Bolingbroke - The Canadian Blenheim
On 24th September 1937, the first Bristol Type 149 took to the air at Filton. Known as the Bolingbroke, the aircraft was in effect a Bristol Type 142M (known as Blenheim Mark I) with several modifications, including a lengthened nose. The Bolingbroke was a stop-gap aircraft, required urgently in the build up to the impending war in Europe. By the time it entered RAF service, it had been renamed the Blenheim Mark IV, as there was much similarity with the earlier Blenheim Mark I. The aircraft became much more than a stop-gap, as it was arguably the most important aircraft in the RAF when war broke out in 1939. Eventually over 6,000 Blenheims were built around the world.
When the Bolingbroke was being developed at Filton, the Canadian government negotiated a licence to manufacture the same aircraft in Canada, by Fairchild Aircraft of Quebec. The prototype Bolingbroke was sent to Canada as a pattern aircraft, and the first Canadian Bolingbroke entered Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) service in November 1939.
The first 18 Bolingbroke I's were built using drawings and components supplied by the Bristol Aeroplane Company. The Canadians then modified and improved the design in a number of ways, using American instruments and equipment. Known as the Bolingbroke IV, this aircraft had a redesigned cockpit, storage for a dinghy, and the ability to swap the wheels for skis.
Bolingbroke 9048 - Protecting Canada
Canadian Bolingbrokes were initially used on anti-submarine patrols on the Eastern coast of Canada. Bolingbroke 9048 started its RCAF service with 8 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron on 25th November 1941. From its base at Sydney, Nova Scotia, it operated long-range anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic, protecting merchant ships from attacks by U-boat. Within a few weeks Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, and the USA entered the war. 8 (BR) Squadron was relocated to Western Canada, and its fleet of Bolingbrokes set off on an epic journey across Canada to Sea Island, British Columbia in January 1942. From here, 8 (BR) Squadron operated anti-submarine patrol over the Pacific. 9048 is therefore unusual in that it operated against both German and Japanese forces.
In June 1942, the Japanese attacked Dutch Harbor, then seized Kiska and Attu, two remote islands in the Aleutian Chain. To counter the threat, 8 (BR) Squadron re-located from Canada to Anchorage, Alaska, to operate long-range anti-submarine patrols as part of a joint U.S. - Canadian force. The squadron flew long and tedious patrols from Alaska, often in adverse weather, from airfields with only the most basic of facilities.
In February 1943, the Squadron returned to British Columbia, as new four-engine Liberator aircraft took over the anti-submarine patrols from Alaska. In May 1943 the Bolingbrokes in 8 (BR) Squadron were replaced with Lockheed Venturas.
Training Commonwealth Crews
9048 was transferred to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) as a Bombing and Gunnery trainer in September 1943. Many thousands of Commonwealth air crews trained in Canada, helped by its clear skies and the distance from war-ravaged Europe. "The Plan" was the largest of its kind, and trained 167,000 pilots, navigators, gunners, bomb-aimers, wireless operators and flight engineers in Canada between May 1940 and March 1945.
9048 flew with No. 3 BGS (Bombing and Gunnery School) at Macdonald, Manitoba, and No.7 BGS at Paulson, Manitoba. The BCATP was wound up in early 1945, and 9048 was put up for disposal in October 1945 at Paulson, with 626 hours on the clock.
In the UK, at the end of the war, almost all surviving military aircraft were scrapped, especially those like the Blenheim that were superseded by more advanced types. Only one European built Blenheim survives intact, and it is a Finnish built example. In Canada, many World War 2 aircraft including 9048, were sold to farmers to be stripped for spare parts. The remaining fuselage hulks were left to decay on the sparsely populated prairies, as it was easier to leave them than remove them for scrap. In the 1970's, a California-based warbird collector and former B-17 pilot, David Tallichet, acquired the remains of three Bolingbrokes, including 9048, and transported them to Chino near Los Angeles.
The three have been stored in arid conditions since then. 9048 did spend a couple of years near Palm Springs, to be restored for a local museum, but no work took place and she returned to Chino in 2005. Graham Kilsby, a founder of the Bristol Aero Collection and now resident of Nashville, Tennessee, acquired the Bolingbroke in 2005, and has very kindly donated it to the Bristol Aero Collection.