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The First Ferry With Tripp

by Frank Tibbo

 

It was November 10, 1940, and seven Hudson bombers were in Gander for the first attempt at ferrying military aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean.

The military band turned out in their honour. Only ten minutes elapsed between the departure of the first and the last of the seven Hudsons. The purple flames from the exhausts leaped from the silhouette of each formation, each in touch with Captain Bennett's leading Hudson where Bennett himself was checking navigation. Bennett recalls the experience:

"It was a dark night, and the weather en route was rather a mixed bag – as one might expect on such a long leg. With the help of formation flight, the whole group managed to keep with me, in spite of passing through broken cloud layers. Eventually, however, we had the bad luck to run into the top of a very virile warm front; and we were forced to break formation at 18,000 feet and to spread out to avoid risk of collision. I went up but I was still in quite heavy snow and turbulence at 20,000 feet, so all had to continue on their own. All arrived safely and without incident."

Beside the safety and lack of incident so tersely noted by Bennett, there was a feeling of adventure and excitement which all the crews shared in this, the "Big Trip." Riding in Hudson T-9468, piloted by Captain Ralph E. Adams, with Flying Officer Dana Gentry as co-pilot, was Radio Officer C.M. ("Curly") Tripp. He kept a record of his first crossing.

"For the first hour there seemed to be planes all around us, and which one was the leader was the question. Ralph turned the ship over to Dana and with the torch began to check over the ship and found oil leaking badly from the starboard tank. I passed a message to the leader, Captain Bennett, that our oil tank had ruptured, but we were watching closely and would keep him advised. Out Skipper, being in some doubt as to whether to go or not, held back. Finally, he decided the oil flow was diminishing; and deciding to go, we found ourselves quite alone. Then my radio blew up by shorting in the Antenna switch box and giving us all a good scare. Ralph hollered to me, 'Shut the ____ thing off!’ but I had beat him to the gun. With that load of gas, it isn't pleasant to have fire skipping around the cockpit; and the corona from that transmitter was really something.

When the Skipper decided to go on, we climbed up to 16,000 feet, which afterwards proved a smart move as we gained on the rest right from there. At 00.13 G.M.T. Captain Bennett figured his position at Lat. 50.58N, Long 48.38W.

At 02:03, while I was trying to take a bearing on Captain Bennett, the indicator on the radio compass broke and I really felt up the creek without a paddle. No transmitter or compass and out over the Atlantic Ocean. I didn't have the heart to tell Ralph the compass was on the bum, but from then on I couldn't sit there and do nothing, so asked permission to go to work on the transmitter.

At 02:07 we all got a scare when our bomb bay tank ran dry and both motors started cutting out. I was not expecting it, and even if Ralph and Dana were, the way they went for that hand pump and gas valve made me think they didn't like it any better than I did. I don't think anything ever sounded as good to me as hearing those big Wrights hit their stride again and settle down to a steady drone. From then on the Skipper didn't need to watch any gauges. I could tell him every minute how much gas was left in whatever tank he was on. He got quite a kick out of this, and I took some kidding afterwards – Dana calling me the 'human gas gauge.'

At 02:25 G.M.T., we were at 18,000 feet; and we must have looked funny sitting there with a rubber tube struck in our mouths. I sometimes get scared when I think how we started out that first trip with one little tank of oxygen and nothing but a rubber tube to suck it through. Ralph did the regulating, and knew what he was doing, as none of us suffered any ill effects. Although at one time, I felt my stomach would cave in, and Ralph got down in the nose and had trouble getting up. I didn't know until afterwards why he turned the oxygen on for a few seconds.

At 03:40 I felt very pleased to be able to tell the skipper we had a transmitter again and I think it was a load off his mind although he said nothing. At 04:40 Captain Bennett reported at Long. 25.50W, and we knew we were doing well too.

At 05:00 the Captain spotted what appeared to be a light off out starboard bow, and Columbus himself could not have looked more longingly at North America than we did at that light. We were sure it was one of the other planes, and when it proved to be a star, we couldn't help feel a bit let down. The skipper had been losing altitude, and when he couldn't get contact at 2,000 feet, he pulled back up to 6,000 and stayed there. We were in rain cloud off and on; after the cold of 18,000 feet we were forced to take off our heavy clothing as it was quite warm. Even cutting off the heat didn't seem to cool the plane off, and for a time I was in my shirt sleeves.

All was quiet on the air, as we were keeping W/T silence east of 20 west. Control was trying to pass Met traffic but no one could read him through the rain static. Once W/T silence was broken, it became a wild scramble. The Skipper casually mentioned that he could use a bearing, but after listening to the static realized it was hopeless.

At 08:00 we started to descend, and at 5,000 feet came contact. Dana was down in the nose, and I don't know who was most surprised when he casually stuck his head up and said, 'Say Captain, there's land down there.' It was a big moment. Ralph stuck her nose down to get a better look and reached for the map case ... We were over land but there was water in the distance. It was a tense moment when Ralph pointed to a little spot on the map and said, 'That's it over there, Catlin Island.’ It didn't take long to prove him right. It was only a few minutes until we came over Lough Neagh which was really beautiful in the morning light. Suddenly the Captain let out a roar and shouted. ‘There's Aldergrove right over there.’ With that he shoved the throttles forward and the way that Hudson jumped was like a horse coming down the home stretch. After one circuit we were down at 08.50 G.M.T. We were third in."

All seven aircraft landed safely. It heralded the beginning of the biggest aircraft ferry operation in aviation history.

 

Submitted by F. Tibbo

 

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