Harvard Aircraft

 

I have covered in earlier stories, my experiences of flying the Tiger Moth the primary trainer of the Air Force, as well as our hurried trip to North America to carry out the next step of my Flying career, Service Flying.

 

As it turned out we need not have been denied our final leave, we had been given three days to say our good byes. As soon as we arrived at Edmonton, Canada, which I’m sure is one of the coldest places in the world, we were put on hold. We waited months for a position to materialise in the Service Flying schools, and to commence our course. What we didn’t realize that at the time, they were actually prolonging our lives An Air Force Pilot, at that time, would seem to have a very short shelf life. This was brought home to me by something that happened at Taieri. On the walls of one of the Pilots rooms they had hung the ‘class pictures’ of the pilots who had passed out from each course. As and when they were killed, and they were, they had coloured in their white cap flashes in red. I discovered to my horror that there were very few survivors in the initial twenty five courses, everyone seem to be either ‘Killed In Action’ or posted as ‘missing’. As we waited and whiled away six months or more, the Canadian Air Force which we were now part of, did their best to keep us busy, by teaching us Navigation and many of the other skills we were going to require in the future. From them we learnt some very valuable lessons, and a lot about the weather. One threat was Icing, either in the carburettor, or on the wings. Another phenomena that killed people, and you should know about, especially if you are flying. It’s called ‘White-out’ and this can happen at any time that there is snow around, and the light conditions are correct. It can hide a whole mountain range from sight, even though it’s immediately in front of you, it’s just impossible to see it. Never was there a truer Homily than, ‘There are rocks in clouds’. Skiers and Mountain Climbers would be familiar with this same phenomena, as ‘White Outs’ are experienced in the mountains too, under certain conditions

 

A classic example of what it can do, would be to the Air New Zealand’s DC10 that flew unknowingly into Mount Erobus, even though it was right in front of them in plain sight. There would be two reasons why this happened. One, a senior captain was flying the Air Craft, I would imagine he had never experienced a ‘White Out’ from his behaviour, he would have also scorned the presence of a junior ex Air Force pilot on the flight deck who had. He also broke another cardinal rule, and went down lower than his instructions allowed. This was in an area where he didn’t know exactly where he was. He had been instructed to keep above 3050 metres. To muddy up the waters, an inquiry then allowed lawyers into the equation. They got carried away regarding navigation ‘Way Points’, and pinned the blame onto the wrong people. The Air Craft navigation ‘Way Point’ got them very close to where they wanted to go, but they were in the wrong valley and they would have been using ‘visual flight rules’. In a ‘White Out’, this system can get you killed, and it did. The Inspector of Air Accidents Ron Chippindale got it right, ‘Pilot Error’, was his finding, but he was ignored.

 

Another phenomena they had in Canada, and I imagine in other cold places that is ‘Super Cooled Rain’ . It’s actually rain that’s below freezing point, but doesn’t turn into ice until it strikes something. When it happens, it festoons trees with icicles, breaks off large branches. Drags down power lines. It is also deadly to Air Craft. One instructor said to me, ‘Should you ever encounter it, Go back to where you were, because there was none there.’ The closest example I have seen in New Zealand, is in Central Otago, where they fight frost with water spray, and the fruit trees in orchards are festooned with icicles.

 

It had to happen and it did, finally we were sent over to Ontario to a small village called Dunnville. It was on the edge of Lake Erie and had an Air Field built on it’s outskirts. It was one of several, all built through out the State, all to exactly the same design. So in bad weather you had to be very careful you were actually landing on your home station. We did a lot of of flying in what I would call very Bad Weather, and at Night. My worst experience ever, was flying in an snow storm one night that hadn’t been forecast . I found my way home then, more by good luck than good management, but many that night were lost, and forced down.

 

The Harvard our trainer was a wonderful plane to fly, it was the Air Craft selected to bring us up to ‘Wings’ Standard, although some variants of the machine were actually used on operations. We also had several twin engined Air Craft such as Ansons, which lumbered around for Navigation Instruction. Why they bothered I didn’t know, as a single engined pilot, you were alone, and at night, you had a map strapped on one leg, a calculator on the other, in poor light, you really didn’t have the ability to carry out difficult navigational problems. We all had problems, as this was a hard discipline to master. Frank and George, fellow trainees decided to minimise their risk in a long solo Cross Country, with Frank waiting with parachute at the end of the strip all unknown to the hierarchy and going along to assist. In spite of this, they still got well and truly lost, ending up in jail after doing a forced landing hundreds of miles down into America. We unfortunately lost two other fellow trainees in separate air accidents, which was about par for the course.

 

And what did I think of the Harvard as a machine to fly? It was very noisy, powerful, in fact some of the pilots I knew, are having hearing problems today. I was told I too could apply for a pension, but I’m not effected. On the credit side It was easy to fly, providing you did exactly as taught. Forget to uncage your gyro when taking off at night, in a flash it would kill you, and did in many cases, because once you left the strip there was nothing but darkness and no outside reference to which way was ‘up’, then you had to rely solely on your instruments, which you couldn’t if your prime directional instrument had toppled, or remained in the locked position.

 

All things come to an end, one day our instruction did cease, and we were declared skilled enough to be awarded our wings, with five times the hours our predecessors had before they were pushed into combat. Then I was granted more than wings, I had found a new confidence.

 

 

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