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One RCEME Pilot’s Story

The Army Aviation Maintenance Unit (AAMU) was formed I believe by Major Ken Kennah, who went on to become a BGen (at least).

When I arrived at CJATC Rivers, Man, the unit was operating in support of the Army Aviation Tactical Training School (AATTS) and the Basic Helicopter Training Unit (BHTU) as well as training RCEME tradesmen in Aviation trades. In 1964 the CO of AAMU was Maj Nev Haggins. I believe the Production Officer was Capt Chuck Penney and the Training Officer was Capt Ron Connell.

RCEME officers were sent to Ft Eustis, Va to the US Army Transportation Corps School to become qualified as Aircraft Maintenance Officers. After I received my wings in 1964 and finished BHTU I was posted to AAMU and worked as the Aircraft Maintenance and Control Records Officer (AMCRO) until I was sent on my Aircraft Maintenance Officer course in Feb 1965. It wasn’t a hardship leaving Rivers, Manitoba and going to Virginia at that time of year.

When I returned in June 1965, Maj Jack Sheehan was the CO of AAMU, Capt Paul Pospisil had been posted in as the Training Officer and Capt John Cooper was the Production Officer. I replaced John Cooper as Production Officer and also worked for a short period of time as Servicing Officer. Around this same time period MWO Ken Pirt was commissioned and started working in AAMU as well.

In Nov, Dec 1966 I qualified as 2nd Pilot on the CH113A, Voyageur, but shortly after I was sent on course and posted away from Rivers.

Between my posting at Rivers and arriving at the RCEME School in Kingston, ON, I was sent on Temporary Duty (TD) to replace Capt Ray Manning at the 1 Tpt Hel Pl at St Hubert Quebec for May and June 1967 while he was on course. That was the end of my career in Army Aviation because Integration and then Unification also ended Army Aviation.

In 1969 I was posted to Europe and eventually as Officer Commanding the Maintenance Company of 4 Service Battalion. At that time the Maintenance Company still contained the Aircraft Maintenance Platoon so I still had some (rather distant) connection with Army Aviation. Capt Roger St Aubin was being considered for the Aircraft Mainenance Platoon. When the LORE career manager visited CFE around the time the Brigade was moving to Lahr, I toured him around the facilities. When we were in the AMU talking to Capt Phil Southam, the AERE officer there, Phil expressed a desire to stay in Germany since he was married to a German woman. Since the Career Manager was short of officers he was quite happy to get Phil posted to the Maintenance Company. Phil turned out quite well in the position with CWO Roy Currie as his right hand man.

When I returned to Canada in 1972 as Career Manager for Land Ordnance Engineering Officers (LORE), Unification was in the final throes. I was qualified as both a LORE officer and an AERE officer, but the powers that be decided I wasn’t for the Pilot Classification. I had elected to remain a LORE officer. When the decision came down that I could no longer wear my Army flying badge I objected but was told I had no choice. So I put up the new CF Wings, even the ones we wore on our shirts, although my wife commented that they looked like they came out of a Cracker Jack box. However I continued to wear my Lion with Blue wings on my Mess Dress.

When I left active Army Aviation in 1967 I wanted to continue flying. Having heard about L19s being used to support Air Cadet glider training, I started flying gliders and continued very actively till 2010. The first gliding club I joined had an Auster as a tow plane, so I was able to fly it as well as gliders. I had a successful gliding career, placing at or near the top of several Provincial and National Gliding contests, setting one Canadian gliding record and becoming the 10th Canadian to fly 1000 km in a glider. See images below.

Auster tow plane.

LCol Larry Springford.

LCol Larry Springford.

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These following articles are taken from my recently published autobiography titled “My 2 ½ Careers”. I can provide a digital version of the entire book on request to the following email address:

My Army Career

1957 - In 1957 I entered the Royal Military College of Canada.

1961 - I graduated and was commissioned in the Corps of Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers and married Rita (née Lambert) that summer.

1962 - Since RMC didn’t grant degrees at that time, I spent a year at the University of Toronto gaining a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Following U of T, and after my Subaltern’s Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (EME) course in the fall, I was posted to 1 Field Workshop in 1 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group (1 CIBG) in Calgary. My first working position was as the Administrative Officer of the workshop.


Many of the major decisions of my life seem to have been more from good luck than good management. My decision to become an Army pilot was one of those.

Despite the fact that aviation was a major aspect of my life for over 40 years, it was never a topic or career path that had crossed my mind in my earlier years. And this was despite the fact that a number of my classmates left high school prior to graduating to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as navigators, radio operators or pilots. In fact, four guys out of my high school class come to mind immediately. In the late ’50s, the RCAF was still cranking out a lot of aircrew. It was an easy way to get into a regular, full-time job with good pay.

It was while I was on the Subaltern’s EME course at the RCEME School at Barriefield in the fall of 1962 that the opportunity arose. One day while we were sitting in class, waiting for the instructor to arrive, one of the other lieutenants came in with a memo saying that there was an opportunity to become an Army pilot. I, and some other classmates, put our names down, thinking that sounded interesting. Believe me, that was the total extent to the thought process that was put into this selection of a career path.

About a year later, while I was the Administration Officer at 1 Field Workshop in Calgary, I got a call from my career manager, asking if I was still interested in becoming an Army pilot. This was the first time I’d thought or talked about it for a year or more, so I said that I’d like to talk to my commanding officer (CO) about it. I don’t recall the discussion, but obviously I decided to go that route. I flew back to RCAF Station Centralia, in Ontario north of London, for the testing and returned returned there in January 1964 to start training.


This was the start of the first of two great periods of my Army career. The next three years were a dream. The ab initio, or basic flight training took place on Chipmunk aircraft at Centralia. Rita, with Lisa (age 1½) and David (age 3 months) stayed with her sister Rosemary in nearby Sarnia. I was able to visit them on weekends.

The RCAF ran three different courses there. The shortest one was for Air Force pilots who went on to Harvards at RCAF Station Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. There was a slightly longer one for Navy pilots who went on to multi-engine training on C–45 Expeditors at the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC) Rivers, Manitoba. The longest course was for Army pilots who transitioned onto L-19s (or Bird Dogs) also at CJATC. Although I had some difficulty at the pre-solo stage, a change to an experienced flight instructor solved that. Most of our Air Force instructors were younger than me, and I had been commissioned less than three years. Our original course included three artillery officers, two infantry officers, one Armoured Corps officer, one signals officer, one Royal Canadian Engineer (RCE) officer and me, from RCEME. We lost four out of our original nine on that course. Of the five of us who went on, we lost one more early in the training on the L–19s.

We arrived at Rivers on a sombre note. Just prior to our arrival, there had been a fatal accident with an Expeditor aircraft. Apparently the instructor had pulled one engine off line shortly after take-off, and the student feathered the wrong propeller, killing both one of the young Navy student pilots, who had been at Centralia with us, and the instructor.

CJATC was a unique base in the days before unification of the Canadian Forces (CF). The base commander was an RCAF group captain. The deputy base commander was an Army lieutenant-colonel. There was also a Navy lieutenant-commander as a liaison officer. As well as flight training, the Army’s Parachute Training Centre was there.

The training on L–19s at the Army Aviation Tactical Training School (AATTS) concentrated on flying off short field strips in tactical situations. On the airfield there were 600-foot strips laid out on the grass between the runways and the taxi ways. In 1964 CJATC was extremely busy. In addition to AATTS, there was a T Bird (T33) squadron, multi engine training on Expeditors, a Box Car (C119) Squadron, used for training paratroopers and the Basic Helicopter Training Unit (BHTU). The T Birds flew circuits at 1500 feet above ground. The Expediter and Box Cars did circuits and paratrooper drops at 1000 feet. The L-19s did 700 foot circuits and the helicopters did 500 foot circuits.

There was no accommodation available in the permanent married quarters (PMQs), so those of us with families had to find houses in Brandon, Manitoba, 40 km away. Fortunately the CF had a bus service from Brandon, but with our flying-training schedule, we usually had to car pool. Within a year of my arrival, another RCEME officer, Captain Paul Pospisil, who was posted in was obliged to buy what was literally a tar paper shack in Rivers Town. I helped him replace the siding with asphalt shingles. By the time he left Rivers shortly after me, CJATC was shutting down, and he continued to own his unused house for a number of years.

At CJATC we learned a number of techniques. Among them was making an approach to land over an obstacle. Since doing it over a tree or a building would be dangerous in training, a light rope was held up between two poles. The rope was supposed to be attached to the poles by paper clips, but I learned subsequently that when the techs found that it didn’t stay attached, they secured it more permanently. Fortunately, none of us caught it with a tail wheel for a really short landing. We also learned to do landings on these same 600-foot strips at night with only flare pots to light them. There was a story that a student on an earlier course had only done two landings that night—one to drop off his instructor and the last one after which he shut down the airplane. I thought we were pretty good doing this until I watched the Navy pilots dropping the Trackers onto the tiny aircraft carrier, Her Majesties Canadian Ship (HMCS) BONAVENTURE.

We also flew into real field strips that had been set up in the countryside around the airfield. One of them, called Alpha, had one end of the strip at the edge of a ravine. One of the techniques to land there was to fly up the ravine, pop over the trees and drop the airplane on the strip. It was fun and a little exciting. On one occasion, I was doing circuits on another field strip that had a runway that curved around some trees. As I was taking off, the instructor pulled the throttle back to simulate a forced landing. My only choice was to aim between two trees, but then he put the power back on, and we flew away. We were told that in a situation like that, the wings would be folded back, crushing the occupant in the back seat, but it was better than going head-on into a tree.

South of CJATC was the Assiniboine Valley through which the river of the same name ran. Since it was 100 to 200 feet below the surrounding area, that’s where we learned to do our low flying, down to 50 feet above the ground. I found that intimidating for the first couple of flights but soon became accustomed to it. Several years later I was up in a helicopter with Peter Marsh, an Armoured Corps officer who had just returned from Germany. He demonstrated (illegally) how they flew there with the skids about 5 feet above ground.

Our instructors were an interesting mix. The three main corps using aircraft were the Armoured Corps, the Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA), which had used them for fire control since WWI, and the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC), which was getting into them for airborne transportation. The artillery provided the larger number of flight instructors with an Army background because they had been in the business longer than anyone else. However, there were a number of former Air Force pilots who had been fired from the RCAF during the big release of 500 pilots in the early ’60s. There was no cooperation between the Air Force and the Army. The individuals had to go across the street to the Army recruiting office and ask if they were looking for pilots! One of my instructors was Trevor White, who had been a Sabre (F86) pilot before he was released. Nick Mulikow, also an Air Force “retread,” did our instrument flying instruction on a Cessna 182. Although we didn’t do enough training to get our instrument ticket, we learned enough to be able to get out of a bad situation if we were caught in bad weather. I think the Army attitude was, “If you can’t see the ground, we don’t need you to be in the air.”

Light Aircraft Pilots’ Course #38, CJATC, Rivers, Manitoba, 21 August 1964,

Rear row – Instructors: Trevor White, Jim Pugh, Nick Mulikow, Don Day and Ray Anderson
Front row – Wayne Brocklehurst, me, Wing Commander Benson, Butch Colwell and Jack Farncombe

After completing the L-19 fixed-wing course at AATTS, I proudly received my Army wings.

Receiving my wings from Wing Commander Benson, CJATC, Rivers, Manitoba, 21 August 1964

After receiving my Army wings, the next step was to take the helicopter conversion course at CJATC at BHTU. This was an extremely small unit; there were only three captains as instructors. One of them, the CO Wilf Greystone, was known as “Moose” because he was so small. He lived right beside us in the PMQ that we finally were assigned. There were other students on this course with us. One was Nick Mulikow who had been one of our instructors on L-19s, doing his helicopter conversion. There were also two experienced Air Force transport pilots. Despite the experience of these pilots, it was interesting to see that they required the same 40-acre field to learn to hover in that we did.

This course used the standard light helicopter in use in the Army, the CH112 Nomad. It had a bigger engine in it than the equivalent one used in the US Army. Despite the extra power (or because of it), the engines failed regularly, causing a fleet-wide grounding once a year or so. The flight specifications were tightened several times, and engine recorders were put onboard to attempt to solve the problems. Nevertheless, one of the annual groundings was put in place during our course.

In order to keep getting some air time, we went back to the L-19s. This required a check flight. I was assigned my former instructor, Trevor White. He asked if I wanted to do some upper air work, but I thought I didn’t need that. I had just recently finished the L-19 course, and I just wanted to shoot some circuits. Although I hadn’t been flying the helicopter for very long, when I did my first landing in the L-19, on the round out before touching down, my left hand went down to grab the collective control (that wasn’t there!) and thundered onto the runway. “So I guess I do need some upper air work,” I said.

Eventually the fleet was put back in service, and we returned to the course. At that time, I changed instructors. My first instructor was Les Bennetts, who probably weighted over 200 lbs. When we returned, Wilf Greystone was my instructor, who was about 100 lbs lighter. On the first flight with Wilf when I pulled the helicopter up into a hover, we popped up to at least 20 feet above ground instead of the normal 5 feet.

There was one occasion when I was thankful for the CH112’s powerful engine. I was practicing a manoeuvre called a “quick stop.” I pulled the nose up a bit too high, when I was close to the ground, and I was a bit slow in recovering. It took all the power in the engine to prevent the tail from hitting the ground.

BHTU Course #62, CJATC, Rivers, Manitoba, 14 December 1964

Rear row – Jack Farncombe, Wayne Brocklehurst, Nick Mulikow, Butch Colwell and me
Front row – Instructors: Ted Harris, Wilf (Moose) Greystone and Les Bennetts

Following my flying training, I was posted to the Army Aviation Maintenance Unit (AAMU) as the Aircraft Maintenance Control and Records Officer before I was sent off to Fort Eustis, Virginia, for the Aircraft Maintenance Officers’ Course at the US Army Transportation School. It wasn’t a hardship to leave Manitoba in February to go to Virginia!


Another RCEME officer who had just returned from Fort Eustis advised me to leave my family in Canada. Apparently, accommodation could be a problem for a family there. The advantage to me was that I could log a lot of flying hours, particularly on helicopters, a prerequisite before I could do test flights when I got back to Canada. As it turned out, I logged more flying hours in that period than in any other equivalent period of my life, even though flying wasn’t part of the course. I used all my spare time to get up in the air in any of the US Army aircraft that were available there, by myself or with any of my US classmates who wanted to go flying. I left Rita and the children with her parents in Kingston, so Kathy, our third child, was born there. Just think, if Rita had accompanied me, Kathy would have had American citizenship!

I came back to AAMU where I was employed as Production Officer, supervising the maintenance of the L-19s and helicopters and then test flying them following their repair. Although I rarely encountered problems on test flights, I vividly remember one week where I had aircraft problems five days in a row. Some were minor, but two particularly come to mind. We always took one of the maintainers with us on the test flights. Not only did it give them a few dollars for flight pay, but it also emphasized to them the importance of doing the job right. On a helicopter test flight, I thought I smelled some smoke or oil, so I landed the aircraft in a field and sent the crewman out to check it out. It seemed that the oil drain valve had been left open, and we were losing oil. That’s what I smelled. The valve had been plugged with old oil that was solidified until it heated up. The crewman closed the valve, and we returned to base. On another occasion, we had repaired the leading edge of an L-19 that had been flown into some wires. My sheet metal tradesman had replaced the leading edge, but I think the metal gauge may have been too thin. When I flared to land, that wing dropped into an incipient spin. I recovered safely, but my people knew I wasn’t happy about that.

So this was a great posting. I was able to run a maintenance floor, and I was able to fly as part of the job. I had a great boss—the best I ever had—Major Jack Sheehan. He was the kind of officer you could disagree with and even win some arguments with. We had top qualified warrant officers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and craftsmen. I was sorry to leave it. One achievement that I was proud of was increasing the output of the production floor by 50%. Army aviation was still fairly new. Bringing tradesmen up to competent levels had taken some time. In the early days of Army aviation, RCEME aviation tradesmen were sent to the US for training. A batch of new tradesmen had come in a year or so previously. Due to their limited experience, crews of three tradesmen were used. However, by the time I was in the production officer job, there was enough experience that I could have my warrant officer first class (WO1) increase the number of crews by having only two tradesmen per crew.


My last year or so, there was a whirlwind of courses, moves and postings. Major Jack Sheehan decided that he wanted to have me qualified on the twin-rotor, medium-lift helicopter that had just come into service, the CH113A Voyageur. So, I went to the

headquarters of 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon at RCAF Station St Hubert, Quebec. After I got there, they decided that they were too busy to be able to train me, so they sent me to their detachment in Edmonton, Alberta. Finally, as I was being qualified on the Voyageur, I received a temporary duty posting to the Staff School course in Toronto. While I was on Staff School course, I received a posting to the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Regiment (RCHA) in Camp Gagetown, New Brunswick. That was fine, because the unit had an L-19 air observation post (AOP) flight. Command of a light aid detachment (LAD) was a great job for a captain. Before I was able to get to New Brunswick, the Commandant of the RCEME School arranged to get my posting changed because he needed me for officer training. After I was posted to the school, another request came along to send me to RCAF Station St. Hubert on temporary duty to replace the maintenance officer of 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon while he was sent off on Staff School course. During this period Rita and the kids had gone with me back east when I was supposed to be trained at St Hubert so she could visit her family. I dropped her off in Rivers on my way to Edmonton. She remained in Rivers while I was in Toronto, but she was able to come with me to St. Hubert for the two months I was there. As a nice perquisite, that coincided with Expo ’67 so we were able to visit it three times a week. I finally got to the RCEME School in August, having been on the move since the previous November.

At this point, I should mention that the officer I replaced at 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon, Captain Ray Manning had been very helpful to us. As mentioned previously, when we moved to CJATC, there was no accommodation on the base, so we had to live in Brandon, Manitoba. At that time, Ray was being sent to Fort Eustis, so he sublet his apartment in Brandon to us. Later, when I replaced him at 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon for a couple of months, he again sublet his apartment in Ville Lemoyne, Quebec to us.

My posting at the school, when I finally took it up, was interesting. The staff working in Officer Training Platoon were extremely competent. One of them was commissioned shortly after I left. I was promoted to major within a few months of arriving there. Because I was posted to the school, I was able to get a PMQ. When I was posted to the Staff College at Fort Frontenac in Kingston the next year, we were already settled. We avoided a move, and those posted to the Staff College weren’t eligible to get a PMQ. This allowed us to have some stability for two years after the previous whirlwind.


Following Staff College, I was posted to Germany, the other superb time of my Army career. I had always considered the position of CO of the RCEME Workshop in Germany to be the best posting available. I remember a master warrant officer who worked for me at the school asking me what position I aspired to. When I told him, he was surprised that it wasn’t the colonel who held the senior position in the corps, but I never did desire a posting to National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) or Ottawa.

Around this time, unification of the Army, Navy and Air Force was in full swing. After I left CJATC in Rivers, Manitoba, the AAMU was combined with one of the Air Force maintenance units. There was one interesting aspect in this combined unit. The Air Force technicians were either qualified on airframe or engine. Our Army technicians were qualified on both, so for a while, they were more widely employable than the Air Force technicians.

The Corps of RCEME was renamed Land Ordnance Engineering (LORE) Branch. It assumed responsibility for maintenance of Air Force and Navy ground equipment. Personnel were shuffled according to their qualifications. The Air Force took over all Army and Navy aviation. I was qualified as a LORE officer, maintaining ground equipment, as an AERE officer maintaining aircraft and a pilot.

I still desperately wanted to command the RCEME Workshop in Germany, and I accepted that I had now been posted away from aviation. However, I still enjoyed airplanes, so I wrote to my career manager, trying to lay it all out. I said that I would like the workshop’s CO position, but if that wasn’t possible then I would elect to become an AERE officer. Years later, he told me that he had to really sell my argument to get me the posting to Germany. My letter was interpreted by his boss as saying “give me this or else”—certainly not my intention. I felt at the time that if I couldn’t get my dream job, I might as well stay in the aircraft maintenance business that I enjoyed. Most of my peers in Army aviation went the AERE route and had good careers too. But they didn’t have the chance to command the workshop in Germany!

What followed were four jobs in three years. Two of them were interesting, and two of them were superb, the highlight of my career as I look back on it.

At that time, the Army had 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (4 CMBG) in northern Germany, centred around the town of Soest. The Air Force had 1 Canadian Air Division that had recently been concentrated around Lahr and Baden in southern Germany. Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister, had no love for the military or Defence spending, an unfortunate Liberal trait. He decreed that the Canadian military in Germany would be cut in half and that the Army portion would leave the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR) and move to southern Germany to come under US command.

My initial posting to Germany had been as the Base Maintenance Officer in Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Soest, providing maintenance support to the CF units in northern Germany that were not part of 4 CMBG. However, the major part of that job was as a staff officer handling the administrative aspects of equipment maintenance both for the base and 4 CMBG. This included writing off equipment that was beyond economical repair as well as supervising various support and overhaul contracts.

The brigade was well established by this time. Social activities centred around officers’ messes in the various forts—Fort Henry for the base HQ. There was also a central Officer’s Club in Soest to which all officers were required to pay dues. Since our PMQ was in Soest, it was convenient for us.

Canadian Officer’s Club Ball, Soest, Germany, October 1969, Me and Rita

Trudeau’s direction came about two months after I arrived in Germany. The other technical staff supporting CFB Soest (supply, transport and buildings) had no interest in the move south. They were primarily interested in shutting down Soest. My boss in Soest, the Base Technical Services Officer (BTSO), Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Morgan had his eye set on becoming Acting Base Commander behind Colonel Sellar. Similarly, the Base Supply Officer looked forward to becoming the Acting BTSO. On the other hand, I saw both an enormous challenge in providing equipment maintenance support in the new location and an opportunity to design a new maintenance organization. This would formalize some unofficial arrangements that were in place. The CFB Soest Base Workshop formally came under command of the Base Maintenance Officer. The Base Maintenance Officer, however, had made an informal arrangement with the Field Workshop CO. While the Field Workshop was not deployed in the field, the Base Workshop personnel came under control of the Workshop CO. The very practical reasons for this were that they were collocated and they could share workload as necessary.

I started spending four days out of every week in the Lahr area, determining what was needed and what was available as well as discussing how the maintenance organization should be set up there. Rita and the children remained in Soest during this period, and I came back every weekend. By January of 1970, I was posted to the small, new transition group that took up residence in Lahr, and we were all able to move there. The PMQs were still occupied by the Air Force, so we found accommodation on the economy. In many ways it was preferable to living in the Canadian “ghetto” with all the attendant gossip. The transition group was commanded by Colonel Gordon Sellar, who had been the Base Commander of CFB Soest and who would assume that same position in the new organization in CFB Lahr. There was a wing commander from the Air Division looking after the Air Force requirements. Another Army major from Soest looked after administrative requirements. An infantry captain from 4 CMBG provided liaison with the brigade. I handled all the technical and logistic aspects.

Colonel Sellar was easy to work for. He left me to look after the technical and logistical aspects, and he was very happy with my contribution.

Without getting into too many details of the maintenance organization, one major concept that I was able to insert was a third-line workshop.

To provide some explanation, maintenance in the Canadian Army was divided into four levels. First line occurred at the individual unit level, such as infantry battalions or armoured regiments. It included basic jobs like oil changes that required very few spare parts. Second line was handled by the field workshop or maintenance company. It included major component replacement, such as engines or final drives. It also provided maintenance which required more advanced training such as on radio equipment or instruments. Fourth line provided complete overhaul of equipment. In Canada, there was only one such base workshop. In Germany, we had relied on a British base workshop for overhaul of our Centurion tanks and some other major equipment. Third-line workshops had not existed in the Canadian Army since WWII. During the war, that level of maintenance provided specialized repair, such as tire workshops or repair on specific equipment.

When 4 CMBG left the BAOR, it lost a lot of the support provided by the British. However, the US Army didn’t seem to be enthralled to have us join them and support from them wasn’t forthcoming. For instance, although the 4 CMBG reconnaissance vehicle was built on an American vehicle, it was a modified version. Since it was only 80% similar to the US Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), they weren’t prepared to support it. For this and other equipment, we needed our own capability. Another demand from the government had been to reduce the number of uniformed personnel and replace them with civilians. However, because we had to provide support if “the balloon went up” (i.e., war started), we had to have an organization staffed by military personnel. Thus, I was able to protect a number of military positions and to improve our support of the brigade and the base.

When the new CF organization in Europe, called Canadian Forces Europe (CFE), came into being, the planning organization under Colonel Sellar was disbanded, and we all moved into our positions in CFE. For me that was the Base Maintenance Officer Lahr position, very similar to the position I’d held in Soest but with the organizational changes I’d been able to make.

The logistical support in brigade groups in Canada had changed several years previously. Independent units, like field workshops, were now part of a service battalion. This change happened in Germany just prior to the move south. As a result, 4 Field Workshop RCEME was now the Maintenance Company of 4 Service Battalion of 4 CMBG. The field workshop and subsequently the maintenance company were commanded by Major Paul Pospisil, an officer I had served with at CJATC. It was planned that I would move to the maintenance company, and he would move to the Base Maintenance position. Once the move of 4 CMBG to Lahr was complete, I assumed command of the Maintenance Company, and Major Pospisil became the Base Maintenance Officer. At this point I still was involved with Army aviation since the Aircraft Platoon was included in the Maintenance Company. It provided second line support to the Air OP troop of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Regiment and the Helicopter Troop of the Reconnaissance Squadron of the Royal Canadian Dragoons Armoured Regiment.

Originally the platoon commander of the Aircraft platoon was supposed to be Capt Roger St Aubin, a LORE officer who was the Deputy aircraft maintenance officer in 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon. The LORE career manager came to Germany and I gave him a tour around the base. While we were going through the Aircraft Movements Unit (AMU) facility, we started talking to RCAF officer Capt Phil Southam. Phil was married to a German woman and he was anxious to stay in Germany. LORE was short of officers, so Phil offered to move to the Maintenance Company as the Aircraft Platoon commander. He did a good job there. He was well coached on army requirements by CWO Roy Curry, his platoon second in command.

Assuming command of Maintenance Company, 4 Service Battalion, CFB Lahr, Germany, November 1970. Me on left, Lieutenant-Colonel Chuck Reid, CO of the Battalion, extreme right

This was the highlight of my Army career that I had wanted for as long as I was a RCEME officer. It met all my expectations. The units in Germany were staffed to full strength and the Maintenance Company had tradesmen who were all fully trained, unlike the units in Canada. I also had a full slate of competent junior officers, warrant officers and NCOs so the subunit was a pleasure to command. Both in the field and on base, I was able to support 4 CMBG and the base units to their full satisfaction. In the field with the Maintenance Company, we handled moves to new locations and workshop layouts competently—usually. I did get one “rocket” from the brigadier through my CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Chuck Reid. The Military Police (MP) Platoon had brought in all their jeeps during one lull between exercises. They hadn’t been properly hidden and camouflaged, and the brigadier, who had flown over in a helicopter, said that my location looked like an MP platoon. Unfortunately, he was right! Other than that one incident, my CO said that I ran the best maintenance unit he’d ever seen.

Sometimes we sited the Maintenance Company in wooded areas, but when they weren’t available, we had to use villages. That could provide some advantages. One of my favourite locations was near the village of Ast, around a “castle” owned by an absentee banker. The caretaker let us set up an officers’ mess in one of the rooms. Another pleasant memory was a town where the local priest came to see my company sergeant major (CSM). He told my CSM that during the time we would be were there, the

village was hosting the dance for the local area and we were invited. After we solved the logistical problem of safely storing our weapons in a cloakroom, we were able to join the fun. The local wives were happy to dance with us, and we all enjoyed the companionship. When the local band took a break, one of my soldiers entertained the Germans with some country music on his guitar. It was a great break and was very pleasant after having been on exercise for several weeks.

verybody got 14-day leaves three times a year. The school system there was excellent; it was staffed by teachers who took time from their school boards to come to Europe for a few years. Their common-sense approach was that taking children out of school for a trip during the school year was more educational than two weeks in the classroom.

that my posting to Germany was a front-line posting. But it was a serious situation that was brought home to me the first time the sirens went off. My heart rate went up, and I wondered if the “balloon had gone up” (i.e., if the Russians were coming). This was a monthly exercise that could be called any time of the night or day. It required the field units to deploy to positions away from the bases. For those of us on the base staff, we just came into our base positions and waited—hopefully just for an “all clear.” In retrospect, I realized that we, including my family, were the “speed bump” for the Russians on the way to the Channel. It was still a serious threat for a number of years after our time there, despite Trudeau the Senior’s attitude.


Around the time I was leaving Germany, numerous changes were taking place. The CH112 helicopter was replaced by the new Kiowa helicopter. At the same time the Brigade aviation units, including the Aircraft maintenance platoon of the Maintenance Company of 4 Service Battalion were assigned to a new Air Force unit, 444 Tactical Helicopter Squadron.

Coming back from Germany was a culture shock. Much greater than going over there. That was an opinion shared by many who had come back to Canada. Ontario in those days was still controlled by rigid liquor laws. In Germany, it was normal for a family, including young kids, to go to a gasthaus (a pub) for a meal with alcohol! Families went out walking in the woods on well-kept trails. We encountered a sophistication that was unknown back in Canada.

The other shock for me was a posting to NDHQ in Ottawa. It was eased slightly since I went into one of the better jobs there as career manager for LORE officers. Within a year, I was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and moved to the section head position in charge of the career managers of all the Army and Air Force engineering officers.

There was one irritating event during this posting. As career manager, I had to write myself a letter, telling me that I was not accepted in the pilot classification. That didn’t bother me. I always preferred to have a real job; the flying was just an enjoyable extra. I told my boss, the Director Postings and Careers Officers, that I didn’t object to that but that I wanted to continue to wear my Army wings, the blue winged lion. He refused, so I had to put up the new wings. But I maintained my old wings on my messdress uniform. It continues to hang in the closet, to bury, or more likely, cremate me in.


I was posted as CO of the Land Engineering & Test Establishment (LETE). This unit had three locations in the Ottawa area. The HQ and the squadron testing mechanical equipment were located in Orleans, just east of Ottawa. The squadron responsible for electronics occupied a building on the NRC campus on Montreal Road. There was also a very small section at Uplands Airport that tested equipment for use on airport runways. The unit had been established during WW II. The vehicle test facilities and buildings at the Orleans site dated from that period. The CO before me had obtained a consultant contract to replace these buildings. The contract dragged on interminably during my tenure. The CO following me finally had the building replacement approved. The CO after him saw the new building erected, but within one or two years, the unit had been shut down and the new building handed over to the RCMP. As a measure of the frustration due to dealing with the NDHQ bureaucracy, consider the title of my nominal boss. The Associate to the Assistant to the Deputy Minister. Although interesting in some ways, this was my least enjoyable job.


From there I went to the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace and Ordnance Engineering (CFSAOE) as the chief instructor—effectively the second in command to the colonel who was commandant of the school. I had thought with my background of maintenance in both airplanes and ground equipment that this school would be a match made in heaven. Despite the technical similarities, I hadn’t recognized the cultural differences between the Army and the Air Force. The basic and obvious difference is that in the Army, the junior troops, albeit usually behind a platoon commander are sent to fight the enemy. An Army officer is taught to look after his troops, for example to make sure his soldiers eat before he does. In the Air Force, it is primarily officers who are sent off to fight. The junior ranks stay behind in safety. Consequently, Air Force tradesmen have a very relaxed discipline compared to Army tradesmen who are expected to be able to fight and defend their locations as well as maintain equipment.

One particularly enjoyable aspect of this posting was the secondary duty to which I was appointed—chairman of the school board for the three primary and one high school on CFB Borden. As well as continuing to oversee the support for the schools in matters like staffing and physical maintenance of the buildings, I was able to increase the number of computers available to the students in the high school, at a time when computers were just coming into widespread use. Through my children, I had learned that the only way they could get any keyboard skills was by taking the “commercial” option, so the board authorized more computers for the school.

I also gained a respect for and appreciation of the effort put in by the teachers. In the high school, with only 400 students and a commensurate number of teachers, a full range of sports and other extra-curricular activities was available to the students, all with teachers as coaches or advisors.

It was also due to my time on the school board that I first became aware of how poorly the military were compensated. The pay scale for the teachers was set at a fixed percentage lower than the surrounding Simcoe County Board. The superintendent of the school board on the base was paid more than the brigadier-general commanding the base. The base included two major CF schools, several minor schools and all supporting units. The colonel who was commandant of my school, with 1000 students and 500 staff, was paid less than the high school principal.

Shortly after I arrived at CFSAOE, a manpower-evaluation team arrived to see if we had the proper number of personnel on establishment. To those on the ground, these teams were generally considered to have a mandate to cut positions. This particular team had an additional mandate. They wanted to chop CFSAOE into two separate schools, one for the Army trades and one for the Air Force trades. Prior to recognizing the cultural differences described above, I argued against this with my (Army) Commandant, Colonel Ian Isbester. He didn’t seem to pay much attention to this review and left it to me. There were no significant changes resulting from this review.

Also early in my posting to the school, I was able to make a change to an approach that had always bothered me at CF schools. In the technical trades, the tradesmen were taught one segment, tested on it, and moved on to another segment. I was always concerned that the early segments would be forgotten by the time the student finished the course. As a result, I directed the trades training companies to institute follow-on tests that combined the content of several recent segments. These follow-on tests occurred approximately monthly.

During my first two years at the school, Chief Warrant Officer Buckle, an infantryman from the Royal Canadian Regiment was the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of the school. He reported to the commandant, but he was helpful to me in many ways as well. Colonel Isbester, the commandant, and I discussed making the barracks non-gender specific. That was the way the world was going, and we thought we should get on board. Mr. Buckle shook his head and said “there will be problems.” But we thought we had responsible young people. A few weeks later, Mr. Buckle came back to us and described some very inappropriate behaviour that was going on in the barracks. He didn’t have to say “I told you so,” but we changed back to male barracks and female barracks.

He left behind a number of sayings, a couple of which I still remember.
  • "Officers should never run, it makes the men nervous.”"
  • "The Men sweat, Officers perspire, Ladies glow"
He arranged to have Rita and me invited to a mixed mess dinner in the Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess. My only payment was a to make a speech after the ladies retired. It was an enjoyable evening with a very competent and knowledgeable group.

Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ mixed mess dinner, CFB Borden, 1980, President of Mess Committee and wife, Rita and me

The next year, a new commandant was posted in, (Air Force) Colonel Don Langdon. He had come from Air Command Headquarters in Winnipeg with two mandates. One was to eliminate the advanced trades training that went on at CFSAOE for the Air Force trades and have it all done by OJT. The other, that became apparent later, was to split the school into Army and Air Force schools. He was successful with both. He didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him. His (Air Force) priorities eliminated the once-amonth parade of the whole school that had been required by Colonel Isbester. That was understandable when I saw him trip over his own feet when walking onto the parade square one time.

During Colonel Langdon’s tenure, I was offered command of the service battalion in United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in the Gaza Strip. I suspect that someone may have been trying to bail me out of a very unpleasant situation. However, our son was 15 and more of a handful than I thought I should leave with Rita on her own. So I turned it down and soldiered on. As I had done in all my positions, I continued to do the job as I thought it should be done, regardless of the consequences. When I thought the LORE trades were being ignored when Col Langdon wanted to put Air Force officers in all the senior positions in the school, I asked to present my case to the base commander (who was also Air Force). I was not successful in getting better representation of Army trades in the school, and I doubt that I enhanced my standing with either of these senior officers.


My next posting was back to the Puzzle Palace, as NDHQ was less than affectionately known. I was posted into the Director General Land Equipment and Maintenance Division (DGLEM), to the section that dealt with maintenance operational policy, the maintenance system and similar items. One of the tasks handed to my section was to write LORE policy for a Canadian corps. At that time, the Canadian Army couldn’t even field an Army division, let alone a corps. That was the final straw, and I decided that it was time to try something different. And of course, my previous job had left a bad taste in my mouth, so there is a silver lining to every cloud!


Although my retirement decision incurred a penalty on my pension for leaving three years early, financially it still turned out to be a good decision.

Looking back at my Army career, life just fell into place. In many ways, my generation was fortunate. Between the Korean Conflict and peacekeeping in Kosovo, the CF had no shooting wars. The downside of this was that it made for dull careers and little apparent need for effective training. One classmate in the artillery told me that the troop he commanded in a unit in Canada didn’t have more than two gunners left to train after he filled all his administrative requirements.

As a result, many of my RMC classmates chose to leave when their obligatory time was up. Purportedly our class had one of the lowest retention rates. I have been told there was a question in Parliament about why so many of us left. I was lucky in the jobs that came available. I joined only with the intention of getting an engineering degree. But as I kept getting interesting jobs there seemed no reason to leave the Army. I was enjoying it.

Me with Chipmunk Aircraft RCAF Station Centralia 1964
L-19 Birddog, over Manitoba

CH112 Nomad three-place helicopter
CH113A Voyageur helicopter

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After only three years in Army Aviation directly, I moved on to Soaring. The connection to early Army Aviation is striking. I had a successful follow-on avocation of 43 years in that sport so I’ve added it to the above article on my Army career.



When I left Army aviation in 1967, I realized it was unlikely I’d ever get back into it. But I enjoyed flying and wanted to keep at it. While I was at CJATC in Rivers, several pilots had been sent off to support the Air Cadet gliding programme since the L-19 that we flew was a superb tow plane. Knowing that gliding existed and having no desire to fly around the sky aimlessly in power planes, I decided to try gliding. In 1967 while in Kingston, I joined the local gliding club. The Rideau Gliding Club located at the Gananoque Airport had an LK10A two-place glider as a trainer. Appropriately enough, it had been used to train US Army glider pilots during WWII. After qualifying on gliders, I also was checked out to fly the tow plane. It, too, was a WWII Army airplane, a British Army Auster, similar to the L-19 I had trained on. Although the Auster had two seats, there was only one set of controls. After a demonstration flight with a tow pilot, with me sitting in the back, I received my ground briefing and was sent off solo. There was no point in putting both of us at risk.


various badges and diplomas through the Federation Aeronautique International (FAI) including the Diplôme de Performance Vol à Voile as the 10th Canadian and 412th person in the world to fly 1000 km. Through the Soaring Association of Canada (SAC) I held the territorial speed to a goal record for a 100 km flight. I did reasonably well in a number of contests in both Canada and the USA. I flew in interesting locations from the Canadian Rockies to the desert south west of the USA. I flew ridge soaring sites in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. I flew flat land in Australia and mountain flying in New Zealand. I was the Contest Director for 3 Canadian National Soaring championships and 2 Provincial championships.

The entire book, including much more information on gliding and other aspects of my life, is available in digital format by contacting me at


When I turned 70 in 2008, I put my glider up for sale. I had found that the fun-towork ratio had gone down. There wasn’t much more in the sport that I wanted to accomplish. When the glider eventually sold in 2010, I never looked back at gliding. For me it was “been there, enjoyed it and got the t-shirt” (lots of them actually).

LK10A glider
Auster tow plane, both at Gananoque Airport, 1967

Last flight in my Blanik glider before the German club takes possession, Lahr Airfield 1972
HP14 glider landing, with typically steep approach due to big flaps, Gatineau Gliding Club near Ottawa, 1974

David Landing in Ka6 glider, CFB Borden, 1981

Land out near Fergus, Ontario, Rita holding the fuselage of Ka6 while Lisa helps me carry the wing to the trailer, August 1979

Lisa landing in 2-33 training glider after her first solo flight, CFB Borden, 1981

Libelle glider on left replaces the Ka6 glider on right, Lisa and David with me, CFB Borden, 1981

Libelle glider taking off, contest at Virden, Manitoba, July 1984

Having just bought the ASW20, the look on my face tells it all, Ridge Soaring Gliderport, State College, Pennsylvania, 1985
ASW20 glider on left replaces Libelle glider on right, SOSA Airfield, near Cambridge, Ontario, 1986

Justin Wills above cloud, off my left wing, New Zealand, December 1998
Flying above Mount Cook New Zealand, December 1998

I’m in the LS4 glider seen here. Mount Cook & Lake Ohau, New Zealand in the background, December 1998

A very satisfied look on my face after finally completing my 1000 km flight, Ridge Soaring Gliderport, State College, Pennsylvania, 3 May 2002

I’m in my ASW20, flying from Minden, Nevada, the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background, March 1997

My beautiful glider, 1985–2010

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Up in the Air

The story of my flying career

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  • 1 Air OP Flight Group photos.
    Assistance would be welcome in identifying personnel in these photographs: View Content.

    Compiled by BGen R.G. Heitshu.