A comment about a research done by Clarence Simonsen
I am really glad I found your blog and this story. I am the grandson of F/L Horace Hillcoat who flew with Eli Ross and eventually was lost on 15 December 1944. I was wondering if you had any contact with Eli’s family and if they had anything that would provide more information about my grandfather and the type of person he was. My mother was very young when this incident occurred. She doesn’t remember much of her dad, other than the smell of his pipe. His wife, my grandmother, has given us view; but it would be interesting to learn more about him in his career. I am just taking a shot in the dark to see if there was anything recorded by Eli, but who knows? Any help you could give, would be greatly appreciated.
In January 2015, this story appeared on Lest We Forget, a blog that I created in 2009 with the idea of paying homage to my wife’s uncle who was a sailor aboard HMCS Athabaskan G07.
Little did I know back then that I would virtually meet Clarence Simonsen thanks to another blog I had created to pay homage to RCAF 128 Squadron. People might consider Clarence as a amateur historian.
I don’t. This is why I had created Preserving the Past to share Clarence’s impressive research.
Clarence is always afraid I might get tired posting his stories. This will never happen. So without further ado, here is the story that was posted in 2015.
The original is here: https://athabaskang07.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/a-real-survivor-po-eli-ross/
Except this picture shared on a Facebook group page…
Canadian Military Aircraft Crashes, Wrecks, Relics, Retired & Displays
I could not resist colorising it to show my appreciation for Clarence.
Another impressive research from Clarence Simonsen
During WWII the Canadian Jewish Congress published four comic style books recording the history of Jewish Heroes.
The Jewish WWII Decorations speak for themselves.
One of the RCAF officers who never appeared in the comic style honor book was P/O Eli M. Rosenbaum, [Air Force Cross] from Winnipeg, Manitoba. He cheated death flying in a RCAF B-17 on three different occasions.
P/O Eli Maximillian Rosenbaum #J27043, 1943 [Rosenbaum collection]
This story begins in the fall of 1943, when a very serious Canadian political and military problem had developed, slow mail delivery to our Canadian troops in England and the new Mediterranean war zone. For the first three years of the Second World War, the Canadian Government had largely relied on the British and Americans to deliver our military mail to the battle front. With thousands of Canadians now serving in the air and ground forces in North Africa, the mail was not getting to the fighting man, and with Christmas quickly approaching the Government was feeling the heat, both from home and the war front. At once official pressure was applied and RCAF activity began on 17 October 1943, when Wing Commander R.B. Middleton was ordered to disband his present squadron and form a new squadron in his Hangar #66 at Rockcliffe, Ontario. The next day, official RCAF authorization was received for forming No. 168 [Heavy Transport] Squadron, under No. 9 [Transport] Command, Air Force Headquarters, Rockcliffe, Ontario. That same afternoon three Lodestars arrived from No. 164 Squadron, sub-detachment at Edmonton, Alberta. By the end of October, a total of eleven Lockheed Lodestars were on strength at 168 Squadron and training began on 9 November 43. The non-stop direct training flights were flown from Rockcliffe to Edmonton, Alberta, the approximate same distance as an Atlantic crossing from Rockcliffe to Scotland. It soon became obvious to all squadron members the Lodestars were not suitable for long-range flights and due to extra fuel could carry very little mail cargo.
On 2 November 43, the new Commanding Officer W/C Middleton and two other officers left for the USAAF B-17 instructional school at Lockbourne Army Air Base, Columbus, Ohio. The Canadian Government had purchased six veteran aging B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, which had previously been used to train USAAF crews, and now arrangements were made for delivery to Rockcliffe plus the training of new RCAF aircrew at Lockbourne Army Air Base.
Eli Maximillian Rosenbaum was born in the Jewish section of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and joined the RCAF in 1942. He attended No. 2 Initial Training School at Regina, Saskatchewan, trained at No. 8 EFTS, Vancouver, B.C. and earned his wings at No. 7 SFTS Fort Macleod, Alberta. I made mail and phone contact with Eli in 1993, during which time he informed me he never used his full surname and always went by the name Eli Ross, even during WWII. Due to his nationality, he was instructed he would remain in Canada, posted to the newly formed No. 168 [HT] Squadron which was in the rushed temporary building stage. He first reported to Dorval for instructions on transatlantic operations and briefings from RAF instructors who came from No. 31 RAF Radio Direction Finding School at Clinton, Ontario. This B.C.A.T.P. school was run by the RAF and became the only one of its kind in all North America, training American, British and Canadians. It was taken over by the RCAF in July 1943 [in paper only] and became No. 5 Radio School, still manned by original RAF instructors, who instructed co-pilot Eli Ross.
On 26 November 43, Eli Ross was one of six RCAF Officers selected for training at the American B-17 Training Base at Lockbourne, Ohio. Two Canadian pilots, two co-pilots, and two wireless operators joined the Americans in the class room, when the USAAF instructor’s allowed the RCAF personnel to interrupt their normal training. While Eli was in training, the very first American B-17F arrived at Rockcliffe airfield 4 December 43, during a heavy snowfall, which proved the American pilot with poor runway conditions and limited visibility. Unfamiliar with Canadian winter conditions the USAAF pilot continued to fly overhead again and again, waiting for the snow conditions to clear. After the runway was plowed, he made his successful landing and turned the first USAAF B-17F [42-3160] over to W/C Middleton.
The newspaper photo of unknown American who delivered the first B-17F to Rockcliffe in the Canadian snow storm
With the arrival of B-17F [Douglas] serial 42-3160 on 4 December 1943, the RCAF began their Fortress serial numbers with 9202. It is interesting to see the runway had been cleared of snow and in the background are the Lockheed Lodestars used for early training. The following day B-17F, serial 42-6101 [Vega] arrived and received RCAF serial #9203. On the 8 December B-17F [Douglas] serial 42-3360 arrived and took serial 9204.
With the arrival of the first three B-17s, a great amount of RCAF pressure was applied to get the first Christmas mail to England as soon as possible. Fortress #9202 was prepared for the flight, loaded with mail and prepared for take-off on 14 December 1943. During the run-up, one engine developed an engine gear failure which required the entire replacement. An overnight change of aircraft was hurried into effect and the next morning Fortress #9204 was ready for take-off.
The RCAF officer in command was W/C Middleton, the pilot was F/L B.G. Smith, co-pilot P/O Eli Rosenbaum, F/O F. B. Labrish navigator, F/O C.A. Dickson wireless operator, with passengers W/C Z.L. Leigh Air Force H.Q., Ottawa, F/O J. F. Irvine, technical officer and F/O S. Tingley, H.Q. staff Ottawa. In total 189 mail bags were placed on board and combined with the RCAF brass a total weight of 5,502 was recorded.
The crew of the first flight of the RCAF Overseas Airmail Service [Mailcan]
on 15 December 1943
Left to right P/O Eli Rosenbaum, [co-pilot Winnipeg]; F/L B. G. Smith, [pilot American- Nebraska]; F/O C. A. Dickson, [wireless Edmonton]; and F/O F.B. Labrish, [navigator Montreal]. The background B-17F is 42-6101 which became #9203 and arrived on 5 December 1943, the same date three RCAF crews had their official photo taken in front of the Fortress.
The pre-flight farewell ceremony held before the take-off of Fortress 9204, 15 December 1943. [Eli Ross collection]
The above photo came from Eli Ross [center under over-painted American white star and bars] who can be seen looking over the shoulder of civilian [Post Master General of Canada]. Three of the RCAF crew members [far left] are seen chatting with the young lady, possibly a secretary to a senior officer. The special guests included the Minister of National Defence for Air, the Deputy Minister of DND for Air, Deputy Post Master General and other senior RCAF officials. After the official ceremony the B-17F with passengers and crew departed to Dorval for the overnight stay, then on to Gander where they were delayed three days with gas leaks in self-sealing tanks.
Take-off from Rockcliffe on 15 December 1943, Fortress 9204
heads to Dorval for the overnight stay. [PL23408]
On 20 December 1943, [just after midnight] the crew and passengers of B-17F #9204 departed Gander, Newfoundland for Prestwick, Scotland. At 20,000 feet they broke free of clouds and navigator Labrish took a star fix. At this point they discovered the fortress had a tail wind of 60 knots, and then they settled in for the long trans-Atlantic flight. As the Eastern sunrise climbed into the morning sky, pilot Smitty switched to the auxiliary fuel tanks and in turn each engine quit. Due to the [jet-stream] tail wind the aircraft made a landing at RCAF No. 422 Squadron, flying boat [Sutherland] base at St. Angelo in Northern Ireland, with twenty minutes of fuel in the main tanks. When the ground crew checked the fuel lines they found the Americans had clamped off the auxiliary tanks, which were not required for training flights. In the rush to get the Christmas mail to Scotland, the Fortress had not been properly checked, and this almost cost the lives of all the crew and senior RCAF Officers. No blame was directed at the ground crews as the senior officers realized they had in fact caused the problem. Official report – “It is not possible to lay on an important transport operation with second-hand aircraft in a hurry, without taking serious chances.”
Co-pilot Eli Ross fully understood that the 60 knots tail wind and pure luck had saved all of their lives, and lady luck would ride with him two more times and save his life again and again.
At Rockcliffe, two more B-17E aircraft had arrived and joined the growing fleet. On 15 December 43, USAAF serial 41-9142 arrived and took RCAF #9205, followed by B-17E, serial 41-2438 on 21 December, which took RCAF #9206.
The No. 168 engineering officer S/L W. H. Lewis looks on as the squadron artist LAC Freemantle paints a Canadian Mail bag for each operation flown. Ground crew LAC Murray admires his art work. RCAF Fortress #9202 was the first to return to Rockcliffe on 10 January 1944, with 1,400,000 Christmas letters. The near tragedy of this first flight was not reported to the public, while the Canadian Government took the occasion to give it considerable publicity, which pleased the greater majority of Canadian families with sons and daughters at war overseas.
By the middle of January 1944, the five B-17s of No. 168 Squadron were providing regular overseas airmail delivery from Rockcliffe to Preswick, Scotland. During the spring of 1944, LAC Freemantle created and painted a special nose art insignia for the B-17 aircraft and it first appeared on the nose of B-17F serial 42-3369, RCAF #9204, featuring an American Eagle in full flight carrying one Canadian mail bag in each claw.
Eli Ross photo showing the first RCAF B-17 nose art on #9204, spring 1944
The same nose art would later appear on Boeing built Fortress B-17E, serial 41-9142, RCAF 9205. Please note these two nose art insignia featured a full white tail on the American bald Eagle. This was painted in honor of P/O Eli Ross and donated to the Western Canada Aviation Museum in Winnipeg, March 2009. This nose art resulted from the following story.
On the night of 23 January 1944, the very first airmail flight took place from Prestwick, Scotland to Italy with a fuel stop at Gibraltar. The crew would fly together for the first time with new pilot F/O H. B. Hillcoat, co-pilot Eli Ross, F/O Freddie B. Labrish, navigator, F/O Cec A. Dickson, wireless, and Cpl. Al de Marco as crewmember. They departed Scotland in Fortress #9205 for Gibraltar, flying just below the freezing level of 5,000 feet. Some ninety miles south of Brest there was a sudden tremendous impact with another aircraft, which they later learned was a Vickers Wellington of RAF Coastal Command. The Fortress lost two engines, the nose was bent, the complete under side was damaged, and they only had one supercharger in operation. For the next two hours pilot Hillcoat and Eli Ross fought the damaged controls, with the shuddering aircraft flying near stalling speed. Near the coast of Cornwall they began to call for help and received a reply from RAF Station Predannack, where they landed. For their heroic actions and exceptional airmanship, Hillcoat, Rosenbaum, Labrish and Dickson were awarded the Air Force Cross, while de Marco received the Air Force Medal. For the second time lady luck had saved the lives of Eli Ross, Labrish and Dickson. [At this point in the war the RAF had advocated all aircraft on the Gibraltar to England flights be allotted different heights of flight, but nothing had been officially done]. Shortly after this RCAF Fortress and Wellington head-on collision the new rules came into effect, saving future air force lives.
Eli Ross images of damage to RCAF Fortress #9205
Due to the shortage of four engine aircraft Fortress #9205 was completely rebuilt, striped of camouflage paint and give an unglazed silver fabric nose cone. The American Bald Eagle with solid white tail appeared as nose art on the new natural metal skin. The much delayed sixth and final Fortress B-17E, [Boeing] serial 41-2581, arrived on 1 February 1944 and became RCAF #9207. Her life was very shot when she crashed on take-off from Prestwick, Scotland, on 2 April 1944, all killed. This was caused by shifting of mail cargo during take-off, causing the aircraft to stall and spin in. The aircraft was not installed with proper strapping to prevent the movement of mail bags in flight and was carrying a heavier than normal load.
No. 168 Squadron took delivery of its first Dakota [DC-3] aircraft in late January 1944, and the first two flew overseas on 21 and 22 February 1944. These aircraft carried a new modified nose art insignia created by LAC Freemantle, and each featured a solid black tail on the American Eagle.
This Simonsen replica painted Dakota nose art is in the private collection of Richard de Boer, Calgary, Alberta
On 17 September 1944, Fortress #9204 was landing at Rockcliffe when the undercarriage was accidently retracted, and damage was so severe it was written off. [Second B-17 lost]
Eli Ross photo collection
New B-24 Liberator aircraft which had been converted to transports began to arrive in Mid-October and the first flight took place on the 19th of the month.
On 15 December 1944 [one year to the date of the first mail flight] Eli Ross was on leave when his normal aircrew of pilot F/L Horace Hillcoat AFC,AFM, navigator F/L Fred Labrish, AFC, and wireless F/O Cecil Dickson, AFC, depart Rabat Sale, Morocco, in Fortress 9203. Eli had been replaced by co-pilot F/L Alfred Ruttleledge, DFC, and bar. Twenty minutes before they were due to land at the French Morocco base in Azores, they called in for landing instructions. The B-17 and crew were never seen again and only a few mail bags were found floating in the Ocean. A South African Ventura was dispatched to the area and this aircraft also went missing. It was believed a German U-boat shot down both aircraft.
This would mark the third time Eli Ross had escaped death.
By mid-February 1945, the squadron had on strength nine Liberators, ten Dakotas, one Hudson and three B-17 Fortress aircraft. For the new B-24 Liberators LAC Freemantle created the same nose art insignia as painted on the B-17s however each one had a solid black tail.
This is RCAF 578, “QN” USAAF 44-10581, 27 July 44 to 7 July 1947
F/L John Harding, DFC, standing in front of RCAF “QK” #575 USAAF serial 44-10592,
27 July 1944 to 7 July 1947
John Harding was born in London, Ontario, in 1919, and joined the RCAF in 1941. He served in RAF Bomber Command as a navigator with the rank of Sgt. and after his first tour with No. 130 Squadron was promoted to Flight Lt. He flew 30 operations in Lancaster bombers with 130 RAF Squadron and completed another 20 operations in Lancasters with No. 550 Squadron RAF. He painted his Lancaster serial #4901 in 130 squadron with nose art of a Red Devil under the pilot cockpit area for his skipper Sid Burton, RAF.
After two tours with the RAF, F/L John Harding, DFC, arrived in Ottawa, posted to No. 168 Squadron for his third tour, flying in Liberators beginning early August 1944. He was not alone as other members of the squadron wore decorations and also had completed one or two operations overseas. Another famous WWII pilot F/O Johnny Bourassa, DFC, had completed 43 operations with No. 635 Pathfinder squadron, which was unheard of at that time due to the low survival rate. He later became a well known bush pilot who became lost on 18 May 1951, returning from Bathurst Inlet in North West Territories, and force landed on a northern lake. He left a note in his aircraft and departed on foot at 14:30 hrs 23 May 1951, but has never been found. His aircraft crash site was located on 15 September 1951, by an American B-17 Fortress flying to Edmonton, Alberta. I have a copy of his log book and for his third RCAF tour. He flew Dakota aircraft with No. 168 Squadron all over Europe, Biggin Hill, Brussels, Minden, Germany, Naples, Italy, Cairo, Egypt, Benghazi, Libya, Apeldoorn, Holland, Hengelo, Holland, and Bückeburg, Germany.
John Harding also related to me how No. 168 Mail Squadron had two pilots who came from rich families living in the Ottawa area, and they had used political power to have their sons posted to the much safer mail squadron. Some of the WWII veterans took a dislike to these pilots, including John Harding who refused to fly with one, which possibly saved his life. John was assigned to navigate the new Liberators, [first week in November 1944] while the pilot he did not respect was later killed, flying with his crew in the older B-17 Fortress aircraft.
The end of the war in Europe, 8 May 1945, did very little to change the daily operation of No. 168 Squadron, as the mail must still go through. The new Liberators had taken over the major work load, which included an increase in senior RCAF and civilian VIP passengers. Liberator 574 was extensively modified and became Canada’s first VIP official transport aircraft, flying the Prime Minister, Governor General and other cabinet ministers to meetings.
The RCAF Fortress would have one last moment of glory when #9205 and #9202 were rushed into a special delivery of penicillin from Canada to Warsaw, Poland in October 1945. Due to the increasing Cold War pressure the Russians had to first grant flying permission to the RCAF which they did. On 4 November 1945, Fortress #9202 hit a mountain near Muenster, Germany, and all five crew were killed.
F/L John Harding, DFC, flew his last operation as navigator in Fortress #9202 on 14 October 1944, and took this image at Gibraltar. The B-17 had completed thirteen compete round-trips, and was half-way to her next little mail bag painting.
Eli Ross collection
Loading the much needed miracle drug of penicillin into the fold-down nose cap of Fortress #9205, showing the solid white tail of the American Eagle “mail Squadron” insignia.
With the birth of another new year, 1946 would mark the end of No. 168 [H.T.] RCAF Squadron. On 3 March 46, the very last flight took place when Liberator #575 switched her engines off at Rockcliffe. When you look at the squadron records it shows the Liberators completed the most mail trips with an impressive three hundred and thirty-two, however the six B-17 Fortress aircraft were the trail blazers and completed two hundred and forty trips.
From 15 December 1943 to 21 April 1946, No. 168 [H.T.] Squadron delivered 9,125,000 pieces of Canadian service air mail, lost five aircraft and eighteen personnel killed in action. From the very beginning the six old American B-17 Fortress aircraft carried the work load, after they had already served a hard and useful American life, thus they required constant maintenance just to keep them flying. In the end, four B-17s would crash and their casualty list reached fifteen RCAF killed in action.
- B-17F RCAF #9203, lost at sea 5 December 1943. [Five killed]
- B-17E RCAF #9207, crashed Scotland, 2 April 1944. [Five killed]
- B-17F RCAF #9204, damaged beyond repair, Rockcliffe, 17 September 1944.
- B-17F RCAF #9202, hit mountain Muenster, Germany, 4 November 1945. [Five killed]
The two remaining B-17E surviving aircraft were #9205 and # 9206, which were sold by War Assets to a pilot in Argentina, where they both arrived on 12 April 1948. After a brief period of flying cargo, both were parked on the field at Moron, Argentina, where they were dismantled and hauled away for scrap in 1964.
Born in the family farm house, located six miles east of the small village of Acme, Alberta, on 24 March 1944, I grew up with the love of aviation and comic books. At age three, I saw a pattern for making a child’s uniform based on the RCAF uniform of WWII, and I wanted it. From the magazine pattern my mother made the uniform which I proudly wore on our train trip to Vancouver, B.C. in the summer of 1947. On my very first train trip, I met my very first girlfriend named Patsy Gibson, and had no idea that girls and uniforms would form a major part of my future aviation research.
Oh, the power of a pilot uniform.
The photo back reads – “Twenty minute train stop at Revelstoke, B.C.,
1 June 1947, girlfriend Patsy Isabel Gibson.
Growing up on our mixed farm of cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys, was constant day to day work, which gave me very little time for my love of drawing and painting airplanes, most of all the American B-17 Flying Fortress. Due to the fact all comics were American, I became an artistic expert on the Fortress, and dreamed of what it would be like to fly in such a famous aircraft. I grew up in a world with no electricity, no in-door plumbing and my entertainment became newspapers, comics, and radio programs. Unlike today’s computer generated fantasy world of super monster heroes, I had to use my imagination, which involved hours of flying in the B-17. In 1962, I jointed the Canadian Army Military [Provost] Corps and learned firsthand the impact of cartoons and art in the Armed Forces. This led directly to my future research and painting of WWII Aviation nose art, which began with the B-24 and B-17 aircraft of the 8th Air Force in England. In 1980, I joined the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, while I was busy editing my own column of the nose art used by the American who flew in England during WWII. I was learning what it was like to be a pilot in a B-17 during WWII, from the very veteran aircrews and making contact with the men who painted the Fortress nose art. This became the best part of my B-17 nose art research as I fully understood, I would never be able to fly in a real Fortress.
By 1990, I was completely consumed by nose art, working on an American nose art book with Jeffery Ethell, plus interviewing and recording as much as I could on the RCAF WWII nose art and artist. I learned the full history of the Calgary Lancaster FM136, a proud bomber that had marked the entrance to the Calgary Airport until 13 October 1977, when the new airport opened further north. The Lancaster was now exposed to vandals and pigeons, which left years of droppings inside the bomber. On 10 March 1992, a special committee was formed to move the Lancaster to a safer location. On 23 April 1992, the WWII Lancaster was removed from her pedestal where she had been placed on 11 April 1961. The original pedestal contained 140,000 pounds of cement and 8,000 pounds of steel which was secured inside the bomber fuselage attached to the main spar. Almost half of the bomb bay door was cut and removed for the cement base to fit inside the aircraft. This large section of bomb bay boor needed to be replaced for the new restoration.
In 1993, I spend two days with No. 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron at CFB Namao, Edmonton. I was researching the full history of Lancaster Mk. X, serial KB994, which Neil Menzies had donated to the squadron in July 1984. This bomber was donated for restoration but the new C.O. Lt. Col. Lee was an Army pilot and he strictly forbade any work to be completed towards the restoration. Frustrated the Air Force members returned the bomber to Menzies, who sold KB994 to Charles Church in England, which he planned to mate with KB976.
The two Lancaster aircraft owned by Charles Church in England,
date unknown, after 1988.
For some reason the two bomb bays doors from KB994 were never shipped to Charles Church in England and they remained near a storage fence in Edmonton. I photographed the doors on my visit in summer of 1993 and then informed 408 Helicopter Squadron that the Aero Space Museum of Calgary required two bomb bay doors.
In 1994, the original KB994 bomb bay doors were donated to the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, and restored into the Calgary Lancaster FM136. I obtained the scrap sections that remained for future nose art replica paintings. Then in the spring of 1996, I learned that the owner [Gordon Laing] of Sunwest Aviation in Calgary airport was bringing the B-17G “Sentimental Journey” to Calgary for a five day visit. It is not possible to describe my feelings at that moment.
The General Manager of the Aero Space Museum of Calgary was Mr. Everett Bunnell, an ex-WWII Flying Instructor, Mosquito postwar pilot, CF-100 jet pilot and British Bristol Air pilot. He was not an overly friendly person and ran ‘his’ museum like the wartime Air Force, he was top brass and did not speak to the “Erks.” I had been a museum volunteer for the past 16 years and wanted to welcome the Confederate Air Force and their B-17 and German He-111 to the City of Calgary. This was a no brainer for the WWII connection and the warm hospitality shown by the people of Calgary, so I approached Mr. Bunnell in his office for the one and only time. I wanted to know what the Aero Space Museum had planned to do and I wished to be involved, if possible. The reply from Mr. Bunnell was very upsetting, shocking, and totally unexpected. He informed me ” I don’t want a thing to do with the Yanks or their damn B-17 aircraft, period.”
I next approached Richard de Boer who was the third in charge at the time and we both expressed outrage over the remarks of Manager Bunnell, but he was boss and nothing could be done to change him. During my life, I found I do some of my best work when people tell me “no” or “you can’t do that, you’re not good enough.” I informed Richard I would paint a WWII nose art replica and present it to the CAF from myself, Richard de Boer, and the Aero Space Museum of Calgary.
I had just made contact with Eli Ross  and learned the full history of the six B-17’s that flew with the RCAF during WWII, and that triggered my nose art idea. I would paint the American Bald Eagle insignia that flew on the two RCAF B-17’s that hauled mail to England. From the bomb bay section of skin I saved from Lancaster KB994, I stripped the original paint, hand polished to a bright shine, and then painted the replica insignia of the RCAF WWII, B-17E, #9205 mail squadron.
The 1996 presentation to the Confederate Air Force, Arizona Wing, painted on original WWII Lancaster skin from bomb bay of KB994.
The two WWII aircraft of the Confederate Air Force, Arizona, Wing, arrived at Calgary International Airport on 28 July 1996 and the pilots were presented with white hats from the City of Calgary. I then approached the pilot of the B-17G, Sentimental Journey and presented him with the replica nose art of the WWII RCAF Mail Squadron. He was most pleased and ask me to tell him more about the use of the American B-17 by the RCAF during WWII, as he had no idea Canada flew any Fortress aircraft. After a brief history conversation, the pilot invited me to arrive at the airport the next morning at 5 am, and I would be taken for a ride in their B-17G. I didn’t sleep much that night as the excitement was running very high, plus it was such an impossible dream, now coming true.
The next morning I was taken onto the wing of the B-17, shown how they checked the oil on each engine and then I did my own pull through on one engine. You had to turn the props on each engine, five or six times to get the oil to coat the cylinders. [That may not be the correct terms but it is close]
This photo taken by the B-17G pilot is out of focus, however it captures the moment.
I was next instructed I could go anyplace in the bomber once we had reached our altitude of 6,000 ft, just be careful and hang on. We would be doing a pilot check ride and it would last for the next two hours. I was then introduced to the new pilot, who had in fact flown B-17s with the 15th Air Force during WWII, just amazing. Then came the start and warming of the four engines, while we sat between the two hangars at Sunwest Aviation.
In 1996, regulations did not allow the landing or take-off of any aircraft until 7 am, and then the Calgary Tower gave the visiting B-17 priority for first take-off. We proudly taxied past all the airliners waiting in line for take-off clearance.
This is what you see from the nose blister of a WWII B-17G during take-off from the Calgary International Airport, 29 July 1996.
Coming in to land with a few bugs on the nose. [Just think the pilot
and co-pilot are sitting eight feet behind you]
Even after the passage of almost twenty years, it is still hard to imagine what occurred in the next two hours of flying over southern Alberta. Twice the pilot shut down two engines, first the two inner, then restarted each, and then the two outer, then restated. Next came shutting down two engines on each wing, and for the first time I could imagine what it had been like for Eli Ross and crew to fly back to England on one and one/half engines. We then did three touch and go landings at the Calgary Airport, but the best was still to come. In the last hour we flew over my home town of Acme, Alberta, the very farm land I worked, hunted, and played on including the old farm house where I was born on 24 March 1944. This still ranks as the most touching aviation event I have experienced in my 70 years of life. All because of my one nose art painting.
To the Arizona Wing of the Confederate Air Force, now named the Commemorative Air Force, “Thank You.”