This is a story of my career as a pilot in an Air Observation Post Flight (Air OP) and later, when reorganized, Air OP Troops assigned to Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA) regiments. Prior to this, I had been at the Royal Canadian School of Artillery (RCSA) as a student and instructor from July 1951 to November 1953 and with 3RCHA as a Gun Position Officer in Petawawa, ON, Korea, following the cease-fire and Debert, NS to 1 May, 1955.
Purpose of the Air OP
The guns are normally behind the lines and the fire is directed by forward observation officers (FOOs) in the front lines. There are some restrictions. Observers on the ground are not able to see what is going on behind a ridge or small hill. That area is known as dead ground. The higher up an observer is, the less dead ground is available to the enemy. FOOs normally get as high up on a hill as possible but they could not compete with a FOO in the air who can get much higher and see much farther into enemy territory.
On the other hand, flying an airplane, ducking down until the gun position tells the pilot to look for the rounds, trying to read a map and avoid being shot down by friendly and enemy shells also filling the air presents many challenges. I was told the story about Joe Liston getting shot down in Korea. He had been in Korea 13 days, was at 13 thousand feet, got shot down on the 13th of the month at 1300 hours and became a POW for thirteen months. That he had been in Korea for 13 days and a POW for 13 months was never in dispute. That he was at 13,000' would have most Auster pilots raising an eyebrow. It would take forever to get there. But it does illustrate the point that it was not the best place to be in a wartime situation.
The Air OP Flight had five single engine aircraft and six pilots. Between postings to a flying unit, to maintain proficiency (and flying pay) we were required to fly 18 hours every quarter, including night and instrument flying. It was called “Continuation Flying”. In effect, we had a part-time job on top of a very heavy work load in a regular position in the regiments or on staff. In addition we were all writing promotion examinations which required many hours of study and most of us were married with young families.
Everybody has stories about their time in the Army and my experiences are no different than most. It has been interesting going back over my log books. Without them it would not be possible to get the time lines even remotely correct. I thank former Gnr John Scott for his assistance in piecing together my time with Air OP Troop, 2 RCHA and to LCol (Ret'd) John Dicker (RCCS) for much need help with time lines and pertinent information. Pilots I served with have also added much needed details and comment and corrected my memory of times and places.
Initial flying training (three months) took place at the Brandon Flying Club, Brandon MB, starting 1 May 1955 followed by three more months of Advanced Flying Training at the Light Aircraft School (LAS), Canadian Joint Air Training Center, Rivers MB. The only unusual event during training was a night forced landing between Dauphin, MB and Yorkton, SK, an event detailed in The Flying Gunners. In short, I lost an engine, could not see the ground for smoke from burning stubble. I could see cars through the smoke, projected an intersection and gambled that there would be a field there. Wanting to have enough speed to cater for telephone lines, I landed hot, missed all the cattle there were there and stopped just short of the fence. I like to think that it was a smooth landing. All this as a student pilot.
I graduated with Course # 15 on 24 Nov 55 as a 2LT which was rare as the position to be filled called for a Capt. Ray Hall was the only other to do the same thing that I knew of. Late fall 1955 was an eventful few weeks. I was married on 12 Nov with my course members providing the honour guard, wings parade was on 24 Nov and I was promoted to Lt on 3 Dec, which nobody bothered to tell me about until January 1956.
2Air OP Flight, RCA , Shilo, MB. 26 Nov. 55 – 28 Jun 58
I arrived at 2 Air OP Flight with Bill Pollock, a fellow graduate on 26 Nov 55. (Bill shows up frequently in this story as we went through training and a tour with 2 Air OP Flight together and later doing continuation flying in Winnipeg when we were both in 2RCHA.) There were a number of pilots that first year in 2 Air OP Flight including Joe Liston (CO), Doug Baker, Norm Ramsey, Joe Thibedeau, Ray Hall and later, Jerry McDonald. Pollock and I were over establishment. Come summer, Baker, Ramsey and Hall were gone and Ross Flewin and Nigel Gleason-Beard show up in my log book.
After a few days at the flight, I was off on annual and Christmas leave and got back in January 1956. Gerry McDonald, the Training Officer told me not to unpack. There was a one-month Winter Bush and Arctic Survival course and I was qualified to attend. When I asked what the qualifications were, I was informed that I was the junior pilot and that I had just been married. Living in the bush in the Rockies and in an igloo on Victoria Island in the Arctic was not my idea of fun after only a couple of months of marriage.
The Flight had two Cessna L19s and three Austers, one Mk 7 (side by side seats) and two Mk 6's, front and rear seating. As the junior pilot, I was last in line to fly the new L19. Doug Baker and Joe Thibedeau, one of the best pilots I knew, taught Bill Pollock and I how to fly the Auster. We used to say that we got into and airplane and strapped ourselves in. Joe got in and strapped the machine to him. There is a difference.
The Austers were old, having come from the British Army in the Far East. We were the last in the Canadian Army to have them. I talked to a retired British Army pilot living near Port Hope, ON in the late 1990's. He had been in a flight in Malaysia after WW2 and the numbers on the aircraft he flew there were very close, if not the same ones with 2 Air OP Flight. The Auster was an interesting little machine and somewhat unforgiving. In a 30 mph wind, it could be landed on a dime. Taking off was a different story. Earlier pilots were taught to start a take off in one field, bounce it off the road in between fields and resume the take off in the next field. We were warned never to get in a spin in one of them as recovery was extremely difficult.
There was the story of an Auster sitting in the wind above the two main cross streets in Brandon, MB. This apparently resulted in a call to the Brandon airport indicating that an airplane was stuck in the air above the city. I didn't see it but know it was certainly possible. A bit of flap, a good breeze and some added power would do it easily. In fact, we tried it but never got the call in to the airport. Perhaps we were not patient enough.
There was a hanger full of Austers in Carberry, MB, 15 minutes flying time east of Shilo, and they became the source of spare parts. Care had to be taken to mark the parts left behind in Carberry so as not to bring them back to Shilo on subsequent parts acquisition flights. There was no such thing as an engine change for the Auster. Either the Gypsy Major engine was that good or there were no engines to change. L19 engines were changed regularly as a part of scheduled maintenance. It was not unusual for a door on an Auster to come off when opened. In the summer, we would just take the other door off. In the winter, it was a different story. There was a knob to pull for heat. At -20 F, we would pull it and laugh. Those aircraft were more suited to a warmer climate. Cold air leaked in around the doors. It was anything but comfortable.
Shilo had two main grass strips, E/W and N/S. During the winter the snow was rolled and the runways could be used for either skis or wheels. During spring melt, there was a period of up to two weeks when no flying took place. I remember Norm Ramsey bring in an Auster into a strong south wind, just missing the hanger roof and stopping on a dime. He was nowhere near a runway.
The Flight supported the RCSA and Camp Shilo as well as the regiment in Winnipeg. There was always a farmer who lost his cattle and called Camp HQ accusing them of breaking his fences. The G3, Capt Bill Copeland (RCAC) would call and we would go out and find the cattle – always in a far corner of the farmer's spread.
Pilots had the normal instrument and night flying requirements and there were always flights to Winnipeg to pick somebody up or drop them off. We supported the regiment stationed in Winnipeg during the annual month of May artillery training and got to do live firing, practicing our Air OP role. The normal choice was to fly below the trajectory of the shell, popping up to look just before the shell exploded, to make necessary corrections. The other choice was to fly high over the guns and observe from a more relaxed position.
For some reason, I was in Rivers and the subject of acrobatics came up. I mentioned that I was not going to loop the L19 before I knew how to do it properly. A RCAF officer said “Let's go” and I learned how to do a loop. I could not wait to get back to Shilo and show Bill Pollock. After I showed him one, he tried and we fell off the top. We were falling through the air and getting dangerously close to the ground when I asked him when he was going to pull it out. His response was that he thought that I was flying, although I didn't hear “You have control”. We came out at tree level, and in Shilo that wasn't all that high, with the wings still on the machine.
I came back to work after lunch on 31 May 56, only to be called into the CO's office with Bill Pollock. “The two L 19s have to be at Lincoln Park in Calgary at 0800 tomorrow morning to be painted in camouflage colours” he said. “Go home and back a bag for three or four days”.
We took off later in the afternoon for Lethbridge, AB via Regina, SK where we refueled. Total air time was 5 hours and 20 minutes. There was no lighting at Lincoln Park in Calgary, necessitating an overnight in the closest airport. Back to the airport at 0530, flight plan for the two hour flight and off for Calgary arriving on time at 0800.
It was a typical hurry up and wait scenario. Nothing happened to the aircraft for the first two or three days and we began to be concerned about the three or four days for which we had packed. Keep in mind that there were no credit cards in those days and checks were not easily cashed, and of course, our pay documents were in Shilo. Days passed and we went to see the paymaster. Turned out that he was the brother of the pharmacist in Shilo. That problem was solved so all we had to do was find a laundry as we didn't have clothing for a week or more.
One week later, we did a flight test on the aircraft and I was ordered to take one airplane to Wainwright, AB, a couple of hours NE of Calgary where I picked up a passenger for a 50 minute flight. After that, I turned the aircraft over to one of the pilots who had flown an Auster to Wainwright, took his plane and departed for Shilo via Saskatoon and Yorkton. Total time that day was 8 hours and 50 minutes, a very long day. The three or four days turned out to be eight days, six of which we sat around and the other two were very long.
We usually left for Wainwright by the second week in June every year for the six week Divisional concentration where we were stationed at Border Lake. One pilot went with the road party, often the junior pilot. One airplane was used for convoy control for the regiment between Winnipeg and Wainwright with an overnight in Dundern, SK. With up to 1100 officers and men and five batteries, there were a lot of vehicles spread over a few miles on the Trans–Canada Highway. The rest flew directly. Austers went via Yorkton and Saskatoon, SK. L19's, with a bigger gas tank, could bypass Yorkton.
In Wainwright, periodically we would take a couple of airplanes to one of the battalions to take the men up to view their defensive positions. I think that it was mainly to give some young soldiers a ride in an airplane. On one occasion Bill Pollock and I took a couple of Austers to the Patricia battalion in the field. There were two short strips near the officer's mess where we were going for lunch. One was shorter than the other but closer to the mess. Bill chose that one and I chose the other. Bill smiled patronizingly at me when I finally made it to the mess. After lunch I made off to my plane and had Patricia's waiting to get into the air. That, I was able to accomplish with no problem. Bill tried to take off and couldn't. He got rid of his passenger and still had a problem. Finally he took every possible thing out of the plane including the fire extinguisher and perhaps the battery and finally got airborne. As I have said, one could land on a dime but taking off was a different proposition. The Gypsy Major engine in the Auster lacked power.
That summer we all got an hour check out in the Helio Courier which I assume some company was trying to sell to the Army. I forget much about that machine but remember that it had very good short field characteristics.
The pilot of an Auster sat on the gas tank which sat on the floor. From that position, it was very easy to fly just off the ground and in fact, flying west into the wind, usually stronger at higher levels, climbing to get over a fence post was not uncommon. That was not possible in an L19 where one was seated much higher with the wheels lower. Navigation at very low levels was interesting. Grain elevators on the prairie provided a guide as to where we were.
For some reason, one day Joe Liston and I were in Shilo and heading to Wainwright. He was in an L 19 and had to stop in Rivers. I was in my normal Auster and had to gas up in Yorkton. “I'll race you to Saskatoon” he said. Game on. As I approached Yorkton, someone was in the tower, (although it was not a controlled airport), asked me to check the ceiling. I climbed up and reported “800 feet”. I landed, gassed up, checked the weather and filed VFR to Saskatoon. That is when I learned that one cannot not file a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) plan in Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) conditions. The cloud layer was as flat as a pancake and one could see on the weather maps that half way to Saskatoon, it cleared completely so I decided to go anyway– there was a race in progress.
The wind was calm and I saw what I thought was a runway right in front of the terminal. I was off. At the same time Trans Canada Airlines (TCA) broke cloud. No problem. The delay in Yorkton was one factor in my losing the race. Joe just smiled when I finally got to Saskatoon. By the time we got to Wainwright, all hell broke loose. I had committed several sins: filing VFR in IFR conditions, taking off on an unserviceable runway and taking off when another plane was on final. Who knew that when an IFR flight broke cloud that it was on final? Since we rarely landed at uncontrolled airports, who knew that the little red flags meant an unserviceable runway, and who knew someone would get excited about taking off when the ceiling was 800'? Not this new pilot. Further insight in discussions with Joe Thibedeau reminded me that we did not have compatible radios with TCA. Otherwise, I would have known about his intentions.
In the meantime they had appointed a Squadron Leader in the RCAF to defend me although I don't remember being charged. Days went on and weeks went on with nothing heard, but we had an officer who wrote to his wife every day and told her everything about everybody and she had the biggest mouth in Shilo. I had not told Barbara anything as I really didn't know what was happening. It wasn't until that fall when somebody yapped something about it in the Quonset Hanger that it came to a head. Something said on one side of the Quonset hanger could be heard as clear as a bell on the other side and Joe Liston was on the other side. I told the idiot that it could not have been all that bad because no one had said a word to me about it. An hour later, Joe called me in and told me not to do that again.
One of the things we used to do in Shilo to test our flying ability was see who could stay the longest down in the Assinaboine River valley. That river, which runs west to east, snaked north and south below Shilo and when not in flood, had cut deep into the prairie. I am not sure who invented the exercise but it involved very steep turns, one after the other and I think that we only did it with the Auster. Joe Thibedeau was a master at it so he might have been the one who caught a telephone line. That required me to call my father-in-law, Plant Manager, Manitoba Telephone System and explain that when the farmer at Treesbank Ferry could get to a phone, he would report that his line was out. A man of few words, he would reply only “OK”. That was all that was ever heard of that.
One day somebody came back with wire wrapped around the propeller housing. The RCAF maintenance NCO could not be convinced that this was not really something that he should get excited about and it went up the line. Our river flying challenges became fewer and farther between after that.
We became very good at short field work, with many such landing spots in Shilo, but Wainwright offered the greater challenges. Very high temperatures and swirling winds in summer, along with no cross strips made things interesting. I landed one day at a strip we were on but only after circling the field for some time trying to figure out the winds. Gerry McDonald was waiting for the airplane and got in immediately after I touched down. I went to sign in and Gerry taxied out – to the wrong end of the strip. I said to myself that Gerry was more experienced than I was so he would figure it out. When he started his take off run, I ran to the other end of the strip where Gerry was upside down with the usual McDonald grin. I unbuckled him, he fell on me and we both went to the ground. After that, I told people what I knew.
In those days in the field, when the regiment moved, the flight moved, always at night and blackout conditions prevailed. No running lights. The procedure was that the advance party would station two jeeps at a 45 degree to the button of the new field. When they heard the airplanes, they would put the brakes on and the pilot saw four little red lights and line up between them. When the drivers saw the flame from the exhaust, they would turn on the headlights and we would land in a pool of light. Once the aircraft was on the ground the jeep lights went out and a man with a flashlight at the end of other runway gave us direction. As I said, we became very good at short field work. It became a problem when I was doing continuation flying with the Brits at Detmold, Germany a few years later in 1959. Their pilots did not have short field experience that we considered normal.
Two other trips between Wainwright and Shilo merit some mention. More often than not, as the junior pilot, I moved with the road party. But on one occasion, we had a night return from Saskatoon and a tail wind strong enough that we could make it with the Austers direct Shilo. It was a pitch black night and the only time I saw the horizon was when lightening flashed from the big electric storm we were following. Half my instrument panel was out so I flew loose formation with Bill Pollock and prayed that he knew where we were heading. I had absolutely no idea. Some nights are so bright that is almost like flying in daylight. This was a total opposite. Couldn't see the ground, couldn't see the horizon and instruments out.
The other flight was on 14 Jul 57 when Joe Liston and I flew Auster 690 from Wainwright to Shilo to pick up a brand new L19. Seated side by side, Joe could stretch right out. My knees were closer to my chin. This flight was the last operational flight of an Auster in the Canadian Army, although someone else must have flown it to Carberry to reside with the others. Later that summer, during leave period we were asked if any of us wanted to fly the Austers to Central America. Don't think that anyone did. Wives would tolerate only so much. After that summer concentration in Wainwright, Charlie Panet and Chuck Burant arrived at the flight and I guess they probably replaced Joe Thibedeau and me, although I was on strength of the flight until the following spring.
In the fall of 1957 I went to Fort Rucker, Ala for helicopter transition, returning to Shilo on 26 Feb 58. On my return from Rucker, I stopped overnight in Winnipeg where Barbara, my wife, was staying with her parents. I was beat, but was ordered out of bed to take her to the hospital where Rick was born three hours later. Later that day, I made my way to Shilo. This would be the first, but not the last time I would return to Shilo in February, more often than not from a much warmer climate.
I pulled into the driveway of our PMQ and as I was getting out of the car, Joe Liston stopped, told me not to unpack and to come right over to his place for dinner. When I got there, he told me that they were looking for an officer with field experience who was not going to get promoted for two years, to be a public relations officer (PRO) and that I was qualified. When I asked why he just didn't get me a helicopter, Joe explained that I would go to Winnipeg for one month on-job training and then go to the US Army PR school in Fort Slocum, NY. Following gradation I may have time to pick up my family before going to Germany and I may not. I returned to my PMQ and slept the one night in nine months, leaving the next morning for Winnipeg. So ended my first posting to the flight in Shilo.
I don't remember a whole lot of planning except night flying was set each quarter. Instrument flying was getting another pilot when nothing was going on and field work followed the same pattern. So, we arranged our own flying training. It just seemed to work.
Continuation flying in Germany was with 652 Sqn in Detmold, northern Germany and they would take only so many of us at a time. Consequently, I didn't get to fly again until August 1959, having lost my flying pay for a year. They still had Auster 6 and 7's but also the Chipmunk in which I got a few hours. I note in my log book that I made a few trips to Hemer, doing some photo sorties and recce work for 4 BDE in March, 1960. Sometime in late 1959, a staff captain from brigade wandered into my office and asked what the wing span of an L19 was. I couldn't remember but asked why he wanted to know. He stated that they were bringing an Air OP Tp to 1 RCHA and they wanted to erect a hanger. I advised him to forget the hanger but to get crystals for the radios if they wanted to fly anywhere. That advice was ignored and it was some months after the arrival of the first airplane before they could go anywhere but local.
Missing from my log book is a flight I took from Detmold to Soest. I had been around 652 Sqn for a few months and asked one of their pilots to fly me back to Soest, a flight of around an hour.
By road, the trip took almost three hours and a car had to come from Soest to get me. When questioned about the landing strip at Fort Henry where the Guards were stationed, I said that it was grass and a low recce would determine if there were any sheep on the field. Other than that, I said that it was fine. On 4 Mar 1960, I got to fly home.
We landed at Fort Henry and I waited to see the pilot who brought me close to home, to take off. There was a very tense expression on his face and a look of determination. Full power and the tail came up – too far before he released the brakes. In fact he never did release the brakes. The nose went down into the soft ground and things became very quiet. Funniest thing I ever saw and yet, one could not laugh out loud – until much later. Any pilot from 2 Air OP Flight could have been in the air easily. That was my last flight with 652 Sqn. Charlie Panet and the L19 arrived before I had to get my next 18 hours in, which I did even although they still had no crystals for the radios.
Posted back to 2 RCHA in Winnipeg in the summer of 1960, continuation flying was at the Winnipeg Flying Club and often with Bill Pollock who was also in 2RCHA. The only notable event took place on a dark winter night at around 2000 hours. The active runway was 18. We had taxied out and were sitting at the junction of 18/36 and 13/31 waiting for a Scandinavian Airways over the pole flight to take off. I was at the controls and mentioned to Bill that he was taxiing up 31 and that I don’t think that there was a way across to 18. Bill didn't think that there was a problem but I moved us off 13 just in time to see Scandinavian barreling down the wrong runway and just where we had been sitting. We didn't report it as that would have meant time filling out reports late into the evening.
2/3Air OP Tp. Feb 63
In February 1963, I was posted back to the flight in Shilo which became 3 Air OP Troop when the regiments rotated to and from Germany. As an aside, my “friends” in 2 RCHA decided to have a barbecue for me. It was outside, regimental silver, white table cloths and flowers on the table – and -20 F, a windless, beautiful evening. They all had winter gear. I didn't, having turned it in as part of my clearance. I ended up with pneumonia and in hospital in Shilo upon my arrival. The only difference from my first tour at the flight was the change in name. It was the second time I returned to Shilo in February. I was doing the same job as a captain that I had done as a very junior lieutenant. Gerry McDonald was posted in later. I advised him not to unpack. There was a winter survival course vacancy and he was qualified. When he asked about the qualifications, he was told that I was the training officer and he was the newest arrival to the flight and I remembered him sending me the first time we were together in 2 Air OP Flight shortly after I was married.
Tug Watch commanded the flight, Gerry and I were the old timers and we were joined by Ray Anderson, Doug McMillan and later, Dave Walters. Everything was the same as it was my first time flying except we had L19's and one less pilot. There were two exceptions. The first was a requirement in December 1963 to support the Patricia's who were engaged in mountain training in the Rockies. Our job was to maintain radio contact twice daily in case there was an emergency of some sort. Before leaving Shilo, I went to Rivers to get all the information I could on mountain flying, which was very little. S/Sgt Preston, the maintenance supervisor and I made the trip. Getting the engine started in the morning took some work. We had an engine cover but no way to keep the battery warm. Preston did a great job. All we had for a week was what we could carry in the L19, which was not a lot. The engine cover, for example took a lot of space, and we had to eat and sleeping bags were a must.
We operated out of a landing strip at about 4000' half way up a mountain. There was nothing there except a shack with emergency fuel stashed in it. No heat – nothing, and really nothing to do beyond the two daily sorties. The only source of heat was in the airplane with the engine running. Getting in the air presented a challenge because invariably there was an accumulation of frost on the wings and no way of clearing it. We waited for the sun to help but this usually wasn't before the radio check in the morning was scheduled. The strip was long and the air was cold so we chanced it every day. Once airborne, there was an usually an inversion so the wings cleared nicely.
I learned about mountain flying primarily by getting caught in up drafts and down drafts and working my was out of them. When I got back to Rivers, I relayed my experiences and got an “Oh yeah, we knew that”. I wondered why they didn't relay that information when I went to the school for information.
(That was not the first time I had flown in the Rockies. As a student pilot, we made the trip and I don't remember getting any instructions about mountain flying at that time. At Banff, I decided to take a look at the Banff Springs Hotel. I had approached from a slightly lower level and as I got close, realized that I was not climbing at a rate I would have hoped, just clearing the roof of the hotel.)
I had been on skis for over a week and when we came back via Edmonton I seemed to forget that. Consequently, on landing we stopped very quickly. The tower wanted to know if I had a problem to which I replied, “No, the skis were a bit further down than I figured.”
Another interesting flight was to deliver a piece of equipment the RCMP needed in a murder case to a highway location in northern Saskatchewan. The first task was to find a couple of police cars on an isolated stretch of highway, check the wind and land with telephone wires on both sides of the highway. One knows that there is lots of room between the wires but it sure doesn't look like it coming down between them. The RCMP stopped traffic in both directions so I was in and out quickly.
From 10 Feb to 27 Feb 64, I attended the instructors course at the Light Aircraft School in Rivers. I didn’t know that Marsh Wright, LdSH was coming to command the school and had asked for me. I let it be known that I was not interested in a posting to Rivers and the school commandant did everything he could to fail me. It didn't work but he clearly didn't want me there so I returned to Shilo.
The summer of 1964 was normal, 3 RCHA in the field in Shilo for the month of May followed by the Divisional concentration in Wainwright from early June to the first of August. On the last day, I got a wire stating that I was tentatively posted to Cyprus as a Public Relations Officer and that I should report there in 13 days. I flew back to Winnipeg the next day and asked Barbara how she felt about taking four children under the age of five to the cottage we had rented on her own. She asked where I was going and for how long to which I replied “Cyprus for six months”. Her response was “better than a year in Vietnam”. She didn’t go to the cottage. I was in Cyprus on 13 Aug. As for continuation flying, it had to be done on my week's leave and in Beirut.
Perhaps the most interesting continuation flying was out of Beirut International. Fred Ayers and I went there in December 1964. The first task was to get a license to fly in Lebanon and that took some time and some doing. The application had to be stamped by I don't remember how many agencies. Finally I went to the hotel desk and asked them to use a few different stamps on my form. That seemed to work. Otherwise we would have had to use most of our leave getting a license.
We flew out of Beirut International and always with a Lebanese pilot. The guy with me had only a few hundred hours but he was there to keep me from straying toward the Israeli border. He preferred to call it the Palestine border. The most memorable part was taking off at night toward the city and turning into a pitch black night over the Mediterranean. It was pure IFR – absolutely no horizon. During daytime flights there was practically nowhere to go once one had flown the length and breadth of Lebanon a few times.
Of equal interest to us, I had made contact in Cyprus with Eric Downton, Dean of the middle east press corp and middle east correspondent for the Guardian. He was Canadian and had been to every war zone starting in China in 1937. He decided that that we should see Beirut properly. Every free minute we had he entertained us and showed us Beirut that no other could have. It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life.
I returned to Shilo – yet again in February 1965 and flew with the flight until the end of May. The Brigade HQ was in Cyprus so they made up a Headquarters, of which I became G3 Training. On return in August, I was one of six army officers posted to the RCAF Training Command Headquarters in Winnipeg, the start of integration of the forces. I was visiting Ottawa almost a year later and with a bit of time to spare, dropped in to see my career manager. I told him that we were moving from a temporary married quarter to a permanent one where upon he assured me that I would be in Winnipeg for the next five years. I got home at 1730 hours.
At about 2030, my neighbour knocked on the door and told me not to move into the PMQ. Smugly I told him that I had been in Ottawa and was told that I was to be in Winnipeg for the next five years. He asked what time I got home and I told him. He said “I just got back and you are being posted to command 4 Air OP Tp in Petawawa with the likelihood of getting promoted”.
4 Air OP Tp Aug 66 – Jul 67
After two tours with the flight in Shilo, Petawawa was quite different. There was a big hanger, paved runways and a paved road to get there. On the first Friday, I told the maintenance supervisor that I wanted all the airplanes on the line on Monday morning, to which he responded that it was not possible. I explained that where I came from, we did an engine change in the field under a tarp in 24 hours and it astounded me that with the hanger facilities he had that airplanes could not be on the line. He agreed that it could be done.
I explained to him that he didn't have to do it but that I knew that it could be done. The other side of the coin was that when all the airplanes were away and he was satisfied with the cleanliness of the hanger, I didn't want people lying around playing cards and that they could be sent home at his discretion. We had a great relationship after that and we were never short of airplanes. Pilots were Fred Ayers, Vic Coroy, Ron Adams, and Claire Haynes.
The flight had one plane on floats that summer and that was something that I had not encountered. Why we had aircraft on floats eludes me to this day. With a full tank of gas and a passenger, it was overweight. Notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was great fun. We landed on a lot of lakes between Rice Lake and home base, got invited to docks and offered a drink, which we agreed to swap for a free lunch. Upscale folks who would not have talked to us on the streets of Toronto. Ron Adams, a very good pilot checked me out on floats.
Another thing that I had learned was that aircraft sitting around have problems. When they are kept running, they just work better. We flew two hours to one over every other flight that year with one small incident. The fuel station was above ground and a pilot pulling away, clearly thinking about what he was going to do next, hit the fuel tank with the tail plane.
I was especially concerned with pilot safety and ran a training program with that in mind. Pilots from the Regiment wanted to fly and I made two conditions. The first was that they had to have authority to fly and the second was that they had to fit in with the training program and take their turn at weekend flights like everybody else. I pointed out that it was not a flying club. Nobody came.
The other thing I did was watch the wives carefully, primarily by socializing within the group. If there were family issues that bubbled just below the surface, I was careful is allocating flights in an effort to expose that pilot to flights where I didn't think that he could get into trouble. There were enough circumstances that presented themselves and two I remember. The first was a late afternoon flight of two aircraft from St Hubert to Petawawa. Beautiful weather in both places and no indication of any issues along the way. Over Ottawa we ran into a blinding snow squall or storm. Fred Ayers was flying one machine with me in the back and Vic Coroy was flying the other with a crewman. I rarely flew front seat with one of the pilots in the rear seat. Most of them were on their first tour and they wanted that front seat.
Flying IFR in an L19 and asked to change radio frequencies required the pilot to take his eyes off the instruments, look right 90 degrees and fiddle with the radio. Fred and I dived through a hole and landed. Don't remember getting clearance but do remember being asked if we were down. I ran for the tower and explained that we had a very new pilot up there and only the basic instruments with which to fly and told him to get that airplane down as quickly as he could. I think that Vic was up there about 40 minutes and did a great job keeping two people alive. The one thing that I was trying to avoid was having to tell a wife that her husband was not coming back.
In the winter we were on skis. The flight had not used their short fields in winter, but based on the principle that if you could land an L19, you could make the take off, I introduced Fred Ayers to a field I noticed one day. We did the high and low recce, I landed and turned around in a restricted place at both ends of the field. Fred got down nicely but turning to come back for take off presented a bit of a problem. I taxied back, got out of the aircraft – up to my crotch in snow, staggered to his machine and tried to give a lift to the tail. He applied full power and got moving. I got a huge blast of cold, blowing snow for my efforts.
My log book shows that we supported the Guards and 8CH as well as the regiment and brigade. On one occasion, we were to supply a battery in the field in winter, air dropping rations. Come time to do that, the weather was really marginal so I took the flight assuming that the people on the ground needed the resupply. Doug Baker was the Battery Commander and later told me that he could not believe that the supply run was made. I could not believe that he didn't let us know that they were OK without the run. It was one of those occasions where I would not ask anyone else to do it.
That year was one of the best years in my army career but it came to an abrupt end with my selection for staff college with the USMC in Quantico, VA. I had put into practice all the things I had learned during two tours with the flight in Shilo. Several years later I was asked to go to Gagetown to fly helicopters. It was a tough decision to turn it down but it had become time to put the family first. Rob had been is eight schools by the time he was in grade 9. I had asked to go to Ottawa in the hopes of getting my four kids through high school in one place, providing the stability they had not had based on my frequent postings. It was the right thing to do. And so ended my flying career.
Fixed Wing – 2112.30
Rotary Wing – 71.00
Total – 2186.30