• Martin Zeilig

Richard Wilsher and the Chipmunk Flight

Having a restored DHC-1 Chipmunk parked near a much larger CT-148 ‘Gonzo” Dash 8 inside Hangar 16 was a “pretty cool” sight in the words of one member, Aviator Wookyum Kim, of 402 ‘City of Winnipeg’ Squadron. His fellow crew members seemed just as impressed as they admired the guest aircraft.


Richard Wilsher with the DHC-1 Chipmunk. Photo: Martin Zeilig, Voxair Photojournalist

The slender, tandem Chipmunk, notes Wikipedia, “was designed and developed by aircraft manufacturer de Havilland Canada” in the mid-1940s as a trainer aircraft, is owned by Mr. Richard Wilsher—a resident of southern California.


Mr. Wilsher, who flew into Winnipeg from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan on June 26, was re-creating the 25th anniversary of an around the world flight in Chipmunks by two Royal Air Force pilots.


This year (2022) marks the 25th anniversary of that 50th Anniversary effort, and to celebrate it, Chipmunk WP833 (msn C1-0714), one of those two Chipmunks, is returning to Canada from California, where it is now based to repeat five of the legs it flew in 1997 with its sister-ship WP962, msn C1-0809, now displayed in the RAF Museum, Hendon, UK, notes information provided in advance by Mr. Wilsher. This year’s effort, called simply and not too imaginatively ‘Northern Venture 25’, gets started on May 1st. “I want to see how it flies,” Av Kim said.


He and his colleagues watched as Mr. Wilsher, who was born and raised in England before moving to Los Angeles 23 years ago, did some last minute tune-ups on the Chipmunk’s piston powered engine on the hot and sunny morning of June 28.


As the Chipmunk entered its middle age with the Royal Air Force (which operated the largest fleet of Chipmunks of any armed force anywhere in the world), a group of pilots noted the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of the type’s first flight and the idea of a Golden Jubilee celebration germinated,” says the historical information.


“An expedition around the northern hemisphere was researched, visiting the home of De Havilland Canada, in Downsview, Toronto, birthplace of the Chipmunk. This received tentative approval and with that, Exercise ‘Northern Venture’ (known more colloquially as ‘Chipmunks Around The World’, or simply ‘ATW’) was born, with work beginning in early 1996 to make the idea a reality.”


Captain Chris MacLean, OC Ops Flt, 17 Operations Support Squadron, was also captivated by what Mr. Wilsher was doing by marking the silver anniversary of the original round-the-world flight.


“I think it’s fantastic,” said Capt MacLean, who arranged for Mr. Wilsher to park the Chipmunk overnight in Hangar 16 as well as providing other services to Mr. Wilsher.

“Although it was an RAF aircraft, they were all made and designed in Canada. Even though the aircraft is 70 years old, it is still airworthy and able to “do its job by flying here,’ albeit with periodic stops for refueling along the way.”


He also observed that Mr. Wilsher was a gentleman and “very kind to everyone who wants to see the aircraft,” especially the technicians.


“He’s very appreciative of us hosting him here,” said Capt Maclean.


“I’m recognizing what these guys (who made the original flight) did,’ Mr. Wilsher. The pilots on that original flight were Squadron Leaders Bill Purchase and Ced Hughes.


“I’m wearing right now the flight suit worn by Bill Purchase, whose name is on the starboard side of the aircraft,” Mr. Wilsher, an IT consultant who specializes in identity management and information security management, said. “He’s given me his helmet. I also have the original charts they used to navigate around the world.”


He also stated that he acquired the aircraft in 2010 in the U.K. and flew it about for 25 hours there before transporting it to California. “I got to know the guys involved in Northern Venture,” he said, noting that he was flying five legs of the original flight plan this month.

“They flew these single engine old bangers over the damn cold Atlantic Ocean. They flew them over the Russian Federation and parts of Canada, which are not particularly hospitable. My flight out of here to Thunder Bay has a great deal of wet stuff underneath.”


He also said that the Chipmunk was an ab initio (primary) trainer for RAF pilots. It was used by the RCAF and other Air Forces too.


Even as Chipmunks were being phased out of service by the RAF in the 1980s, two of the aircraft were kept in order to train current pilots to fly Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters and DC-3s (Dakotas) in Battle of Britain Memorial Ceremonies, said Mr. Wilsher, who used insulating tape to add some rigidity to the P lead attachment that helps him to ground the magnetos which, as he explained, enables him to shut the engine down at the end of the flight.


“It’s the longest serving aircraft in the RAF still doing primary duty,” he added.


After leaving Thunder Bay, Mr. Wilsher’s flight plan was going to take him to Downsview, Ontario via Sault Saint Marie. “I will be making a stop on each of those legs as well,” he said. “People come out of the woodwork and want to know about the plane. “I’ll leave this in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton for a couple of weeks while I return home by jet.”


He’ll be returning sometime in July to fly the Chipmunk to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the Oshkosh air show—which, says online information, features thousands of show planes, such as warbirds, homebuilt aircraft, vintage airplanes, seaplanes, ultralights, and aerobatic aircraft—before flying back to California.


“It’s been fabulous in Winnipeg,” Mr. Wilsher, who stayed overnight at the Fort Garry Hotel where the two Northern Venture pilots stayed during their stopover here a quarter century ago, said. “17 Wing have excelled themselves transporting me back and forth and giving me a secure hangar for the plane. They’ve been really generous.” He also pointed out that he’d be flying east at an altitude of 5,500 feet at a cruising speed of 90 knots with a 20 knot tailwind.


A short time later the Chipmunk climbed into a big blue, cloudless prairie sky.



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