Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Lanc Over Calgary

Mission Accomplished

The night of 16/17 May 1943 was clear with a full moon, perfect conditions for the raid. The nineteen specially modified Lancaster's of 617 Squadron were dispatched in three waves from RAF Scampton. Wing Commander Guy Gibson led the first wave of nine aircraft and was the first to attack the Möhne Dam. His mine was released at 00:28 on the morning of 17 May but despite successfully detonating, the weapon failed to breach the Dam. After two further abortive attacks by the second and third aircraft in the flight, the dam was finally breached by Squadron Leader H.M Young's Lancaster. Gibson meanwhile accompanied Young on his approach to divert the Anti Aircraft Fire from the dam towers onto himself and to allow his gunners to provide covering fire. Shortly afterwards, Gibson radioed back to England the prearranged code word, indicating that the dam had been breached.

A brief excerpt from The UK government's official archive of the mission flown on the Ruhr valley by the 617 squadron in May of 1943.

"What's with this traffic" I said to myself for the tenth time as I fought my way north on the Deerfoot, all the while listening to my VHF radio tuned to the Calgary Tower on 118.400 mhz. The pilot of the Lanc had just called the Calgary Tower and upon receiving clearance, was on final approach for runway 25 at the Calgary airport. I had been waiting for this day all week, knowing that Lancaster VRA was scheduled to fly three different sorties throughout the day. I was hoping to get to the airport in time to see the Lancaster take to the air on its third and final flight of the day. I would have loved to have been there for the first flight, as my friend John - VE6XI had been scheduled to fly in the Lancaster at 1100 hours. John had sent me a email giving me a heads up as to the flight that he would be flying out on.

I finally had the ramp to 48th Ave in my sights, and traffic eased somewhat as I merged on to 48th Ave east. As I passed the parking lot on the end of runway 34, I couldn't help but notice the zoo like atmosphere, as the parking lot was jambed full of cars with everyone jockeying for a parking spot. I cannot remember seeing so many people there at one time. Many of the assembled were scanning the skies with all forms of optical devices from the cheapest binoculars through to cameras with lens as long as your arm. I carried on eastward on 48th, knowing that this was not where I planned on positioning myself for the flight of the Lanc at 1500 hours. Once past the end of 34, I made the turn that would take me in to the east side of Calgary International.

Some years back while exploring the perimeter of the airport for strategic locations from which to observe the comings and goings of aircraft, I found this tiny parking spot that is frequented by hard-core plane -spotters. This tiny parking spot belly's up against the apron for runway 34, and the location is great for photo-ops. With my long lens and a ladder to look over the fence, I can look right in to the cockpit of planes taxing by.

For years there was a old abandoned trailer located there with a faded sign hanging on the front with the name Victor Aviation. Included was a abandoned 1977 Chevelle out front. Someone kept a step ladder under the front of the trailer, and we all used it at one time or another when shooting photos of planes jockeying for position on the taxiways, or aircraft making their approach to 34. I have become friends with several of the guys that I met there, including Doug, who is what I call a hard-core plane spotter. Doug lives for adding to his logbook the list of planes that he has observed. Lately Doug flew over to London where he spent 3 days checked in to a hotel at Heathrow Airport that commanded a strategic view of the runways. You guessed it, Doug was on a quest to add to his bucket list of aircraft he wished to observe.

I finally pulled in to Victor Aviation and was pleased to see that I would be able to park reasonably close to the fence. After parking, I pulled my six foot stepladder from the truck box, and soon had it set up. Everyone had a opinion as to which runway that the Lanc would use to take off on. Soon, the roar of the Lanc was heard as it made its take-off-run down runway 25, and with the tail flying, it soon had the momentum to lift off and climb into the late afternoon skies. With permission from the tower, the pilot did a 360 with the Lanc and came roaring back across 34 and soon was out over the Canola fields that lie to the east of the airport. We were left to once more speculate as to which runway the Lanc would land on upon returning. Hoping for the runway to be 34, we were disappointed when the Lanc did the approach to runway 25, but instead did a flyby over the runway and once more with the engines roaring, he pulled up and flew off to the west before coming around for final approach to runway 34. Soon the Lancaster with the gear down and the flaps engaged, was winging in over the fence. The pilot did a masterful job of landing the most impressive airplane to make the final approach to 34 in some time. Gotta Love that Lanc!

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