The Crane With Clipped Wings

Uncovering the hidden history of the most enjoyed airframe in the collection of Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum.

(Ingenium Archives) 

Pilot For a Minute, or Five

Sitting quietly on display in the back corner of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan exhibition island at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario is the nose section of a Cessna Crane twin engine light aircraft of Second World War vintage. The aircraft is in itself unspectacular at first glance, in its stark white finish with dark blue cheat lines and dented black nose. Things quickly become far more interesting once one walks to the rear of the severed fuselage to discover the open flight deck ready for a self-guided immersion into the cockpit of a real vintage airplane. 

This unassuming “old school” interactive display at the museum dates back to its earliest days. It has been faithfully entertaining and educating children and adults alike since the mid 1960’s. It has no video screens or force feedback controls. At one time in the 1980’s, it was fitted with a short soundtrack loop containing engine sounds and some unmemorable radio chatter, but that has been made silent many years ago. The key fact remains that the Crane nose section has been a pillar of the collection for over five decades, and I am certain will remain such for many more to come. Generations of visitors have “slipped the surly bonds” while remaining on terra  firma and without doubt it has opened the door for many to experience a lifelong love of aviation. 

Oddly, in this nucleus of Canadian aviation history and education, the Crane with clipped wings has been lost in plain sight for over half of a decade. Its past has remained cloudy and undocumented. Certainly this omission was not caused by poor stewardship but it most likely stems from the fact that it has been seen by generations of staff and millions of visitors as just plain fun. 

The Cessna Crane

The Crane was developed as an inexpensive twin engine utility transport developed by the Cessna Aircraft Company of Wichita Kansas in 1939. Intended as a civilian aircraft, it was later adopted by the U.S. Army and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as the AT-8, AT-17, UC-78 and Crane I and Ia respectively. In both Canada and the United States it was primarily an advanced trainer but also saw service as a utility aircraft. The design featured a welded steel fuselage structure with wood support and fabric and alloy coverings.

Fresh looking Cranes on the occasion of the opening of No. 12 SFTS in Brandon, Manitoba July 19, 1941.  (LAC PL-5747)

During 1940 the RCAF was forced to order Cranes from the then neutral United States in order to supplement the twin engine Avro Ansons and Airspeed Oxfords then in service for training RCAF and British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) pilots on twin-engine aircraft. Orders began to arrive in 1941 and the RCAF ultimately received a total of 820 Cranes, the majority of which operated as pilot trainers in Western Canada with the BCATP. The type continued in the RCAF service until 1946. Surprisingly, only four cranes were officially used as ground instructional airframes and these did not remain in use after the war. The last remaining stocks were disposed of in 1948, many with over 2000 hours of use.

Even though the Crane was not an ideal training aircraft, reportedly due to its poor single-engine performance and load-carrying capability, it filled a significant gap between aircraft shipments from the United Kingdom and the ramping up of Canadian wartime aircraft production.  Cranes of the RCAF trained hundreds of young aviators from all corners of the world in Canada. Even after their military service they continued to operate for many years as trainers, light transport, and sport aircraft.

Specifications

General characteristics (Crane I)

  • Crew: pilot+four
  • Length: 32 ft 9 in (9.98 m)
  • Wingspan: 41 ft 11 in (12.78 m)
  • Height: 9 ft 11 in (3.02 m)
  • Wing area: 295 sq ft (27.4 m2)
  • Empty weight: 3,500 lb (1,588 kg)
  • Gross weight: 5,700 lb (2,585 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 6,062 lb (2,750 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Jacobs R-775-A1 (LM4B) seven-cylinder, air-cooled, radial piston engine, 225 hp. each

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 169 kn (195 mph, 314 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 152 kn (175 mph, 282 km/h)
  • Range: 650 nmi (750 mi, 1,210 km)
  • Service ceiling: 22,000 ft (6,700 m)

RCAF Procurement

Cessna Crane Mk. I 

Jacobs R-755-A1 (L-M4B) engines rated at 225 brake horsepower at sea level and fitted with Hartzell wooden propellers.

640 Acquired

RCAF Serials: 1300, 4000, 7657-7836, 7843-8202, 8651-8750, 9000, 9500, A242, A293

Of note with the first batch are serial numbers 1300, 4000, 9000 and 9500. All of these aircraft were actually rebuilt from wreckage and spares by the RCAF and given new serials. 1300 was built using substantial remains of 7955 and 4000 used the fuselage of 5027 while 9000 incorporated parts of 7753 and 9500 used an unrecorded previously acquired fuselage.

Mk. IA 

Fitted with Jacobs R-755-A1 (L-M4B) engines. Rated at 225 brake horsepower at sea level with Hamilton-Standard metal propellers

Number acquired: 99

RCAF Serials: 8751-8850

This was the first part of a lend lease order of Cranes that were recorded and marked with either RAF or RCAF numbers.

RAF serials: FJ100-FJ199

Mk. IA 

Fitted with Jacobs R-915-A1 (L-6MB) engines. Rated at 330 horsepower at sea level and Hamilton Standard metal propellers.

Number acquired: 81

RCAF Serials: FJ200-239, FJ248-289, A294-A295.

This was part of the Lend Lease order of Cranes but in this case RCAF numbers were not assigned or marked. RAF Serials were retained.

A total of 820 aircraft were in service in Canada from 1941 to 1948

Crane Mk.I Serial 1602, RCAF 8109

The subject of this article came to my attention during one of my early visits to the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, when it was housed in the old RCAF Rockliffe hangers. As a child, I recall it being magical inside the cockpit, filled with smells of aircraft and tactile experiences of the like I’d only dreamt of. I remember banging away at the control wheel and throttles every visit the family made to the museum. It was only when I got older and professionally involved with museums that I would wonder about the history of the Crane cockpit that had been on display for decades with little more than a text panel stating it was a cockpit form a Cessna Crane of the type used by the RCAF during the Second World War.

As the internet didn’t really exist when I started having a greater interest in the aircraft, my questions to staff and volunteers were as far as I could go and those were often replied to with “I’m not sure” or “It’s been here longer than me!” Every few years the old Crane would pop back into my head and I’d have another dig into its history without any real luck. Then, on a trip to the museum with my father in the mid 2000’s I took the opportunity to sit in the cockpit and have a good look for identifying numbers. To my surprise riveted to the top of the instrument panel cover at an angle you couldn’t see from the seats was the Cessna dataplate, complete with serial number “1602”.

Finally a breakthrough!

Crane Mk.1 8118 of No.12 SFTS seen in front of the tower at Bandon, Manitoba. this aircraft was built as serial 1611, nine airframes after the subject of this article. The two aircraft would appear in the same configuration while in RCAF service.
(CATP Museum)

Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me that trip and promptly lost the paper I wrote the number on but I knew it was there. Jump ahead 10 years and I found myself working in the conservation department at Ingenium, the parent organization of the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.

One day at work I managed to head into the galleries with cellphone in hand to get the pic of the dataplate I had missed a decade before. Finally I had the proof I needed; Cessna T-50 Serial 1602!

Dataplate detail of 8109/CF-BTG (J.Ginn Image)

I immediately checked RWR Walker’s excellent RCAF Serial Numbers website and Voila! I had the summary of the RCAF record card for Cessna Crane Mk.I RCAF 8109.

  • Manufactured By Cessna Aircraft on October 30, 1941 in Wichita, Kansas U.S.A.
  • 13 November 1941. Taken on strength by No. 2 Training Command.
  • First assigned to No. 10 Service Flying Training School at Dauphin, Manitoba. 
  • To Prairie Airways for overhaul, 25 October to 1 December 1943. 
  • To storage with No. 4 Training Command when completed, issued from storage on 7 January 1944.
  • At No. 2 Flying Instructors School at Pearce, Alberta in early 1944.
  • Back to storage on 25 May 1944. 
  • To No. 2 Air Command on 1 December 1944, still in storage.
  • Pending disposal from 28 February 1945. 
  • 1 December 1945. Struck off, to War Assets Corporation for disposal.
  • Transferred from War Assets Corporation to Royal Canadian Flying Club Association, registered on 15 March 1946 as CF-BTG. 

The aircraft served with the RCAF for four years, all in the Prairies. It was struck from Canadian military service in late 1945.

Prairie Warrior

Written on the record for Crane 8109 are two identifiable training units, The first being No.10 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at Dauphin, Manitoba and the second No.2 Flying Instructors School (FIS) at Pierce, Alberta.

Crane Mk.I 7810 with the markings of No.10 SFTS on its rudder. Flying near Dauphin, Manitoba. (AWM P01523.052)

During the period between early 1942 and late 1943, 8109 was stationed at No.10 SFTS, in Dauphin, Manitoba. No.10 SFTS was part of the BCATP scheme and was in operation between 1941 and 1945 training students from all parts of the British Empire.

At the school, students started on the Tiger Moth then quickly moved to the Crane before earning their wings and going on to serve in overseas units. The aircraft of No.10 SFTS are identifiable by the large “10” in a broken circle usually seen on the rudder.

Cranes of No.10 SFTS in the hangar at Dauphin. Manitoba. (CATP Museum)

After an overhaul and a short period of storage, 8109 moved to the No.2 Flying Instructor’s School at Pearce, Alberta in January 1944. Canada operated 3 Flying Instructor’s Schools to support the BCATP but No.2 was the only to operate the Crane in numbers.

Its time at No.2 FIS “Western University of the Air” was short however and it was returned to storage by March 1944, were it basically remained until the end of the war, and its eventual disposal.

Personnel and aircraft, including Crane Mk.I 7793, of No.2 Flying Instructor School at Pearce, Alberta. (BCMofC Archives)

Civvy Street

Crane 8109 was struck off RCAF charge in late 1945 and was transferred to War Assets Board for re-sale. The aircraft was subsiquently transferred it to the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association. First used by Quebec City Flying Club in 1946 the aircraft was quickly moved on to the Canadian Aircraft and Auto Company of Peterborough, Ontario in June of that year. After a re-possession with two other aircraft, BTG was transferred to the Kingston Flying Club in October 1947 where it remained until 1955. After this time it appears to fall out of use by flying clubs. 

In March 1955 it was transferred to C.A. Haigh and P.L. Munnings of St. Jovite, PQ and then less than a year later, on 16 May 1956, with 2377 hours total time on the airframe, it came to the Ottawa area with its transfer to Bradley Air Services of Carp, Ontario.

Interestingly there is one last transfer in the civil aviation records relating to BTG. It appears a Mr. Irving Sanders of Ottawa acquired the aircraft on 16 January 1957, but it does not appear to have left Carp. It was withdrawn from use and broken up for spares by 27 March 1958 and finally removed from the register in 1961.

Some, and Then Some More…

Crane CF-BTG, Formerly 8109 with the RCAF, seen at Carp, Ontario in 1957. (Mike Ody. Collection, with permission)

While researching the history of BTG an Internet search led me to a colour image of the aircraft taken while at Carp in 1957. After reviewing the image it quickly became apparent that I had seen the pale yellow paint scheme with black cheat lines recently. I had walked by cowlings with those colours weekly while working in the collections storage areas of the museum!

A closer investigation of the pallet holding the parts revealed a label indicating “Cowlings DC-3?”. They obviously were too small to be DC-3 parts but they were Cessna Crane, and complete with the pale yellow and black scheme seen in the image. Encouraged I took a good look through the warehouse and found even more of BTG. Amongst the loose panels in an uncatalogued parts area I found two lower nacelles and two engine accessory panels, all from a Crane with the same paint scheme.

Further encouraged I performed a detailed search of the museums database for Crane parts or transfers from Carp, Ontario and came up one good result; a pair of Jacobs L-4MB engines that the museum acquired from Bradley Air Services in 1964. Upon inspecting the database images of the engines it became apparent that they still retained all of their accessories and the air intakes matched those fitted to the Crane. It appear that more of the aircraft had survived than had originally been known!

Engines from 8109/CF-BTG in storage in Ottawa during 2019. (J.Ginn image)
Cowlings from 8109/CF-BTG in storage in Ottawa during 2019. (J.Ginn image)

The Display

In the mid 1960’s, open cockpit displays of aircraft would be a rare occurrence outside of an RCAF open house or recruiting initiative. It is reasonable to believe that the curatorial staff of the museum would have looked to create a similar display in the museum that would allow their visitors a chance to experience the interior of an aircraft without the need for supervision. The RCAF has a history of touring the nose sections of aircraft to public events that goes back to at least the end of the Second World War. The earliest image of one of these displays I found in the museum collection depicts a nose section of a Beech C-45 Expeditor, on display at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, dating from the mid to late 1950’s.

An RCAF Beechcraft Expeditor nose section on display at the CNE in the 1950’s. (Ingenium Archives) 
An RCAF Beechcraft Expeditor nose section on display at the CNE in the 1950’s. The stencil on the side panel once indicated “Not Suitable For Aerobatics” (Ingenium Archives) 

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum was created in 1960 but did not open a significant display space until acquiring the former RCAF Rockliffe Second World War era hangars in 1964. The scant records at the museum relating to the Crane show its parts were acquired in June 1964 by the then Assistant Curator R.W. Bradford. The earliest photographs of the Crane nose section held in the museum’s collection date from 1971.

These images show a tidy display of the cockpit section with many children exploring it. It is apparent in the image that the nose panel paint and the fiberglass seat tops have much wear indicating that the aircraft had been on display for some time by that point. Of key interest to the researcher is the paint scheme that was undoubtedly added by the museum during the rebuild of the cockpit to display standard. The scheme is no longer yellow and black but the unique scalloped black anti-glare panel on the nose was retained. The interior is much as it appears today but it is obvious many of the original instruments remain installed at this early date.

An early image of 8109/CF-BTG on display at the Canada Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa during 1971. (Ingenium Archives)
An early image showing the interior of 8109/CF-BTG on display at the Canada Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa during 1971. (Ingenium Archives)

The next time the nose section appears in the museums image collection is an undated photograph of it on display at the old RCAF Rockliffe hangars. The museum moved from this site in 1988, so it dates to sometime prior to the move to the current building. In this image it is apparent that the entire nose section has been repainted to a more contemporary colour scheme and it was most likely recently applied when the picture was taken as it shows no signs of wear.

A freshly repainted 8109/CF-BTG seen in the wartime hangar at Rockliffe in the 1970’s or 80’s. (Ingenium Archives) 

Today the Crane remains on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in much the same environment it has enjoyed for the last 50 years. The paint has been redone once again and it wears a scheme more in line trends of the late 20th century. The interior remains basically the same but now all of the instruments are reproductions, due to Radium concerns with the originals, and the control yokes are of a more modern design. The times certainly have changed but some simple things continue to captivate the minds of aviators young and old alike.

Interior of Crane 8109/CF-BTG on display in Ottawa during 2019. (J.Ginn images)
Crane 8109/CF-BTG on display in Ottawa during 2019 wearing a modern paint scheme . (J.Ginn image)

Legacy

What remains of Crane Mk.I 8109 C-FBTG is uncommon to say the least. At the time of writing, there are 5 Mk.I RCAF Cranes known to be preserved in Canada, 2 Mk. Ia Lend-Lease examples and 2 unconfirmed examples. This amounts to less than 10 preserved examples of an aircraft used in large numbers by the RCAF to train our airmen, and those of our allies, on how to take the fight to the enemy at the height of wartime. This of course is in addition to the many pilots who benefited from instruction on the type while in civilian use and those who used them for work in the Canadian bush.

Registration History

Regn CarriedDate of ActionActionAction IDDetailsLocation
RCAF8109
CF-BTG1945.11.09Bill of SaleMtl 18456War Assets Corp to Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association
CF-BTG1945.11.27Bill of SaleRoyal Canadian Flying Clubs Association to Quebec City Flying Club
CF-BTG1946.03.15CofR3473 (C)Quebec City Flying Club [12.4.46]Quebec, QC
CF-BTG1946.03.15CofA1057Issued, valid till 15.3.47
CF-BTG1946.06.19Bill of SaleQuebec City Flying Club to Canadian Aircraft & Auto Co Ltd
CF-BTG1946.09.20CofR5051 (C)Canadian Aircraft & Auto Co Ltd [31.1.47]Peterborough (Oshawa), ON
CF-BTG1946.09.20CofA1571Issued, valid till 15.3.47 [CofA 1057 lost]
CF-BTG1947.04.04NoteRe-possessed by Industrial Acceptance Corp Ltd, Peterborough, ON (Fleet 80 CF-DDR & CF-DQK, & Cessna CF-BTG)
CF-BTG1947.05.13InspectedCofA renewed, valid till 13.5.48
CF-BTGSaleIndustrial Acceptance Corp Ltd to Kingston Flying Club ? [After 10.47]
CF-BTG1949.04.25FerryAuthority to ferry Kingston, ON – Oshawa, ON
CF-BTG1949.05.16FerryAuthority to ferry Kingston, ON – Oshawa, ON
CF-BTG1955.03.29Bill of SaleKingston Flying Club to Munnings & Haigh
CF-BTG1955.03.31FerryAuthority to ferry Kingston, ON – St Jovite, PQ
CF-BTG1955.12.07FerryAuthority to ferry St Jovite, PQ – Montreal and return
CF-BTG1956.01.17Appl for RegnMunnings & Haigh
CF-BTGInspectedCofA renewed, valid till 12.3.57
CF-BTG1955.03.29CofR12918 (C)P.L. Munnings and C.A. Haigh [21.3.56]St Jovite, QC
CF-BTG1956.05.16CofR16299 (C)Bradley Air Services LtdCarp, ON
CF-BTG1957.03.27InspectedCofA renewed, valid till 27.3.58. TT=2,327:55
CF-BTG1957.07.16CofR18362 (P)Irving SandersOttawa, ON
CF-BTG1961.01.27DeletedPwfu
A bad day for Crane Mk.I FJ112 at No. 15 SFTS in Claresholm, Alberta. (BCMofC Archives)

Select Sources

Ingenium artifact files, 1967.0433 and 1967.0434

Ingenium Imagebank. http://image-bank.techno-science.ca/collections/image_bank/

Canadian Military Aircraft Serial Numbers: www.rwrwalker.ca. Records for RCAF 8109 and Cessna Cranes in RCAF service.

Historical Canadian Civil Aircraft Register, www.historicccar.ca. Records for C-FBTG.

AB Pic, https://abpic.co.uk/pictures/view/1383454 Image file for C-FBTG.

Preserved Canadian Military aircraft, Harold Skaaruup.

Acknowledgments

Thanks must go to Erin Osborne, George T. Russell, and Sandra Judge for their assistance and patience, and of course Genevieve de Mahy for convincing me to write this all down.