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Thread: Glider across the North Atlantic: 1 March 1943

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    Default Glider across the North Atlantic: 1 March 1943

    I've just found a reference to a trans-Atlantic flight by a Dakota towing a glider which landed at Prestwick on 1 March 1943. The track was Montreal - Goose Bay - Narsarssuak - Reykjavik - Prestwick and the glider was carrying freight. The reference is an article published in 1947 in the Meteorological Magazine, the author being a Prestwick forecaster.

    I've no reason to doubt the veracity of the above and wonder of anyone could expand the details.

    Brian

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    Ah hah Operation Voodoo

    http://users.telenet.be/airwareurope/en/waco/waco_operations_e.htm

    In the back of my mind I think that "Silent Wings" had a bit more on it.

    Regards
    Ross
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    Squadron Leader (later Wing Commander) F.M. Gobeil provided a very detailed (and funny) account of this glider flight in the Spring 1976 issue of Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society.

    The following is an excerpt from my book, "Not in the Face of the Enemy: Canadians Awarded the Air Force Cross and Air Force Medal, 1918-1966"

    In the winter of 1942-1943 the Air Officer Commanding, Ferry Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill conceived the idea of delivering supplies to Britain aboard gliders towed across the North Atlantic. A team assembled at Dorval to test his idea, using a Douglas Dakota as towplane and a Waco CG-4A cargo glider. Considerable investigative work was done beforehand; the glider was towed with various loads; then long-range tows were flown between Dorval and North Bay (a round-trip on April 23, 1943), Dorval to Houlton, Maine, then between Dorval and Goose Bay, and finally from Dorval to Nassau and return (May 7 to 9, 1943). New records for distances flown under tow were set - 1,187 miles on a return leg between Nassau and Richmond, Virginia - and approval was given for the Atlantic attempt.

    On June 23, 1943, the expedition began. Dakota FD900 was piloted by F/L William S. Longhurst (CAN/RAF); his co-pilot and navigator was F/L C.W.H. Thompson (New Zealander in the RAF). H.G. Wightman, a Canadian civilian, manned the radio while P/O R.H. Wormington (RAF) served as flight engineer. The Waco glider (FR579, named "VooDoo") was piloted by S/L R.G. Seys (RAF) and S/L Fowler M. Gobeil (RCAF). A Catalina accompanied this duo, to effect a rescue if the glider were forced down in the Atlantic, although it is doubtful that it could have alighted in rough seas. The trio subsequently flew four legs as follows:

    June 23, 1943 - Dorval to Goose Bay - 850 miles - 6 hours 47 minutes.

    June 27, 1943 - Goose Bay to Bluie West One, Greenland - 785 miles - 6 hours 13 minutes.

    June 30, 1943 - Bluie West One to Reykjavik, Iceland - 1,000 miles - 7 hours 20 minutes.

    July 1, 1943 - Reykjavik to Prestwick - 865 miles - 7 hours 43 minutes.


    These figures do not begin to describe the dangers and difficulties of the flight. Gobeil later claimed that in the days prior to departure, odds of seven to one had been laid by Dorval personnel against a successful crossing.

    Consider the problems. It was necessary that both aircraft be flown all the time; not for a minute could anyone relax. If the glider got too far below the tug it might stall the Dakota; if the Waco got too high it might tip the Dakota into a dive. Maintaining just the right height relationship was difficult enough in clear visibility, but with 350 feet of rope separating them there were times when fog and cloud cut off visual contact. It then became especially important for the glider pilots to watch the angle at which the tow cable fell away from their craft (the "angle of dangle") as this was the only indication of their position relative to the tug. During the run from Greenland to Iceland the Dakota and Waco were out of sight from one another for more than an hour.

    Then there was the matter of turbulence; this could (and did) threaten to disrupt the height ratio between tug and glider; during one severe session between Dorval and Goose Bay the cargo shifted noticeably; Seys and Gobeil had to use to their combined strength to control the Waco. Gobeil described this portion of the flight vividly:

    "At one moment the tow rope would be hanging like a limp, inert string; at the next if would be snapped straight, as taut and unquivering as a violin string. We feared the fittings would give way or the tow rope break. We were flying over the still-frozen waste of tundra in inner Labrador. Ice began to form on the wings of the glider and hoarfrost in the interior. The temperature dropped below zero. We had to detour around heavy, black rainstorms. We could not avoid all these storms and were forced to fly entirely on instruments for varying periods. Several times we considered turning back, but we decided to carry on. Finally, after three hours of this fearful pounding we sighted the Hamilton River and shortly after, the great aerodrome at Goose Bay. With a sigh of thanks we cut loose from the tug at 1,000 feet and landed."

    Concerns about the tow rope intensified; at Bluie West One they discovered that one strand in three had worn clear through, and the rope had to be respliced before continuing. Further rope repairs were needed at Reykjavik when Longhurst had to drop the cable on the runway rather than risk dragging part of it over houses that encroached on the field.

    "VooDoo" delivered 3,000 pounds of cargo to Britain - serum, truck parts and radio components. C.G. Gray, editor of The Aeroplane dismissed it as an impractical stunt; the Dakota alone could have delivered as much in less time. The fact that the effort was never repeated proves his point. Some lessons might have been learned that later benefitted airborne landings in Burma and Normandy, but proof of a connection has not been found. Nevertheless, it was a triumph of ingenuity and courage; Seys, Gobeil and Longhurst all received Air Force Crosses.

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    Ross/Hugh,

    Many thanks for your prompt responses - a fascinating and truely remarkable tale. I didn't quite expect that and apologise for giving the incorrect date.

    Brian

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    Photos and another brief description here:

    http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1943/1943%20-%201736.html?search=Seys

    Brian

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    Having "flown" my Baron 58 (on FSX!) into Bluie West One on a number of occasions (I was trying to "fly" from UK to N America using the FSX 'real weather') I can only say that I had trouble with my sphincter muscle at that airfield (both on landing and take-off) and I was only sat in front of a computer!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I'm not a qualified Pilot - but I was taught to handle an airframe in the air, so I can appreciate the problems of "Them Up The Front Office"!!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Just a minor correction - the New Zealand co-pilot/navigator was Charles William Halliwell THOMSON (not THompson).

    Would anyone know what became of him post-war?

    Errol

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