CANAV’s Blog for May 9, 2020 … Where Have All the Airliners Gone? Gemini, AN-225 and Norseman Updates + Other Worthwhile History Bits

A Really Keen Photographer Covers the “Parked Airliners” Scene You’ll find it well worth looking at this outstanding album of fantastic photos. The man behind the lens  tells the sad story of what the C-Virus has done to World Air Travel. Here’s the link to open: https://www.businessinsider.com/inside-a-photographers-quest-to-photograph-hundreds-of-parked-planes-2020-5#though-initially-worried-about-heading-to-a-major-city-like-kansas-city-luten-described-the-measures-he-took-such-as-sleeping-in-his-car-and-wear-protective-masks-when-required-31

 

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Hundreds of you have been enjoying our recent item covering the wonderful photos of the great Al Martin. Here’s another of Al’s always-interesting shots. So far as we know, only two Miles Gemini light twins ever came to Canada. One (G-AJKS) returned to the UK, the other became CF-HVK. Al spotted “JKS” at Toronto Island Airport some time around 1950. Here’s the story:

First flown in 1945, the Miles Gemini 4-seat light twin looked promising. Then, as the initial surge in postwar Great Britain’s recovery cooled, Miles folded in 1947. About 150 Geminis were built. Initially, G-AJKS came across on a Miles demo tour. Its arrival was impressive, since it came aboard the RCN aircraft carrier, HMCS Warrior. Once Warrior was about 20 miles off Nova Scotia, demo pilot, Jim Nelson (an ex-RAF American), flew the little Gemini off the deck to Halifax. Can you imagine pulling off such a stunt in 2020? Not a chance, right! The Gemini visited Ottawa, Oshawa and Toronto Island Airport, then back-tracked to Montreal and on to New York City. The tour and a demo flight were written up in detail in the October 1947 edition of “Canadian Aviation” magazine. One comment may explain why no sales resulted – the Gemini carried a hefty price tag of $16,000. G-AJKS was shipped home where, among other owners, it served Eagle Air Services of Baginton airport from 1955-59. Too bad, but it was scrapped in 1965.

Nothing else was heard of the Gemini in Canada until 1955, when John E. Pitt of Montreal ordered one. Pitt hoped to fly his new plane across the North Atlantic to Montreal. Happily, sanity prevailed, and the Gemini was crated and shipped by sea, then assembled at Dorval around June/July 1955. Registered CF-HVK (previously G-AJOH in UK), it sounds by the archival paperwork that Pitt hoped to convert it to US-made Continental engines. By late 1955 “HVK” was resident at Cartierville airport a few miles from Dorval. How did this unusual Canadian light plane end? Not well, but its final days suggest that John Pitt really was an adventurer, who probably would have tried an Atlantic crossing if allowed. In March 1958 he had “HVK” in Mexico. Such a long flight from Canada to Mexico in a tiny plane was uncommon in those times. Was Pitt on an exotic vacation? Was he in Mexico to sell his plane? The sad thing is, while taking off at Mexico City on March 28, 1959, he had an engine fail and crash-landed. Nothing further is known about “HVK”.

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Here are two rare colour shots of “HVK” at Dorval c.1955. These were taken by the renowned John Caron of Montreal, one of the early supporters of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, and of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society. Notice the great setting, including the Dorval Air Transport C-46 CF-FBJ and a T-50 still in RCAF yellow. I photographed “FBJ” on the same ramp just a few years later. Sadly, it crashed disastrously in Lac St-Jean country when it got entangled in a fierce thunderstorm. Cessna Crane N60536 had been RCAF 8662 during the war. Montreal surplus airplane kingpin Wally Siple acquired it, then sold it to a US buyer. As usual, there’s often more to an ordinary airplane photo than the foreground, right!

Reader Update

Further to our Gemini blog item, Ian M. Macdonald already has been in touch. Ian had done his own research into this interesting little plane. He reported his findings in the March 2010 edition of “The Observair” (newsletter of the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society). Ian learned that in 1946-47 a third Gemini was destined for Canada. The registration CF-EMW was reserved for it for the Bata Shoe Company of Batawa, Ontario. However, for some reason the Department of Transport in Ottawa denied importation authority, so “EMW” remained in the UK.

Ian also clarifies that for the planned trans-Atlantic delivery flight of CF-HVK, an inexperienced ferry pilot was hired. This likely explains why the DOT nixed the flight. Another Gemini did, however, reach Canada, but this story ended badly just a few hours after the plane entered Canadian air space. As Ian explains, Thomas James Binderman of Montreal purchased Gemini G-AKFU in the summer of 1965. A low-time private pilot, somehow he was authorized to fly the North Atlantic to Canada:

On August 14, 1965, Binderman left Narsarssuaq, Greenland, at 0758 for Goose Bay, NL, a 685-nm leg. His last radio communication was with Cartwright, NL, at 1425, and at 1528, fuel was considered exhausted. An RCAF 107 Rescue Unit Albatross crew spotted G-AKFU five days later; 65 miles east-south-east of Goose Bay, overturned in a bog after attempting a wheels-down landing. The pilot had survived apparently uninjured, and spent one night with the aircraft before walking away. A helicopter and foot search in all directions yielded nothing, and the search was reduced on 28 August 1965. Pressure from family and friends caused the search to restart on 3 September, and Binderman’s wife flew to Goose Bay, but he was never found, the search finally being abandoned on 11 September 1965. A number of errors were found in the navigation log and this quote from the accident report is telling: “… the distance between Narsarssuaq and Goose Bay was measured in nautical miles whereas the estimated ground speed was shown in statute miles per hour. This error in calculations would have shown the flight to be feasible; when the correct computations were applied it was evident that it was almost impossible … with the fuel available.

AN-225 World’s Biggest Air Transport Lands at Mirabel May 1, Offloads PPE,  Departs Next Day … Well Worth a Look. What a Magnificent Flying Machine!

BLOG 4 Norseman CF-HPY at BTL via Al Bieck

Norseman update: We haven’t featured much new about the Norseman for ages. Happily, Al Bieck – a renowned Ontario government pilot recently sent along this fine old snapshot of Slate Falls Trading Co. Norseman V CF-HPY upended at Big Trout Lake in NW Ontario on February 8, 1963 (the landing had gone badly due to a misaligned ski). Once inspected, “HPY” was found to be badly damaged, so never flew again. Eventually, it was acquired by aviation history aficionado, Joe McBryan, of Fort Simpson, NWT. Due to Joe’s efforts, “HPY” has been restored and may be seen today at the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton. If you don’t have your set of Aviation in Canada: The Noorduyn Norseman Story, you can order right here on the blog or via this booklist “1 CANAV Booklist Fall/Winter 2019-2020.jpg

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With 1040 pages, our famous title Air Transport in Canada has the best coverage of its subject matter of any book ever published. Since ATC was published in 1997, I’ve gathered vast amounts of subsequent material, including these historic old black-and-whites. First, CPA’s DC-3 CF-CUE on its nose. A note on this original print says “Yellowknife” (“CUE” is said to have been the first DC-3 to land at Yellowknife – I hope this wasn’t on that auspicious occasion!). “CUE” had served initially in the USAAF in WWII. At war’s end it was acquired by war surplus magnate Charles Babb, who sold it to CPA in January 1947. It moved to the Department of Transport in 1956 for a much more sedate existence, then joined Buffalo Airways in 1992. In 2020 “CUE” is in storage in Red Deer, Alberta.

 

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The Hudson Bay Company’s Canso CF-BSK burns furiously at Yellowknife in one of a series of dramatic snapshots taken on February 9, 1947. “BSK” had begun as RCAF 9797. By then having logged 1698 flying hours mainly with Eastern Air Command, and by then being surplus to RCAF needs, in April 1946 9797 was sold to Charles Babb, who re-sold it to the HBC in July 1946. The HBC christened it “Polar Bear” and planned to use it for supplying and communicating with its far flung Arctic trading posts. The fire is said to have been caused by static electricity during refuelling.

 

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In the 1950s-60s, the great Leslie Corness covered the Canadian aviation scene chiefly in Alberta and the Arctic. However, he travelled east and west on occasion. He would have been delighted one day c.1960 while driving through the BC interior to spot this Pacific Western Airlines Junkers W-34. Talk about a classic bushplane! CF- ATF had begun in 1932 with Canadian Airways. Some of its detailed history is covered in K.M. “Ken” Molson’s seminal book Pioneering in Canadian Air Transport. Do your best to find a copy of the gem on the web (try such sites as http://www.bookfinder.com). Finally retired, “ATF” was acquired through Ken’s efforts for Canada’s National Aviation Museum, which he then was building up from scratch. That is where you can see “ATF” today in all its glory (even though you will be hard-pressed to find any mention of Ken’s great deeds in the present museum, nor anywhere else, officially, around the Canadian aviation museum scene). Happily, this is an active effort to have Ken inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

 

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While working on today’s blog, I also came across Leslie Corness’ dramatic aerial view of the crash of Associated Airways Avro York CF-HMY at Edmonton on May 26, 1955. This disaster is covered in detail in ATC and The Leslie Corness Propliner Collection. The accident resulted strictly from pilot carelessness. It’s fortunate that the York ended in the Calder rail yards at the end of the runway. Damage was great, but casualties were limited to the two pilots. The die was cast when the captain attempted takeoff on a 5700-foot runway, when aircraft weight and weather conditions clearly required at least 7100 feet to get airborne. Leslie heard about the crash on the radio, hurried to the airport, rented a small plane from the Edmonton Flying Club, then took off to shoot his series of now-historic photos.

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Speaking of Air Transport in Canada, in the fall of 1997 the great artist, Tom Bjarnason, and I visited Bill Wheeler (CAHS No.5) in Markham to show him Tom’s original artwork for the cover of ATC. If you search for Tom on this blog, you can learn a bit about him. A solid Manitoba Icelander, Tom truly was one of Canada’s great artists. I greatly treasure this lovely world class aviation painting. Tom also did wonderful paintings for Sixty Years: The RCAF and CF Air Command (cover), The Canadair North Star and De Havilland in Canada (cover).

BLOG 11 Russ Bannock with 3 Milberry Boys Hunt Club 2019 Resized

This is the last personal photo I have with Russ Bannock. One of Canada’s greatest aviation figures. Russ’ magnificent flying career spanned from before WWII to his fame as a leading Mosquito ace, to postwar at De Havilland Canada, where he rose to be President, to many subsequent productive decades in Canada’s aviation industry. Here is Russ in 2019 at age 100 with three of the Milberrys – Simon, Larry and Matthew. We were at the Toronto Hunt Club, where our Legion branch (Br.165) was having a monthly dinner. I first covered Russ in my 1979 book, Aviation in Canada. At the time he was President of DHC. When I asked for an hour of his time, he welcomed me instantly. We met in his office and had a fine session mainly flipping through his amazing wartime logbook. Back in the 1960s-70s, I was struggling as an upstart in the history business, so having the support of such aviation heroes and kingpins really was encouraging.

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Someone else who always encouraged me was a great Don McVicar 1915-1997. A leading pilot with Ferry Command at Dorval during WWII, Don got into the hurly-burly of ferrying airplanes at war’s end, did some bush flying down the Quebec North Shore and into Labrador, excelled in heavy transport once the DEW Line project got going about 1955, freighted to Cuba during the dicey days of the 1960s US embargo, then finished with a flurry doing trans-Atlantic passenger charters with Super Constellations. Ultimately, Don tread on far too many bankers’ and politicians’ toes, so he had to fold his renowned World Wide Airways. Having hid out for a few years in southern places, he retired with his lovely wife, Loretta, to a modest apartment in Dorval, from where he wrote several wonderful books. From More than a Pilot to North Atlantic Cat to Mosquito Racer and A Change of Wings these all are real gems. See what you can find on the various internet used book sites. Here is Don at some Ferry Command event we attended at Dorval c.1982. That’s the great Beth Buchanan of Air Canada. Beth was G.R. McGregor’s long-serving secretary at TCA and ghost-writer for his TCA memoir Adolescence of an Airline (1980). Later, she oversaw the Air Canada library and archives (sadly, later dismantled) in Place Ville Marie, and supported my Canadair North Star research project in the early 1980s. Without such backers, no such aviation history projects could ever succeed. On the left is Beth’s assistant, Harold Dondonez, I on the right. Then, Don McVicar at his home in Dorval not long before his passing. Don was always happy to have a visitor, so long as that conversation was about aviation. Other than that, as NWT Air/First Air/Buffalo Airways pilot Tony Jarvis and I recall, there was a small price of admission – a few Molsons and some Colonel Sanders chicken. Here’s Don in his glory at home, surrounded by his beloved aviation library. Notice that very impressive decoration — his “Distinguished Reading Cross”. Having created the “DRC”, he awarded it to a few particular characters. Rough and ready if it came to changing an engine on a C-46, Don was a class act an author, publisher and friend.

 

Hugh Fraser — He Got an Me.262

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It’s been such an honour over the decades meeting and working with hundreds of Canada’s aviation leaders, whether civil or military. Their photos keep popping up as I go through the CANAV Books Archives. Having lunch here with Canada’s renowned artist, Ron Lowry, is the great RCAF Typhoon pilot, Alexander Hugh Fraser, who had come to Toronto from Kingston to meet us at “The Feathers” pub on Kingston Rd. A Montreal boy, Hugh had excelled at flying the Typhoon with 439 Squadron. The highlight of his tour came New Year’s morning 1945. Hugh was airborne on a dawn patrol with three squadron mates when they heard on the “RT” that their base – Eindhoven, Netherlands – was being clobbered by swarms of Luftwaffe fighters. Back safely on the ground, Hugh reported to his Intelligence Officer how he just had scored two kills in the furious dogfight that ensued. He quickly had gotten on the tail of an Fw.190:

“I gave him a short burst at 10 degrees angle off and airspeed about 190-200 mph. Pieces flew off his aircraft, he caught fire, turned over on his back and went straight in at approximately E6715. By this time I had lost my leader. Somebody took a squirt at me … judging from the holes in my aircraft. At this time I saw four aircraft hit the ground, and one parachute. I was then at about 1500 feet and saw a long- nose Fw.190 in a shallow dive underneath me going toward Venlo. I dove after him. When he was about 100 feet above the ground, I was closing rapidly and took four short bursts at him. It was line astern shooting and my last burst was from about 50 yards. Pieces flew off his aircraft. I must have severed his elevator controls because he never leveled off. He went into the deck somewhere near a large windmill at about E7919. I had to break very quickly to avoid hitting the ground at approximately 400 mph. Pieces flew in every direction.”

The entire encounter (including the Typhoons briefly being jumped by some Spitfires) lasted from 0945 to 0950. Three of the Typhoons then diverted to the Allied base at Volkel. Sadly, their mate, F/L Angelini, did not survive the battle. On April 14, 1945 Hugh Fraser had another exciting operation. While on a patrol led by F/L Lyle Shaver, two Me.262 jets were encountered. Shaver quickly shot down one, Fraser the other.

In the second “Feathers” photo, Hugh is with (from his right) aviation aficionado Ralph Clint, me, Annie McKay (daughter of the great 438 Sqn Typhoon pilot, Ed McKay) and Ron Lowry. Hugh’s RCAF history is well told (along with much other wonderful material) by Hugh Halliday in our 1992 book, Typhoon and Tempest: The Canadian Story. These two archival RCAF photos are included. First, the famous RCAF PR photo with Hugh in his beloved Typhoon 5V-X “Nicky”. Then, with 439 mates Lyle Shaver and Jim Beatty discussing their Me.262 kills. Hugh died at age 75 in Montreal on October 6, 1998.

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Aviation art … over the years I was honoured to work with many of Canada’s “modern” (post-WWII) aviation artists. This is a story for another day. Just for now, here’s an interesting bit of CANAV Books history. For the 60th anniversary of the RCAF in 1984, I published Sixty Years: The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924-1984. To this day, this massive and spectacular book remains the best ever history of the RCAF in a single volume. It’s also the most successful ever, having lasted through 5 printings and more than 20,000 copies. Sixty Years includes nearly 100 original paintings by those fine artists whom I was fortunate to meet at the time. Soon after the book was published, General Paul Manson, who then commanded Canada’s air force from his HQ in Winnipeg, contacted me about acquiring this collection of original paintings. We soon agreed. The paintings all went to Winnipeg, where they were framed and put on display throughout Air Force HQ. I haven’t seen the arrangement for decades, but one day while on a visit, I snapped this small plaque in the lobby. Beside it at the time was a typical piece from Sixty Years – a magnificent Ron Lowry colour profile of a post-WWI RCAF Avro 504. Nice, eh!

One response to “CANAV’s Blog for May 9, 2020 … Where Have All the Airliners Gone? Gemini, AN-225 and Norseman Updates + Other Worthwhile History Bits

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