Jerry Crowe served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.
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Jerry Crowe. Royal Canadian Air Force. Early in 1939, Britain began to stockpile planes and by 1940, the demand far exceeded the supply. German submarines were active in sinking the supply ships. A suggestion to fly the planes across the Atlantic was ridiculed. Critics claimed it was difficult in summer but hopeless in winter. The do-ers prevailed however and about 11,000 planes were delivered by the end of the war. As needed, the top students graduating from navigation schools were posted to the RAF Ferry Command. At 32, I was the oldest in our crew of three: Jim, our pilot was 19, Bob our radio operator was 20 and I did the navigating. On our first flight, we planned to stop in Gander on our way to Reykjavik, Iceland and then on to Prestwick, Scotland. We landed safely in Gander and even though it was snowing heavily, we decided to take off again that same night. However, when we taxied out, Jim told the tower he couldn't see the end of the runway. And they said, "Turn on your landing lights." Jim said he still couldn't see the end of the runway but we were told to take off any way. We were delivering a Dakota with a payload of 34,000 pounds. At that time the US Army and the US Navy were arguing whether 28 or 29,000 was the maximum payload. Our group was 17 - all first trippers - took off that night. And all the experienced crews, many of them civilians, stayed on the ground. We had a bad trip to Iceland. And Bob picked up SOS signals all the way across. We were flying under the clouds and I couldn't get any astro-shots. I did get a good drift reading on the white cap as the ocean was turbulent and that reading told me we were south of track. A few hours out of Reykjavik, the beam was coming in very strong. So I told Jim, he should fly on it the rest of the way. As soon as I went up front and sat in the co-pilot seat, Jim said, "Dad, you are away north of track." I was nicknamed "Dad" because of my age. He had been flying south and had not yet hit the centre of the beam. I put on my earphones and found out we were flying to Vik on the southern tip of Iceland. Bob had heard "Vik" instead of "Reykjavik" when Bob asked him to fine-tune it. Now we have a problem. As I didn't know the course Jim flew and I couldn't accurately estimate where we were. I asked him how much gas he had left and he said plenty. I didn't know how close we were to Iceland, so to make sure we didn't crash into any mountains, I gave him a northwesterly course. As soon as we hit the centre of the beam, we relaxed a little but we still didn't know how far we were from land. We followed the beam into the airport and landed safely. We had to wait in Iceland for the weather to clear up and finally delivered our plane to Prestwick, nine days after leaving Dorval. Our total flying time was 23 hours and five minutes. That trip gives you some idea of the problems flying the Atlantic in March, which is the time of year for the worst Atlantic weather. We not only owe the veterans of Ferry Command our thanks for the part they played in winning the war. But also for helping to lay the foundation of today's aviation network.