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,
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,
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 of 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:
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
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
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.