Between Home and the Front


Directed by Cranfield Cook, 1942 (20 minutes)

This film shows the various types of fighter and bomber aircraft and the stages of training through which the RCAF pilots and air crews had to pass before earning their wings.


Directed by Sydney Newman, 1944 (10 minutes)

Every night, Trans-Canada Airlines Flight 6 crosses Canada from Vancouver to Montreal with its load of blue and yellow air mail bags, playing an important role in Canadian life and business.  Interesting footage of a civilian use Lancaster.


Directed by Richard Gilbert, 1959 (30 minutes)

This is the story of the barnstormers and bush pilots who explored Canada’s vast hinterland, and of the heroes of World War II who flew the Bolingbrokes and the Ansons, the Mosquitoes and the Hurricanes. The great unmapped territories of the Canadian North and the impetus of war are reviewed in this film.


Directed by Jeffery Riddell, 2010 (19 minutes)

A retelling of the fate of Winnipegger Andrew Mynarski, gunner on a Lancaster bomber in World War II.  On his crew’s 13th mission, their plane was attacked over France, forcing the crew to bail out. Mynarksi attempted to save the tail gunner on the plane but did not survive the ordeal. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. This new documentary includes new footage filmed on the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster bomber while on its tour to cities across the west in 2009-2010.

Rivets and Wings


Directed by Jane Marsh, 1943 (11 minutes)

This short archival film documents the Woman’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force of 1943: 9,000 strong, an able corps trained for service at home and overseas. Their aim is to prepare themselves for an important role in the flying field after the war, when Canada’s civilian air power will prove an essential factor in the air communications of peacetime civilization.


Directed by Kelly Saxberg, 1999 (47 minutes)

They raised children, baked cakes… and built world-class fighter planes. Sixty years ago, thousands of women from Thunder Bay and the Prairies donned trousers, packed lunch pails and took up rivet guns to participate in the greatest industrial war effort in Canadian history. Like many other factories across the country from 1939 to 1945, the shop floor at Fort William’s Canadian Car and Foundry was transformed from an all-male workforce to one with forty percent female workers.

Strange Wings


Directed by Bill Mason, 1969 (20 minutes)

Bill Mason’s short film focuses on his friend and fellow filmmaker, Blake James. In his never-ending quest for freedom, Blake pilots his own plane. This film is Mason’s view of his friend as a “hobo of the skies” but it is also an adventure that beckons the viewer to come along for the ride.


Directed by Stephen Low, 1988 (54 minutes)

The appealing story about Bob Diemart of Carman, Manitoba and his dream of building the world’s next great fighter plane. His worldwide reputation as a genius at restoring “warbirds” enables him to finance his dream. The Defender is a lively, sometimes wild and funny tale about a remarkable, modern day folk hero.


Directed by Brian Duchscherer, 1991 (9 minutes)

A small prairie town has few secrets but in Balgonie, Saskatchewan, Bill Gibson had one. Each night when most folks were home asleep, Bill was busy in his workshop. You see, Bill had a dream. He was building a flying machine. This charming puppet animation film tells his story.

Our Northern Skies


Archival excerpts, 1930s (5 minutes)

Silent archival footage from the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives includes excerpts from a number of early films documenting the integral role of aircraft of the prairies and outposts across the north.


Directed by Norma Baily & Bob Lower, 1980 (23 minutes)

For some bush pilots, flying is like playing solo violin at Carnegie Hall. For others, it’s like driving a taxi. The film shows how bush pilots are slowing being replaced. In northern towns built by bulldozers and jet aircraft, the emphasis is not on adapting to the north, but on remaking it in the image of the south.


Directed by Myles & Riel Langlois, 2008 (53 minutes)

On May 10, 1955, a DC-4 crash-landed on the ice floes of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba. The plane was abandoned by the airline, but a small group of local Inuit men believed that the aircraft could be salvaged. For the first time, Northlander tells their amazing story through interviews, photographs and recently discovered 8 mm footage of how the rescue operation was undertaken.

The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss

Directed by Paul Cowan 1982 (79 minutes)

Paul Cowan’s controversial film revisits the famed World War I pilot Billy Bishop and speculates if he was as good as his reputation suggests. The film tracks the rise of the brash kid from Owen Sound to Canada’s most decorated flying ace of the War. Cowan’s use of ‘docu-drama’ and his questioning of the iconic Bishop’s record continues to ruffle feathers. Is this a case of a hero flying too close to the sun? Or a filmmaker taking too many liberties?

Captains of the Clouds

Directed by Michael Curtiz 1942 (114 minutes)

Starring James Cagney, Brenda Marshall, George Tobias

From the director of Casablanca, James Cagney stars as an aggressive bush pilot who competes for business on the lakes of Northern Canada, and for the heart of the heroine played by Brenda Marshall. After muscling his way into the northern skies, Cagney and his competitors try and take their unconventional flying techniques to the RCAF to fight in World War II.  The film is the first Hollywood feature film shot entirely in Canada.

Top Speed: 710 MPH


At the dawn of the jet age, the Sabre was the best fighter in the world and to this day is still considered the “fighter pilot’s fighter”.  

Chosen by the RCAF in August 1949, the F-86 Sabre served in Western Europe from the early days of the Cold War until 1962 when it was replaced by the CF-104 Starfighter. Built under license from North American Aviation of the U.S., all Canadian Sabres were built by Canadair Ltd at its Cartierville, Quebec plant near Montreal.

Ultimately, Canadair built six variants of the Sabre. The most famous and capable Sabre was the CL-13B Sabre 6. Powered by the Canadian- built Orenda 14 engine which produced 7,275 pounds of thrust, the aircraft had a top speed of 710 mph (1,140 km/h) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,700 metres). When the last F-86 Sabre rolled off the assembly line at Canadair in 1958, the company had manufactured a total of 1,815 Sabres, of which 1,183 had been delivered to the RCAF.

At the height of its operational service, over 300 RCAF Sabres were based on the European continent as part of Canada’s collective defence contribution to NATO. The Canadian-built planes served in the RCAF as well as the air forces of Britain, West Germany, Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey, South Africa, Pakistan, Honduras, and Colombia.


In 1959 the RCAF chose the F-86 when it formed the Golden Hawks aerobatic team to celebrate the golden anniversary of flight in Canada. One of the finest aerobatic performers in history, the team thrilled millions across North America. Hawk One is a tribute to their legacy.

The Hawk One team brings together a formidable group of highly experienced military and civilian professionals and will visit Winnipeg from June 14-16, 2011 at the Western Canada Aviation Museum.


Tuesday, June 14: 12:30 pm to 7:00pm

Wednesday, June 15: 10:30 am to 7:00 pm

Thursday, June 16: 9:30 am to 11:00 am

Advance admission tickets can be purchased at the museum during regular business hours

Why Yes! It IS Rocket Science


The northern lights  (aurora borealis) travel in the same aerospace as radio waves – that thin layer of the atmosphere between 20 and 200 miles above the earth.  The radio interference caused by the northern lights sparked an industry, built a city, and developed a world-renowned research center in Manitoba’s North.


In the 1950s, at the onset of the Cold War, any phenomena interfering with radio waves were considered a threat to national security and the U.S. Army was keen to research the matter. The only problem was that the aurora belt lies across inaccessible areas of tundra and is not easily probed. Churchill in northern Manitoba, is not only a location of maximum aurora borealis activity, but in 1957 it was also close to established supply routes (rail and sea, as well as air). These factors combined to make Churchill the ideal location for aerospace research. 

In 1954, the Churchill Rocket Research Range was established as a northern base of operations for the U.S. Army’s sounding rocket research program. (Rockets can access the low ionosphere, a region of the atmosphere beyond the reach of research balloons and too low for satellites.)  By 1957 the U.S. Army had already fired 95 rockets from the Churchill Research Range.


The Winnipeg plant of Bristol Aero-Industries was in the business of aircraft overhaul and component manufacturing. In addition to its experience in the manufacture of welded high-strength steel components (such as jet engine after-burners), Bristol had the technological depth, the manufacturing base, and convenient access to the Churchill rocket range.

Bristol launched its first Black Brant sounding rocket (named after the Canada Goose species) from Churchill in 1959.  Black Brants carry payloads up to 1,800 pounds to altitudes of 1,000 miles providing up to 20 minutes for micro-gravity experiments, auroral studies, deep space observations, aeronomy (the study of the upper atmosphere), astronomy, plasma physics and solar physics, and other studies that don’t require orbital launches. Black Brant, which went through 12 model versions, has earned a vehicle success rate of 98 per cent since 1962.

Black Brant established Bristol’s reputation in the scientific market. It also cemented a long and successful collaboration with NASA.  Since that first launch in 1959, almost 600 of these Manitoba-made rockets have been launched, most recently at the White Sands Missile range in New Mexico in August of 2010.

In 2011, Black Brant rockets are still part of Bristol Aerospace’s product line with active contracts that support the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Group.


During its heyday, the Churchill Research Range, which involved up to 200 researchers and technicians, was Canada’s leading upper atmosphere research centre and a world-renowned facility for sounding rocket studies. At its peak, the military base and surrounding area had a population of up to 4,000 people.

The military base closed in 1964; the barracks and support buildings were razed. All that remains are the roads, which are now traversed by tourist-filled tundra buggies in search of polar bears.  Today, Churchill’s population is just under 1,000. The rocket site is now home to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, since it is ideally situated along the Hudson Bay seacoast where marine, northern boreal forest, and tundra meet.

How the Flying Fortress Got its Name


“Why, it’s a flying fortress!”, said Richard Williams, a reporter for the Seattle Times, when he first saw the prototype of the B-17 unveiled and tested on July 28, 1935. The name stuck. Boeing registered it as trademark.

The Flying Fortress was a heavy, 4-engine, strategic bomber developed for the U. S. Air force and produced between 1936-1945. When in full-scale production, it was considered to be the “first truly mass-produced large aircraft.”

The aircraft was used mainly during World War II in the daylight precision strategic bombing campaign against German industrial, civilian and military targets. The B-17 also participated, to a lesser extent, in the War in the Pacific, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping. It became the aircraft of choice among crew, lauded for its durablity, utility and survivability.

When the war ended, most of the B-17s were scrapped. The US Air Force kept some for VIP purposes. The US Coast Guard took 30 in 1945. The last one was retired in 1959.


In Canada, the RCAF acquired six B-17s  in 1943. All six belonged to #168 Heavy Transport Squadron which operated out of RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario. Stripped of their armaments and armour, their job was to fly mail to Canadian troops serving in Europe. In total, the squadron made a total of 636 trans-Atlantic mail flights (of which 240 were flown by the B-17s); 26,417 flying hours; 2,245,269 pounds of mail from Canada to the U.K.; and 8,977,600 pounds from the U.K. to the continent. The mail planes were marked with the squadron logo and after every successfully completed trip, a mailbag symbol was painted onto the aircraft. The squadron logo and subsequent ‘mailbag’ art was considered nose art.

Aircraft #9204 was severely damaged at Rockcliffe on September 17, 1944 and was never repaired. Another, #9205, survived a mid-air collision on January 23, 1944 with a Wellington over the Bay of Biscay (in the Atlantic Ocean, north of Spain, west of France). The Wellington was lost and the B-17 made it back to Engand on one engine. The story was not released until March 14th of that year.

Nose Art: What’s in a Name?


Aircraft names and nose art images are inextricably linked. Both are essential to the genre. How the names and images were selected is as varied as the aircrew and ground crew connected with the aircraft.

Where the same group of flyers were assigned consistently to the same aircraft, the nose art would typically be a somewhat “democratic” process with all crew members contributing. Where this occurred, it supported the development of a strong emotional bond between the machine and the men inside. In addition to the nose art, there are examples of aircraft where crew members would add a “good luck” image to the fuselage at their position. In the case of aircraft where the crew was transient, there is evidence to suggest that nose art was sometimes handled by ground crew. But it is also true that there were many aircraft without names or art.

In RCAF and RAF squadrons, the name and artwork were often directly related to the letter designation for the aircraft within the squadron. The fuselage markings on RCAF/RAF planes consisted of a two-letter squadron code (such as QB) and an additional letter designating a specific plane within the squadron. This was a much easier way of keeping track of aircraft inventory than serial numbers, and also made it easy to assign radio call signs.

An example: When a new Halifax bomber was assigned to Jack Dundas, a pilot with 424 Squadron, it became QB-B. He and his crew were faced with deciding on a name and nose art using the letter “B,” the third letter in the string and the one specific to the plane. The story goes that most of the crew favoured “Beer Barrel Betty.” Dundas, however, thought they needed something different. On a visit to a bookstore he saw a children’s book with Walt Disney’s Bambi on the cover. He bought the book and pulled rank on his crew and had the ground crew paint the name and image of Bambi on the fuselage.

Probably the most interesting nose art name examples are the ones associated with pin-up girls. The image and the name reinforced each other, sometimes suggestively, sometimes not.

The examples below illustrate this range, and are examples from Canadian aircraft.

  • Avenging Angel
  • Blonde BombshelL
  • Drum Major GirL
  • Easy Elsie
  • Evening Ecstasy
  • Miss Shapely
  • Notorious NaN
  • Pistol Packing Peggy
  • Vicky, the Vicious Virgin
  • Virgin on the Verge

Other names express other thoughts:

  • Beer is Best
  • Blues in the Night
  • Buzz, King of Hogtown
  • Fangs of Fire
  • Let’s Grow Old Together
  • Malton Mike
  • Slow But Sure
  • Terror of the Axis
  • The Rope for Tojo
  • Willie the Wolf