 and
666 (RCAF) Air OP Squadron, formed but not operational. The Auster series aircraft were in use throughout the war.
The main AOP missions included:
In postwar operations, the following units were formed, with the Cessna L-19 "Bird Dog" becoming the primary aircraft in service:
- 444 Air OP Squadron RCAF 1947–1949
DHC-1 Chipmunk and Auster VI
- CJATC RIVERS 1949–1971
Auster VI / VII / L-19
- 1 & 2 Air OP Flights, RCA 1953–1961
CO, IR Pilot & 6 Pilots - 6 Auster VI / VII / L19s
- 5 x Regimental Air OP Troops 1960–1972
OC & 3 Pilots – 3 L19s
In Korea, four Canadians serve with No.1903 Ind AOP Flight RAF. Captain Peter Tees won the DFC in the war.
After 1972, the Canadian army operations were taken over by units of Air Command, now renamed the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Shaking Hands with the Ghost of Charron Lake
The saga of James A. Richardson's pioneering efforts in creating a bush air carrier and his dreams of developing Canadian Airways into a transcontinental airline is well known. Sadly, Richardson's vision was not fulfilled and his company's aircraft were absorbed into other operations. During the summer of 2005, an underwater archaeological expedition has announced a monumental discovery - the location of one of lost Canadian Airways transports that plied the northern routes of Manitoba.
The story begins on December 10, 1931, somewhere north of Little Grand Rapids.
Stewart McRorie clenched at the controls of Fokker Universal "G-CAJD," peering into an increasingly bleak sky in front of him. This was to have been a "milk run" for James A. Richardson's Canadian Airways. Their cargo was food and supplies for the prospectors up at Island Lake in northern Manitoba where a gold strike had recently brought a flurry of activity. For the last few minutes, over the roar of the engine and fighting against the bitter wind in the open cockpit, pilot McRorie had been shouting back to his flight engineer, Neville "Slim" Forrest, that their prospects were looking exceedingly grim.
There were only two viable options in a line squall, push on and hope for the best or start looking for a landing site. As precious moments ticked by, McRorie made his decision. Descending in shallow dives from 2000 ft. to 200 ft., he could make out the icy shape of a lake directly ahead of him, still on his original compass heading. Seeing a bluish hue, McRorie judged the lake as solid.
McRorie later recalled in a 1981 interview, " I wanted to land while I knew where I was." He stretched his glide to "a long stretch on the lake on the northern, north-east side," aiming for a spot 200 yards out and then taking it in "about 25 or 30 yards from the shore."
Marking the time of landing as approximately "noon," McRorie expertly touched down in his ski-equipped plane and cut "JD's" throttle to idle. Slowly steering for the shoreline, the heavily-laden Fokker Universal suddenly began crashing through the thin upper layer of ice.
Photo: Stewart McRorie c. 1935, the McRorie family via the Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM)
Scrambling out of the transport, McRorie and Forrest, abandoned the plane. For the first night, a lean-to had been fashioned on the side of the aircraft to protect Forrest, who had escaped the aircraft through the side cabin door and was drenching wet after plunging into the lake.
Two other Canadian Airways transports, much faster and newer Fokker "Super" Universals on the same cargo run were already in the air, setting off ahead of McRorie, trying to beat out the storm. Scanning the grey, violent storm, the duo knew that they could survive if they just kept their wits about them. Their best chance for rescue would be to wait out the storm and stay put; their companion planes just had to retrace McRorie's flight path to locate the downed plane.
The pair made their way to shore next day to set up a campsite. They lit two fires on islands and kept them going during the daylight, hopping to draw attention to their plight. Even without modern aerial maps or other air navigation supports, bush pilots had made their reputation as rugged survivors who could get out of perilous situations. Many intrepid fliers had even packed snowshoes for the inevitable trudge back home.
After nearly using up their emergency rations and canned goods retrieved from the cargo hold, McRorie and Forrest were spotted by Tom Boulanger, a local fur trapper who had seen one of their campfires. Knowing that although overhead, the swirling storm and heavy overcast prevented aerial searchers from finding the downed aircraft, the group decided to set out for Little Grand Rapids, their starting-point on the fateful flight. Two days into their trek, McRorie and Forrest, accompanied by Boulanger and another native guide, made their way back to safety.
The abandoned Fokker Universal sat forlornly imbedded in the ice of Charron Lake until spring breakup in 1932 when it gracefully floated to the bottom, seemingly lost for all time in the remote northern Manitoba lake. Canadian Airways dutifully wrote the aircraft off their books shortly after.
July 4, 2005, in a survey vessel on Charron Lake, the five members of the search team peered into the monitor. The ghostly image was unmistakable, the lost Fokker Universal, G-CAJD, was resting on the bottom, 40 meters below the gently swaying boat. It was the realization of a quest that had spanned over 70 years.
The story over the years had been respite with rumours and false hopes and after nine fruitless expeditions, the lost Fokker had become known as the "Ghost of Charron Lake." George Lammers, the late museum curator of the Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM) had given the aircraft that tagline but it had been chillingly close to the truth.
Photo: Side-scan sonar image courtesy of Patrick Madden and Annette Spaulding
Long before, the First Nations people that had lived nearby had considered Charron Lake as the home of the spirits but the haunting quality of the lost Fokker Universal had also exerted a spell on all those who had come looking for it. George Richardson, son and heir of James A. Richardson's empire, had passed the legal title for "JD" to the Western Canada Aviation Museum in the hopes that the last remaining example of the 44 Fokker Universals would eventually surface. The first efforts to locate the lost plane began in 1974 but it was only lately, that a new recovery team emerged to take on the hunt.
In 1991, Corporal Patrick Madden, the supervisor of the RCMP Provincial Underwater Recovery Team called in for rescue and recovery operations, received an unusual request from Gordon Emberly, founding member of the Western Canada Aviation Museum. Emberly wanted to locate and recover McRorie's sunken Fokker Universal in a northern lake, 350 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg. Madden's first inconclusive diving exercise at Charron Lake began more than a decade-long odyssey to locate its elusive prey. Even after his retirement from the RCMP as a Sergeant, the allure of the lost Fokker bush plane brought Madden back to the chilly waters of Charron Lake to direct renewed search efforts.
Whimsically nicknamed the "Fokker Aircraft Recovery Team," (F.A.R.T. for short) in its third incarnation, with his wife, Annette Spaulding, Madden had assembled a formidable group of marine and aviation experts. Patrick Madden, Ken McMillan, Gordon Nowicky, Annette Spaulding and W.R. "Bil" Thuma all brought unique skills to the project.
Both Madden and Spaulding are divers who had met due to their mutual involvement in the International Association of Dive Rescue Specialists (IARDS). They now operate Dolphin Underwater Professionals (LLC) in Vermont. Spaulding had been internationally recognized from her work on many wreck sites. McMillan, a marine geophysicist and president of McQuest Marine Sciences Limited from Burlington, Ontario and geophysicist Thuma, president of GeoTec/Plus Ultra consulting firm (Toronto) not only bring scientific expertise, they have previously been involved in countless historic searches and recoveries together and on their own, including the fabled "Lost Squadron" in Greenland and the Halifax bomber recovered from a Norwegian fjord. Nowicky, a retired Air Canada ground equipment technician and tireless WCAM volunteer, was an aviation expert and a remarkable "jack-of-all-trades" who could design and build nearly anything the team needed.
What drives this team of volunteers is the elusive come-hither of Charron Lake's Ghost. Year after year for six summers, based out of a fishing camp run by Selkirk Air on this remote northern lake and working 14-hour days, at times buffeted by severe wind and rainstorms, the search team plied the waters of Charron Lake with sophisticated underwater side-scan sonar forays. "Mowing the grass" was how Ken McMillan described the search, but the systematic exploration of the depths of the 35-square-kilometre lake did not easily reveal the ghost's secrets. In 2004, a final sweep completed a two-week long survey of nearly the entire lake and its rocky bottom. Scans had indicated tantalizing "hits" although each dive would frustratingly bring back evidence of a rock shelf or other anomaly. In one dive to confirm a reading, even five feet away in the murk of the bottom, Annette had been sure that she was looking at a wing structure until closer examination would again reveal another rock formation.
The team leaders, Madden and his wife, who now reside in Rockingham, Vermont, were acknowledged by the others as being the "heart and soul" of the search. Throughout their lengthy quest, Annette and Patrick, have become passionately immersed as true historians in the minutiae and details of the final flight. Bil Thuma described their dedication in this way, "They just dug, and dug, and dug – that's what you have to do. I can't stress enough what their contribution to the search was."
Through their delving into archival records held at the Manitoba Provincial archives and at WCAM, they have plumbed the depths of the mythology surrounding the last flight of G-CAJD. The 1999 magnetometer survey done for the museum identified areas of the lake with unusually high magnetic metal content based on the belief that the aircraft's cargo hold included steel drill rods. After carrying out intensive interviews of surviving McRorie family members (Stewart McRorie had passed away in the 1980s) and others, it became increasingly clear that many of the initial reports including the existence of drill rods were false leads.
Two significant developments occurred recently. Patrick and Annette's research led them to the grandson of the fur trapper who found the stranded pilots in 1931. Tom Berens now recalled, "When he was five years old, Mr. Boulanger, the fur trapper, took him and showed him where this plane landed." Armed with that vital knowledge, the 2005 expedition was able to concentrate on this likely landing spot. "We used that information, the weather report, and ... more sophisticated equipment. We knew right where we wanted to start this year – and talk about being right on target." Ken McMillan placed the team precisely over the Ghost. "You can't get any better than this," said Annette.
Armed with the recent extensive survey of the lake, one other distinctive feature had to be explored. The existence of a lengthy reef, often barely eight feet below the surface would turn out to be the final key to the ultimate discovery of the Ghost. In other sweeps, the rocky reef had been considered problematic in the trolling of the sonar side-scan "fish" with both McMillan and Bill Thuma taking care to fly the fish out of harm's way. This summer, the team re-deployed new side-scan sonar equipment over familiar territory and on only the third pass near the reef, Patrick Madden recalled seeing "an eerily clear image of the ghost plane resting on the lake's bottom."
Looking at the other members of the search team, Thuma said, "The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I got goose bumps." Madden remembered his initial reaction as, "How do you describe the moment of finding the last remaining aircraft of this type in the world? You can't describe it. It's a moment of elation, excitement and relief. It's very emotional."
After 74 years entombed in its watery grave, the Ghost of Charron Lake was revealed. A remotely-controlled ROV brought back video confirmation of the skeletal remains of Fokker Universal G-CAJD sitting upright in the bottom silt. In tracing the outline of the aircraft, Ken McMillan noted, "the wooden wing had shed its plywood cover but spars and ribs remained with the steel tube fuselage structure similarily intact." Gordon Nowicky surmised that the missing engine was probably torn from its mounts when the transport began to break through the ice but he believed the Wright J-5 Whirlwind and prop were nestled under the fuselage.
Photo: L-R Audrey McLennan (daughter of Stewart McRorie) and her husband, Mr. G.N. McLennan meeting Gordon Nowicky, Annette Spaulding and Patrick Madden Photo: Bill Zuk
Shirley Render, Executive Director of WCAM and George Richardson who had funded the search expeditions. From his summer home on Lake of the Woods, Richardson praised the team's efforts, "We've waited years for this, and now we've found it." He said, "It was a very wonderful airplane and it's the last one in the world, so it's very significant." Richardson forecast that the next stage will be critical, "It will be raised and ... will be part of the museum."
Render noted that, "The discovery of the plane and the retrieval of the plane is important not just to the Western Canadian Aviation Museum. It's part of Canada's aviation heritage." She describes the Fokker Universal or "Standard" as a key element in the development of Canada's remote northern and western regions. Only one other Fokker Universal exists, albeit in pieces as part of the Canada Aviation Museum "study" collection. James A. Richardson purchased 12 of the sturdy single-engine, open cockpit planes to haul mail, cargo and passengers for the seminal Western Canada Airways that later morphed into Canadian Airways. The first Fokker transports bore the names, "City of Winnipeg" and "City of Toronto." G-CAJD was built in 1928.
Photo: WCA Fokker Universal, "G-CAJD," Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM)
As Richardson's business grew, the original craft were soon supplemented by the Fokker Super Universal. The modernization of the original design featured a more powerful engine and an enclosed cockpit for the pilot. The only flying example of the later variant, Clark Seaborn's 1929 "CF-AAM" is scheduled to come back home to the Western Canada Aviation Museum in the fall, 2005 where it will be reunited hopefully someday with the Ghost of Charron Lake.
For a few days, the search team basked in the glow of media attention garnered after the release of the underwater images of the Ghost before planning the process of recovery. Annette Spaulding wistfully confided, "I can't wait to be able to touch this plane that nobody else has touched or seen for almost three-quarters of a century."
Photo: L-R The "Fokker Aircraft Recovery Team" – Gordon Nowicky, W. R. "Bil" Thuma, Patrick Madden, Annette Spaulding,
Ken McMillan, Photo: Bill Zuk
The Fokker "Standard" Universal
Photo: WCA Fokker Universal, "City of Winnipeg," Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM)
There are both single- and tri-motor planes under production, and the factory is working on a revolutionary new single-engine model specially adapted for the Arctic. It is called the Fokker Standard Universal, a sturdy high-wing job, and my fingers itch to handle its controls as I see it rolled out on the line.
Bob Noorduyn, Fokker's assistant, asks me if I have ever flown a type like this, and I say, "No, we have nothing as advanced as this in Europe." Noorduyn sees my eagerness and grins. "Why don't you take it up and see what you can get out of it?" I can feel its great lifting power as I ease back on the stick, surging upward and banking in a steep climb. I have never felt better stability in the air. Its rugged build and large cargo space are destined to make it the pioneer bush plane of Canada.
Bernt Balchen Come North wih Me, 1958
First manufactured in 1926 by the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of the Fokker Aircraft Company, the Fokker Universal was designed by Robert Noorduyun. He closely followed the conventional Fokker engineering dictums of building a solid and reliable aircraft.
The Standard featured a welded steel tube fuselage and tail surfaces mated to a strut-braced plywood wing. The transport had an enclosed cabin for 4-6 passengers below and to the rear of the pilot who was seated in an open cockpit, as was the preferred custom of the time.
The Fokker Universal sold new at the Teterboro Airport factory, Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, in 1928 for $14,200. Western Canada Airways purchased 12 of the production run of 45 Universals.
Photo: WCA Fokker Universal "Fort Churchill," Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM)
Span: 47" 9"
Weight (empty): 2,192 lbs., (gross): 4,000 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 78 U.S. gals.
Powerplant: 225 h.p. Wright J-5 Whirlwind (late production)
Service Ceiling of 11,500 feet
Cruise speed: 98 mph.
Maximum Speed: 118 mph.
Stalling speed: 48 mph. Climb rate: 800 ft./min.
Range: 535 miles
Shenstone: An Unparalleled Career (Part 1, the Pre-war years)
THE NAME BEVERLEY ‘BEV’ SHENSTONE MAY NOT BE ONE THAT EVERYBODY INTERESTED in Canadian aviation history will have heard. But it should be. In fact, if a ‘Top Ten’ list of Canadian personalities who have made a significant impact on aviation were drawn up, Shenstone would arguably be near the top. Yet, his outstanding career is not well known, nor has it been examined in any depth. This biographical study attempts to redress the situation.
It aims to raise awareness of Shenstone’s impressive accomplishments, both in Canada, and internationally.
A Career of Accomplishments
From an overall view, Shenstone’s career covers a range of significant milestones that, when taken together, represent an impressive body of work. Perhaps since most of his aviation career was spent outside Canada, though, he has not received his due. He himself recognized that since a large amount of his work was done abroad he seemed to be regarded as a foreigner. However, his work continually included projects related either directly or indirectly to this country. He never lost touch with Canada or his Canadian character and always retained his Canadian citizenship.
His involvement in aviation was broad and deep. Likely no other single individual from this country could claim to have been involved in such a range of activities. These included aerodynamics theory and practice, the design of notable civil and military aircraft, and involvement in air transport with one of the most prominent airlines in the world, including serving on the committee established to formulate supersonic transport aircraft. He trained and flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), was the first Canadian to receive a Master’s degree in aeronautics, and held management positions in industry, government and the air transport sectors.
He learned to fly gliders and sailplanes, was involved in societies that promoted unpowered flight both in Canada and abroad, and initiated and led the design of several types. Shenstone was also the driving force behind post-war efforts to establish human powered aircraft programs as a significant activity. As well, he played a leading role in professional societies including the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), the Soaring Association of Canada (SAC), and the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI). Additionally, he helped generations of aviation specialists do their jobs better by initiating an important range of design and aerodynamic standards. And, finally, as a noted writer and keen observer, he contributed a range of materials throughout the length of his career that provoked thoughtful understanding of the changing world of aviation in its many forms.
Interested, intrigued, want to read more? See the latest CAHS Journal.
The Bell P-39 Airacobra in the RCAF
In 1939, as war clouds brewed over Europe and the Far East, Canada was ill-prepared for war. The RCAF, in particular, relied on a handful of obsolete Grumman Goblin 1 two-seat biplanes as front line fighters, although Canada Car and Foundry in Fort William (where the Chief Engineer Elsie MacGill became known as the “Queen of the Hurricanes”) had already started the production of a small run of Hawker Hurricanes. Eventually 1,300 Hurricane Mk X series were manufactured, but the orders were intended for RAF use.
In mid-May 1940, Canadian and US officers watched comparative tests of a Curtiss XP-40 prototype and a production standard Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1, at RCAF Uplands. Ottawa. While the Spitfire was considered to have performed better, it was not available for use in Canada, and the RCAF still wanted to consider other alternatives.
Throughout the early stages of the Second World War, the growing tension between Japan and the US resulted in the need to strengthen and upgrade Canada's Western Air Command. With all available Hurricanes committed to Europe, orders for 144 Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter aircraft had been placed to fulfill the fighter defence role in this theatre.
The Bell P-39 had a curious genesis, designed as an interceptor and incorporating the latest technology, yet handicapped by a decision to delete the turbo-supercharger that had made the prototype a world-beater. The innovative design was the first fighter in history with a tricycle undercarriage and the first to have the engine installed in the center fuselage, behind the pilot, creating a streamlined, futuristic fighter. Despite the performance of the XP-39 reaching nearly 400 mph at 20,000 ft in tests, USAAC officials and company founder Larry Bell made a fateful decision to rely on the single-stage, single-speed supercharger that effectively limited the new fighter to a low-altitude role.
On April 3, 1940, an order for 200 P-39s were placed by Armée de l'Air but were undelivered when France capitulated, leading to the RAF taking over the consignment in September 1940, adding to the total order of 675 Bell Model 14s (Bell P-39D), initially named “Caribou”, later to be redesignated as the Airacobra 1. Test results were disappointing, falling below that of the current Hurricane and Spitfires in service with inadequate rate of climb and performance at altitude, adding to a plethora of other concerns, none more troubling then a cramped cockpit and poor egress in the event of bailout. The operational debut of the Bell fighter with No. 601 Squadron was limited to one combat sortie flown, against enemy barges at Dunkirk, before the type was retired. All remaining Airacobras, redesignated P-400s, were diverted to US Pacific fighter squadrons.
Although not related to the RCAF eventual cancellation of its order, the RAF’s rejection of the Bell Airacobra must have played a role in acquiring the Curtis P-40 Kittyhawk fighter that was ordered to meet home air defense requirements. In all, eight Home War Establishment Squadrons were equipped with the Kittyhawk: 72 Kittyhawk I, 12 Kittyhawk Ia, 15 Kittyhawk III and 35 Kittyhawk IV aircraft, for a total of 134 aircraft. These aircraft were mostly diverted from RAF Lend-Lease orders for service in Canada and arrived in time to see duty in the Aleutians and Alaska.
In 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy occupied Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Island chain and Nos. 14, 111 and 118 squadrons flying the Kittyhawk I were involved in the drawn-out campaign. On 25 September 1942, S/L Boomer shot down an A6M2-N “Rufe” fighter at Kiska. During the final stages of Japanese attacks against North America, RCAF Kittyhawks would shoot down a total of three balloon bombs.
Bell P-39s were fated never to serve with the RCAF, although thousands would eventually make their way through Canada via the Northwest Staging Route airfields as the fighters made their way to the USSR, where the fighter would eventually make its mark as a premiere low-altitude dogfighter.
For more information on the Curtiss P-40 in Canadian service, see: “The P-40 in RCAF Service” by Hugh Halliday, CAHS Journal, Volume 4, No. 2, Summer 1966. A cover illustration, “Red Stars over Edmonton” by Tony Cashman, is in the CAHS Journal, Volume 42, No. 4, Winter 2004 showing Bell P-39s in Russian markings over Edmonton’s Legislative Building.