Canada’s “Thunder-Gander” PDF and text version

Canada’s “Thunder-Gander” PDF and text version

Research by Clarence Simonsen

Canada’s Thunder-Gander

Excerpt

Robert B. Cornelius Noorduyn was born at Nijmegen, Holland, in 1893, and after receiving his formal education began his aviation career in Germany and England.

In 1926, he made his first trip to Canada, selling Fokker aircraft to the Canadian Government and Mr. James A. Richardson, the ‘father’ of Canada’s earliest airlines. [Richardson would be destroyed by the Canadian Government and dirty politics]

Noorduyn soon realized Canada was a virgin playing field filled with huge possibilities for air transport in the far frozen north. In 1933, Robert began on and off designs of a new ski/float-equipped aircraft, which could operate in the Canadian intense cold winter climate.

In 1934, he rented an office on the top floor of the Canada Cement Building on Philips Square in Montreal, Canada, where a full sized mock-up in wood was created.  His new concept was based on many years of experience with the design work on the Fokker Universal and Bellanca Skyrocket aircraft.

This in depth history can be found online and in many excellent published books. Noorduyn stated – “his new design, would have to be tough as a rhino, and water adaptable as a duck.”


Text version with images.

Canada’s “Thunder-Gander”

 

Robert B. Cornelius Noorduyn was born at Nijmegen, Holland, in 1893, and after receiving his formal education began his aviation career in Germany and England.

In 1926, he made his first trip to Canada, selling Fokker aircraft to the Canadian Government and Mr. James A. Richardson, the ‘father’ of Canada’s earliest airlines. [Richardson would be destroyed by the Canadian Government and dirty politics]

Noorduyn soon realized Canada was a virgin playing field filled with huge possibilities for air transport in the far frozen north. In 1933, Robert began on and off designs of a new ski/float-equipped aircraft, which could operate in the Canadian intense cold winter climate.

In 1934, he rented an office on the top floor of the Canada Cement Building on Philips Square in Montreal, Canada, where a full sized mock-up in wood was created.  His new concept was based on many years of experience with the design work on the Fokker Universal and Bellanca Skyrocket aircraft.

This in depth history can be found online and in many excellent published books. Noorduyn stated – “his new design, would have to be tough as a rhino, and water adaptable as a duck.”

In 1942, Robert Noorduyn was interviewed by a Montreal reporter Mr. Lawrence Earl, and one page is worth reading for Canadian Aviation history sake.

The 29th built Norseman Mk. IV #2456 was used for world-wide publication.

The 94th constructed Norseman Mk. IV aircraft was taken on strength by the RCAF on 9 September 1942, given the serial #494.

Photo Tony Jarvis – Edmonton

First assigned to No. 3 Training Command [Montreal, Quebec] it remained in storage until 8 January 1943, transferred to No. 1 O.T.U. [Operational training Unit] at RCAF Station Bagotville, Quebec, where the above photo was taken. On 8 November 1944, the aircraft was returned to reserve storage at Eastern Air Command, Montreal. On 18 October 1945, the Norseman was flown to RCAF Station Mount Pleasant, Prince Edward Island, and placed into long term storage. On 1 August 1946, the aircraft was taken off strength by the RCAF and transferred to War Assets for disposal. On 5 May 1947, Norseman 494 was sold to Associated Airways at Edmonton, Alberta, for one dollar, and registered as CF-EIH. It was re-sold to McDonald Aviation Company in Edmonton on 29 May 1947, and passed its Certificate of Airworthiness on 8 August 1947. Flown by Charter Airways Ltd of Yellowknife, N.W.T., the aircraft crashed at Allen Lake on the Cameron River, 25 August 1947. Damaged beyond repair CF-EIH remained on the shore line for the next 46 years, and most of the original parts and wing sections were removed by first nation people who put them to a new use. In 1993, the remains of the aircraft were recovered by members of the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton, and slowly missing parts were located and restoration began.  The full history can be found in the archives of the Alberta Aviation Museum.

Cover from Alberta Aviation Museum Journal magazine 1998. – Tony Jarvis.

A well-known Alberta businessman, Mr. Sandy Mactaggart, and his U.K. based family donated $25,000 towards the restoration of CF-EIH and many missing parts were donated by Joe McBryan owner of Buffalo Airways, [“Ice Pilots”] fame]. After over 8,000 volunteer hours of labor the restored aircraft was unveiled on 18 April 1998, and dedicated to volunteer Chuck MacLaren.

Pilot Tony Jarvis [left] and author in front of “Thunder-Chicken” CF-EIH, 2013.

During the restoration of CF-EIH the remains of the original RCAF Norseman skins were not saved but thrown in the garbage. Pilot Tony Jarvis called the author and ask if I wanted them for my paintings and the answer was – Yes, Yes, please, Yes. I fully understood those were the original skins placed on the Norseman aircraft in Montreal, mid-August 1942, and not only flew the next three years with the RCAF, they also survived 46 years in the ice-cold waters of Allen Lake, N.W.T. That was just the type of original historical aircraft canvas I wanted for preserving my aviation paintings.

In 2010, the author retired and headed south to Mexico City, the birth place of my wife and where I had lived three or four weeks every year since 1990. The next four years would be spent living at many different locations where new relatives resided, both rich and poor. Two full years were spent a four-hour drive north of Mexico City, called San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato. It has a small lake and a tiny beach, but it is truly a gem of the art world, and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is best known as – “A Community of Artists” and it is a most special place which is still hidden from other tourist sites. Please Google the name and read, it is all true, and a hard place to leave, but always good memories.

It is impossible to describe and must be seen and enjoyed just once in your life, the streets are lined with mural art. The large main museum has every type of Mexican art in one huge street-like ex-factory complex, plus excellent food and drink.

My art room was bedroom size, where I painted four to six hours everyday and mixed Mexican true aviation with original Aztec and Maya history, which I had seen in person.

 

Mexican main building material is cement and stone of all shape, size, and colour. For the first time in my life, I was introduced to painting replica Maya art on original rock that dates back to ancient America, and you can really become immersed in all this skilled artistic past history. The above rock art was painted for a special day I experienced on 21 December 2012, the end of the Maya calendar known as the long count. This replica was the scene painted on the 14th century A.D. Codex which survives today in Dresden, Germany, [also survived WWII allied bombing] depicting the Maya sun and moon gods with a catastrophic flood. The Maya Long Count odometer turns over every 5,125.37 years, which was 21 December 2012, and there I stood with hundreds of Mexicans at the base of an ancient site and waited for the Apocalypse. Many Mexicans believed the end of the world was coming, with food offerings and prayers to their ancient gods. Nothing happened, the Gods were happy, no flood, so I went back to painting aircraft nose art.  We can all thank our Christian Gods for not naming an exact date of death and only stating in their Bible, the end will come on Judgement day. During my four years in Mexico, I had also transported soft aircraft skins taken from Noorduyn Norseman RCAF #494, for future aviation paintings.

This RCAF Tactical Helicopter war art was painted for the aviation component who were fighting in Afghanistan, original skin from Norseman #494, painted at San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and later presented to 1 Wing Headquarters, Kingston, Ontario, 16 December 2013.

The Canadian/Dutch Noorduyn Norseman is often called the “Thunder-Chicken” and will always be connected with two aviation accidents because of the famous personalities killed. Major Glen Miller, Director of the USAAF band, boarded a UC-64A Norseman in England on 15 December 1944, but never arrived in Paris.

On 20 May 1948, top-scoring RCAF fighter pilot ace George F. Beurling was ferrying a Norseman to Israel, when it caught fire over Rome, and he died in the fiery crash landing.

On 20 December 2012, I sent an email to Mr. Dennis M. Spragg, Senior Consultant, Glenn Miller Archive, American Music and Research Center, University of Colorado Boulder

Mr. Spragg had just finalized a comprehensive study on all aspects of the circumstances surrounding the Major Glenn Miller Norseman crash 15 December 1944, including over 5,000 pages of documents and first-hand reports. The research would soon be published in his book titled “Resolved.” I was not sure Mr. Spragg would even answer my email, [from Mexico] however he not only answered, he shared his research, answered all my questions, and gave in-depth advice on the correct painting of the Glenn Miller aircraft, Norseman USAAF serial 44-70285.

My painting began [2 January 2013] with a basic outline of the famous U.S.A.A.F. UC-64A type Norseman aircraft on original skin from RCAF Norseman serial #494. Photos were taken and submitted online to Dennis Spragg, who in turn replied with corrections and pages from his relevant documents and photograph base.

No complete aircraft photos of 44-70285 are known to exist, and many paintings have been completed showing different Glenn Miller Norseman markings. My interpretation would be based on the intense research conducted by Mr. Dennis Spragg and the Glenn Miller Archives at Boulder, University of Colorado, and Mr. Alan Cass. The Glenn Miller Norseman aircraft 44-70285 was the 550th aircraft constructed at Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in early July 1944.

 

Departure RAF Twinwood Farm at 1:55 pm, 15 December 1944.

 

The flight was charted over Beachy Head, England, via the normal American transport flight path. It did not reappear over Fecamp, France, [between 57 and 58 on map] on the other side of the English Channel, the standard route for American transport aircraft flight.

Photo sent by Dennis M. Spragg, showing Alconbury ground crew S/Sgt. Arthur Nanas posing with right foot on left wheel strut of Norseman #44-70285. Nanas testified the Norseman had maintenance repair on 12 December 1944, due to carburetor de-icing equipment malfunction, which was common in the UC-64A Norseman. The Board of Inquiry took this documented maintenance information into account when determining possible causes of the 15 December 1944 accident.

Painting completed in Mexico on 22 January 2013.

Original skin from Norseman RCAF #494

The author painting was based on the recorded known facts combined with the relevant documents and investigation conducted by Mr. Dennis M. Spragg, Glenn Miller Archives, American Music Research Center, University of Colorado Boulder, USA. The painting was mailed to Mr. Spragg in April 2013 and passed on to Mr. Alan Cass, Glenn Miller Archives.

 

Due to the fact this Canadian art was painted on original skin from RCAF Norseman #949, the Noorduyn Aviation Insignia and #94 [construction number] were included in the painting. An original strip of skin from Norseman #949 was also sent to the Glenn Miller Archives in an attempt to determine how many years the original skin of Norseman 44-70285 might survive in the English Channel.  RCAF Norseman #494 spent 46 years in fresh water at Allen Lake, [N.W.T.] Northwest Territories, Canada. The author’s surviving original #494 silver painted skin looked and felt like new material.

 

The RCAF was very slow to order their first Norseman aircraft, which had been offered to the Canadian Government in 1937, by Noorduyn himself, as a Canadian advanced trainer. Canadian officials still looked to Britain for building cheaper obsolete aircraft, and shipping British manufactured engines across the ocean, due to the simple fact Canadian’s could not manufacture top quality aircraft engines. The first major RCAF contracts came in May 1940, when 47 Mk. IV Norseman were ordered for navigational trainers. In total 759 Norseman were constructed for the USAAF and 79 for the RCAF. After fifty years of searching for a few good nose art examples that were painted on the famous Canadian [Thunder-Chicken] Norseman, I can still only find one, and it appeared in the RCAF at Gander, Newfoundland, which was not even part of Canada. I call this special forgotten simple “Canada Goose” Norseman aircraft nose art, “The Thunder Gander.”

The years between the two World Wars saw a great deal of turmoil in the Dominion of Newfoundland, which saw it revert back to the status of a British Crown colony. The “Rock” had become the Dominion of Newfoundland on 26 September 1907, but staggering under horrendous debt, they gave-up on self-governing and selected British rule by an appointed Commission of Government, with three members from Newfoundland and three from United Kingdom. In 1935, the Newfoundland airport originated in a signed agreement between Canada, United Kingdom, the free state of Ireland, and Newfoundland. In 1936, construction of the airbase commenced beside Gander Lake, and adjacent to the Newfoundland Railway line, which was very important for building supplies, etc. When the British Government declared war on Germany, 3 September 1939, Newfoundland was a British colony and this automatically brought Newfoundland into a state of war against Germany, seven days before the Canadian government declared war. With the United Kingdom struggling for survival and unable to find the resources to defend an invasion of Newfoundland, [Labrador] who had no money for any defence, negotiations for Canadian protection began. In May 1940, the Newfoundland airport was the largest in the world and with the fall of France, the defence of Newfoundland became even more precarious. As soon as an agreement for protection from Canada was signed by the Government of Newfoundland, the Newfoundland airport was placed under control of the RCAF and Canadian Department of Transport personnel. The RCAF moved in on 5 May 1941, Commanding Officer Group/Capt. A. Lewis, while most of the buildings were still under construction at RCAF Station, Newfoundland Airport. On 1 November 1941, the name in the Daily Diary becomes RCAF Station Gander, Newfoundland. On 1 December, the first edition of the station magazine is published, title – The “Gander” RCAF Station Gander, Newfoundland.

 

The first RCAF Gander base aircraft, a D.H. Fox Moth arrives on 17 December, given RCAF Instructional Airframe #A135.

The second edition Vol. 1, #2, arrives in early January 1942, complete with impressive cover art of a flying Goose by squadron artist Sgt. R.G. Falconer.

 

The back cover contains a single drawing of a Canada Goose, wearing a pilot helmet, and saluting with his right wing. This art by Sgt. Falconer becomes an instant hit with all members, and the RCAF Gander will now become the mascot, badge, insignia, trademark, and even rare aircraft nose art at RCAF Gander, Newfoundland.

Crest Craft in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, manufactured a number of different “Gander” crests which were worn by RCAF members from Canada and Newfoundland with pride.

The next Crest Craft design was created for the Gander Signals Section, a rare “Ganderia Wogosid” wireless bird.

In July 1934, Imperial Airways of London, England, purchased two D.H. 83 aircraft equipped with floats, for operation in the Newfoundland Government Air Service. In August 1934, they were registered as VO-ABC [#4093] and VO-ADE [#4094]. While anchored during a windstorm, 25 September 1934, both aircraft were damaged by a log boom and VO-ABC could not be repaired. VO-ADE was salvaged and required extensive repairs before returning to service. On 11 January 1938, VO-ADE made the first inauguration flight into the new Newfoundland Airport, and this history can be found online.

This free domain image dated 12 January 1938, records the special aviation moment, and the special markings on D.H. Fox Moth VO-ADE. The special orange markings on the Fox Moth can be found online in model sites and other fine publications. This aircraft made the last official Newfoundland Government Air Service flight from St. John’s to Gander on 24 February 1941, and was then turned over to RAF Ferry Command. On 17 December 1941, the Fox Moth was taken on strength at RCAF Gander, Newfoundland, and used as an Instructional Airframe, given RCAF # A135. At some unknown date the aircraft was painted RCAF yellow and received the famous nose art of the Newfoundland Gander.

The author believes these were the possible RCAF colours applied to A135, but photos are very hard to find. In 1944, F/O Horace William “Jimmy” Westaway C10734, RCAF Gander Mercy Flight pilot, had his photo taken in front of Fox Moth A135. This image was found in the Daily Diary and is very bad quality, however it confirms the unofficial “Gander” nose art did in fact appear on the famous Fox Moth airframe. The correct colours of the aircraft striping are unknown. This trainer aircraft did not require any RCAF code letters of national markings, only the A135 which most likely appeared on the tail fin. Any RCAF images of this aircraft would be appreciated by the author. The RCAF Fox Moth was damaged beyond repair at Gander Bay on 22 February 1944, struck off strength by Government of Newfoundland on 24 October 1945.

The first Norseman #2479 to arrive at RCAF Gander was the 52nd built, assigned to No. 12 Squadron, Rockcliffe and Search and Rescue Command on 9 March 1942. Taken on strength Gander in mid-July 1942, crashed at Ochre Pit Cove, [near St. John’s] Newfoundland, 21 August 1942.

 

 

Norseman #3527, the 71st built was assigned to No. 3 Training Command 14 September 1942, placed into reserve storage, arrived RCAF Gander in early April 1943. Flew Newfoundland training and mercy flights the next five months. On 19 September 43, transferred to E.A.C. and assigned No. 121 “C” Squadron. Flew in Western Canada [Alberta] until 12 June 1947. Destroyed in No. 1 Hangar fire at Edmonton, Alberta. [#2485 was also destroyed in fire].

On 7 October 1942, two D.H. 82C Tiger Moth aircraft with floats were taken on strength at RCAF Gander, Newfoundland, used for rescue work. It is unknown if these different aircraft, Norseman #2479, Lysander #447, and Tiger Moth float planes #9693 and #9695 ever carried RCAF Gander nose art. [Needs research]

RCAF #491, the 91st constructed Norseman, 9 September 42, arrived Eastern Air Command on 7 November 42, to RCAF Gander April 1943. Category “A” accident at Torbay, Newfoundland, 26 October 1944. The author believes this Norseman possibly carried the first unofficial RCAF Gander nose art, however photos are required for proof.

The fourth and last Norseman assigned RCAF Gander on 13 August 1943, the 138th built, serial RCAF #789. Constructed for the USAAF the aircraft was Lend-Least to the RCAF for Air-Sea rescue missions.

 

Photo – Gander RCAF magazine Summer 1945

Constructed for the USAAF as 43-5147, delivered 10 June 1943, and then lend-lease to the RCAF, receiving serial #789, arrived RCAF Gander, Newfoundland, August 1943. RCAF pilot F/O “Jimmy” Westaway was posted to RCAF Gander on 13 June 1943, and this became his main “Mercy” flight sea/rescue aircraft.

Norseman RCAF #789 was painted with impressive “Gander” nose art.

The main pilot for “Mercy” flights was Officer-Commanding RCAF Air-Sea rescue at Gander, Flying Officer “Jimmy” Westaway. The second pilot was F/O Labreche, and the mechanic, who flew on all missions was Cpl. Upton, [above] with nose art on Norseman #789. The 6 September 1944, rescue flight was published in RCAF Wings magazine September the same year, with F/O Westaway standing beside “Gander” nose art on trainer RCAF Fox Moth #A135.

 

The RCAF Gander, Newfoundland, continued to be used in Victory Loan drive art and even the Officer’s Christmas Menu for 1945.

 

 

The RCAF Gander insignia appeared on the rear cover of the Gander magazine on the last issue published in June 1945. The USAAF side of the base even copied and used the same insignia on two humorous certificates [Master Fog Eater] issued for time posted in Newfoundland.

 

The little Canadian nose art lady “Sierra Sue” landed at Gander on her return to Canada from England. RCAF Lancaster Mk. X serial KB746, VR-S [for Sue] flew the fourth most trips of all Canadian built Lancaster’s, surviving 68 operations. Above photos taken at Pearce, Alberta, September 1945, where “Sue” was scrapped two years later.

 

In the summer of 1945, [August] RCAF Gander demobilized while the airport remained an important commercial transport landing base. As the years passed, the WWII RCAF Gander was slowly forgotten and just disappeared. The military returned in 1957, however a Gander did not reappear until 1 April 1993, the date CFB Gander was renamed 9 Wing Gander with an official flying Goose insignia and badge. RCAF history had repeated itself with a design close to the original that was created in December 1941, for a foreign country, Newfoundland.

The Flying Gander created by RCAF artist Sgt. R.G. Falconer in December 1941, [when Newfoundland was a British Colony] once again flies with 9 Wing Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. On 1 April 1924, the prefix “Royal” was officially adopted to the Canadian Air Force, and 1 April 2024 marks their 100th Birthday. The original Gander insignia is eighty-three years old.

Author replica “Gander” painting on original Norseman aircraft skin from RCAF #494, aircraft preserved today at Alberta Aviation Museum, Edmonton, Alberta. Will the WWII “Thunder Gander” even fly over Newfoundland again?  How about April 2024, the 100th Anniversary of the RCAF, over to you “Mother Goose” [Lt. Colonel Lydia Evequoz] C.O. of 9 Wing Gander Newfoundland, Canada. This nose art flew with the first RCAF sea/rescue flight at Gander, Newfoundland, 1942-45.