A Look Back: December 2008
By Ray Canon
Today the name Cessna, as a maker of small to medium-sized piston-driven and jet aircraft, is known all over the world.
By Ray Canon
|No fewer than 820 Cessna Cranes, nicknamed the “Bamboo Bomber,” served in the RCAF by the end of the Second World War.
(Photo courtesy of Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa)
Today the name Cessna, as a maker of small to medium-sized piston-driven and jet aircraft, is known all over the world. At the outbreak of the Second World War, it was just another of a myriad of insignificant aircraft builders. It owes its successful beginning to a twin-engined aircraft that is all but forgotten except by the aircrew that flew it from 1939 to 1945 in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). This plane was the Cessna T50 Crane.
Cessna was not a well-known company at that time. Formed in 1927 by Clyde Cessna to build monoplanes, it was forced to close for two years during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Its first big success was, in fact, the Crane and this was due mainly to the great demand for training aircraft when it became obvious that the war was likely to be protracted.
After the outbreak of war it soon became obvious that the aircraft and aircrew in place would not do. As the aerial Battle of Britain took place, Canada was facing the immense task, through the BCATP, of producing large numbers of aircrew. Airports were rapidly built, while aircraft were acquired wherever possible to the point of setting up production lines in Canada.
It was under this category that the Cessna Crane entered the picture to join the Avro Anson and the Airspeed Oxford for twin-engine training. It was initially intended to play a back-up role and only 140 were ordered in 1940. However, by the end of the war no fewer than 820 served in the RCAF. They even stayed on after the war and it was not until 1947 that the last one was retired.
Why such a large number? The Anson was a heavier aircraft than the Crane which was used mainly in the West; this resulted in lower operating costs for the latter. Like the Anson, it too had a nickname – the “Bamboo Bomber” due to the extensive use made of wood (forerunner of the Mosquito?) in its construction. Pilots who flew both aircraft certainly noticed this lightness almost immediately. The four-engined bombers that many of these same pilots ultimately flew could never have been described as being “light.”
In this vein, S/L John May, DFC, who later flew Halifaxes, described his time with the Cessna as pleasant. “It was a pleasure to fly. Having also flown the Anson, the lightness made itself felt as soon as you took off. No wonder it hung around for a while after the end of the war.”
Raymond Canon is an aviation analyst at the University of Western Ontario.