Since CANAV published its Norseman books in 2013-14, it’s been fun posting new bits of Norseman history on “the company blog” for everyone to enjoy.
One little known wartime Norseman operator was the US Army in the Far East. In one case 12 Norsemans were assigned to the First Air Commando Group. Designated UC-64s (“U” for utility, “C” for cargo), their usefulness was described in the December 7, 1944 issue of CBI Roundup, a US Army newspaper published in Delhi (“CBI” signified China-Burma-India). You’ll enjoy this little period piece:
UNSUNG PLANE ‘WORKHORSE OF THE SKIES: Rugged Little UC-64 Performs Minor Miracles In Jungle
BURMA – To the wounded, isolated, supply-starved foot soldiers lost in Burma’s dense jungles, and to the pilots and other crew members who fly her, the UC-64 is a ‘sweet little airplane – the workhorse of the skies.” The stories told about those small, single-engined utility cargo planes are many and most always exciting.
Members of the late Gen. Orde C. Wingate’s phantom army tell a typical tale of what these planes have done under combat conditions in Burma. A number of Wingate’s boys found themselves deep in enemy territory, cut off from all possible help, many of them wounded, some on the verge of starvation. Evacuation by air seemed almost impossible, too, as they were faced with Jap machine gun fire on one side and surrounded by long stretches of rice paddies. Certainly, it wasn’t an inviting landing spot for an ordinary plane.
Suddenly, a lone, stubby-nosed aircraft appeared overhead, swept low over enemy installations and settled on a small rice paddy clearing. Painted on its fuselage were the five white diagonal stripes of the First Air Commando Group. The plane was a UC-64 Noorduyn Norseman bringing in 2,000 pounds of supplies and ready to evacuate 10 seriously-wounded soldiers to a base hospital.
Another story of the plane’s durability is proudly told by Lt. David C. Beasley, a pilot. “You can bang her up, but you can’t keep her down,” he declared, upon returning from an advanced Commando-built airstrip that had, a moment before his arrival, undergone a severe attack by enemy bombers. His radio wasn’t working and he hadn’t learned of the bombing that had dotted the runway with dangerous craters. When he landed, one of the craters snatched off his tail wheel. But five minutes later, with the wheel wired into place, Beasley was back in the air.
The C-64, as it is frequently called, is strictly a new bird in India-Burma skies. Prior to last spring’s airborne invasion of Northern Burma, Col. Philip Cochran, commanding the Air Commandos, foresaw the need of landing vital supplies upon short strips hacked from Burma’s rugged terrain. He needed a ship as tough as the jungle. His choice was the Noorduyn Norseman, a plane unproved in any other theater of operations. “We knew very little of her capabilities,” Lt. Julius Goodman, a volunteer pilot, admits, “as no other organization had used her in combat. We had thought of her as a very tricky ship to handle because of her narrow landing gear. It wasn’t long, though, before we knew her as a tough little workhorse.” As operations progressed, new hazards developed to test the aircraft’s durability. Shortage of transportation between Commando airstrips and the home base frequently forced the plane to carry 1,000 pounds in excess of its factory-stated capacity. She carried them with ease.
The scarcity of C-64’s in this neck of the war necessitates the immediate dismantling of their frames after crack-ups. The constant ferrying of troops into small clearings, supplying their positions and other outposts with radio equipment, drop packs, ammunition, rations and other supplies, plus evacuating the wounded, would diminish the effectiveness of an ordinary plane. But the Norseman, with its Pratt-Whitney Wasp engine, the pilots insist, isn’t an ordinary plane.
More News about Norseman CF-GLI
Norseman CF-GLI is well covered in Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman, Vol.2. Last year we heard that “GLI” had been sold in The Netherlands. An update appears in the Northwestern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre newsletter, “Fly North” (Vol.4, No.7, Dec. 2015). It turns out that “GLI” was transferred to the Dutch “Noorduyn Foundation” on May 10, 2015. Plans are to fully restore this 1944-model Norseman within two years.
“Fly North” includes some personal recollections from Gerry Bell, who flew CF-GLI from Red Lake in the 1990s. His list of the old bird’s deficiencies is a long one, yet “GLI” wouldn’t quit. Gerry concludes: “Together we moved people, freight, boats, did rescue flights, etc., through the endless skies of Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba and over countless miles of forests and lakes – times I shall cherish forever.”
If you are a fan of northern aviation, you ought to have your NWOAHC membership. Click here to find out more.
Norseman Vol.2 erratum: You can scroll back in the blog to find the few errata that so far have come to my attention. Today, please note that the caption on p.36 should read: An evocative Arctic scene showing what is thought to be the first airplane to visit Pond Inlet at the top of Baffin Island. Piloted by Gunnar Ingebrigston of Arctic Wings, Norseman CF-BAU made the harrowing 650 mile flight from Frobisher Bay in April 1949 on a charter with a party of federal government people, including Donald Wilkinson of the National Film Board. Here, “BAU”, well tied-down using 45-gallon drums, warms up. (National Film Board of Canada) All the best as usual …Larry
Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman comes in two impressive volumes, representing the most thorough treatment ever given by any publisher to any of the classic bushplanes. These splendid books belong in your aviation library.
You know how some airheads never shut up about “everything” being on the web? Well, CANAV’s titles prove what a load of BS that is (but you already know that, if you’re a serious aviation reader). You’ll find no comparable Norseman coverage anywhere.