1956 - 2018, Celebrating over 60 Years of Service
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Wings Over the Wilderness – They Flew the Trail of ’42
It became apparent in 1941 that there was a need to find an alternate route for delivery of lend-lease aircraft to Russia, since shipments by way of the North Sea were becoming problematic due to German sea and air attacks on convoys. Pearl Harbor also awakened us to the need to build up our defenses in Alaska against the possible threat of a Japanese invasion. Thus, the Air Transport Command’s 7th Ferry Group was given the task of delivering lend-lease aircraft over the northwest route to Fairbanks, Alaska.
This is a second book by Blake W. Smith and is the continuing story about wartime adventures of pilots who flew the trail of ’42 and delivered aircraft to Alaska – the trail stretched 2,400 miles from Great Falls, Montana, to Nome, Alaska. In the beginning it was over vast uncharted areas of Western Canada and Alaska. A joint venture between the U.S. and Canada built or improved a series of airfields and emergency landing strips along the way, which were eventually connected by the Alaskan Highway that was being built at the same time.
This is not some narrative by the author, but the words of the pilots themselves skillfully woven together by the author. It includes stories by the 7th Ferry Command pilots, the Russian pilots and bush pilots, all of whom participated in this hazardous adventure.
For anyone who thinks this was a cake-walk for the pilots, you’re in for a surprise. The incredible cold, up to 70º below zero, blind flying in fog and severe icing conditions were the norm, not the exception. As one pilot said, “I’m sure that we all had our share of good and bad times up North, but one thing for sure, we sure as hell learned a lot about flying! I’ve met and talked to many pilots in SAC and TAC after I got back to the States, but very few who really knew a lot about flying instruments, violent weather, and serious icing conditions. Most of the people thought that these were all subjects people talked about but rarely encountered.”
This book is about a little known part of WWII that was just as dangerous, albeit in a different way, as flying combat. The book has numerous stories by pilots who lived them, and some unusual, but interesting appendices – including a letter from the Switlik Parachute Company welcoming a new member to the “Caterpillar Club,” and a list of the Russian Air Crash Fatalities 1942–1945.
This is a softbound book with almost 300 heavy slick pages that has one or more images on almost every page. Even though it has a few typos, the kind that Spell-checker doesn’t catch, it is an interesting read. It is a book I would recommend for anyone interested in learning more about lend-lease deliveries, flying in Alaska, the 7th Ferry Command, blind flying in adverse conditions with only rudimentary instruments, and pilots describing their adventures and misadventures.