Pilot tired of his daredevil tactics

FROM our April 2014 issue

By John Moyles – Emerald Park, Sask.

The story titled ‘Daring Aviators’ by Magdelina Bernier in the January 2014 issue, brought back many memories of that era.

There was one cause for pilots violating the rules and regulations, often resulting in fatal accidents, which should be mentioned. There were many aircrew trades, navigators, bomb aimers, gunners, radio operators, and flight engineers. Many stations were established across Canada for the training of these aircrew trades.

The stations required staff pilots to fly the trainees when they were practicing their trades. Often these were recruited from classes graduating from pilot training schools.

One can imagine the disappointment and frustration of a young man who had worked hard to obtain his wings, and anticipated a transfer overseas to a fighter or bomber combat squadron, to suddenly be posted to a Canadian training base to be a glorified taxi driver flying aircrew trades on their training exercises. Some accepted it, hoping for an overseas posting later, but others took out their frustrations by violating flying regulations, often causing accidents and casualties.

In October 1941, I was training as a radio operator in Calgary Wireless School. I had one flying exercise to complete before moving on to gunnery school. We were to fly, in our Tiger Moth aircraft heavily loaded with wireless equipment, at 3,000 feet over foothills west of Calgary, to 4 locations, and I was to send in a position report at each location. To do this I had to manually crank out 200-feet of trailing aerial, which had lead weights on the end.

After finishing my last position report, I advised the pilot the exercise was complete. He said, “Ok, hang on, we’re going down to have some fun.”

I then realized I had one of the frustrated staff pilots. As he dropped the nose of the aircraft straight down, I madly started cranking in the trailing aerial. As the pilot pulled out of his dive just above the ground, the aerial cable jammed. The pulley indicated that only 5-feet of the cable, which would be the lead weight section, remained outside of the aircraft.

I reported this to the pilot, but he was too busy shooting up a farmyard to reply. Chickens were flying in all directions.

Eventually the pilot tired of his daredevil tactics and headed for the Calgary airport. On landing we checked the reason for the aerial not coming fully into the aircraft and saw that the weights were tangled around a cow’s horn, which had been freshly torn from the animal’s skull. If this became common knowledge, the pilot would be charged with low flying and receive a black mark on his record.

He ordered me to clean up the mess, get rid of the horn, and not to tell anyone. I got a pail of water and rag, cleaned everything, wound the cable onto the pulley, and tossed the horn into a garbage disposal bin in the hangar. As far as I know, there were no repercussions from the incident.

After the war, a decorated fighter pilot told me about going through the disappointment of being posted to a training school instead of overseas to a fighter squadron when he got his wings, and how he relieved his frustrations.

He was a staff pilot flying navigator trainees in the twin engine Avro Anson aircraft from a Manitoba training base. After his students had completed a night exercise, he would survey the dark prairies searching for a train on the railway line. He’d then drop down to ground level, approach the engine head-on, and turn on his landing lights.

The engineer would suddenly be faced with bright lights coming down the tracks. Anticipating a collision, he would slam on full brakes, causing showers of sparks to fly from the wheels. The pilot would douse his lights and roar up over the locomotive engine, leaving the engineer wondering what had happened.

This pilot did get an overseas posting to a fighter squadron.