Quartet abuzz over Mosquito

Four aircraft buffs are heading north to recover the wreckage of vintage bomber

By Doug Schmidt, Star Country Reporter, Windsor Airport, Saturday, July 6, 1996
 
Larry Leaney, Randy Cyr, Marvin Fields and Tim Gillies preparing for a trip to the Far North... Larry Leaney; left, Randy Cyr, Marvin Fields and Tim Gillies are preparing for a trip to the Far North to recover an engine of a Mosquito plane that crashed back in the 1950s. They are looking at a crane that was painted and is drying. In the foreground are a few tools, including a shovel, a pick and a chain falls that they will also need

Location of the Mosquito salvage project

Location of the Mosquito salvage project
 
The call to Canada's Far North has always been associated with rugged-man-against-the-elements adventure - stoic endurance against the odds in an untamed environment.
Adventure is what four local flyboy aficionados are in for when they hop aboard a series of aircraft Tuesday and head deep into the barrenlands of the Northwest Territories to retrieve what remains of a Second World War era bomber.
The aircraft in question, a Mosquito bomber reconfigured for post-war photo reconnaissance, came down in a fiery belly landing crash exactly forty years ago while doing survey work. Recent photos show large skeletal remains on the tundra surface, but the salvage crew won't know what's useful until it makes a close-up inspection next week.
 

Famous Warbird

 
The goal is to recover whatever is still useful, and, along with an ongoing global search, recreate a "full-flight capable" replica of the famous warbird that served a multitude of functions during the war.
The twin-engined "Mossie" - a mostly wooden fighter-bomber that could outfly even the cocky Spitfire - had a colorful origin before taking on some of the most dangerous wartime assignments.
"You've got to be a little screwball to do something like this" said Mike Beale, secretary of the Mosquito Bomber Group wing of the local Canadian Historical Aircraft Association.
"It's an absolute hoot - some people say 'Hey, lets build a model.' We say 'Let's build the real thing.'"
That'll be no small feat. Although a home is already available inside the association's Windsor Airport hangar (next to the group's just completed working model of a Boeing Stearman biplane wartime trainer), the task is expected to take upwards of 10 years, costing anywhere up to $1 million.
 

Poor survival rate

 
Although close to 8,000 Mosquitos were built (about 1,130 in southern Ontario), they've had a poor survival rate. According to builder de Havilland, there are probably only 28 still flying or standing static in museums world-wide today.
That's why, when word came of the Mark 35 Mosquito tundra leftovers, including the prized remains of its two Rolls Royce Merlin engines, there was never really any question about launching a salvage mission, said Tim Gillies, the 32-year-old head of the local Mossie group and one of the four expedition members.
He said two such engines could be had on the aircraft parts market for about $15,000 each in California, so the trip north is actually a bargain.
Even if the pieces are bent or burnt out of shape, the group includes aviation, machine, engineering and metal fabrication experts who can use any scraps to rebuild or re-create them.
The aircraft in question didn't actually see any fighting action, but it was used extensively in the North to help in another war effort of sorts.
When it crashed on July 10, 1956, the Mosquito was heading back to its remote airstrip base after a day of aerial mapping photography.
At the time, mapping the roof of North America was a Cold War priority, with the communist red menace of the Soviet Union a mere frozen ice patch away.
Beale said the finished replica, as true to the original as possible, will be a working tribute to those who flew and maintained fighting aircraft during wartime.
"We have a responsibility to not forget these people," he said.
The expedition was assembled on quick notice as soon as the government of the Northwest Territories gave its qualified approval to retrieve the Mosquito remains.
Nothing of historical significance gets touched in the Arctic these days until it first comes under the close scrutiny of the GNWT's strict archaeological sites regulations.
Cost of the July 9 to 15 expedition will be kept to a minimum by piggybacking on other projects. The adventurers will help in a federal environmental cleanup of old fuel containers on the abandoned airstrip.
The remote site is located at Pelly Lake along the Back River, just over 600 km north of where the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border hits the NWT border at the 60th parallel, and barely 50 km south of the Arctic Circle.
The local salvagers will also assist a Edmonton group, the Ventura Memorial Flight Association, take out a similarly dated and abandoned but much larger Ventura engine, for use in that group's restoration of the American bomber.
The head of that group is the chief Hercules pilot with NWT Air, an Air Canada subsidiary which is sponsoring the northern flight portion of the trip.
 
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