BCATP aircraft: the Cessna Crane

News Article / April 27, 2016

By Major Bill March

In the late 1930’s, the Wichita, Kansas-based Cessna Aircraft Company was struggling to survive with limited orders of its light single- and dual-engine aircraft. Then, in 1939, the company began production of a low-cost, lightweight product for the commercial market.

Designated the T-50, it was Initially powered by two 245-horsepower Jacobs R-755-9 radial engines, and featured wooden wings and tail married to a fuselage constructed of welded steel tubing. Unique for its time, the aircraft featured a retractable tail-wheel and trailing-edge flaps, both of which were electrically activated.

Capable of carrying as many as five passengers, the T-50 was cheap, reliable and relatively easy to fly, with a top speed of 315 kilometres (195 miles) per hour. It first took to the air on March 26, 1939, and while it generated some interest, it did not generate significant orders. This changed with the start of the Second World War.

With the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) agreement in place by December 1939, the Royal Canadian Air Force was moving ahead quickly to establish the necessary schools and facilities. Unfortunately, there were not enough training aircraft to meet the anticipated requirement. Although Great Britain had promised to provide a certain number of aircraft, the worsening strategic situation in the spring and summer of 1940 severely curtailed this source of supply.

Canadian industry was being prepped to produce various types of aircraft, but it would be many months before these factories came on line. Therefore, the RCAF turned to the United States to acquire aircraft to bridge the gap with respect to BCATP training needs.

Desperately short of an advanced multi-engine trainer, Canadian air force officers were quick to latch onto the T-50. All of the advantages that Cessna had highlighted to make it attractive to commercial clients (cost, economy and ease of use) made it a viable choice for the Canadians. Very quickly, an order was placed with the company for 180 of these aircraft, with delivery to start in December 1940.

This was the first large order that Cessna had received for one of its products, but it was soon followed by another from the United States Army Air Corps. In American service it would go through a series of designations: AT-8 for the initial batch of training aircraft, AT-17 Bobcat for most of the follow-on purchases, UC-78s after it ceased to be used as a trainer and became a light transport aircraft and, by the United States Navy, JRC-1. Eventually, more than 5,400 of these aircraft would be produced, of which 826 saw service with the RCAF.

By January 1941, these aircraft, designated the “Crane” in Canadian service, began to arrive in large numbers, with many of the first batch going to No. 4 Service Flying Training School at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In addition to No. 4 SFTS, the Crane would become the primary training aircraft at No. 3 SFTS, Calgary, Alberta, No. 11 SFTS, Yorkton, Saskatchewan, No. 12 SFTS, Brandon, Manitoba, and No. 15 SFTS, Claresholm, Alberta. That most of these aircraft remained in Western Canada throughout the war was due not only to the location of the SFTSs, but also to simplify logistic and maintenance requirements.

Used primarily to provide multi-engine training for pilots destined to serve on bombers, the Crane was a successful BCATP aircraft and would continue in RCAF service, albeit in ever-dwindling numbers, until 1948. Although considered underpowered, with a poor load-carrying capacity (especially on one engine), it helped produce the large number of pilots required by the Article XV squadrons that began coming into existence in March 1941.

Yet, despite the good service that it provided to the RCAF and allied air forces throughout the war, the Crane did earn its fair share of nicknames, the use of any particular one no doubt depending on the results of an individual’s flight. In various circles the aircraft could be referred to as a Bamboo Bomber, Useless-78, Wichita Wobbler, Rhapsody in Glue, or a San Joaquin Beaufighter.

However, a rose by any other name, at least in RCAF service, will always be known as a Crane.

The Cessna Crane

The Cessna Crane was conventional for the period, featuring a low cantilever wing. The aircraft featured a mixed-material construction with the wings and tail made of wood and the fuselage made of welded steel tube. The skin featured a combination of lightweight wood and fabric. The retractable tail wheel and trailing edge flaps were electrically equipped. The vast majority of the Cranes were retired at the end of the war, but a few lingered on in light communication duties.


Designation: None

Model number: T-50  

Marks: Mk I, IA

Role: Trainer

Taken on Strength: 1941     

Struck off Strength: 1949           

Number: 826

Service: Royal Canadian Air Force


Manufacturer: Cessna Aircraft Corporation

Crew / Passengers: Two pilots with provisions for three passengers

Powerplant: Two 245-horsepower Jacobs R-755-9 radial engines


Maximum speed: 195 miles per hour (314 kilometres/hour)              

Cruising speed: 175 miles per hour (282 kilometres/hour)

Service ceiling: 22,000 feet (6,705 metres)   

Range: 750 miles (1,207 kilometres)


Empty: 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms)                         

Gross: 5,700 pounds (2,585 kilograms)


Span: 41 feet 11 inches (12.78 metres)                         

Length: 32 feet 9 inches (9.98 metres)

Height: 9 feet 11 inches (3.02 metres)                           

Wing area: 295 square feet (27.41 metres2)

Armament: None

Cost: Unknown

Source: Canadian Combat and Support Aircraft: A Military Compendium, by T.F.J. Leversedge © 2000. Reproduced with permission of the author.


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