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One RCCS Pilot’s Story


It all started back in 1961 when, as a young 19 year old Officer Cadet undergoing Signal Officer training in the Officer Candidate Programme (OCP) at the Royal Canadian School of Signals in Kingston, I expressed an interest in undertaking Canadian Army Pilot training to my OC , Major Fred T Harris (a qualified Army Pilot himself). Nothing was heard on the subject until spring 1962 when, during my first field posting with 2 Signal Squadron at Camp Petawawa, I was sent to RCAF Station Centralia to undergo aircrew selection testing to determine my suitability for future aircrew training. Having successfully negotiated the selection "hurdle", a posting to the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC) at Rivers Camp Manitoba followed in Apr 62. I was posted to the Air Support Signal Troop (ASST) to fill the 2IC position with the intent of moving up to the OC position on the imminent departure of the incumbent OC, Lt WSD (Steve) Werry. He was just finishing-up Army Pilot training on the Hiller CH-112 helicopter at the Centre. I assumed that I would be attending the next Army Pilot Course at PFS RCAF Station Centralia which was to commence in Aug 62. That was indeed the intention of my Corps; however, much to my dismay, it was not that of my immediate superior at CJATC, the OC Ground Training Wing (GTW), Lt Col REM Cross PPCLI (an Army Pilot himself). He had other thoughts on the subject. In short, he stated that: "young Dicker would not be attending the next Army Pilot Course unless the Signal Corps provided a replacement for him as OC ASST during his one year absence on training". His reasoning was that the ASST was more in need of a full-time Signal Officer than the Signal Corps was of another "bloody" pilot! Crestfallen, I had no choice but to wait and see what the Corps would do. Much to my great (and pleasant) surprise, D Pers Sigs came through very quickly with a message naming Lt WF (Bill) Cowperthwaite as my successor as OC ASST and I was subsequently loaded on the next Army Pilot Course starting in Aug 62 at RCAF Station Centralia.

Primary Flying Training at Centralia ended in Dec 1962 after four months of Ground School and Flying Training, culminating in a total of 84 flying hours in the DeHavilland Chipmunk aircraft. Other Corps represented on the Course at Centralia were: Armoured, Artillery, Infantry and Service.

It was back to CJATC Rivers in Jan 1963 for the remaining portion of our training (Light Aircraft Pilots Course No. 34 at the Army Aviation Tactical Training School) which would see all successful candidates being awarded the Army Flying Badge in Apr 1963 after some 126 hours flying time in the Cessna L-19 Birddog aircraft. In addition to qualifying one on the L-I9 and studying Ground School subjects such a Voice Procedure and Tactics, this Course taught one all the basics of true Army flying, including: very short field landing and take-off techniques (day and night including flare-pot operations at night), instrument flying, aerial photography (K20 and F95 Cameras), line-laying, supply and message drops, low-level flying, navigation (long and short range), aerial reconnaissance and formation flying.

LAPC No. 34 was immediately followed by Basic Helicopter Training on the Hiller CH-112 aircraft. This training, which spanned a five-week period and culminated in a total of 61 hours flying time, was conducted at the Basic Helicopter Training Unit (BHTU) also located at CJATC Rivers. Only Armoured, Signal, Infantry and Service Corps Officers on our Course received helicopter training. Artillery Pilots proceeded directly to Air OP units immediately upon receiving their wings; however, most eventually qualified on helicopters.

Graduates of BHTU Course No. 56 were then slated for Advanced Helicopter Training which was due to start back at AATTS in Sep 1963. This Course would see graduates thoroughly qualified in all aspects of Army Tactical Rotary Wing flying and prepare them for flying duties in any Army Aviation unit equipped with the CH-112. After BHTU and before the Advanced Tactical Helicopter Course, I was very fortunate to gain additional experience and flying hours on the CH-112 during summer Concentration at Camp Wainwright, as a Line Pilot with an ad-hoc flying unit from Rivers, called the 1 CIBG Hel Flt. Assisting in Airborne Reconnaissance and the laying-out of future Brigade Headquarters was ideally suited to a Signal Corps Pilot; functions that would normally be done by the Second-in-Command of a Brigade Signal Squadron (by vehicle!). This was invaluable experience for any Signal Corps Officer.

Back to Rivers for the start of Advanced Helicopter Course No. 5 in Sep 1963. The Course was canceled mid-Oct 1963 due to the high incidence of serious accidents caused by wire strikes during nap-of-the-earth navigation exercises. Nobody qualified off this Course and everyone was posted back to their respective Corps. In my case, I was most fortunate to regain my old position as OC ASST due to the unforecast departure of Lt Cowperthwaite on Academic Training.

I remained as OC ASST until Apr 1966 when I left CJATC on posting to Cyprus. During that period in Rivers I had the best of two worlds: as a young Lieutenant Signal Corps Officer in an independent command position in a unique field unit and as a fully qualified fixed and rotary wing Army Pilot, sitting at the crossroads of military aviation at the time....CJATC. It was during this period that I was able to:

  • command my Troop and participate in three summer Concentrations in both Gagetown and Wainwright, providing Ground/Air Support Communications for all air activity in the support of Brigade operations. During one of the Gagetown Concentrations I was also allowed to fly, as a liaison pilot, with the Helicopter Flight that had been sent to Gagetown from Rivers.
  • qualify on the Cessna L-182 aircraft and thereby perform additional liaison flying duties out of Rivers
  • attend and qualify on a subsequent Advanced Helicopter Course at CJATC and as a result, spend one month in Petawawa as an Armoured Recce Squadron Helicopter Pilot flying with C Squadron 8 CH in their work-up exercises prior to moving from Petawawa to Germany in fall 1965. 100 hours of tactical helicopter flying were accumulated during this one month period.
  • assist with the conduct of FAC Courses at CJATC, by ferrying students to and from the Shilo Ranges during the practical phase of their course.
  • meet all Continuation Flying requirements and remain current on the L-19, CH-112 and L-I82 aircraft, up to Apr 1966.

As an aside, during my eight-month tour of duty with UNFICYP in 1966, I had the privilege of flying several Aerial Delivery Service (ADS) sorties in the Auster Mk IX aircraft. Four of these old aircraft comprised the HQ UNFICYP Fixed Wing Flight at the Nicosia Airfield, and were flown by British Army Air Corps (AAC) Pilots. Thanks to the generosity of those Pilots, I, a Canadian Signal Officer, actually participated, albeit on a limited scale, in several operational ADS runs, in a now-famous, historical aircraft type. A great thrill indeed.

Following a tour of duty at the Royal Canadian School of Signals from 1966 to 1968 (during which time I kept-up flying proficiency on civilian aircraft at the Kingston Flying Club), I was selected for the Multi-engine and Instrument Rating Course at RCAF Station Portage La Prairie from Jul-Oct 1968. This Course was designed primarily to qualify Navy, Army and Air Force Pilots for future employment as now-members of a unified Canadian Forces. On completion of this challenging Course, I assumed the duties of a Line Pilot on 412 Squadron at CFB Uplands Ontario, in the rank of Captain. Flying consisted mainly of VIP liaison trips in the Cessna L-182 aircraft. During this short tour of duty, I ceased flying voluntarily and rejoined my Corps (now the Communications and Electronics Branch of the Canadian Forces), with my Last Flight/Epitaphs being on 10 Dec 1968. I closed my Pilot's Log Book with just over 1000 hours total flying time. Flying was an invaluable experience from beginning to end, and one which allowed me to explore avenues of employment as an Officer in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals that very few such officers are ever afforded. I feel that my contribution, however small relative to some other Aviators, to the Canadian Forces in general and my Corps in particular, was greatly enhanced due to my "experience" as a Pilot.

Military aircraft flown as qualified pilot on type:

Fixed Wing
  • deHavilland Chipmunk Cessna L-19 Bird Dog Cessna L-182 (L-19L) Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor
Rotary Wing
  • Hiller CH-112 Nomad (Raven)

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And “yes” that is me in an earlier “life”!!!

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