Photo: Henning Henningsen
Of the hundreds of thousands of pilots and aircrew who participated in training and/or combat operations during the Second World War, a mere handful can find an airplane from their log book entries that is still flying today. That is because perhaps 99 percent of all combat and training aircraft from the war have either been destroyed by enemy action or, as in the case of nearly all that survived the war, gone to the wrecker's blade or the smelter's furnace. It is also due to the fact that 90% of these aviators have now passed away leaving late octogenarians and nonagenarians only.
It is rare indeed when one can connect an airman of the war with a specific aircraft that appears in the left hand columns of his well worn and yellow-paged log book. Over the past few weeks that have passed since we dedicated our Fairchild Cornell to RAF flying instructor and Ottawa resident Flight Lieutenant Archie Pennie, one of those many Cornells in his logbook has surfaced in Wisconsin. To be truthful, it did not just appear, but has been lovingly restored and long operated by the members of the Wisconsin Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. But it was our "In His Name" aircraft dedication program and the story of one recipient of the honour - the 95 year old and sharp-minded Pennie - which appeared on our web site that prompted the Wisconsinites to contact us with a special request.
Shortly after the story appeared in Vintage News, Colonel (every member of the egalitarian CAF is a Colonel) Chuck Gilpatrick and Colonel Mark Shilobrit contacted us to see if we were able to determine whether their Fairchild Cornell, which was an Assiniboia-based trainer for most of the war, was in his log book. Assiniboia was the BCATP airfield in south Saskatchewan where No. 34 Elementary Flying Training School operated and at which Archie was a long-time instructor.
From this photo we can see that 10618, the Other Archie Pennie Cornell is every bit as beautiful and well restored as 10712, its Vintage Wings of Canada sister. This Cornell will be forever dedicated to the late Colonel Bill Paul, a Cornell pilot who was instrumental in getting 10618 assigned the Wisconsin Wing of the CAF. They are very proud of this Cornell as well and have won four awards over the past three years at Oshkosh from EAA Warbirds Of America. Photo: Henning Henningsen,
The men behind the Bill Paul Cornell. CAF WI Wing Leader, Stan Goran; fellow WI Wing PT-26 Pilot, Jeff Morris; Mark Shilobrit (in the flight suit) and WI Wing Finance Officer, John Kmet. Photo: Chris McGraw
Luckily, when researching the Pennie story, I had acquired a photocopy of his log book from the Canadian Aviation Historical Society's and long time friend of Pennie's, Tim Dubé. Scouring the many pages of his book, I found entries in his precise and tiny hand writing that confirmed that Pilot Officer (at the time) Pennie had indeed flown Fairchild Cornell 10618 – the Wisconsin Cornell.
Some Cornells seemed to have been either assigned to him or perhaps his favourite. He flew Cornell 10624 at least 298 times, Cornell 10605 65 times and Cornell 10616 89 times. A stunning 457 flights on just three airframes! By comparison, Cornell 10618 appears in the his book a mere 12 times... but it does appear. Reading the “Duty” column of Archie's log book next to the 10618 entries, there was only one entry related directly to training. All the rest were for Aircraft (A/C) Test, I.F.(Instrument Flight), Type Test, and Weather Tests. On one occasion he and Flying Officer Burtwistle (Officer Commanding “Nite” Flight) seemed to have taken 10618 to the bright lights of Regina for the weekend. Checking a perpetual calendar, the 28th and 29th August was indeed a Saturday and Sunday in 1943. I sure hope they had some fun! From all these entries, my guess is that 10618 was either the base hack or the Flight Commander's personal aircraft.
Of Archie's time at Assiniboia, 252 of his 634 Pilot-in-Command Cornell hours were for night flying instruction. At the end of his time at the remote prairie airfield, his commander, Squadron Leader Kent, rated him an “above the average” instructor as well as an “above average night instructor”. His night time flying experience and praise would win him a spot back home flying Blenheims and Mosquitos.
The Vintage Wings of Canada Cornell, while proudly dedicated to Archie Pennie, is not in his log book. It operated from nearby No. 15 EFTS Regina during the war and perhaps the closest he ever got to it was that hot weekend in August in 1943 when perhaps 10618 was parked next to it on the Regina ramp.
The twelve entries for 10618 in his log book make the Wisconsin Cornell the real Archie Pennie Cornell and this summer at Oshkosh's Airventure 2011, both airplanes will be together at show centre as the Yellow Wings Tour blows into town. Chuck Gilpatrick and the boys from Waukesha (the home of the rockin' Bodeens I might add!) will be flying 10618 the 150 kilometers up to Oshkosh and the old yellow gals will spend some time together reminiscing.
We promise to interview the Yellow Wings and Commemorative boys when the time comes and we will have the full story in August.
Archie's Cornell slides through the cool late afternoon air in the company of another trainer over Lake Country near Waukesha, in a scene reminiscent of the days when Archie flew at Assiniboia. The wing in the foreground is that of another Canadian-built aircraft - the de Havilland Canada Chipmunk. Photo: Henning Henningsen
This photo taken at Assiniboia is of 10606 a Cornell that appears in Archie's log book a number of times in 1943. The photo, labeled “Unauthorized Formation” is from the wartime Memories Project page for Assiniboia. It is very much the same photo as the previous one taken recently in Wisconsin. The wing tip in this shot is that of another Cornell. Photo taken by Dave Russell-Smith's father.
Considering Archie Pennie's 252 hours as a Night flying Instructor on Cornells at Assiniboia, this photo is very special indeed. This no doubt, plus some Saskatchwan winter weather, is what Archie would have seen striding from the flight planning station with his student in tow, parachutes banging off the back of their legs, the cold winter winds driving hard across the prairie, the hard rolled snow squeaking under boot. This time lapse photo was taken in 2008 and the larger blurred light above the prop is the planet Jupiter. Photo: Ross Otto