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William Coulter

William (Bill) T. Coulter trained at No. 36 Service Flying Training School (SFTS), Penhold, from January until September 1944. In the following excerpt, he describes a mid-air collision that occurred over one of the schools satellite fields.


Course 101 C and D Flights, Royal Air Force (RAF) Station Penhold, Alberta, No. 36 Service Flying Training School (SFTS).To speed up training, a couple of satellite fields were used for circuit and landing training. The field we used was a bare field, with three runways arranged in a triangle—one runway being active, the other two being used for taxi purposes. A mobile control tower was driven alongside the take-off point of the active runway and controlled take offs and landings by means of an Aldis lamp....

We could watch the approach path to see the aircraft arriving and be ready for our turn to use the runway. There were two aircraft on approach, both on the centre line and both with nearly the same rate of descent. As they got nearer the runway, it was obvious that the second aircraft was too close and descending slightly faster than the leading one.

Vision forward and down was not available in the Oxford while seated in the cockpit, so the lower aircraft was hidden from the upper aircraft’s crew.

The controller was out of the cab with the lamp lead at full stretch, trying to shine a red at number two from a position where number one could not see it. If number one tried to overshoot, he would go straight into the path of number two. The longer the controller waited, the worse the situation became. He went from cab to the full extent of the lamp, led away from the runway and sighted his lamp without success. He rushed towards the runway, still with no luck.

At 30 feet above the ground, the top aircraft hit the bottom one. A heap of wood engines and bodies landed at the threshold. My instructor leaned over and said, "No one will walk away from that mess." To our amazement the pile shook and four people got out to brush themselves down, shook hands and walked away. It was the ultimate heavy landing—the engines of the top aircraft lay alongside the engines of the bottom aircraft, so close was the alignment of the airframes on impact.

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