The British built Airspeed Oxford and Avro Anson Mk I were the only twin-engined trainers available for service with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada at the beginning of the war. Although Great Britain had promised to provide a certain number of aircraft, their worsening strategic situation in the spring and summer of 1940 severely curtailed this source of supply. Canadian industry was being prepped to produce various types of aircraft, but it would be many months before these factories came on line. Therefore, the RCAF turned to the United States to acquire aircraft to bridge the gap with respect to BCATP training needs.
First flown in 1939, the American-built Cessna Crane was developed as a five-seat, light transport civilian aircraft. It was originally intended to serve only a minor role within the BCATP (an initial 180 were ordered in 1940) until the Canadian-built Avro Ansons became available in greater numbers. This was the first large order that Cessna had received for one of its products. Eventually, more than 5,400 Cranes would be produced, of which 826 saw service with the RCAF. Cessna Cranes were used primarily to teach future bomber pilots, after they had received their initial training, to fly multi-engined aircraft at Service Flying Training Schools in western Canada.
Powered by 245-horsepower Jacobs R-755-9 radial engines, Cessna Cranes featured wooden wings and tail married to a fuselage constructed of welded steel tubing. Most of the aircraft was fabric-covered. It was cheap, reliable and relatively easy to fly, with a top speed of 315 kilometres (195 miles) per hour.
The Crane provided twin-engined complexity with economy of operation and went on to become one of the most important aircraft used by the BCATP. Cranes continued to serve with the RCAF until 1947, after which many were purchased by private individuals and companies.
In southern Alberta, the Crane was the primary training aircraft at No.3 SFTS, Calgary and No.15 SFTS, Claresholm, each of which had about one hundred Cranes on strength, as well as at No.2 Flying Instructor School at Vulcan (28 km east of Nanton) and later at Pearce which utilized about fifty.
Nicknamed the “Bamboo Bomber” because of its largely wood construction, the Crane had a reputation as a stable and reliable aircraft. Although not an ideal training aircraft because of its poor single-engined performance and load-carrying capability, it performed its duties satisfactorily and helped train several thousand bomber pilots.
The Museum’s Cessna Crane (UC-788; SN 3760)
Manufactured in 1942, this aircraft served with the American military during WW II. One of three Cessna Cranes acquired by Lloyd Drake of Lundbreck, Alberta, it was restored to flyable condition in 2002 by Lloyd’s son Loren who donated the aircraft to the museum in 2018.
It will be painted ‘BCATP’ yellow and maintained in ‘taxiable’ condition.
S/L Donald Patterson DFC
Born in Calgary, Donald attended Elbow Park and Western Canada High School before enlisting and becoming an RCAF pilot. Following his training he spent seven months as an instructor at No.3 SFTS, now the site of Mount Royal University in Calgary. During his training and instructing, Donald completed 675 flights in Cessna Cranes, including 75 flights in Crane 8177.
Donald was then posted overseas, serving with 405 Squadron and later became a Flight Commander with 426 Sqn, completing 34 combat operations. Many of these were in his ‘personal’ Halifax, ‘Willi the Wolf from the West’ that featured a spectacular piece of nose art, a full-size replica of which is displayed adjacent to the Crane.
S/L Patterson returned to Calgary following the war, raising a family and working in the petroleum industry.
The museum’s Crane will carry the markings of 3 SFTS Crane 8177 in honour of S/L Donald Patterson.
Cessna Crane Specifications
Engines: Two 245 horsepower Jacobs R-755-9 radials
Wingspan: 41′ 11″ (12.8 m)
Length: 32′ 9″ (10.0 m)
Height: 9′ 11″ (3.0 m)
Weight (Empty): 3,500 lbs (1,588 kg)
Weight (Loaded): 5,700 lbs (2,585 kg)
Cruising speed: 175 mph (282 km/h)
Operational ceiling: 22,000′ (6705 m)
Range: 750 miles (1207 km)