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On Sept. 5, a North American Aviation NA-64 Yale, built in 1940 circled over a remote farm in Norfolk County, south of Tillsonburg, Ont. Until 1970, the property belonged to Ernie Simmons, a reclusive farmer who amassed a large collection of ex-military vehicles and other surplus machines and farm equipment. The heart of the collection for aviation enthusiasts was 36 North American Aviation NA-64 Yales, seven Fairey Swordfishes and 30 Cheetah radial engines removed from Avro Ansons. Sitting in the rear seat of the Yale, RCAF 3372, is Shane Clayton who is part owner of the Second World War-era intermediate pilot trainer. For the past 19 months he has worked on 3372 to return it to flying status. A few weeks ago, he pushed to have the aircraft airworthy for Sept. 5 in order to fly over the site of Ernie Simmons’ farm to mark the 50th anniversary of the world-famous auction sale that took place on Sept. 3, 4 and 5, 1970. Yale 3372 along with the majority of all NA-64s existent today, several Fairy Swordfishes and a Westland Lysander can be traced back to Ernie Simmons.
Ernest Van Simmons was born on the farm south of Tillsonburg in 1912 and lived his whole life there. After the Second World War, like many other farmers across Canada, Simmons took advantage of the government selling off vast amounts of military vehicles, aircraft, guns and other equipment as scrap, taking advantage of the cheap surplus equipment that could be used on the farm or sold as scrap. He also collected motorcycles, tractors and automobiles. For the most part Simmons kept his aircraft intact, but outside storage was not kind to the airframes as they sat exposed to the elements. By 1970, they were in rough shape. Simmons was a very private man, and lived alone with his mother on the farm. He sold cars and parts from time to time, but was always leery of anyone who visited the property.
In August 1968, Simmons caught five people on his property and wounded three people with a shotgun. Over a year later in December 1969, Simmons was shot seven times from another group of thieves. They took what money he had on him and left him for dead, cutting his telephone line before they went. Being a tough country man, he managed to splice the telephone wires back together to call the police and ambulance. As no one was left at the farm to protect his collection, stubborn Simmons checked himself out of the hospital while still recovering and returned home. In January 1970, he was found alone and dead in his house from pneumonia. Having no living family or will, the Public Trustees of Ontario handled the task of disposing of Simmons’ assets.
Auctioneer Dan Murray handled the auction that took place over three days on Labour Day weekend of 1970. The auction garnered worldwide attention and many of the airframes sold are preserved today.
After going for a Harvard ride with the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association in 2002 at the age of 15, Clayton fell in love with warbirds and especially the North American Harvard and Yale aircraft. He began volunteering at CHAA and currently holds the chief technical officer position overseeing maintenance and restoration of CHAA’s fleet of aircraft. In 2009, he purchased Yale 3390, but the restoration has remained on the back burner since many parts are missing or damaged. In late 2018, Clayton was offered the opportunity to purchase a share of Yale 3372, and now co-owns it with Jim Mattice. After a thorough inspection, Clayton addressed many issues and snags, and for the past 19 months has worked diligently with the AME’s supervision on returning the airframe to flight worthiness. Now that it is flying again, the next step is to apply more historically accurate markings. Clayton, a stickler for authenticity and even uses an original Marsh stencil cutter to apply new placards. In 2019, Clayton was named one of the National Warbird Operator Conference’s “20 Under 40” for that year, which highlighted 20 young men and women who are significant contributors to the warbird community.
Yale 3372 was built by North American Aviation in Inglewood, Calif., in 1940 as ‘NAA-64 P2 No. 154′ for the French Armée de l’Air with construction number 64-2186. When France fell to the Germans, the RCAF purchased 119 of the undelivered NA-64’s destined for France. The airframe was sent to Malton, Ont., for assembly by National Steel Car Ltd. where it was given RCAF serial number 3372 and re-designated as a Yale Mk I. It entered service on Aug. 30, 1940, and served at No. 1 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) Camp Borden and No. 6 SFTS Dunnville as an intermediate pilot trainer. Most Yales later had the rear cockpit converted for wireless operator training, but 3372 remained in dual-control configuration for staff pilot checkouts and instrument flying re-currency. It was utilized in this role at No. 4 Wireless School in St. Catharines and most likely at No. 1 Wireless School at Mount Hope. At the end of the war, the airframe was sent to storage with No 4 Reserve Equipment Maintenance Unit (REMU) at RCAF Station Brantford, where it was struck off RCAF strength on Sept. 25, 1946 and sold as scrap to Amsco Ltd of Hamilton. Simmons purchased it with three dozen other Yales shortly afterwards for approximately $40 each. It remained stored on the Simmons’ farm until sold at the auction on Sept. 5, 1970. The airframe was restored by Gord Saylor in the 1980s and registered C-FGIR. First flight was in 1990. It was sold to Murray Kot in 1991, who flew it at air shows in Canada and the U.S. until 1995. Passing through a few more owners, C-FGIR was purchased by Jim Mattice in 2004.
Within the last 10 years there were 11 airworthy or recently airworthy Yales flying. Seven are in the U.S., three are in Canada and one is in the U.K. Only six or seven Yales have flown within the past year. That number will be increasing very shortly with three in the U.S. almost ready to fly and 3372 back flying again.
Current list of known Yales that came from the Ernie Simmons farm compiled by Clayton:
- 3349 – Privately owned based at Duxford, UK as G-BYNF 3350 – Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Mount Hope, Ontario as CF-CWZ
- 3355 – Privately owned based in Nevada as N3355
- 3359 – Major components used in composite restoration of a Swedish Sk.14 (licence-built BT-9) at the Flygvapenmuseum (Swedish Air Force Museum) at Linköping, Sweden
- 3361 – Privately owned based in California as N3361 – P&W R-985 engine fitted 3362 – Privately owned based in North Carolina as N3362
- 3369 – Privately owned in storage in midwestern Ontario
- 3372 – Privately owned based out of Tillsonburg, Ontario as C-FGIR
- 3377 – Privately owned based in New Mexico as N3201U
- 3383 – Privately owned and under restoration in Queensland, Australia
- 3387 – Privately owned – last know location in Georgia as N3387G
- 3390 – Privately owned in storage near Woodstock, Ontario
- 3395 – Restored to airworthy as N64BT – Crashed and written off in 1982 near Cambria, New York
- 3396 – Privately owned under restoration near Saint-Nazaire, France (with 3450)
- 3397 – On display at the Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona
- 3399 – Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, Tillsonburg, Ontario as C-GLJH
- 3400 – Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Mount Hope, Ontario as N129DB
- 3406 – Privately owned based in Missouri as N3406
- 3409 – Privately owned in storage near Guelph, Ontario
- 3411 – On display at the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ontario
- 3415 – Destroyed in hangar fire at Musée de L’Air et L’Espace, Paris, France in 1990
- 3416 – On display at No. 6 RCAF Dunnville Museum in Dunnville, Ontario 3417 – On display at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio – sold before Ernie’s death –
- 3424 – Privately owned based in Georgia as N314BT
- 3425 – Privately owned based in Kansas as N55903 – P&W R-985 engine fitted
- 3430 – In outdoor storage at CYWG – formerly on display at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada in Winnipeg, Manitoba
- 3434 – Privately owned in storage near Brighton, Michigan as N64WP
- 3445 – Privately owned based in Peterborough, Ontario as C-GAPE
- 3447 – Under restoration with Commemorative Air Force’s ‘Air Group One’ Wing, El Cajon, California
- 3448 – Privately owned in storage near Brighton, Michigan
- 3450 – Privately owned under restoration near Saint-Nazaire, France (with 3396)
- 3452 – Privately owned in storage in midwestern Ontario
- 3454 – Restored to airworthy as CF-AAY – Written off in fatal crash near Fergus, Ontario in 1987
- 3456 – Privately owned under restoration to airworthy near Brighton, Michigan as N44895
- 3458 – On display at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta
- 3459 – Privately owned in United States as N3459 – exact location unknown
- 3464 – Privately owned based in Texas as N13397 – former NA-64 prototype