31 March 2018 | Winter Haven, Florida, USA. The 1946 ERCO Ercoupe 415C (a make and model operated by pilots of the Alaska State Defense Force within the Alaskan Region of the North American Aerospace Defense Command [NORAD] until 2012) had just winged her way over a residential area named Eagle’s Landing and was adjacent to Lake Jessie, where former United States Navy Reserve and New Jersey Air National Guard fighter pilot Richard Bach* composed his classic 1970 novelette Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
The two-seat metal airplane sported an Alaskan Inuit moniker (Ila, which translates to English as meaning “friend” or “companion”) and was approaching the point at which the base turn of the landing circuit would be undertaken. The pilot, who possesses “Native American” and “Native Canadian or “First Nations” ancestry, took note of something just off the left wingtip. His gaze departed from the instruments arrayed before him on the panel and moved outward along the port or left wing.
Just beyond the red navigation light, he beheld a mesmerizing sight; a rare leucistic bald eagle was effortlessly gliding in close formation with the manmade bird. Air currents gently ruffled the avian plumage as the majestic creature perfectly maintained position. For a few precious seconds, a period of time that seemed to last for an eternity and will be forever remembered by the human, aviator and eagle gazed at one another eye-to-eye. Both fliers were captivated by the extraordinary encounter.
A member of a tribe in British Columbia stated the following when informed of the Ercoupe and eagle incident: “An eagle ascending and flying with a Native Canadian is an endowment of inestimable value.”
The Ercoupe’s nose artwork, which was applied years ago to represent the ancestral pride of the principal owner and primary pilot, represents a young aboriginal woman appearing in the background of a 1905 Paul Kane painting of the interior of a Klallam/Callam winter lodge on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Communicating a similar message, the Internet page Master Warrant Officer Stan Mercredi – A proud carrier of Aboriginal tradition explains that to Canadian aboriginal cultures, the Eagle Staff, created in 2002 by the Department of National Defence (Ministère de la Défense nationale)/Canadian Armed Forces (Forces armées canadiennes) represents “spiritual entities, nations, clans, languages, medicines, and healing.” Furthermore, “It is believed that eagles communicate directly with the Creator, making eagles themselves, their feathers and their images highly revered by First Peoples.”
If a member of a tribe is presented with eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) plumage, the gift is considered by the recipient to be one of the most cherished items he or she could ever receive; it is believed that eagles have a special connection with and to the heavens due to the fact that they can fly and soar at high altitudes. Powerful and stately in appearance, the eagle is considered to be the leader of all winged species. Thus, many aboriginals believe that if they are gifted with an eagle feather, the offering is a symbol from the Great Spirit.
According to a Canadian Army article titled The Sacred Tradition of the Eagle Staff, to those not of aboriginal stock, the “Staff can be compared to a national flag: it represents people, states, governments, regiments and battle honours.” This is perhaps one reason why an eagle appears on the official badge of the RCAF, which is derived from that adopted by the British Royal Air Force (RAF), and the Canadian Armed Forces.
The Canadian and American air forces also enjoy historical ties, bonds that go back to World War I when Canadians in the Royal Flying Corps Canada trained at the “Flying Triangle” (Camp Taliaferro) near Fort Worth, Texas using Curtiss JN-4 Jennies. Less than a generation later, after the outbreak of World War II, thousands of Americans flocked to Canada and joined the RCAF. Many of these “Yank” volunteers subsequently transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces after the Imperial Japanese Navy attacks on and around Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.
Not surprisingly, the online posting titled the Meaning of the Air Force Symbol explains that the U.S. Air Force (USAF) incorporates an eagle into the service branch’s seal and flag. In those employments the American Bald Eagle represents America and the United States’ airpower.”
Calendar year 2018 marks the anniversary of two important organizations for those serving under the Canadian eagle emblem. One is the centenary of the RAF and the other the 60th birthday of NORAD. In a 28 March 2018 statement issued to RAF personnel, Lieutenant-General Michael J. Hood, CD, Commander of the RCAF, remarked about the historic links to and cooperation with the RAF and the enduring partnership with USAF through NATO.
History is important to Lieutenant-General Michael Hood, as evidenced by his statements during a February meeting of RCAF personnel and museum representatives at Canadian Forces Base, Trenton. An example of the RCAF leadership’s recognition of the significance of those who previously served and sacrificed was recorded on 28 February by NORAD NEWS.
That day a meeting took place with 98-year-old RCAF veteran George Sweanor, a retired RCAF Squadron Leader, who resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado and whose former squadron (No. 419 Squadron, RCAF) served as a component of RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War.
No. 419 Squadron was the third RCAF bomber squadron to deploy overseas. During the conflict 419 Squadron operated Vickers Wellington, Handley Page Halifax, and Avro Lancaster bombers.
Sweanor was visited and honored at Peterson Air Force Base, which in part serves as NORAD headquarters, in Colorado Springs by members of RCAF 419 Tactical (Training) Squadron/419e Escadron d’entraînement à l’appui tactique. One of the unit’s CT-115 Hawk advanced trainers was painted in a WW2 bomber livery for the occasion and placed inside a hangar behind George Sweanor and his admirers.
In light of the foregoing Bomber Command Museum of Canada, a charitable organization in Nanton, Alberta that has a record of assisting the RCAF, pays tribute to the RCAF and RCAF-American members of RAF Bomber Command and NORAD.
Six decades on, the RCAF and USAF continue to keep their “eagle eyes” fixed on the mutual goals of defending North American skies, seas, and the regions of outer space above the continent.
Thus for the foreseeable future USAF F-15 Eagles and RCAF CF-188 Hornets will continue to scramble in response to any perceived, suspected, or actual threats to the two countries, and the successful and necessary alliance will certainly remain solid long after the last Eagle and Hornet have landed and been retired from the respective air forces’ inventories.
*Authors’ Note: During the summer of 1970, Bach journeyed to Ireland and flew for the film Von Richthofen and Brown. The aeroplanes were First World War aircraft owned by an ex-RCAF Flight Lieutenant by the name of Lynn Garrison, who was first pilot for the last RCAF operational flight of an Avro Lancaster on 4 July 1964.
The authors (John T. Stemple and Susan Gale) dedicate this article to the men and woman of NORAD. Additionally we simultaneously pay tribute to Donald W. Knight (22 May 1934 – 31 March 2018), who passed away earlier today. He was a former U.S. Air Force enlisted crew chief who oversaw maintenance on Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star subsonic trainers and North American F-86D Sabre transonic interceptors.
Don was also, for short time, a civilian student pilot. Mr. Knight once had the pleasure of flying in Ercoupe Ila, an excursion that turned out to be his last flight in a noncommercial light aircraft. In commemoration, Ila flew over Don’s home mere hours after his passing. Facing the end of his life, Don Knight was undoubtedly, as the Bible states in Isaiah 40:31, ready to “mount up with wings as eagles” and soar in the heavenly realm.
Sources and Suggested Readings
419 Squadron RCAF 1941 to 1945
419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (French: 419e Escadron d’entraînement à l’appui tactique
419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron
98-year-old Royal Canadian Air Force WWII veteran gets surprise visit
Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck
Badge of the Royal Air Force
Bald Eagle Description Page 1
Celebrating the 94th birthday of the Royal Canadian Air Force on April 1, 2018
Handley Page Halifax
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
Indigenous peoples in Canada
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Leucistic Bald Eagle
Lieutenant-General Michael J. Hood, CD
Master Warrant Officer Stan Mercredi – A proud carrier of Aboriginal tradition
Meaning of the Air Force Symbol
McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo
McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
New Uniform for the Royal Canadian Air Force
North American Aerospace Defense Command
North American Aerospace Defense Command
North American F-86D Sabre
RCAF marks 100th anniversary of first military pilot training in Canada
Streamers: Symbols for Bravery, Patriotism
The DND/CAF Eagle Staff
The ERCO Ercoupe’s military legacies
The Sacred Tradition of the Eagle Staff
Welcome to the Royal Canadian Air Force
What does it mean to mount up with wings like eagles?