|It's 6:00AM, July 10th 1956, at Pelly Lake in the NorthWest
Territories, 500 miles north of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border at the
66th parallel, which is 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle. A silvery
Spartan Air Services De Havilland Mosquito, mark 35, CF-HMR, takes off
from the crude sandy airstrip with pilot Al MacNutt, navigator Vince Kluke,
and camera operator Barry Cox on board for another four-hour mission of
contract aerial survey duty. Smoothly throbbing Rolls Royce Merlin 113/114
supercharged engines of 1535 hp each smartly propel the beautiful aircraft
up to 30,000 feet and some 300 miles to the west of Pelly Lake. Levelling
off for a cruise of 355 mph, everything seemed normal and routine.
|Several long photo survey legs were completed without incident.
At 8:55 AM, Al MacNutt noticed a slight drop in the port engine oil pressure.
An experienced pilot, MacNutt was not overly concerned at first, since,
as he later recalled "everything else in the cockpit seemed normal". Nevertheless,
he asked Kluke to give him a heading for base and began a decent. Several
minutes later MacNutt noticed a more definite fluctuation in oil pressure
on the port engine. He reduced the power on the engine, pushing in the
feathering button and turning off the boost pump. Still no sweat because
the Mosquito was known for its excellent single-engine performance in
this type of situation.
|"The feathering system started to function normally, the
rpm dropped to 1,000, and then suddenly increased to a very high rate.
I went from a feathered prop with an engine ticking over slowly... right
into an absolutely flat pitch! The aircraft turned 90 degrees in seconds,
a terrifying experience." (Asymmetric drag caused the aircraft to lurch
violently to the left) "The port prop changed speed so quickly, it sheared
the rivets that held the spinner on. The spinner continued forward for
about six feet during the yaw and then came right back as the aircraft
flew into it- hitting the propeller, deflecting off and then damaging
the port drop tank." Al said. "It was very frightening to sit there a
few feet away from it."
|A few minutes later at 9:00AM, Al MacNutt had problems aplenty.
Oil pressure had dropped to zero on the bad engine and the tachometer
broke, but it was apparent that the prop was windmilling at a high rate
of speed because of the alarming amount of noise and the torque being
produced. All switches were shut off and repeated attempts to feather
the port engine were made. Soon after, pieces of metal were seen punching
through the inboard cowling, leaving a gaping hole, through which flames
and smoke began to pour.
|Al was puzzled that the fire warning light had not come
on, but pushed the fire extinguisher button, and warned his crew to prepare
to abandon ship. The flames soon died out but smoke continued to pour
from the port engine. The Mosquito was back under control, but barely.
Al was now concerned about Barry Cox, his camera operator. In case of
a wheels-up landing, Cox might be trapped inside the aircraft because
his access door was in the lower rear fuselage. Also, Al felt things were
going so badly that the Mosquito might blow up any minute. MacNutt decided
to order Cox to bail out. Knuke was asked if he wanted out too. Knuke
decided that this might be a good idea under the circumstances. Cox released
his door in the rear fuselage and went out, then Kluke jettisoned the
lower nose hatch and followed. Al MacNutt then dropped his underwing fuel
tanks and dumped all of his internal fuel except for about 50 gallons.
He had full power on the starboard engine, and needed full starboard rudder
and about half aileron to keep the Mosquito reasonably straight.
|"I prepared to bail out", MacNutt recalled, "but it wasn't
that simple, the minute I let go of the controls, the aircraft rolled,
it took brute strength to hold it level. As soon as I left the controls
to reach the bottom hatch, the aircraft rolled upside down. I tried this
two times only to be left banging around the cockpit and losing 5,000
feet each time. There wasn't much altitude left. The safest thing was
to fly, I had no other option."
|Why did McNutt not try to exit through the jettisonable
escape hatch in the upper canopy?
|The pilot's manual for the mosquito says to use the nose
hatch for parachuting rather than the canopy hatch. With one fan already
out and so far from home base, MacNutt might have been understandably
reluctant to shut down the other engine. The pilot's manual recommends
that the canopy hatch only be used when the aircraft and its engines have
stopped. His decision to ride the aircraft down to the ground is likely
|MacNutts headset and all of the maps had been sucked out
of the open nose hatch. On top of this the automatic direction finder
(ADF) had stopped working. Navigating in the far north is not easy at
the best of times because of compass unreliability and lack of recognizable
landmarks. After all of his wild manoeuvring, he was not exactly sure
of where he was. AL took up a heading of 150 degrees, figuring he would
cross the Black River and could then turn left, following it to the south
of Pelly Lake. He managed to get the aircraft stabilised at 4,000 ft and
140 knots. He had been as low as 2,500ft. The temperature on the good
engine was high but it was holding at 12 lb's of boost and 2850rpm. He
had an operable morse code key and was able to send a C/W message to Pelly
Lake. The port prop was still screaming at about 5,000rpm, and molten
metal began to pour out of the hole in the nacelle. Eventually Al spotted
the Black River and nursed his crippled machine home.
|"When the runway was sighted" Al recalls, "I lined up with
the long runway and as I approached, I attempted to lower the landing
gear, the green lights did not come on, nor was increased drag noticed.
The flaps also failed to function, a belly landing was imminent."
|Meanwhile on the ground, Spartan aircraft engineer Sydney
Baker was quickly summoned to the radio room. There he learned that Mosquito
CF-HMR was approaching with one engine on fire and that at least Cox had
bailed out. Baker grabbed all available fire extinguishers, piled them
into a jeep and headed to the airstrip. Once there he heard the high pitched
sound of a high revving engine and spotted the low flying Mosquito trailing
smoke. Near the end of the runway Baker saw the canopy being jettisoned.
Baker recounts "the plane came in for normal belly-landing and stopped
quickly in the soft sand. I observed the pilot leaving the aircraft via
the escape hatch created above him by the jettisoning of the canopy. He
ran clear as we arrived a few seconds later. There were no flames but
MacNutt advised us to stand clear as fire and explosion were probable."
|Subsequently, according to Sid Baker, "thing happened so
quickly, there wasn't time to employ the fire extinguishers". Within minutes
the Mosquito was on fire, but with little fuel onboard the fire subsided
in about 20 minutes. The metal was still hot and so a bulldozer was used
to push the remains to the edge of the strip and then cover it with sand.
The two men who bailed were spotted three hours later and picked up by
|In June of 1996 The Windsor Mosquito Bomber Group recovered
the remains. The area receives between one and two inches of rain annually
and the parts are in good condition. The first major project will be the
reconstruction of the main plane in late summer of 1998.
|Story courtesy of Norm Malaney, via The
Windsor Mosquito Bomber Group.