William Charles Smith was a RAF Volunteer Reserve Pilot in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, in training at the No. 6 RCAF Station, Dunnville.
It was June 19, 1943. William was 17-years-old and bored, so he departed the training area and flew out over Lake Erie. He decided to entertain passengers of the SS Canadiana, the ferry between Buffalo and Crystal Beach amusement park, in his Harvard MKII No. 2963 with an exhibition of low flying manoeuvres. He then flew nearby to do attack manoeuvres on a tanker.
William became bored again and returned to the SS Canadiana, zooming in on the ferry then climbing to cross over the ship, closer and closer to the water with every run. Two pilots from the same RCAF station who were on the ferry were very upset with his antics; one in his blue uniform made himself very visible to William on a fly-over, but William persisted.
At 3 p.m., wave hopping about 5-8 feet off the water, William once again came up close behind the SS Canadiana, then pulled up into a steep right climb over her top deck. At 75 feet the Harvard stalled, then hit the lake nose-down 50 feet from the steamer, killing him on impact.
Shortly after the crash the fuselage was recovered, however the engine, gear struts, tire and wing centre section were strewn across the lake floor, evidence of the violence of the crash.
Last year at the CHAA Aircraft Recovery Team dove to find the remains of the aircraft, still visible and recognizable, although covered in mussels, on Lake Erie’s floor. The recovery team, which has raised other old ghosts, applied to recover the remaining artifacts and take them to a Dunnville museum.
It is a fascinating story. Search online for Forgotten Warbirds - Harvard 2963.
Tillsonburg Regional Airport is home to the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, and you can check out the Harvards stationed here during their summer Fly Days and Wings And Wheels event. You can see their two hangars and classrooms in which they work to achieve their mandate of acquiring, preserving, restoring, maintaining, displaying and demonstrating the Harvards and all Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft. They now have six Harvards, a Tiger Moth and a Yale. You can check them out Tuesdays and Saturdays by calling 519-842-9922 or go online to www.harvards.com.
This season’s Fly Days are July 23 and August 13. You can check out the hangers, planes, merchandise and catch a ride on a Harvard. They bill a flight experience as an adventure and I can attest that the word is a perfect description of going up in one of these vintage craft. It was certainly a thrill I will never forget. I especially loved wearing the parachute and the pilot giving me the instructions that in case of an emergency, I would have to jump out. I laughed. There is no way I could get out of the place by myself so I told him he better roll it so I could fall out. Fortunately we didn’t have to test the exit strategy!
My favourite event is the Wings and Wheels Fly Day which will be Sept. 10, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sept 11 rain day). The Bygone Iron Car Club from Woodstock will bring their magnificent old cars to compliment the fine old planes. It is a fun day with admission by donation. Of course, you will have the opportunity to fly in either a Harvard or Tiger Moth. There will be a BBQ lunch and musical entertainment, hangar tours and static displays, silent auction and door prizes. For more information call 519-462-2316 or 519-539-0767 or email email@example.com.
I usually love hearing the roar of the Harvards when they fly over our home on North Street. However, I have had a couple of terrifying moments during two of their lower passes. No, I wasn’t worried about a crash, but both times I was working with the most skittish of the fully loaded, orphaned baby skunks in the skunk pen. The first time, I was transferring big teenage skunks into travel cages to be released, and just last week, when I was trying to get a very unhappy skunk to take some medication.
In the distance I heard the roar and as the yellow planes got closer, I realized they were going to actually go right over the house and there was no time to get the skunks into their hidey house. I stood there clutching Stinky Butt against my chest trying to hide him and dampen the roar, while five other skunks began running around in circles with their butts pointed in every direction trying to figure out what was happening. Peter took one look at the situation and ran. There was nothing I could do but pray. There is a God!
As the rumble and roar of the flying yellow menace dissipated, I sniffed and realized there was no yellow haze in the air! I had survived one of the most potentially dangerous attacks from the Harvards of Tillsonburg!