Travels with Churchill

A World War II flight engineer dishes on the most “I” of the VIPs he flew with.

The sturdy B-24 that served as Churchill's personal transport. (Library of Congress)
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In early spring the following year, with a new crew, Commando made its last trip: After taking off from the Azores, it was lost without a trace. Affleck remembers testifying at a Board of Inquiry. “The last message they got was—and it was the only message—there was an oil leak on number-two engine,” he says. “No signal, no SOS. And there was nothing in the German records to say they had shot it down.”

Affleck knows Liberators well, and suspects that the oil leak could have caused the crash. He says the Wasp engines normally never leaked. But “they had a big oil tank, and you only filled them about two-thirds full to allow for foaming. If you overfilled them it would push [oil] out.” And hot oil burns. “It would soon put a hole in that bulkhead and then, BOOM, because that’s where all the gas was.”
During his service on Commando, Affleck was offered a commission in the Royal Air Force, but turned it down. “It was easier to get things done as a civilian,” he says, “because you could talk directly to the generals without having to work your way up the chain of command.”

Vanderkloot received the honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire in November 1942. He occasionally used the ribbon to fasten panels in Commando to keep the sun off Churchill. Commando’s crew members were recognized for their  Royal Air Force Ferry Command service and their safe transport of wartime VIPs; Affleck also received a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1944 Vanderkloot wrote Handbook of Air Navigation, which a reviewer described as “literally tremendous in scope…an air-navigation encyclopedia.” The following year, Vanderkloot returned to the United States and became a corporate pilot. For years, he and Churchill remained a mutual admiration society of two. 

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Calgary-based freelance writer Graham Chandler can be reached at

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