The following article is reproduced on this website with the kind permission of the author, LCol Dean Black, Executive Director RCAF
Association and Editor-Publisher Airforce Magazine. The article originally was published in Airforce Magazine Vol. 36/No. 2.
This article is not necessarily consistent with any position of the Members of the Canadian Army Aviation Website Editorial Board.
Trust Your Instructors -The Good Ones Save Lives
“...the best thing that ever happened to Canadian army aviation was that it became kin to and part of Canadian Forces aviation..."
- Brigadier-General Les Rowbottom, CD, in an interview with the Canadian War Museum. 2003.
Jimmie "Jadex" Dextraze was a remarkable officer; one of the finest Canada produced. He rose to the highest rank - 4-star or full-General – and, in 1975 he assumed the appointment of Chief of the Defence Staff. He was everything a country needed in a military man: devoted, dependable and fearless. But, he had absolutely no acumen for flying. More to the point, his wartime experiences, armoured corps roots, achievement of the highest rank and previous failure at flying training was a unique combination that may have spelled doom for the Canadian Army's attempts to create their own air force.
We therefore need to explore Dextraze's very brief aviation career to understand how close the Canadian Army came to the purchase of an armed helicopter in the early 1970s and the role the flying instructor played in what may have been a deciding influence.
But we must first explain the concept of innovation, and the importance of having a champion.
In the early 1960s, a Harvard professor named James Bright was engrossed in the concept of "innovation". Bright studied many corporations, concluding that there are ten significant factors present in every single innovation. While he concluded not all of them were essential - only two really mattered - he did make it clear that if all ten were present, an idea had a very good chance of becoming an innovation.
The critical factor on which we focus here is the importance of having a "champion" - someone who could boast of the upsides and downplay the downsides, and who could carry a clear message to help promote the innovation in question. Champions able to sell important ideas to citizens in their community all the way up to the highest offices of the land, were important assets in any organization.
In the mid to late 1960s, the Canadian Army's "air force" was the intended innovation, and the calibre of any army's organic air power capability was measured in terms of four types of aviation capability: light helicopter reconnaissance, light utility transport helicopters, medium-to-heavy lift transport and armed or anti-tank helicopters.
The Canadian Army's efforts to acquire an organic air arm effectively came to an end around 1975, when Dextraze was appointed as the CDS. Twelve years after failing his flying training, instead of championing an aviation arm organic to the Canadian army, he participated in efforts to re-establish an air force headquarters (Air Command). He effectively put an end to any efforts to further pursue an armed helicopter capability and instead enthusiastically led the government's efforts to purchase Leopard main battle tanks. It is entirely possible that his inability to join the ranks of the winged warriors left him without the credentials requisite for being a champion of aviation. We should, nevertheless be grateful he was alive to become the CDS, and our gratitude should be extended to one Captain Nick Mulikow – the flying instructor who effectively put an end to Dextraze's short career in the cockpit.
Brigadier-General Dextraze had reported to Rivers, Manitoba in early October, 1963 as he had been selected for basic flying training. The Canadian Army wanted their most promising general officers to earn their wings. Dextraze was hand-picked for the program, because he was one of those "up-and-comers" the Army thought could rise to the highest military offices. A similar program had been initiated in the United States Army, some years earlier, and had proven to be a huge success.
The aim was to create aviation "champions” who, once in the right office, would be in position to argue in favour of whatever procurement or program or operational decisions might be required thereby contributing to the success of innovations pursued later on. One such innovation playing out in the mid-1960s concerned the army's desperate need to create an air force organic to the army itself, and thus acquire the means to employ armed helicopters in the Close Air Support (CAS) role. In most western countries contemplating such matters, when left to the air force the procurement decisions understandably instead went toward the purchase of new fighter aircraft. In an era focused on moon-landings, and the concomitant glorification of the fighter pilot, aircraft in support of the land forces were a much lower priority, and far less interesting to some. These factors were not a deterrent to the Army, however. Unfortunately, in Canada, Dextraze's inability to learn how to fly would have anything but positive consequences for the Canadian Army's efforts.
Captain Nick Mulikow had been tasked with training then Brigadier-General Dextraze how to fly. Mulikow was an experienced aviator having flown Harvards, Expeditors, T-33s, F-86 Sabres and Dakotas. When the air force was downsized in the early 1960s, close to 500 Sabre pilots were released. Mulikow was a victim of such cuts, but he chose to stay in the military, instead pursuing a career in the artillery. After extensive gunnery training, he discovered army flying. It was while serving as a qualified flying instructor on the L-19 Bird Dog aircraft that Mulikow found himself at the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CFJATC) in Rivers, Manitoba.
Group Captain Cliff Black was in charge at the CJATC. He had also served as a member of the Directing Staff (DS) at the Canadian Army Staff College (Kingston) from 4 August 1959 to 2 August 1961. Black served in Rivers from 1961 to 1964. He was also a veteran bomber pilot during the Second World War. While in charge at the CJATC, Cliff understood the important role played by instructors, but only once was he ever presented with the need to intervene. Dextraze's case was the only one to come across Cliff's desk. All other cases of student difficulty were left to the instructor and standards personnel to handle; such was the level of trust Black placed in his men.
One of those men was Bert Casselman. Bert was in charge of the helicopter unit, but his fixed-wing flying experience was also impressive. Casselman had flown P-47 Thunderbolts in Egypt, toward the end of the Second World War. When the Second World War ended, Casselman initially quit flying altogether but later chose to join the Canadian Army. Then after serving in the armoured corps during the post-war period, he met up with a helicopter and the machine impressed him. Shortly thereafter he returned to flying, but this time it was army flying in L-19s and Hiller helicopters.
Casselman and Mulikow consulted often about Dextraze's progress. Mulikow had taken Dextraze through Clearhood Lesson #4 at least four times, and the instructional flying time spent on Dextraze already exceeded reasonable amounts. A switch in instructors initially seemed to work, but did not last. Soon thereafter, Dextraze was bogged down in Clearhood Lesson #8 from which he never recovered. It seems that Mulikow and Casselman could not help Dextraze anymore, so Dextraze asked to speak with Group Captain Black.
Black confirmed his instructor's opinions and consoled Dextraze, explaining that not everyone has what it takes to become a pilot. "Some people, a small number, can't learn to swim", Black told him. Dextraze was obviously dejected but he eventually accepted the verdict. Black recalled Dextraze was given more than enough fair chances. A special effort was made to train him how to fly. But, because of their rank and responsibilities, it was entirely accurate to say that these generals would not do very much flying, after the course. Therefore, the possibility these senior army officers might later try a flying sequence for which they were not adequately qualified was a real concern. Group Captain Black was all too familiar with the potential for devastating consequences, when aviators are presented with a situation of which they have little to no experience. He lost far too many 426 Squadron crews on the night of 3-4 March, 1945, to serve adiabatic icing conditions. That was a particularly bad night for 6 Group (RCAF).
Cliff Black did not think this special army program was necessary. When helicopters were first introduced he remembered that it was suggested the Air Force could be responsible for all of the helicopter flying. If the Army wanted support the Air Force was preparing to assume the role of putting a contingent anywhere they wanted it. Black recalled Wilf Curtis was the Air Force commander at the time, and Curtis was adamant any flying should be left to the air force. But, the Army generals won the argument.
Dextraze was not the only army general unable to pick up flying. Brigadier-General J.A. Hamilton also found the skills too challenging. He had been the last surviving member of the cadre of army officers selected for the Senior Officers' Pilot Course. He passed away in Ottawa on 23 November 2011.
Training these senior officers how to fly was about providing them some aviation knowledge that might help inform future discussions and strategic military capability decisions.. When General Jean Victor Allard - another CDS - pondered the meaning of the wings on his chest, he claimed they made him a "F.I.N.K - or flying infantier with naval knowledge".
Having men like Allard, Hamilton and Dextraze at the table in future discussions was far more important than not. Pinning wings on their chest, in at least two cases, might actually have meant that they might not be at the table at all. Men like Black, Mulikow and Casselman knew how dangerous flying was. Qualifying senior army generals via an abbreviated flying course, in some cases, could have been a recipe for disaster if any of the less capable were to try something they should have avoided.
Thankfully, Black, Mulikow and Casselman may have seen men like Dextraze and Hamilton as the innovations themselves - men of superior capability, too important to risk in a flying environment. Failure on the flying course instead meant they lived a full military career. We have Black, Mulikow and Casselman to thank for having drawn on all their flight safety experience to care for men like Dextraze, so that he could serve in whatever capacity Canada had in mind. Canada was all the better for the decisions made by these outstanding instructors.
(Editor's Notes: for more on the creation of Air Command, and the dynamics between Lieutenant-General Bill Carr and General Dextraze, see the RCAF Journal, Vol 1. No. 1, courtesy of the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre 8 Wing. For more on Group Captain Cliff Black, and his bits in Bomber Command, see Thunderbirds at War: Diary of a Bomber Squadron, by Laurence Motiuk. Today, Cliff Black is 96, and living in southern Alberta. For more on Bert Casselman and some of the other army aviators of the time, see “The Helicopter Pioneers”, in Airforce magazine, Vol 35, No 2.]