RCAF Vampire 3

Research by Clarence Simonsen

RCAF Vampire 3
No. 401 [Auxiliary] “Ram” Fighter Squadron

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RCAF Vampire 3

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Text version with images

RCAF Vampire 3
No. 401 [Auxiliary] “Ram” Fighter Squadron

The D.H. 100 Vampire was a single-seat, twin-boom, jet propelled fighter monoplane with the pilot located in the nose of the central nacelle in a pressurised cockpit. The Vampire was all metal construction except for the forward fuselage which was wooden construction covered by metal skin.

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The de Havilland Engine Co. designed the first jet engine in April 1941, and by March 1943, it was flying in a Gloster Meteor [twin-engine] and by 20 September 1943, it was powering the D.H. 100 Vampire on its initial test flights. The RAF Vampire fighter reached a top speed of 540 mph [864 kph] over a wide altitude range, the second jet fighter operated by the RAF, and the first powered by a single jet engine.

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The RCAF’s choice of the D.H. 100 Vampire as its first postwar jet fighter had more to do with politics and money, rather than fighter pilot operational considerations. In 1945, the United Kingdom owed Canada 242 million for the construction of the BCATP, and this debt was forgiven by the government of Canada in 1946. Acquiring British jets for the RCAF was another complex financial agreement which was controlled by credits [not money] which Canada had secured in Britain during the war. The RCAF had hoped for both Vampire [single engine]and Meteors [twin engine] jets but the Canadian government did not have enough British credits for both, and thus picked the cheaper Vampires, when available credits allowed for 85 fighters, rather than 66 Meteors. So “Bloody” Canadian.

The first RAF jet shipped to Canada for testing was Meteor EE311, which arrived by ship in Montreal, August 1945. Assembled and test flown at Ottawa, the new jet fighter was ferried by rail to Edmonton in December 1945, for cold weather testing. On 1 April 1946, RCAF Winter Experimental Establishment [W.E.E. testing] was moved to Namao, [North Edmonton] Alberta, and a second RAF Meteor EE361 was shipped to Canada joining EE311. On 29 June 1946, F/L William H. McKenzie J16763, was ordered to ferry Meteor EE311 to Malton, Ontario, for an RCAF airshow, where the RAF Meteor would become the big attraction. The pilot ran out of fuel [external tank would not feed] and the new RAF Meteor EE311 was ditched in Helen Bay Lake, north of Nipigon, Ontario. Pilot McKenzie survived three weeks in the Canadian wilderness and was not found until 25 July. Meteor EE361 was returned to England in 1947, and these two RAF Meteor jets were the only pair flown by the RCAF for testing. Meteor EE311 was recovered from Helen Bay Lake in 1946, and most likely scrapped.

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This Library and Archives of Canada image shows RAF Meteor jet-fighter EE311 at RCAF Rockcliffe, Ontario, in October 1945. She will be shipped by C.P.R. rail to Edmonton, Alberta, in December 1945 for cold weather testing. RCAF test pilot officers [L to R] F/Lt. Jack Robert Ritch, F/O Everett L. Badoux and F/Lt. William H. McKenzie who ditched in Helen Bay Lake on 29 June 1946.

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On 22 December 1946, the first RAF Vampire 1, serial TG372 [below] arrived by rail at RCAF Namao, [North Edmonton] Alberta, for cold weather testing. First flight 4 January 1947, instrument check by pilot F/L Ritch, 5 minutes. Test flown until 11 June 1949, then remained at Edmonton base and only used for local test flying, last flight by W/C W.B. Hodgson on 17 November 1949. Replaced by RCAF Vampire 3, serial #17055, taken on strength 20 August 1948, test flown W.E.E. Edmonton, on 25 November 1948, F/L Robert Ritch.

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The first RCAF Vampire F.3 was test flown by de Havilland at RCAF Downsview, Ontario, 17 January 1948, and soon went into service as Central Flying School training aircraft at RCAF Trenton, Ontario. The Vampire was already an obsolescent jet fighter by the time it entered service with the RCAF, but the American F-86 would soon be built by Canadair in Montreal and the new Avro CF-100 was being designed at Malton, Ontario. The British Vampire 3 introduced Canadian fighter pilots to jet propulsion, a pressurized cockpit and tricycle landing gear, however the fighter had no ejection seat, which did cost lives. Ten RCAF squadrons flew the Vampire, with a total of 86 acquired in 1948, only forty survived by 1956, when the jet fighter was withdrawn from RCAF service. The serial numbers of the 86 aircraft follow, with dates of the twenty-two lost in Category “A” accidents.

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RCAF Vampire 3 Serial Numbers

The yellow indicates seventeen DH-100 Vampire 3 fighter jets taken on charge by No. 401 [Auxiliary] “Ram” Fighter Squadron based at St. Hubert, Quebec, March 1948 – February 1956.

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The Early History of No. 1 [RCAF] Fighter Squadron 1937-41

No. 1 [RCAF] Fighter Squadron was formed at Trenton, Ontario, on 21 September 1937, the nucleus of the unit came from No. 3 [Bomber] Squadron “Fighter Flight” which was formed at Camp Borden, Ontario, on 1 September 1935.

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These RCAF fighter pilots trained in five obsolete Armstrong Whitworth Siskin Mk. III A aircraft serial #302, 303, 304, 305, and 309. This RCAF image was taken at Trenton, Ontario, in July 1938, Siskin #302 being prepared for flight. No. 1 [Fighter] Squadron moved to Calgary, Alberta, 30 August 1938, where the first modern Hawker Hurricanes fighter aircraft arrived in crates from England. Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, #316 arrived at Sea Island, [Vancouver] B.C. on 17 May 1939, was assembled and test flown. First British Hawker Hurricane fighter #316 to arrive in Calgary, Alberta, 1 June 1939, pilot S/L Fullerton. [author collection]

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The first RCAF Hawker Hurricane fighter training took place at Calgary, Alberta, 28 June 1939, when S/L Elmer Garfield Fullerton took #315 for a test flight. This RCAF airfield is today the location of Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta. Fighter training continued until 3 September 1939, when England declared war on Germany. On 10 September 1939, war was declared by Canada, and No. 1 Squadron moved to St. Hubert, Quebec, with seven Hurricanes fighters on strength, serial #311, 315, 316, 324, 327, 328, and 329.

On 28 May 1940, before going overseas, No. 1 Squadron absorbed No. 115 [Fighter] Squadron which was an RCAF Auxiliary Active Air Force unit from Montreal, Quebec. RCAF Auxiliary Squadrons and their ‘part-time’ aircrews saved Canada [and England] during the early six months of WWII. Canadian history forgotten by the passage of time.

The world-wide depression of 1932, had a drastic effect on the RCAF and they were barely able to survive, with a strength of 103 officers and 591 airmen. [I won’t mention the obsolete aircraft they were flying] Since the RCAF inception in 1924, it was mainly employed with the Canadian government’s civil flying duties, and it was not until 1936, the government decided they should reorganize as a purely military organization. Almost too little too late, as only the growing threat of Hitler’s conflict in Europe resulted in federal funds for the RCAF to expand and form new commands under their own control. On 15 November 1937, to allow for the expansion of the RCAF Permanent Force, Non-Permanent Auxiliary Air Force units were assigned and renumbered in the 100-block squadron numbers. No. 15 [Auxiliary] Fighter Squadron in Montreal, Quebec, now became No. 115 Squadron, and the RCAF Auxiliary Active Air Force was created on 1 December 1938, with twelve squadrons by 1939. On 19 December 1938, the RCAF became an independent arm directly under the Minister of National Defence, controlled by the Chief of the Air Staff. As a result, the new commands were fully operational when war was declared and the RCAF were able to handle the sudden rapid air force expansion. On 10 September 1939, when war was declared, the twelve Auxiliary units were mobilized, and this ‘part-time’ Auxiliary Active Air Force now represented one-third of the RCAF’s total strength. These Auxiliary units supplied half of two RCAF squadrons which sailed to England in 1940, so often forgotten by historians in modern unit history. Forty-three per cent of No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron came from No. 115 [Fighter] Auxiliary Squadron from St. Hubert, Quebec.

On 26 August 1940, they were the first to encounter German aircraft, suffer combat casualties, the first RCAF squadron to engage in combat during the Battle of Britain, and to win gallantry awards. When mobilized at St. Hubert, Quebec, 10 September 1939, they also created an unofficial unit badge with a large blue number 1, a flying Canada Goose, with a Red Maple Leaf, which served with pride in the unit until 1 March 1941, when a new official badge was created at Digby, Lincolnshire, England. No. 401 [Fighter] Squadron was approved featuring a Rocky Mountain Sheep [Ram] Head, Motto – Mors celerrima hostibus [Very swift death for the enemy]. They flew Hurricane and Spitfire fighters on offensive and defensive combat air operations over England and in air support of Allied ground forces in North-West Europe. They held the record for RCAF sorties flown at 12,087, and lost 62 pilots, 6 killed in action, 10 killed in accidents, 28 presumed dead, no body ever found, and 18 POWs. On 5 October 1945, No. 401 scored the very first RAF/RCAF kill over a new German Me262 jet fighter over the Arnhem-Nijmegen area of Germany. In total they destroyed 195 German aircraft, probably destroyed 35 and damaged another 106 fighters, making them the top-scoring RCAF fighter squadron in WWII. They remained in Germany under No. 127 [RCAF] Fighter Wing, and were disbanded at Fassberg, Germany, on 10 July 1945.

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It is possible the No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron ‘unofficial’ badge was created at Calgary, Alberta, during Hawker Hurricane training 28 June to 3 September 1939. On 10 September 1939, No. 1 Squadron was mobilized at St. Hubert, Quebec, and this is where the first image of the unofficial badge was photographed by Quebec pilot F/O Nesbitt. This unofficial badge served with No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron during the Battle of Britain, however nothing else is known. I’m sure it was painted on a few Canadian aircraft, but again, just lost when aircraft were shot down and no photos were taken of the Canadian Hurricane fighter art.

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During the Battle of Britain, five urgently needed Hurricane squadrons joined the fray, No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron, No. 302 and No. 303 [Polish], No. 310 and No. 312 [Czech] Squadrons. The RAF allowed these five squadrons to paint a national emblem on the Hurricane fuselage, provided it did not take up more than one square foot. RAF fuselage and nose art was permitted and No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron became part of RAF aviation aircraft marking history. History painted and self-explained on the front cover of Toronto Star Weekly magazine 5 July 1941. [author collection]

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The inside story of Toronto Star Weekly, 5 July 1941, exposed the full impact of RAF Hurricane fighter fuselage [pilot position] art which was first allowed during the Battle of Britain, and involved No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron.

The RAF soon expanded the use of national emblems used by all Allied Squadrons serving in the RAF, they had no choice, the Polish, Norwegian, Greek, Dutch, Free French, Belgian, Czech, Americans, and Canadians were all painting their British flown aircraft with art. RAF Command simply attempted to take some form of control, and orders read – “National Emblems must be positioned on fuselage sides close to pilot position and conditioned not to exceed 100 Square inches in area.” RAF squadrons began to paint different forms of pilot position art and this slowly moved forward to the nose and became commonly called “Nose Art.” For some insane reason, today’s RCAF Aviation Museum’s are afraid to paint and display WWII aircraft properly, and American [internet] publications are slowly claiming they were responsible for WWII aircraft nose art. This simple fuselage art all began in August 1940, when Allied pilots flying for the RAF in the Battle of Britain, just wanted to display their national pride, and maybe bring them some combat luck.

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This Star Weekly image clearly shows the proper RAF approved “pilot position” art on a Battle of Britain Hurricane, not exceeding 100 Square inches. S/L John Simpson flew with No. 35 and 245 Squadrons, thirteen kills, became Group Captain in RAF, died 8 December 1949.

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The second photo came from No. 5 S.F.T.S. at Branford, Ontario, as RCAF ground crew pretends to paint a flight squadron Devil stencil on a British Avro Anson Mk. I trainer. Most of these WWII training flight aircraft art insignia were not preserved and have been lost and forgotten.

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Sadly, this also applies to the original No. 1 [RCAF] Squadron badge, the very roots of our Canadian fighter unit which has been overlooked by historians and forgotten as non-important Canadian RCAF history.

The RCAF reached its peak wartime strength in 1944, with 215,200 all ranks, including 46,272 serving overseas. On 6 February 1946, the government approved a peacetime RCAF of four components, a Regular Force, an Auxiliary, a Reserve and the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. The Regular Force were assigned 16,100 all ranks and eight squadrons, while the Auxiliary were assigned 4,500 all ranks and fifteen squadrons. The Auxiliary were assigned the role of Canadian Air Defence and began to form flying squadrons in April 1946.

No. 401 [Auxiliary] Squadron was reborn on 15 April 1946, at Montreal, Quebec, and once again the head of a “Ram” took to Canadian skies. On 1 October 1945, No. 401 took over all ground and air training aspects of a RCAF Regular fighter squadron.

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The official WWII badge, approved by King George VI, September 1944, was once again the official badge of No. 401 [Auxiliary] Squadron, Training Command, Air Defence, St. Hubert, Quebec.

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In September 1946, No. 401 [Auxiliary] Squadron took on strength twelve North American Harvard Mk. II trainer aircraft serials: #195, 586, 2680, 2760, 3046, 3082, 3091, 3123, 3192, 3288, 3300, and 3586. Around this period an ‘unofficial’ badge of a vicious Flying Rocky Mountain Sheep [RAM] was created by the squadron, appearing on beer mugs, glasses, plus an unofficial cloth badge [left] worn by Auxiliary aircrew members until 1956. The Squadron colors became Dark [Roundel] Blue and each Harvard trainer aircraft cowling, wing tips, and rear rudder were painted Dark Blue. [Decal and cloth badge from collection of F/O Denis LeBlanc]

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On 9 May 1947, RCAF Routine order 250, issued in a new five-letter Post-War code system with a new International Civil Aviation Organization registration of aircraft. Harvard serial #3288 now became VC-ABG and was marked as such. The “VC” [on paper] denoted RCAF, “AB” was No. 1 [Auxiliary] Squadron, and the “G” became the aircraft assigned letter. This VC system code was not discontinued by the RCAF until 19 November 1951. While the No. 401 Squadron Ram head appeared on many aircraft, Harvard, Canadair Silver Star [T-33], Canadair Sabre [F-86] and Beechcraft Expeditor Mk. 3, no photo evidence can be found showing the unofficial badge [Flying Ram] was ever painted on any aircraft. I’m sure it was, but again lost by time.

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Harvard flying training consisted of four, six, and eight aircraft flying in close formation, aerobatics, instrument flying and long range navigation. Ground lectures were held on navigation, air traffic control, armament, and survival.

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Early March 1948, four RCAF D.H. Vampire 3 jets begin to arrive with No. 401 [Aux.] Squadron.

Vampire #17008, 17014, 17024, and 17040 received the same VC system of identification as the Harvard’s, with the nose given the letters AB – A to Z on each side. The twin tail rudders were painted in Dark Blue, the same as the Harvard trainer aircraft.

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Vampire training consisted of four, [later six, and eight jets] flying in formation, pipelines, cine range firing, air to ground live firing at Diver Range, Instrument flying, low and high level navigation with and without fuel drop tanks and jet conversion training. Special pilot training instructions were also given in the dangers of baling out of the new Vampire jet as the pilot was likely to strike the twin tail plane and would be killed or seriously injured. A special technique was developed which involved an inverted half-roll before the pilot jumped, however this was only effective in normal controlled aircraft flight. If you lost an engine or the aircraft was on fire, you rode the Vampire to a forced landing and hoped for the best. No. 401 Squadron had a total of seventeen Vampire 3 jets on strength and six were lost in Category “A” accidents, killing four pilots.

F/Lt. Charles Stewart Buchanan, Vampire #17024, killed 22 July 1952. F/O Donald Ross Wright, force landed Vampire 17035 at Joliette, Quebec, killed 11 June 1954. F/O Peter Albert Read #105313, arrived 25 April 1951, mid-air #17086, killed 10 July 1954. F/O George Harry Griffin, crashed on take-off #17059, killed 22 July 1954, Toronto. S/L T.W. Dowbiggin baled out of Vampire #17054 [survived] after mid-air with #17086, 10 July 1954.

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The official title “City of Westmount” never appeared on aircraft, while the Ram’s head unit insignia continued to appear on Canadair [T-33] Silver Star, Canadair [F-86] Sabre and Beechcraft Expeditor until 1968.

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When the International Civil Aviation Organization system of registering individual aircraft was introduced 9 May 1947, the Canadian government did little research and soon the RCAF problems with the system began to mount. When an RCAF aircraft was transferred to another unit, the aircraft had to be re-registered and all new markings must be applied. This was too costly and very time-consuming for the RCAF who had enough common problems to deal with. Since no other military organization in the world had adopted the VC code ICAO system, the Canadian government officially discontinued the markings on 19 November 1951. New two letter codes were issued to all RCAF units and all aircraft had to be repainted, again with more cost and time. New Squadron two-letter codes were now assigned [to selected units] with the last three digits from the aircraft serial number, so simple, and cost saving. No. 401 [Auxiliary] retained their squadron code “AB ” and the last three digits for each aircraft serial were applied to both sides of the nose. The AB code letters were painted after the national insignia on each twin boom of the jet. The nose area in front of the cockpit was painted black, the underside nose wheel area was painted black and the underside of the engine fuselage was also painted black. The two twin rudder tails remained painted dark [Roundel] Blue. The wing undersurface contained the three digit [030] serial numbers in reverse with Maple Leaf national marking.

No. 401 [Auxiliary] Squadron establishment was broken into two sections; the Auxiliary [part-time] Air Force and the RCAF Permanent Air Force, which was called the Auxiliary Support Unit.

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In August of 1951, Permanent Air Force Flight/Sgt. Denis [Denny] LeBlanc, twenty-eight years old, was posted to No. 401 Squadron for fighter training in the new D.H. 100 Vampire 3 jet aircraft.

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Denis Denny LeBlanc was born in Campbellton, New Brunswick, 28 February 1924. He joined the Canadian Army in September 1941 and was released from the Army in December 1942, so he could enlist in the RCAF.  He received his Flight Sgt. Wings in 1943, No. 1 Flying Training School, Trenton, Ontario.

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Promoted to F/O in January 1952, Denny LeBlanc #J8805, [middle right] was an experienced pilot when he arrived with No. 401 Fighter Squadron, sadly his log book is missing and much information was lost. The photo is not dated and the Chaplain is believed to be F/Lt. J.A.R. Ducharm, St, Hubert, Quebec. The Dakota DC-3 was taken on charge RCAF 17 January 1945, U.S. serial 43-49872, RCAF VC-BNA serial 983, sold to the Indian Air Force 12 March 1963.

S/L Fred L. Mitchell first soloed in a Vampire jet on 18 January 1951, and one year later was assigned training officer for F/O LeBlanc. At 09:30 hrs., 9 March 1952, the two pilots were flying a normal routine training flight at 3,000 feet, then around 10:00 hrs S/L Mitchell noticed black smoke streaming from the engine of LeBlanc’s Vampire jet serial #17029. Mitchell ordered LeBlanc to make an immediate forced landing, and the pilot selected a snow covered field beside the main highway to Lanoraie, Quebec, thirty-five miles from RCAF St. Hubert, Quebec.

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The D.H.-100 Vampire 3 RCAF jet trainer serial #17029, coded “AB-B” with possibly pilot LeBlanc at the controls. [Date of photo unknown]

As he prepared for his wheels-up forced landing, the extra under wing fuel tanks were jettisoned, and the flaming jet touched down and began to slide along the snow covered ground. In seconds the flaming jet slid about 150 feet and then suddenly disappeared in a blinding flash. S/L Mitchell circled the crash site and as the smoke cleared could see no sight of pilot LeBlanc. Fearing the worst, Mitchell gained altitude and raced for the base, informing the control tower of the crash location, as ground and RCAF ambulance were dispatched. The force of the aircraft engine explosion had blown the aircraft cockpit sideways and LeBlanc was found half-conscious in his cockpit amid the wreckage. His escape from Vampire aircraft death was described as “nothing short of a miracle” with superficial injuries and no broken bones. He was rushed to Queen Mary Veterans Hospital where he remained in a body cast, a precaution for healing of his spine, for the next four months.

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The remains of DH Vampire #17029 under investigation at St. Hubert, Quebec

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Queen Mary Veterans Hospital June 1952 and pilot LeBlanc is still in partial spine body cast.

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31 May 1953 F/O LeBlanc [right] was posted to RCAF Station London, Ontario.

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Converted to F-86 Sabre and flew at RCAF Chatham, New Brunswick.

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In December 1954, two Canadair Silver Star [T-33] arrived, serial #21437, and #21439. Trainer serial #21476 and #21530 arrived in 1955, with 530 [above] the last to leave April 1958.

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Vampire training was slowly coming to an end and by the fall of 1955, they were parked, officially off strength in February 1956.

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Seventeen D.H.–100 Vampire jets served with No. 401 [Aux.] Squadron from March 1948 until February 1956 and now the Vampire Bats were going into storage.

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In total 3,268 Vampire jets were constructed in fifteen different versions and today [2021] at least eighty survive, with a number still flying. Canada has seven, including four Vampire 3 aircraft. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa has the world’s second oldest Mk. 1 and most original intact RAF Vampire TG372, which was used for winter flight testing [W.E.E.] at Edmonton, Alberta.

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RAF DH-100 Vampire 1 serial TG732 arrived in Canada from England and was taken on charge by the RCAF 22 November 1946. Taken on strength RCAF Winter Experimental Establishment [W.E.E.] Edmonton, [Namao] Alberta, 30 November 1946. First flight 4 January 1947, F/L Ritch, test pilot.

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RCAF Vampire #17055 arrived at RCAF Edmonton in the fall of 1948, flying her first W.E.E. testing on 25 November 1948. The test flying hours of Vampire TG372 slowly dropped to around fifteen hours a month and she was used in an Edmonton airshow on 11 June 1949, pilot K.W. Brown. On 17 November 1949, Vampire TG372 was taken for a test flight by W/C W.B. Hodgson, testing and local area flying. The Vampire still flew a few test flights up to February 1958, eleven years of service in the RCAF. Somehow this rare Vampire Mk. 1 was saved from scrapping and today is in storage at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, complete with rare “My Assam Dragging” nose art. Canadian RCAF museum’s have a very bad track record of destroying one-of-a-kind historical aircraft and then repainting them as replica aircraft, or just failing to paint them correctly. I do hope [our Canadian Smithsonian] Canada Aviation and Space Museum will preserve Vampire 1 serial TG372 in her original markings and also preserve the original Dragon nose art painting.

The art work reflects on the long service record [eleven years] and the fact the RAF Vampire jet was in fact dragging her ‘ass’ by 1958. The RCAF artist or date of the nose art are unknown to the author but the hard part will be attempting to preserve this artistic history by Canadian historians in Ottawa.  The painting “Our Assam Draggin” dates back to 1942, when the USAAF 25th Fighter Squadron went to war in the India-Burma campaign.

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American General Pershing landed at Liverpool, England, with his staff, on 8 June 1917, to organize the American Expeditionary Force. The American Air Service would procure 4,791 front line aircraft from France, 261 from Britain and 19 from Italy. In addition, 1,216 D.H. 4 aircraft were shipped from the U.S. which were mainly used for training, as they were not front line combat aircraft.

Forty-four American combat squadrons were organized in France and saw active service at the front flying mostly modern French aircraft. Each A.E.F. Aero Squadron painted insignia art on the French aircraft they flew and most of this insignia were retained when the U.S. Army Air Corps was formed on 1 March 1935. As new Air Corps squadrons were formed new insignia was created and approved, while others were never officially approved. The 25th Pursuit Squadron was constituted on 20 November 1940, activated on 15 January 1941. On 20 June 1941, the American War Department created the U.S. Army Air Forces, and during the war A.A.F. combat units were assigned to wings and numbered air forces. The 25th Fighter Squadron was assigned to the 51st Fighter Group, 10th Air Force, flying the India-Burma WWII campaign, based at Karachi, India, in the North-East State of Assam, 12 March 1942.

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 Their official insignia became “Our Assam Draggin” with a P-40 shaped Dragon, designed by an ex-Walt Disney artist This insignia inspired many nose art paintings of “Our Ass is Dragon” during WWII, and possibly inspired the nose art on RCAF Vampire TG372 in mid 1950s. Will the bureaucrats in Ottawa preserve their rare Vampire nose art and tell the history? I can only hope!

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