Article: Heroic Failure

  • StinsonMonoplane-640x250

    September, 1947, Canadian Aviation
    by Bill Corfield

    At dawn on a September morning, a green and gold Stinson monoplane trundled down the runway at London, Ontario airport and staggered uncertainly into the sky. Later, after two weather delays en route to the east coast, with Capt. Terence Tully DFC at the controls, and Lt. James V. Medcalf navigating, the “Sir John Carling” ventured out across the Atlantic for London, England. It was never heard from again.

    Thus, in 1927, Canada shared in the spectacular “death or glory” era of pioneering long-range flying. It was the era of Charles Lindbergh who had fired the imagination of the world on May 20 of that same year by crossing the Atlantic alone in his Ryan Monoplane.

    When a London brewer offered a $25,000 prize for a London-to-London flight, there was a veritable flood of applications. Capt. Tully, who was director and chief of the Ontario Forestry Patrol, was selected. He was a graduate of the famous Gosport Flying School in England and, as an RAF test pilot, had flown many types of aircraft. He chose Medcalf, a wartime buddy, as his navigator.

    A special aircraft was ordered from Detroit, powered by a Wright Whirlwind J-5, nine-cylinder radial engine of 225 hp. Tanks to hold 500 gallons were installed. Great excitement attended its delivery flight in August and subsequent trial runs.

    While preparations for the London-London flight were being pressed, other hazardous over-water attempts were being made, many of them unsuccessful. In that year, 1927, 20 aviators, two of them women, lost their lives in trail-blazing missions. Seven others were killed during preparatory flights.

    These failures did not deter Tully and Medcalf, however, and preparations went ahead. The pair were sworn in as mail carriers. They were to carry special letters including one from Prime Minister King to King George V. A special stamp was made for this inaugural air mail service.

    After all-night preparations, Tully and Medcalf climbed aboard their craft shortly after dawn on August 26. Amidst cheers from the throng lining the airport, the “Sir John Carling” took off on the great adventure. After a week of planning and excitement there was a let down as the plane disappeared over the eastern horizon and the base was soon deserted. Only a few boys were around shortly before noon when the monoplane slid back to earth. Tully reported encountering heavy fog and clouds near Kingston so had followed the sponsor’s orders for safety and returned.

    The green light on weather conditions over the Atlantic came from Newfoundland on the last day of August and Tully decided to leave on the next day, Thursday, September 1. All the excitement of departure was repeated and an even larger crowd witnessed the take off.

    The “Carling” was forced down early Friday morning near Caribou, Maine. After waiting for clear weather, Tully arrived at Harbour Grace, Nfld. Then the “Sir John Carling” took off at 7:24 am on Wednesday, September 7 and pointed its green nose toward Croydon Airport, London; a haven it never reached.

    Apprehension grew as the 33 hours estimated for the flight slipped by and no flash came from England about the arrival. Thursday afternoon papers headlined the disappearance of the monoplane and its two intrepid flyers. Of course, no explanation could be given nor was expected, for the secret of those last few hours lay locked away beneath the waves of the Atlantic.

    The flight of the “Carling” is just a hazy memory now with Atlantic flying as uneventful as crossing the street. Two northern Ontario lakes named in honour of Tully and Medcalf are their only memorial.

    This article originally appeared in the September, 1947 edition of Canadian Aviation. The photo is from the London Public Library Photo Gallery (London, Ontario).

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