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In His Name - the Dedication to Archie Pennie

Vintage Wings has recently created a program unique among vintage aircraft operators worldwide - dedicating each aircraft in their collection to a specific Canadian airman, whose personal story exemplifies both the aircraft type and the courage and commitment of the young aviators connected to them. Each aircraft in the collection now bears an elegant inscription panel with the name, rank, unit and other key information about the honoured aviator. These panels will spark the telling of their stories, engender dialogue with spectators and imbue each machine with a soul, a personality, a story. Each aviator dedicated will stand in for all the others who flew that type, all of whom have stories equally worthy of such an honour. For instance, Archie Pennie, to whom the Cornell is dedicated, will stand for men like the Royal Navy's Peter Jenner, who trained on Cornell's at No. 13 EFTS in nearby St. Eugene, Ontario. Jenner, also a subscriber to Vintage News, was one of thousands of pilots who were trained by, and owe their lives to, instructors like Pennie.

On a sublime Thursday evening, June 2nd, 2011, Vintage Wings of Canada paid tribute to Flight Lieutenant Archie Pennie, 95, a former RAF Cornell instructor pilot with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) by unveiling a dedication graphic on the fuselage of our newly restored Fairchild Cornell. Starting today, the Cornell and Harvard will begin their journey west to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia and there join the Vintage Wings Yellow Wings team and fleet. The four aircraft of the Yellow Wings Tour will drop into many former BCATP bases on a journey which will take them west, then back east, down to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, over to Southern Ontario and then out to Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Along the way, the Archie Pennie Cornell, the John Gillespie Magee Harvard, the Hart Finley Finch and the Yet-to-be-dedicated Stearman will tell the near forgotten stories of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Operating even an elementary training aircraft like the Archie Pennie Cornell is hugely expensive - consuming tons of fuel and oil, requiring hangar storage, a support team and no doubt, maintenance all along the route.  The Cornell is perhaps the finest example of the type in existence, a real cream-puff as they say, but it cost Vintage Wings of Canada two hundred thousand dollars and thousands of hours of work to make it so. As a publicly registered charity, Vintage Wings of Canada is dependent on financial donations from ordinary Canadians. To help offset our continuous operational costs, we reach out to the public for financial donations to ensure that Archie Pennie's story and those of the aviators he stands for, will be told to as many Canadians as possible.

If anyone wishes to financially support the cross-Canada flight of the Archie Pennie Cornell, they are asked to contact Vintage Wings President Rob Fleck at rfleck@vintagewings.ca. A charitable tax receipt is given for all donations.

Support for this program will create a lasting legacy for the thousands of BCATP aviators and especially for those who sacrificed their dreams of flying in combat to teach them how to fly.

The Archie Pennie Story

Archie joined the Royal Air Force in Great Britain and sailed for Canada aboard RMS Letitia, a sister ship of the ill-fated Athenia torpedoed on the second day of the war, for an eleven day voyage across the Atlantic. He arrived in Halifax, was dispatched to an RAF manning depot in Moncton and shortly thereafter boarded a train for the long journey across a vast unknown land to Calgary where he began instruction at No. 32 EFTS Bowden, Alberta. At that time the RAF had ordered a large number of Boeing PT-27 Stearman trainers for primary flying training. They were delivered without many of the options requested by the RAF for instruction in the cold Canadian climate – the most important shortcoming being the lack of an enclosed cockpit. Despite these problems, they were employed until much better equipped Fairchild Cornell trainers could be supplied. Pennie and his fellow students considered themselves amongst an elite group of BCATP airmen who trained on the Stearman – a larger, more powerful biplane than the Tiger Moths and Fleet Finches also in use at the time.

After ab initio flight instruction, Pennie did his Service Flying Training in Harvards at No. 37 SFTS, Calgary. At the end of this training period, standing in line to read the list of operational postings, he was momentarily disappointed to read that he was chosen to be a flying instructor. Nearly everyone wanted to get into the fight; nearly everyone wanted fighters and an overseas posting. After Instructor training at No. 3 FIS Arnprior, Archie was assigned to No 34 EFTS Assiniboia. Assiniboia, a small town in South Saskatchewan, would play an important part in the training of Royal Air Force pilots during the war. Despite the initial feelings of disappointment, Pennie soon came to realize the importance of this role and he relished the unlimited flying opportunities and the honing of his piloting skills. Later in his operational career on Mosquitos, he would attribute his composure in the cockpit and indeed his survival to those hundreds of flying hours at Assiniboia.

Recently minted Cornell pilots polish up the Vintage Wings of Canada Fairchild Cornell minutes after landing from a training mission and minutes before Flight Lieutenant Archie Pennie, RAF and his family arrived for the dedication ceremony. Photo: Peter Handley

Vintage Wings volunteer Dave O'Malley accompanies Archie for a walk-around of the Cornell. Archie felt the still-warm engine cowling and ran his hand over her fuselage and wings as though he was meeting an old friend. Photo: Peter Handley

Arche Pennie sits in a comfortable chair as his history and that of the Cornell are outlined to assembled friends and family. To put his honour in perspective, the guests were taken on a spoken “tour” of the other aircraft in the collection and the honourees for each - Stocky Edwards (P-40), Alexander Lilly (F-86 Sabre), Robert Hampton Gray (Corsair), Cliff Stewart (Lysander), Hart Finley (Finch), Bill McRae (Tiger Moth), William Harper (Spitfire XVI), Russ Bannock (Beaver), George Neal (Beaver), Arnold Roseland (Spitfire IX), Terry Goddard (Swordfish), Bunny McLarty (Hurricane IV), Willie McKnight (Hurricane XII) and John Gillespie Magee (Harvard). Photo: Peter Handley

As the Archie Pennie dedication panel is unveiled, an emotional Archie, his wife Barbara, friend, family and Vintage Wingers applaud. Photo: Peter Handley

Archie takes the podium for a few brief thoughts - praising the men he once flew with at No. 34 Elementary Flying Training School (Assiniboia, Saskatchewan) and sharing memories, both sad and humourous. Photo: Peter Handley

Archie and his daughter Sheena enjoy a quiet moment together, contemplating the dedication panel and the beautifully restored Cornell that will carry Archie's story across the country this summer. Photo: Peter Handley

Archie Pennie, with more than 700 hours in the Fairchild Cornell, stands with the pilots of the Yellow Wings Program. While our highest time pilot has about 3 hours on the type, all are highly experienced warbird or military fighter pilots. Left to right Rob Fleck (VWC President), Dave O'Malley (not a Vintage Wings Pilot, but part of the Yellow Wings Team), Todd Lemieux, Bruce Evans, Paul Kissmann (VWC Director of Flying Operations), Ulrich Bollinger (Yellow Wings Lead Pilot), Francis Bélanger, Archie Pennie and Gord Simmons. Photo: Peter Handley

After the dedication, the guests were treated to a training flight in honour of Archie Pennie.  Moving the Cornell out to the ramp necessitated Archie and his wife ducking as the wing swung over them. Photo: Peter Handley

Gord Simmons and Francis Bélanger wave to Archie and his guests before climbing into the cockpit, with Bélanger calling to Archie, saying “This one's for you Archie.” Photo: Peter Handley

The newly restored Ranger engine barks to life on the ramp in the lowering sunlight, in seconds smoothing to a gentle and surprisingly quite purr. Photo: Peter Handley

Out on the Gatineau ramp, Simmons and Bélanger finish their run-up, bathed in beautiful sunset light. Photo: Peter Handley

The Yellow Wings pilots head out to the active runway. Photo: George Mayer

As the Cornell lifts off, Archie recounts the memories of apprehensively watching his student pilots making their first tentative solo flights - usually after 10 to 12 hours. Photo: Peter Handley

After a long run, the Cornell finally jettisons the earth. What a beautiful evening to fly with the coupe tops back. Photo George Mayer

  For the first time, the lovely Cornell (Cornelia Regina Eugenia Fairchild) lifts off carrying the story of Archie Pennie and other Cornell-trained aviators on her yellow wings. Photo: Peter Handley

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