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Jim Northrup

James R. Northrup, 1943.Jim Northrup had recently completed training at No. 18 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) Boundary Bay, British Columbia, when he was posted to No. 3 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) Calgary. In this excerpt, he recalls the road to earning his Wings and the pride he felt in having been trained as a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) man in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).


On arrival at No.3 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) we were assigned to a barrack block, issued sheets and blankets, and shown where the mess was located. It was suppertime, so we had a meal and were told that we would be processed the next day. Things happened fast right after breakfast. Our course was No. 48, "G" Flight. However, as there were no instructors or aircraft available, the class would do two weeks of ground school, while they got the flight organized. We studied meteorology, navigation, theory of flight, the Cessna Crane and spent time in the Link Trainer, We were also introduced to K. R. Air, and the rules of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). At that time, we were also told what would be expected of us when we graduated as either Sergeant Pilots or Pilot Officers.

The instructors were a real good bunch, but, as usual, we were instructed at a very fast pace. It was keep up or else. However, there was time for physical training, basketball and a game called "Borden" ball, played with a Canadian football—one had to pass the ball every three seconds and, together with all the running, one worked up quite a sweat. Further, as this was winter, lots of snow was on the ground, which limited our time on the parade square. No one complained.

Finally the big day arrived. The class was marched down to the flight room where we met our flight commander and instructors. I tell you we were very impressed. They were all smartly dressed officers with those beautiful coveted Wings in evidence. My friend Bob Crosby and I, together with Harry Lester and Ken McQuaig, were assigned to Pilot Officer Jim Corcoran, who hailed from Vancouver. He was age 27, married with five children. 

He soon marched us out to brand new Cessna Crane, number 8705. What a thrill that was! After doing the usual visual ground check, we all got into the Cessna for a familiarization flight. Each student was given 15 minutes in the left-hand pilot's seat, and landed. You can bet we were quite an excited group. Two engines, flaps, a retractable undercarriage, trim on both elevator and rudder pedals, which enabled the plane to be flown hands-off. It had a mixture control, carburetor heater, light switches and gas shut-offs. How in the world were we to remember all these things?

Instructor Corcoran said to study hard as our flying training was to begin the next day...and we were to solo in four hours flying time. I had no trouble meeting this deadline and was the first of Corcoran's students to solo. The maximum time allowed was six hours. If you didn't solo by then you were washed-out. However, all 16 of us made it and we moved on to forced landings, precautionary landings, navigation, and instrument flying...I liked flying on instruments and became very good at it. Later, on operations, this ability got me and my crew out of some very sticky situations. 

Night flying finally commenced and I still remember my first flight. It was a dark night, no moon or clouds, and a light wind from the west. The flare path and the lights oCourse 48 just before wings parade at No. 3 SFTS Calgary, 1943.f Calgary really sparkled, and on my first circuit I made a perfect three-point landing...

They did not give us much time off, but life at the station was quite pleasant. The airmen's canteen had everything we needed and you could get a glass of beer, a coke, milkshakes and hamburgers, for instance. There was, in addition, a barber and tailor shop and a large hall where entertainers put on plays and sing-songs...

Flying Training continued as did ground school and time in the Link Trainer. Happily, I passed my Wings instrument test with no trouble and only had one more major hurdle to face—the night navigation flight. This test was done under the close eye of the Flight Commander. There were two students on board, one to fly the aircraft and the other to navigate. Bob Crosby and I were selected as a team and were to fly a Tri-Angle Course, Calgary-Red Deer-Drumheller-Calgary. The duration: two hours.

I was flying and Crosby was navigating. It was a disaster. The aircraft wallowed all over the sky and the only thing that got us back to base intact were the Turner Valley flares! To put it mildly, the Flight Commander was somewhat upset about this turn of events. However, he told us that we were to fly the next day, Crosby as the pilot and me as the navigator. Needless to say, I was no better a navigator than Crosby, so it was a repeat performance, the Turner Valley Flares getting us back home again.

Crosby and I had flown together a lot during the course and never did much navigating. In our mind we had other more interesting things to do. The plot thickens. The Flight Commander informed our instructor, Pilot Officer Corcoran, he would have to get us past this hurdle, as he was not going to fly with such dummies again, Well, we had to wait a few days while some of the other chaps did their trips. This gave us time to get into the books. 

On April 15th, 1942, in Cessna Crane No. 8153 at 1100 hrs, we took off again. I was pilot and Crosby was navigating. Pilot Officer Corcoran was in the right-side seat and Leading Aircraftman Witherwick, ground crew, was along for the ride. This was common practice for ground crew, as this qualified them for the 75-cent flying pay for the day. 

The night was clear, and Crosby and I operated as a well-oiled machine. I was keeping count of all the little towns we flew over, and I knew exactly how many there were between Calgary and Red Deer. We hit Red Deer right on the estimated time of arrival (ETA) and turned for Drumheller. Everything was going great and we arrived over Drumheller right on our ETA. I turned onto the new course given to me by Crosby. Calgary here we come. 

About 10 minutes into that leg something went awry and the port engine quit! I immediately went into single engine procedure, thinking Corcoran had turned off the gas to test me, but almost immediately the starboard engine came to a halt! 

Quickly, Corcoran and I both reached under the seats to make sure the gas shut-off levers were in the "on" position. They were. I activated our flares but they failed to operate! Pilot Officer Corcoran did not hesitate and gave the order, "Bail Out!" Crosby was out the door first and walked right to the end of the wing before diving off. I had the control column cranked to full starboard to keep the aircraft level. The Leading Aircraftman went next and got hung up in the door and we lost considerable height before he got free. 

I got out and Corcoran was right behind me. I dove straight out and turned over on my back in time to see the tail plane pass over me. Then, I pulled the ripcord and, when nothing happened, I thought, "the darned thing didn't work!" For some strange reason it never crossed my mind that I would hit the ground and be killed. Then, all of a sudden, there was a tremendous jerk on my body as the parachute opened. About five seconds later I hit the ground hard and most of the air was driven out of me. Luckily it was a newly ploughed field and not too hard. I frantically gathered my parachute as we had been instructed to do (there was no wind so I really did not have to do this so quickly, but we had been well-trained and I did it anyway). I knew Corcoran could not be far from me so I gave a shout and he answered. He came along carrying his ‘chute and we started to walk back along our track to see if we could find the other two. We came across Witherwich first, he was okay. We walked well over a mile before we found Crosby who, we found, was also okay.

We had come down just outside of a little town called Rosebud. We came up to a farm house and, after considerable knocking, an upstairs window opened and a voice asked what the devil we wanted. We explained the situation and the voice said to "hold on." The door opened and a man with a lamp appeared and asked us to come in. 

This fellow was no more than five feet tall, but was as full of hospitality as all the prairie people were. He had no phone but said he would be glad to drive us back to the station and we could phone on the way. He had a fairly new Chevy sedan but being so short, he looked right through the steering wheel. He drove like he was in the Indy 500, and as we flew along the gravel roads and went around turns in great slides, we all figured our time had come. He didn't slow down until we arrived at the gate at No.3 Service Flying Training School. It was now 0600hrs, but Wing Commander Dunlop was up to thank the gentleman. He had a sergeant take him to the Sergeants Mess for breakfast and the car taken to the Motor Transport section to be washed, completely serviced, and filled with gas.


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