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Bill Belford

William (Bill) Belford grew up on a wheat and sheep farm in the northern wheat belt of western Australia. Belford joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in June 1943. He underwent initial training in Perth and his elementary training in Cunderdin. He was then drafted to Canada, arriving at the No. 3 Manning Depot (MD) in March 1944. Posted at No. 36 Service Flying Training School (SFTS), Penhold, Belford trained on a twin-engine aircraft, the Airspeed Oxford Mk 2. He received his wings in August, but owing to a surplus of pilots in Europe, was sent back to Australia.

In this excerpt from his memoirs, "One Airman’s Odyssey," Belford describes some of the unique aspects of flying in Alberta.

William BelfordAs summer advanced, all traces of snow on the prairie slowly disappeared and the snow line on the Rockies retreated upwards until only the highest peaks retained any snow at all. The countryside became a lush green as wheat crops grew and eventually ran into head. The time available for growing at this latitude was limited from the time the ground thawed out in May until the onset of winter by mid-October. As a result, the method of harvesting was to cut the wheat in September and leave it lying on the ground until October when it had dried out sufficiently to allow the heads to be threshed of their grain.

A thresher was used for this purpose, but in this process they tended to sweep up large amounts of wheaten chaff into large mounds. All this we observed whilst undertaking our flying exercises around Red Deer, and we found it very exhilarating to dive on these mounds and climb steeply away with full power on. It was amazing how far we could spread one of those mounds. The farmers were not impressed and continually complained to administration about it, but there was not a great deal that could be done, unless someone admitted that they had been responsible.

Pilot navigation was by "Dead Reckoning," which meant careful map reading of the intended track. This meant that we plotted our course for a cross-country exercise by first drawing a straight line on our map from our base, Penhold, to the destination or destinations and back to base. After receiving the forecasted wind speed and direction from the meteorology section covering our intended journey, we were able to calculate the compass heading required to keep us on track. Having calculated our expected ground speed, we then marked off where we should be along the track at each five-minute interval. It was then fairly easy to keep to our intended flight path by keeping a sharp lookout for any special features that we knew to be along the way.

Special features could be a major road, a railway line, a body of water (lake or river) or a town. That was the theory. In practice, however, around Red Deer we had a far better and more relRed Deer, Albertaiable source—the local topography. First, there was the railway line running north and south from Edmonton to Calgary and through Red Deer. Second, there was the Red Deer River that ran through the town. Finally, each town along the railway line had large wheat silos with the name of the town painted on them in very large letters. So, any one who got lost on a cross-country exercise around Red Deer in daylight should never have been flying there.

Although visual navigation at Penhold was relatively simple, there was one peculiarity of which we had to be aThe Rockies, Canada.ware. Throughout the world, a compass heading did not necessarily indicate true-north bearing. An allowance for this variation, as it was called, had to be made on the plane's compass setting. At Cunderdin in western Australia, this was not significant, as the variation was only four degrees. But at Penhold it was 26 degrees east. If you forgot to set your compass correctly before take off, you would soon be in trouble. All aeronautical maps showed this variation as a line drawn across the map with the amount of variation shown beside the line, rather like an isobar on a weather map. It remained permanent so there was no problem in finding out what it was anywhere. It was caused by the structure of the earth where one was, so I suppose that the proximity of the Rockies caused the large variation in Alberta.

 

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