RCAF to award pilot wings minted from remains of Halifax bomber

Lieutenant-General M. J. Hood CD, Commander RCAF.

28 June 2017 (RCAF article link added 12 July 2017) | Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. 20th Century Aviation Magazine has learned that Lieutenant-General Michael J. Hood, the current Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Commander, recently requested 54 kilograms (100 pounds) of aluminium ingots from Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) in Nanton, Alberta.

Earning one’s wings is a personal high for every pilot, but when Hood’s vision comes to fruition the revered RCAF wings presented to Canada’s newly-minted and elite  military aviators will soon possess even more meaningfulness. Possessing these special symbols will constantly remind the wearers of the proud legacy of the service and their duties as commissioned officers and representatives of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Karl Kjarsgaard at the museum with the ingots. BCMC photo.

Why? Because the metal the wings will consist of is derived from an actual aircraft piloted by a young RCAF officer, Pilot Officer Wilbur Bentz, from British Columbia. “Wib’ Bentz was killed in action in 1944 while piloting a ‘No. 426 Squadron RCAF’ Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber, on a nocturnal sortie over enemy-occupied territory in 1944.

The source metal was recovered in 1997 from Bentz’s Halifax (LW682), which was shot down over Belgium. It was subsequently obtained by BCMC. Jim Blondeau, Director of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), transferred the donated ingots today to Lieutenant-General Hood at RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa. (View the video at the end of this article.)

LW682’s crew. BCMC image.

Eight ingots, representing the number of airmen aboard who perished, were provided because LW682 was specially equipped with a Browning .50-calibre machine gun position located on the underside of the aircraft. The additional weapon station necessitated the carrying of an extra air gunner.

Interestingly, some of this same material was utilised in 2012 for construction of the ceiling of the impressive Bomber Command Memorial in London, England.

It is an arduous and daunting achievement for a pilot candidate to earn his or her RCAF wings. The path to becoming an aviator in Canada’s aerial arm is one that requires steadfastness and a high degree of personal ability.

The RCAF is a relatively small contingent, ranked 31st in world military aircraft inventory on a 2017 GlobalFirepower.com online listing titled Total Aircraft Strength by Country, and therefore need only select and graduate the most intelligent and best performing aircrew trainees. Just a small percentage of the applicants accepted for flying training by 15 Wing at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan will complete Phase III training and be ‘winged’.

BCMC and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) continue to search the world for Halifax crash sites and parts. The organizations’ mutual goal is to piece together a Halifax for display at BCMC.

Karl Kjarsgaard, a man who works on behalf of both BCMC and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), wants readers to know that thousands of Americans volunteered for service with the RCAF during World War II and hundreds died. This unfortunate result was largely due to the fact that early in the conflict RCAF aircrew were frequently funnelled into Halifax squadrons by the Royal Air Force. In excess of 800 American volunteers’ names appear on Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial, which is located on the grounds of BCMC.

Pipers beside BCMC Memorial. Photo: BCMC.

Considering the aforementioned, the ongoing quest to raise a Halifax from beneath the sea off the coast of Sweden and explore a crash site in Germany should also be of great interest to military aviation aficionados and historians below the Canada-U.S. border.

Mr. Kjarsgaard, a museum Director and Project Manager, also reminds readers that exploration and recovery efforts require funding, and donations are continuously needed. It will require contributions, both large and small, from many donors to realise the dream of manifesting a Halifax for display. Monetary gifts may be made via this ‘Fundrazr’ website: Support the Recovery of a RCAF Halifax Bomber.

A somewhat related piece of news is that legislation in the form of H.R. 1553, recently introduced by Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to award Congressional Gold Medals to “all United States nationals who voluntarily joined the Canadian and British armed forces and their supporting entities during World War Two, in recognition of their dedicated service.”

RCAF ensign flying over BCMC. Photo: John T. Stemple.

If passed and signed into law, those ‘Yanks’ who valiantly served with their Canadian and British cousins will finally forever and officially be recognized and remembered. To support this bill, citizens of the United States should contact their Congressional District Representative and ask him or her to be co-sponsors, and Canadians may thank Congressman Ryan’s staff for introducing the measure into Congress.

The author (John T. Stemple) thanks Karl Kjarsgaard, Bomber Command Museum of Canada, Halifax Aircraft Network (HAN) and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) for their cooperation and assistance during the preparation if this article.

Suggested Viewing

Sources and Suggested Readings

2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School


2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School


3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School


3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School


15 Wing Moose Jaw


Allied Wings Flight Training


Bomber Command Museum of Canada


Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial


Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada)


Handley Page Halifax


Kelowna Flightcraft


Lieutenant-General M.J. Hood, CMM, CD

Royal Canadian Air Force


Royal Canadian Air Force


Royal Canadian Air Force welcomes new pilots at 15 Wing


Royal Air Force


Support the Recovery of a RCAF Halifax Bomber


The Americans in the RCAF


The Halifax Project


The Lancaster Bomber


The Legacy of Halifax LW682


Total Aircraft Strength by Country


War-era bomber to be part of new RCAF flying badges