Petatales Of Petawawa

400 SQUADRON NON-HISTORICAL WRECKOLLECTION
CANADIAN FORCES BASE PETAWAWA – ONTARIO - 1971

BY CARL MILLS
June 2016

JUST LIKE THE MARINES

Before being assigned as the engineering officer at 400 Squadron, I had been a techie classroom instructor with a crew of NCOs at the Wing HQ.  Our job was to instruct young and new recruits in preparation for the upcoming annual summer training - at a location in Canada.

In 1971, there was a two week gap between high school completion and the annual training program in Edmonton for the new trainees.  Coincidently, the summer camp for 400 Squadron was at CFB Petawawa and matched the gap.  It was decided that the trainees should attend the 400 camp during this time gap – good military experience - right.


At Petawawa, everyone had a tent amongst the trees near the gravel airstrip, and the twenty trainees had a single marquee-type tent with bunk-beds.  The first night, they raised hell until about 0200.  Finally, I got dressed and, with my flashlight, determined that the interior of the tent space had been pretty much trashed.   It was raining and I told them that if there was any more noise they would spend the remainder of the night in the rain.  They got the message.

The next night, it was the same thing but there was no rain.  The decision was to wear them down.  At 0600, there was loud and prolonged whistle inside their tent.  They were all to be up and dressed, with boots and caps – standing at attention in two rows, in front of the tent.  It was a bright and frosty morning and the birds were chirping.


I was a really good skier and skied most weekends plus took a vacation in either the Rockies or the Alps every year through the winter months.  Jogging was all part of this.  At 0600, me and my “troops” – in double file, doing double time - headed out of the bush toward the gravel runway for an 8,000 foot round-trip run.


It wasn’t just jogging, they also had to chant – just like the Marines – we didn’t have any good “chants” so we used Christmas carols  and “Jingle Bells” was the favourite.  Chanting “Jingles Bell” in June while running in the woods was really odd and even the deer thought that we were crazy.


It worked and some others even joined the runs.  The Army heard about the events and I think that the CO got some off-hand remarks from the Base.  We became known as the “Jingle Bats”.

The highlight came one morning when there was an early departure of an Otter aircraft.  We were about halfway down the runway when the Otter began the takeoff roll from behind us.  We heard the aircraft catching up to us.  I knew the aircraft should be at least 100 feet in the air when it went past the troops so that there was no danger.  However, the pilot had other ideas and the noise kept getting louder and louder. 

The pilot decided to hold the Otter wheels at just five feet above the gravel runway until he had passed us at about 80 knots.  The wing went over the troops and the wheel went past my head – I could have touched it.  Then he did a “tiger pull-up” and disappeared in a turn over the trees.
There we were chanting, “O Little Town of Bethlehem………” – the deer watching – and this wheel – still spinning – was on the run with us.  I think that this is the closest that any of us had ever been to a flying aircraft.  I’m sure that the deer “talked” about us for years after.

STUMPED

We went to Petawawa for summer Camp to support a significant Army exercise and became an integral part of the exercise.  Because 400 was an integral component, the Army Command level insisted that the CO be assigned a jeep with a driver.  The CO was flying a lot and, therefore, he re-assigned the privileges of the jeep to others which led to total misuse and a dismal existence for the Army driver.


Everyone wanted to drive the jeep and almost everyone outranked the poor fellow who would reluctantly give up the required paperwork and keys.  Then, he would helplessly watch as his machine disappeared overflowing with reckless Air Force types.   He would then have to clean and refuel as required in his job description.  To solve the driver problem, we sent him flying all the time.  He had never been to Toronto but got at least five visits.  He was much like “Radar” in MASH.


The jeep was constantly missing but always return to “400” at some time.  The jeep was not to go off base so that using the main gate would cause capture.  However, the gravel strip was near the highway and there was a gate.  There were several unauthorized trips to town for refreshments.  The driver took to drinking the “refreshments” and wanted to join the Air Force.


Just two days before the end of camp and after a night of roaring around the bush, the jeep did not return.  A search was set in motion but no jeep – the driver was frantic.  Someone got on the roof of the shack beside the runway with binoculars but nothing was seen.  We were stumped.


Then, a returning flight spotted the vehicle in a field of stumps about a quarter mile away. A group of six, including the driver, set-out in the general direction and it was soon located.

It had crashed into a stump and the front axle had come to rest on top of the stump.  The wheels were suspended in the air, well above the ground, and it could not move.  A few feet in front of the jeep was a ten-foot drop into a creek.  The engine had been left running so that it was out of gas.  It was covered in mud and the driver was crying.


An Army recovery team finally got the machine free and a post-camp report with a photo showed the jeep clean but covered in Air Force decals.

We were no longer stumped.


No one ever saw the driver again but at a military conference, some decades later, someone comment that a General looked very much like “Radar”.



SILVER DART FINAL CRASH – RE-ENACTMENT

We all know that the first flight in Canada was at Baddeck, NS by John McCurdy in Feb. 1909 in the Silver Dart.  However, many may not know that the last flight of the Silver Dart was at Petawawa a few months later.


Dr. Bell had arranged for flight demonstrations by John McCurdy and “Casey’ Baldwin to the Canadian Army at Petawawa.  In an early morning pre-demo flight with McCurdy flying and Baldwin sitting on the wing (the first ever passenger flight in Canada) the Dart hit a berm and cartwheeled.  It rolled into a mass and the two fellows, both uninjured, had to pry themselves out of the wreckage.  It was totalled.

Fast-forward - 62 year later - and 400 Squadron, 1971, is having its annual summer camp at Petawawa with the Canadian Army – a perfect opportunity to re-enact the final crash of the Silver Dart and the honour, of course, should go to the CO.


From our history book by CWO Ron Wylie, we are told that early one morning, the CO departed from Petawawa in a Float Otter aircraft to retrieve some squadron members who had been weekend camping at Montgomery Lake.  Montgomery Lake was on the eastern edge of Algonquin Park about 20 Klicks from Petawawa.


There were to be two flights to the lake and the first flight went perfectly.   However, on the second flight to the lake, the aircraft crashed on the lake.

The aircraft  floats were amphibious and had wheels.  The front wheels, for runway landing, had to in the “down” position but for water landing, had to be in the “up” position.  At the lake, the CO had left the wheels down.


There were smallish indicator lights in the cockpit, however, with sunglasses and sun-glare, It was difficult to judge the position of the wheels while also concentrating on landing.

The aircraft flipped upside down and sank to the floats.  The CO was the only person on board.  The CO managed to get out through a cockpit window and was uninjured.


Within a day, everyone got back from Montgomery and, also, a collection of four RCAF crash investigators arrived.  Their duty was to determine the exact cause of the accident.  They stayed in more appropriate accommodations on the main base but did attend an all-ranks party which was in their honour.  It was held in a large marquee tent in the trees.


One of the last to arrive at the party was the CO.  Upon entering a younger set of airmen and airwomen burst into song, “Roger Ram-jet – he’s our hero……..” (the theme song from a current animated cartoon series of a goofy space character who was continually chasing bad guys).  It was hilarious – to see the CO’s face – no one expected the outburst and it was perfect.  The inspector guys knew immediately what was happening and joined the fun – we all sang.

A few days later, a military dive team filled the Otter cabin with empty air bags.  The Otter, still upside down, was being held on the surface by the floats.  As the air bags were filled with air, the Otter began to lift and eventually flipper right-side up.

It was pulled up on a beach and partly disassembled with the wings removed.  It was then loaded on a low flatbed truck for a journey to CFB Trenton for repairs – the aircraft would fly again – so far.
The driver headed south on his run to Highway 401 and, after a few disagreements with some low-hanging electrical and telephone cables, finally turned west on 401.  At the very first overpass the tail hit concrete and destroyed the fuselage beyond repair.

Similar to the Silver Dart, the Otter was totalled.  What an outstanding way to duplicate history.

Written 45 years later while sipping slivovitz with my 86-year-old mother-in-law in Toronto.