Lockheed Hudson

All posts tagged Lockheed Hudson

Going to start this post with a plug for the event I’ve been helping to plan. Normally I don’t do such things, but I feel as this is, at its core, a blog about history and archaeology, then this is fitting. On March 25 there will be a heritage forum brought to you by Heritage Tomorrow NL (formerly Youth Heritage NL). For anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 and who is interested in heritage, history, archaeology, folklore, museums, etc., this is an event for you. We will be having a heritage skills competition, then really focusing on networking and talking to other like-minded young people, getting to know each other, and hopefully creating networks so that we can help each out. Registration is $10 and includes lunch from Volcano Bakery. Click here for details.

I’ve been jumping around the province a bit, and am heading to Stephenville for this post war incident. No archaeology here as the aircraft crashed on the runway and survived the accident. The main reason for sharing this one is actually the great pictures that were featured in the report at The Rooms. I really wanted to share those with my readers as so many of my pictures from the era are often grainy and copied so many times it’s hard to really see what’s happening.

On 13 August 1948, The Evening Telegram printed a small article about an incident at Harmon Field. The article reads:

Three Escape Death In Aircraft Crash At Harmon Field

Three crew members of a twin-engined Lockheed Hudson narrowly escaped death at Harmon Field this week when their aircraft, while coming in to land, veered from the runway as the pilot lost control, groundlooped and crashed.
The plane was being ferried from Dorval airport in Montreal to South Africa, and was owned by the Hanley Aviation Company of Johannesburg, South Africa. The plane called at Harmon en route.
Parts of the plane will be salvaged by the owners at a later date. The crew of the wrecked aircraft left Harmon Wednesday night for Montreal.

The aircraft in question was a Hudson Mark III, serial number 6386 (also sometimes listed as AC #41-23569), with the South African registration of ZS-DAF and it crashed. The crew consisted of Edward R. MacLeod, pilot from the United States, John P. MacMahon, navigator from the United States, and JohnH. Hluboky, radio officer, also from the United States. None were injured in the crash which took place at 23:53 GMT on 9 August 1948.

The aircraft involved had a long history prior to the accident. It was manufactured by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation and was delivered to the Royal Air Force Ferry Command under the service number BW-707. After 20 hours flying time with the RAFFC, it was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force on 12 February 1942 and retained until 26 August 1946. It then went into storage. At this point, it had a total flying time of 1729 hours and 30 minutes. During its service in the RCAF, the Hudson was used in Canada for flight training and as part of a Search and Rescue Squadron (it was here that it was fitted with an airborne lifeboat). It was removed from storage on 20 May 1948 and flown from Greenwood, Nova Scotia, to Montreal, Quebec. On 16 July 1948, the aircraft was purchased by Simple Aircraft Limited from the Canadian War Assets Corporation, then sold again to Hanlys Aviation (Pty) Limited of Johannesburg, Union of South Africa. Long-range tanks were added to the aircraft, but no documents suggest when that happened. It is assumed it was done in preparation for the flight to South Africa. The pilot said the work was done by Ross Aero at Montreal Airport, but no details could be found for the incident report. The engines were ones put on during the RCAF service, and both were certified as fit for the ferry flight to South Africa.

From McGrath 1948

Prior to the ferry flight, inspections were made determining that the aircraft was fit for the flight, but the ferry permit limited flying to daytime flying. Otherwise, it was certified to make the flight to Johannesburg via Gander. MacLeod, the pilot, was an experienced ferry pilot and claimed to have 2,500 hours, 300 of those at night. In the war, he served with United States Air Transport Command and made 12 ocean crossings. Since the war he operated a flight school and charter service using small aircraft, mostly Lockheed aircraft. Prior to this flight, he did not fly the Hudson, but did inspect it prior to the flight. He stated that it was not until after he was in flight that he noted that the aircraft would not cruise at 170 knots, but the report points this out as a discrepancy. Had he been as familiar with Hudsons as he claimed, then he should know they cruise at 160-180 miles per hour, not 170-190 knots and the pilot believed. MacLeod also did not carry an Aircraft or Route Information Manual, did not know the empty weight or gross weight of the aircraft and carried to information or instrument landing procedures for any of the airports on his route.

The aircraft left Montreal at 1922 GMT 9 August 1948, and, as the accident report states, “even on a very optimistic flight plan could not have reached Gander before sunset” (McGrath 1948). The Hudson arrived over Harmon Field in Stephenville at dusk and requested permission to land at Harmon. Due to the daylight restrictions on the permit, the pilot thought it best to not continue to Gander and have to land in the dark. The request was passed on to the Civil Aviation Division in Gander and permission was granted on the understanding that the aircraft would proceed to Gander the following day and that the need to land at Stephenville would then be investigated. As the aircraft approached, MacLeod noted that the undercarriage indicator light did not come on when he lowered the undercarriage. He asked the Control Tower if the undercarriage was down, and due to the low light, the Tower could not see it and asked that the aircraft fly over at low altitude. With that passing, the Tower confirmed that the undercarriage was indeed down, and so the aircraft came in for a power-off landing.

From McGrath 1948

Witness statements from United States Air Force personnel stated that the aircraft made a very low approach, so low that they were not sure that the aircraft would even make it to the runway and thought it would land along the approach lights. At this point, the engines were heard and the pilot opened the throttles so that the aircraft regained some altitude. The aircraft touched down hard on the tarmac about 15 feet short of the end of the runway, bounced 30 to 50 feet into the air and touched down again about 300 feet from the first point of contact. The aircraft then began to swing to the left and the aircraft ran off the left side of the runway ab out 100 feet from that first point of touchdown.  At this point the left wheel hit and smashed one of the runway lights, but the wheel was not damaged. The undercarriage collapsed ad the aircraft pivoted on the left wheel making a turn of 270° to the left finally coming to a rest about 100 feet from the edge of the runway. There was no fire and the crew were uninjured. The left engine was still idling when the crash crew arrived. The pilot could not explain the swing and stated “that after the bounce the aircraft ‘stayed on’ with the tail down and the rudders became ineffective” (McGrath 1948). The report states that this was normal for Hudson aircraft in a tail down attitude. MacLeod said he tried to correct the swing by using the right brake, but it had no effect and he was afraid to often the left engine in case it cause the aircraft to swing to the right. The report states that there were no marks on the runway to indicate that either brake had locked.

As previously stated, the aircraft had been refitted with long distance fuel tanks. During the investigation, it was determined that neither the empty or gross weight of the aircraft was known. The all-up weight would have been 15,400 lbs. and it was rated as such by inspectors prior to the flight, but at departure from Dorval, with full tanks, the aircraft would have weighed considerable more than that. Due to the lack of data, it was impossible for investigators to say if weight was a factor.

From McGrath 1948

In the accident the aircraft:

sustained major damage on the starboard side; the port side was undamaged. The starboard wing was twisted lengthwise and the starboard engine mount was badly twisted; the starboard undercarriage had collapsed in a forward direction; the starboard wing root was damaged; the starboard flap was badly crumpled; the bottom of the starboard tail fin was bent inwards; the starboard cirscrow was bent and had cut through the starboard side of the nose of the aircraft (McGrath 1948).

It was also noted at this time that the plexiglass nose had been broken at some point prior to the accident and had a piece of fabric stuck over the break to close the hole. There was also an opening in the bottom of the aircraft which was made for the attachment of the airborne life boat for RCAF SAR missions. This opening had not been covered before the aircraft left Montreal. The investigation also showed that the brakes will had holding power, but the drag link on the starboard undercarriage had an old crack in the upper end of the drag link rod near the attachment point to the actuating strut. This link rod appeared to have failed when the aircraft slid backward at the end of the ground loop.

From McGrath 1948

In  the opinion of the investigators, the accident “was a result of failure by the pilot to correct a swing developed by the aircraft following a bad landing” and “tail heaviness of the aircraft may have been a contributary cause”. (McGrath 1948)

There were a number of irregularities found that were brought to the attention of the governments of Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa and United States so they could investigate any breaches in their respective air regulations. Such issues included the fact that the aircraft was granted South African registration before ownership had been acquired by Hanlys Aviation (Pty) Limited, and the South African validation was issued before the Canadian Ferry Permit which it validated. The pilot had no South African documentation authorizing him as a US airman, and the aircraft radio was not licensed. There was no record of work being done to the aircraft after it was removed from storage, even thought long range tanks were installed, and the weight and balance were unknown. There was no copy of the Department of Transport Information Circular T/5/47 on the aircraft as required by law, and the pilot had no Route Information Manual nor information on instrument approach procedures for the airports on his route. The pilot also used fuel from the cabin tanks first, causing the rear tanks to be heavier, especially when coupled with the fact that there was 300 lbs. of freight in the tail. Finally, nationality and registration markings were not painted on the wings. They were painted on the fuselage only (and the previous marking were still visible).

From McGrath 1948

The reports were sent off to the governments and a copy sent to Hanly’s Aviation Office in New York. The report was not completed or sent until October due to the delays in attempting to get the weight information. Finally, the copy that was sent to Wainwright Abbot, the American Consul General had an added note from J.S. Neill, the Commissioner for Public Utilities and Supply, which thanked the US authorities at Harmon Field for their assistance to McGrath in his investigation (Neill 1948).


McGrath, T.M.
1948 Civil Aviation Division Newfoundland Aircraft Accident Investigation Report Number 10. On file PANL Accident to Hudson Aircraft AG/57/14

Neill, J.S.
1948 Letter to the American Consul General, 12th October, 1948. On file PANL Accident to Hudson Aircraft AG/57/14

1948 “Three Escape Death In Aircraft Crash At Harmon Field”, The Evening Telegram. 13 August 1948, p. 5.

Share Button

Ten years after VJ Day, Donald Bennett started his memoirs of World War II. Bennett was a pioneer in long-distance aviaiton before WWII, and held many distance records. He was also the commander of the Pathfinder Force, a team dedicated to marking targets for Bomber Command, increasing the latter’s accuracy, particularly in night bombing raids.

Bennett’s memoir looks at his life in Australia and how he ended up in the Royal Air Force, his early flights and work as a navigator, and his time in the war. He is honest in his memoir, and often comments on the burocracy and the problems associated with the RAF and the chain of command. Bennett’s style is passionate and exciting, whether he is describing scientific advancements, bomb runs or the politics of war. Readers may or may not agree with his political or social ideas, but his entire memoir is thrilling and, especially during the war, Bennett lead an exciting life. For anyone interested in aviation history it is an important read and depects a number of important aviation events in the Second World War including Bomber Command missions, their involvement in D-Day and bringing POWs home after the war.

As this blog is focused on Newfoundland aviation history, this post is going to focus on the section of this memoir associated with the establishment of Ferry Command.

When Bennett was tasked with flying Hudsons from Gander to England, he immediately noted how it was assumed he would sit by until it was time to attempt the flight. What is clear in his memoir is that he never sat idly by and thus was involved in every part of preparing the aircraft for the transatlantic flight, from initial test flights at the Lockheed facility in California to the actual trans-Atlantic flight. This section really shows Bennett’s abilities as a pilot throughout the memoir he will often be the first to fly a test aircraft, or demonstrate the capabilities of an aircraft to make sure it meets his exacting standards.

Donald Bennett.

Donald Bennett.

Once the aircraft were altered to his specifications (mostly more fuel), Bennett hitched a ride back to Montreal on one of the Hudsons. For diplomatic reasons, he could not fly the aircraft, but rode as a passenger. He complains that they stuck to the airways, which he felt added both risk and distance to the flight. At one point they flew through a heavy thunderstorm and remained in relatively thick airline traffic the entire route. While Bennett found the American manufacturers to be highly efficient and British manufacturers could learn from them, he comments that he feels this was, and at the time of his writing, still is a major problem with American aviation. They landed at Pembina on the Canadian border just south of Winnipeg where the engines were shut off and a horse was hitched to the front of the aircraft to pull it across the border. Once across the border they flew to Winnipeg for the night.

After a few more night stops, they made it to Montreal to meet the new pilots. Most of the pilots interviewed were Americans who had been thrown out of American airlines! The push for American pilots came to be because, on Lord Beaverbrook’s instruction, Washington was offering extremely high rates of pay for pilots who would fly the Atlantic. This actually caused many problems because the English who were flying the same route were working for significantly less money than the Americans who were “rejected” from American airlines. [Note: as the war progressed, some pilots signed up for Ferry Command to avoid being drafted and to decide how they would serve the war effort, such as American businessman and philanthropist Kirk Kirkorian (Torgerson 1974)]. Only Americans were offered the higher pay, and British subjects from Canada, Newfoundland and Australia who wanted to fly had to be content with lower wages. Bennett states that he felt the higher wages were unnecessary and enough pilots could have been found without what he calls that “pathetic piece of bribery”.

A statue of Lord Beaverbrook in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Photo by author.

A statue of Lord Beaverbrook in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Photo by author.

With two Hudsons now in Montreal and pilots selected, training began. Bennett notes that Hudsons had some tricky characteristics, such as “an ability to drop a wing if bounced” and a habit of stalling if they were going to slow, so extensive training was necessary.

While the new pilots were training, Bennett was already thinking about means to return the crews, and was consulting with Consolidated about getting B-24s for the return flights. The first few returns were by ship, but eventually it was arranged to transport pilots back with B-24s, as well hundreds, if not thousands, of B-24s were flown across the Atlantic.

A few weeks later, crews and aircraft were ready and flew in formation to Gander. There were not enough navigators for the aircraft, so they had to rely on the lead aircraft. Bennett states that this was certainly not ideal, but unavoidable. The station-keeping lights on the rear of the aircraft were quite bright to help. An additional eight British Overseas Airways Corporation pilots and nine radio operators joined the team. They were all experienced pilots, but had not flown the Atlantic themselves. Bennett considered them to be higher calibre pilots, and ensured at least one on each of the aircraft following the lead.

On 9 November 1940, Bennett arrived in Gander and signalled for all aircraft to prepare for immediate departure. Unfortunately, the aircraft were too iced up (about a half inch of “steel-like” ice on the top surfaces of the wings, the fuselage and the tail) so he decided to postpone the departure for twenty-four hours. With the guidance of McTaggert-Cowan, the Meterological officer, Bennett planned the flight and briefed the crews. McTaggert-Cowan’s forecast was not perfect, according to Bennett, but extrememly valuable. Bennett had detailed instructions for the crews in case of weather, seperation, etc. and gave out cards with full cruising instructions. After the briefing, Mrs. Patterson, the wife of the airport manager and the only woman at the airport at the time, gave everyone poppies to wear the following day.

Hudson Bomber on display at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander.

Hudson Bomber on display at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander. Photo by author.

A few hours after sunset, the aircraft took off in quick succession in reasonably good weather and gathered in formation with Bennett in the lead. This was the first attempt to cross the Atlantic in the middle of November and was considered to be after the “winter barrier”. Bennett spent most of the flight focused on navigation, and was so focused that he did not notice until midway through the flight that his second pilot, Clauswitz, was wearing cowboy boots for luck!

The aircraft met a weather front that they were expecting a little sooner than anticipated. Bennett could not climb over it, so signalled for the aircraft to separate as they went through it. Once through the front, visibility was good and Bennett and four other aircraft landed at Aldergrove. Two aircraft had gone off course, but made it to the Scottish  islands. Bennett does not go into this, but Lord Beaverbrook had stated that if 3 of the 7 aircraft succeeded in crossing the Atlantic it would be sufficient to begin regular ferrying (Ministry of Information 2005). Getting all seven Hudsons across is a testament to Bennett’s leadership and planning.

The crews, much to their disappointment, were almost immediately sent back to Canada while Bennett continued to London to report to Lord Beaverbrook. Bennett then discusses some of the planning, new crew members and the difficulties in trying to convince Lord Beaverbrook that more navigators were needed for future flights, plus some of the misunderstanding that came from a lack of understanding just how cold Canadian and Newfoundland winters can be. Eventually, Bennett did manage to prove that flying in formation in the winter was not practical and had caused some crashes and technical troubles, but no fatalities. This proved to the RAF that more navigators were needed for the crossings. The terms of the agreement were that pilots would remain with Ferry Command, but navigators would be trained and would remain for only one trip each. This system seemed to work well.

While Bennett was on business in Montreal, the first major crash occurred. A Hudson was missing for 48 hours, and upon hearing this, Bennett’s first act was to get in touch with the pilot’s wife to ask her if she thought her husband was alive. She said she was certain of it. Bennett took off for Gander, and was pleased to know a search had commenced, but many crew were furious that the search had been delayed in the first place. The aircraft was located, and the pilot, Mackey, had written a message in the snow “Three dead”. Supplies were dropped for the sole survivor, and as a rescue was being planned, locals with a dog sledge were spotted and were directed to the crash site. Mackey was brought to Musgrave Harbour while arrangements were made to investigate the crash. Bennett found the remains of his crew and Dr. Fredrick Banting, the discoverer of insulin and a VIP who was being transported overseas who died from his injuries after the crash.

Plaque at the crash site.

Plaque at the crash site. Source.

The Banting crash site near Musgrave Harbour. ONeill 2008.

The Banting crash site near Musgrave Harbour. ONeill 2008.

In 1941 Bennett’s association with Ferry Command came to an end. As the United States had entered the war, the task of ferrying aircraft was being passed to them. At the same time, the RAF were getting more involved, and some of those getting involved were not individuals that Bennett got along with. Operations were passed on to Harold Long and Bennett eventually went on the lead the Path Finder Force. He does note that within six weeks of leaving Ferry Command three B-24s were lost; one failed to clear a mountain, another had a load that was too heavy and did not get off the runway and the third was due to improper Flight Control orders near Gander. In this time six Hudsons were also lost, which the authorities tried to blame on McTaggert-Cowan. Bennett, in an attempt to help, wrote a letter supporting McTaggert-Cowan’s abilities in forecasting to alleviate this blame.

Thus ends Bennett’s work in Gander. The memoir then goes into great detail about his work with the Path Finder Force, which is certainly worth reading. In this case, I am looking to summarize his involvement in Gander to keep the focus on Newfoundland aviation history.



Bennett, D.C.T.

1958    Pathfinder. Guernsey Press, Guernsey.

Ministry of Information

2005    Atlantic Bridge: The Official Account of R.A.F. Ferry Command’s Ocean Ferry, University Press of the Pacific, United States.

Torgerson, D.

1974    Kerkorian: An American Success Story. The Dial Press, New York.



Share Button