The exploits of the RCASC in air supply have been covered in Chapter One; however,
the Corps had much greater ambitions in the overall field of aviation. In the period
immediately following World War II, tactical thinking was concentrating more and more
on a nuclear battlefield in which combat arms units would be widely dispersed and, as a
result, resupply distances greatly expanded. Increased mechanization also caused the projected
tonnage of combat supplies to rise. With both increased distances and tonnages,
Corps thinkers were projecting a scenario in which ground transport either could not meet
the need or would have to be augmented, in both vehicles and manpower, or it could well
become an inefficient method of supporting a fighting force. The solution clearly pointed
to supplementing ground transport, with “air vehicles” – either aircraft or helicopters, or
The first known concrete action toward implementing this concept took place in 1952 when the DST, Col J.L. Sparling, summoned the then Pers RCASC, Maj H.B. Brodie, to his office and gave him the job of staffing the launch of the RCASC into a new field of transportation – aviation. From that moment on, regardless of appointment or rank, Maj Brodie was a firm advocate of RCASC aviation. Without his commitment, dedication, and skill, there could well have been no requirement to relate the story of “The Corps in the Air.” Having passed pre-flight selection, he almost became a pilot. When six RCASC junior officers arrived at the Brandon Flying Club in May 1955 to commence Course 15, they were delighted to see the name “Maj H.B. Brodie” at the top of the student board. Unfortunately, he had been hospitalized (ruptured gastric ulcer) and could not proceed on course. He recovered completely but the window of opportunity for flying training had closed. “It is an ill wind that blows no one good!” Had he become a pilot, his career path may have changed and the RCASC and the cause of army flying might not have had his valued service as Head of Corps and aviation advocate.
A precursor to the new concepts mentioned above was the Canadian Army’s continued
interest in glider operations following World War II. While this had nothing to do
with the nuclear battlefield, many believed that the glider still had a place in support of
major amphibious landings, like D-Day, and in the delivery of troops and supplies across a
major obstacle. The RCASC was not in the forefront of this endeavour but it certainly
maintained an interest in it. Evidence of this is the injury of three Corps personnel in a
glider crash in 19491 and the training of Cpl W.R.B. Chaplin as a glider pilot in 1951.
As military fortunes go, it was the glider training of a few infantry personnel, in
addition to Cpl Chaplin, that was later to boost the Corps’ experience level in aviation.
Infanteers, Sgt N. Betcher, Cpl P.J. Raven, and Pte F.J. Wagner graduated from Glider
Course 1. Glider Course 2 included two former British Army glider pilots who, due to
their recent association with Canadian Army pilots in England, were “lured” into becoming
founding members of the “Canadian Army Air Corps.” When, after graduation, it was
revealed that there was to be no such corps, all members of Course 2 left the army. This
was not an overall loss to Canada as most joined a now expanding RCAF. S/Sgt C.H.
Reid, also infantry, qualified on Course 3 as did Cpl Chaplin on Course 4.2 After commissioning,
Lts Reid, Wagner, and 2/Lt Chaplin requalified as pilots and the two infantry officers
transferred to the RCASC. Requalification required only the advance phase of training
because their glider training had included a powered-flight phase at the Brandon Flying
Club. At a much later date, S/Sgt Betcher rejoined the aviation field as a technician.3
Pilots of today are justified in wondering what possible contribution a program that snatched a few gliders off the Rivers airfield, released them to soar about, and then land back on the field, could make to RCASC aviation. They have only seen Air Cadet and recreational gliders and are likely unaware that these huge CG4A or Hadrian gliders flew to army exercises as far distant as Norman Wells, Northwest Territories, and Ungava Bay, Quebec, via Goose Bay, Labrador. On one northern exercise, a glider was outfitted as a mobile communication and control centre. During 1953, several gliders were flown from Rivers to Calgary for Crown Assets disposal. Then, on 9 October 1953, Sgt Betcher flew the last CG4A to a long-term storage facility at Carberry, Manitoba. The glider program had gone the way of the dodo bird, but it will be evident that some of the personnel it trained played a major role in RCASC aviation.
The concept of the RCASC using aircraft to meet its primary wartime role was accepted and, even though the Corps had no aircraft, it was allowed to begin training pilots and, a little later, technicians. The RCASC adopted an existing pilot training scheme used by the RCA and paralleling the first phase of the defunct glider training scheme. Its first phase, called ab initio, was conducted, via contract, at the Brandon Flying Club. It consisted of the standard “ground school” subjects plus 75 hours flying instruction on civilian light aircraft – De Havilland Tiger Moths for the first few courses, then Cessna 140s on wheels and skis. The Light Aircraft School (LAS) of CJATC, Rivers, Manitoba, which was formed from an Air OP Flight in April 1949 to train artillery pilots,4 delivered the second phase. This brought the student to “wings standard.” Earlier courses used the Britishmade Mark VI and VII Auster aircraft. By the mid 1950’s, the US built Cessna L19, Bird Dog, augmented and then replaced the Auster as the School’s trainer. When a pilot had accumulated about 300 hours total flying time, he went on to the Helicopter Conversion Course run by the CJATC’s Helicopter Flight.
1See Chapter Two, 10 Coy RCASC, p. 190.
2F/O F.B. Dimond of Course 2 joined the RCAF and had a later association with the RCASC.
(See Chapter One, p. 87.) E-mail. C.H. Reid to the author, 15 May 1999.
3Glider activity contributed to three militarily significance events. On transfer to the RCASC, Lt Reid was the only person in the Canadian Army still wearing the 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion badge. At retirement, CWO Raven was the only pilot who had worn an RCASC badge to attain that rank. At retirement, Maj Betcher was the last serving glider pilot in the Canadian Forces.
4The RCASC was not the first corps to advocate army aviation. The Royal Canadian Artillery had two flights for air observation during WWII. It was fortunate that the small facility associated with this function existed or the RCASC might not have been authorized to begin training its pilots.
From 1953 until integration in 1968, one hundred and one Corps officers were awarded army pilot wings. The first RCASC officers graduated from LAS Pilots Course No 5 in 1953. They were Lts B.S. Lake, H.J.P. Tscharke and G.C. Walker.5
The years of army pilot training brought with them many lighter moments. Three of these stories will be related here.
The Auster had such deplorable radios that a song was composed about them. One line, “Rivers Tower, Rivers Tower, I just got in the circuit and I’m going out again. Can’t you hear me calling, Rivers Tower?” was often heard in the CJATC Officers’ Mess. One morning, just as several fledgling pilots were starting their aircraft and turning on their radios, the voice of Lt R.M. Day was heard in more than one attempt to contact the tower; “Rivers Tower, Rivers Tower, this is Auster 689. If you don’t read me, give me a green light.” He was never able to live that one down!
The next story concerns both the Auster and that favourite of all flying training “sequences,” low flying.6 As there wasn’t a great challenge to low flying on the bald prairie, the Assiniboine River valley was a favourite for this exercise. As the winding river had tree-lined banks, some of the bolder pilots would try to “fly the river” below treetop height. On one such endeavour, Lt Reid got a bit too low and didn’t see some wires until it was too late. When he landed at Rivers with some 100 feet of telephone wire wrapped around the landing gear, one of his colleagues walked out to the Auster, picked up the end of the wire, and said, “Someone was talking on the phone. I can still hear him!”
Lt I.W. Binney recalls one of the many incidents that occurred when groups of recently graduated pilots undertook long cross-country flights to build up the flying hours required to qualify for helicopter training. This very long trip went all the way from Rivers to Quebec City where the tired pilots were hosted at the R22eR Officers’ Mess. As the evening progressed, one of Lt Binney’s colleagues, who was not known to be a spendthrift, offered to buy a round of drinks for the assembled group. If he knew what Napoleon Brandy was or what it cost, he certainly didn’t know that a number of ladies who had joined the group were drinking it. The bill of over $100.00 (mid-50s dollars!) certainly put this young pilot on “short rations” for the remainder of the trip!
Over the years, there were a couple of variations in the method of training. The first such variation was direct-entry helicopter training conducted by the United States Army. While the success of this training dispelled the myth that a pilot required 300 hours fixed-wing experience before entering the rotary-wing world, the Canadian Army did not adopt the scheme. It had a requirement to train fixed-wing pilots and it could not afford the expensive helicopters to implement the US Army system. The first RCASC officers to take US Army direct-entry helicopter training in 1957/58 were Lts F.T. Zeggil, H.F.E. Swain, N.R. Overend, and D.A. Guy. The second change was that the Brandon Flying Club course was replaced in late 1959 by the RCAF Primary Flying School Basic Course
5A complete list of Corps pilots is at the end of this Chapter.
6The early “safety restriction” on low flying stated that all obstacles must be cleared by 10 feet. This was later revised to 100 feet. Frightening? The RCASC never had a serious low flying accident!
on Chipmunks at Centralia, Ontario. Lt T.S.R. Jones was the first RCASC pilot to successfully complete ab initio training via this route.
By early 1953, Lts Reid and Walker had qualified as fixed wing instructor pilots at the LAS and by late 1954, RCASC pilots filled eleven of the thirteen LAS pilot positions. Lts Reid and Tscharke also led the way for the Corps by being the first to take the helicopter conversion course. At this juncture, a few words about LAS, jokingly referred to as “The Very Light Aircraft School,” may be appropriate. As it was an RCA creation, it was always commanded by an artillery major. Majs A.B. (Al) Stewart, N.W. (Norbert) Reilander, T.J. (Tommy) O’Brennan, D.L. (Dave) Fromow, and D.G. (Dave) Struthers were among the “gunner” OCs. The 2IC or, more correctly, the Chief Flying Instructor (CFI), was an attached RCAF pilot. F/O, later F/L, K. (Ken) Waterhouse7 and F/L N. (Nels) Gesner were long serving incumbents of this position. The remaining instructor and staff pilot positions in LAS were open to army pilots of any corps but, as stated, the RCASC soon filled the majority of them.
Closely associated with LAS, was the CJATC’s Helicopter Flight. During various periods, it was an integral section of LAS or functioned independently. It was commanded by an RCAF pilot but many RCASC instructors transferred back and forth between the flight and LAS proper. The basic training helicopter was the Sikorski S51 (military designation – H5). In an early 1960 redefinition of responsibility at Rivers, the Helicopter Flight became purely RCAF and was renamed the Basic Helicopter Training Unit and the Army Aviation Training School was formed to conduct all advanced, or tactical, fixedwing and helicopter training. Its first CO was Maj A.K. (Bert) Casselman (RCAC), the CFI was Capt C.H. Reid, and some of the RCASC instructors were Capts J.R. Brubaker, E.J. Grant, and Lt W.G. Charland. Both of these units rejoiced somewhat in the acquisition of the new Hiller CH112, or Raven, and the retirement of the ageing H5 helicopter.
A second circle of pilots, the aircrew released by the RCAF between 1959 and 1965, had substantially more flying experience. They provided 25% of the Service Corps pilot complement. Most applied to join the RCASC after the expiration of their short service commissions in the RCAF while a few transferred prior to release, but they all accomplished this on an individual basis rather than any prearranged service-to-service orchestration. It is often wrongly assumed that all of these transferees were RCAF pilots. Several, such as Lts G.L. Flath, A.F.J. Home, F.J. Kendall, E.R. Schmidt, and W.J.A. Tait were navigators or radio officers. As all were already commissioned officers in the Canadian military, they were accepted into the RCASC with their equivalent rank and seniority. For training in RCASC matters, the first group to transfer, which included Lts A.F.B. Danyluk, D.H. Day, J.S. Hugill, J.W.G. McLeish, and J.R. Pugh, were posted to static companies and expected to learn on the job. For example, Lt McLeish was posted to 8 Coy, served a tour in UNEF, and attended staff college, before re-entering the flying field some five years later. Most RCAF officers who transferred a bit later were posted to vacant positions at The RCASC School or other Camp Borden units where they were readily available to attend OCP, COTC, or other entry-level officer training classes as they became available.
7F/L Waterhouse is the father of Lt R.K. Waterhouse, mentioned in Chapter One.
Some did so as course members and others were expected to assimilate the training being given to officer cadets that they were supervising.
Of the 101 RCASC pilots, Capt J.T. Guest was unique. He was the only former RCN pilot to transfer to the RCASC and qualify both fixed-wing and helicopter, receiving his army pilot wings in September 1965. His uniqueness did not end there. As he had married a United States citizen, he almost immediately left the Corps and, at last report, was employed by American Airlines.8
The flying experience gained in the RCAF proved to be a valuable asset to the RCASC program and, conversely, the army knowledge passed on to ex-RCAF officers was essential to their career progression in military aviation. Certainly, there was early evidence of “brown” and “blue” factions in RCASC aviation but this took more the form of officer's mess banter than any difference on how serious business in the cockpit should be conducted. Over time, the old “light blue” loyalties lightened and the ex-RCAF officers became as attached to RCASC traditions as were those who had always worn a brown uniform. One amusing cycle of these loyalties indicates how much even the “bluest” of the former RCAF officers could not escape becoming loyal to the RCASC. One ex-RCAF pilot, when issued his integrated green uniform, immediately adorned it with his old RCAF hat badge. As he had not been in the RCAF for about ten years, this could have been a “statement” of old loyalties but, more likely, he was “courting favour” with those who would command the new integrated Air Operations Branch. Oddly enough, within a few years, this same officer was annoying his air operations colleagues by refusing to wear other than his RCASC mess kit to air element mess dinners. Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense!
By the mid-1950s, DST realized that the selection of officers for pilot training had been exclusively junior officers who would meet the cockpit needs for the near future but did not provide for aviation staff positions. As the artillery had been flying light aircraft since the early war years, several RCA pilots were staff trained, had been promoted to major or above, and were filling these positions. The solution was to get some staff-trained RCASC captains and majors into the aviation field. The first staff-trained, senior officer RCASC pilot was Maj B.P. Hennessy who graduated from LAS Course No 21 in 1957. Majs G.E. Lindsay, J.H. McKenzie, E.G. Crosbie and others followed. Some were trained via the Canadian system and others proceeded on US Army direct-entry helicopter courses.
While awaiting the purchase of air vehicles, many qualified Corps pilots increased their flying experience by one or more postings as instructors or staff pilots at the CJATC and, more importantly, through co-operation between the Canadian Army, the RCN and the US Army. In retrospect and considering the “joint” nature of the CJATC, it appears a bit bizarre that, in the 1950s, not one RCASC pilot was ever posted to, or received advanced flying training from, the Department of National Defence agency whose principal responsibility was aviation – the RCAF.
Many received conversion courses to transport helicopters and/or postings to US Army units which helped prepare them for their aeronautical careers. Capt J.P. Dancey,
8E-mail. T.L. White to D.P. Chambers, 19 May 1999.
Lts Reid, and Walker were in the vanguard of this southern movement. They took a conversion course to Sikorski H34 transport helicopters, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in November and December 1955. Capt Dancey, Lts W.S. Brown, and H. Hurley, who went to Fort Benning, Georgia, were the forerunners of many who were attach posted to US Army units. Lt L.M. RodenBush became the only foreign officer flying at Fort Hood, Texas.
Capt K.R. Mattocks, originally slated for a similar attachment, was posted instead to the Directorate of Military Training in AHQ where he served on the staff of the Secretary of the tri-service Land/Air Warfare Committee. He eventually made his way to the US. In 1961, he was posted for one year to the US Army Aviation Board where, among other activities, he did tests and trials on all manner of aircraft and associated equipment. One bit of testing in which Capt Mattocks participated was the “Over-water Survival Kit.” He remembers bobbing about in a rubber inflatable raft in the sea off Pensacola, Florida, checking the usefulness of a solar still, and wondering if it could have been used in conjunction with the beer-making activities of so many of his Rivers friends!
Capts Reid and Walker also returned to Fort Sill to gain further experience as instructors on the H34 helicopter. The February 1957 attachments were intended to be for six or so months. In fact, they lasted for over two years due to delays in the helicopter procurement program. An abundance of knowledge was acquired. It was not unusual for a Corps pilot to stay current on half a dozen aircraft – both rotary and fixed-wing – and most log book totals increased from a few hundred hours upon arrival in the United States to two to three thousand hours upon return to Canada. In many instances, Canadian pilots took on such dominant roles as mission commanders, chief instructors, operations officers, maintenance test pilots, and demonstration pilots and were regularly called upon to fly VIPs and ferry aircraft. Most obtained US Army instrument and instructor ratings. On one occasion Capt Reid was assigned to ferry a new Otter from Downsview to Fort Sill.9 Lt J.R. Brubaker became the first Canadian to obtain an instrument flying rating on helicopters. 10 Another example of the roles played by Corps pilots was Lt I.W. Binney becoming the test pilot at the Fort Rucker Test and Evaluation Board for the turbo Cessna L19.
During his tour at Fort Benning, Lt H. Hurley participated in one of many atomic bomb tests conducted in the 1950’s. In retirement, he developed cancer, thought to have been brought on by exposure when he was called upon to fly into the blast area only a few minutes after a nuclear detonation. Few anti-radiation precautions had been taken and, because of the desert heat, the helicopter was flow with the doors removed! Following a lengthy process, the Department of Veterans Affairs recognized his illness as service induced. He was awarded a full disability pension in the early 1990’s. Unfortunately, he died of his illness a couple of years later.
9Was there a bit of an irony in Canadian Army pilots having to be attached to the US Army to fly Canadian-built aircraft? The US Army bought hundreds of de Havilland Otters and Beavers but the Canadian Army never acquired one!
10The first US Army helicopter instrument flight took place at Fort Rucker, Alabama, on 19 January 1956. It wasn’t until July 1958 that the first formal helicopter instrument course was conducted, also at Fort Rucker.
As all of the aircraft and helicopters at Rivers had been serviced and maintained by the RCAF, there was less urgency in training RCASC personnel in these fields. This came to an end in late 1956 when negotiations with the US Army succeeded in arranging a twelve-week helicopter maintenance course for RCASC transport operators and vehicle mechanics. S/Sgt N. Betcher, Sgts W. (Bill) Clark, D.P. Germain, E.H. Martin, and R. (“Lefty”) Middleton attended the first such course at Fort Rucker, Alabama, from January to April 1957. While they were in situ, a follow-on small group of students was added about every two weeks. Some of these NCOs were Sgts E.B. Hebner, G. (Graham) MacFarlane, P.W. (“Phil”) Phillips, Cpls W.G. (Bill) Archer, J.F. Dowdell, J.L.R. Fontaine, A. (Bert) Foy, V.A. (Vern) Lane, E. (Earl) Lumley, T. (Tom) Martin, and J.L.R. Robillard. After graduation, most of the NCOs returned to their parent units but only for a few months. S/Sgt Betcher and Cpl Robillard left the Air Supply School and joined the Rivers RCAF maintenance staff to work on H5 and H13 helicopters. They were made most welcome by their air force counterparts and several short aero-engine and airframe courses were set up for their benefit. Even today, Mr Betcher states, “I can’t say enough good things about how the RCAF maint pers handled us.”11 With more and more qualified aviation personnel, it was only natural that the RCASC turned to the other minority military aviation service – the RCN. In September 1957, a ten-man RCASC contingent was posted to the RCN’s HU 21 Squadron at HMCS Shearwater. Capt H.E. Wirth, Lts R.J. Barkley, and W.G. Charland were the pilots. Seven NCOs from the US Army course mentioned above joined them. They were Sgts Germain, E.H. Martin, Middelton, Phillips, Cpls Archer, Dowdell and Lane. At the time, the senior service was operating the Piasecki HUP3 (an earlier version of the H21), the Sikorski HO4S3 9 (army H19), and the Bell HTL6 (army H13). The little “brown” group was well accepted by the navy. As “HU” in the squadron title meant “Helicopter Utility,” the pilots got to fly such diverse missions as search and rescue, cargo, personnel, and mail flights. Of special note was “Angel.” These missions were flown using the H04S-3, called “The Horse,” and consisted of taking off from the aircraft carrier before any fixed-wing aircraft did and hovering alongside until the launching and recovery of these aircraft was complete. Thus, the angel was there for the instant recovery of any fixed-wing pilot who took an unplanned swim in the Atlantic! RCASC crews got top preference on one type of mission. These took place when the RCN was tasked to provide helicopter support to the 1958 and 1959 Gagetown summer concentrations. Although not reported upon by the RCASC units “on the ground,” the little army air detachment with the navy was directly involved in two civilian emergencies. While flying an H04S-3 to Longueuil, Quebec, for a factory check, Lt Barkley was diverted to Quebec City to lift an RCE team to Beauceville to break up an ice jam causing floods along the Chaudiere River. The six-mile channel so created forestalled further flooding.
11E-mail. N. Betcher, via Pamela Sanders, to the author, 20 May 1999.
During the second Springhill mine disaster in late 1958, casualties were flown to hospitals in Halifax.12 Also, “firsts” were not the sole claim of US-based Corps pilots! In the summer of 1958, Lt Barkley was the first non-naval pilot to carry out an air/sea rescue mission from HMCS Bonaventure. Not to be outdone, a transport operator, Sgt Phillips, was the first RCASC helicopter technician to serve on board a naval vessel.13
The original detachment at HU-21 was withdrawn on September 1959 and there was no RCASC association with naval aviation for the next seven years, except for Capt Wirth and Lt Charland getting in some of their continuation flying at HU-21 during their follow-on postings to 6 Coy. Then, in 1966, Capts D.A. Guy and C.R. Gillis received a three-year posting to HU-21. The standing joke is that, when they were immediately placed on the six-month anti-submarine course, they “got off on the wrong foot!” To the chagrin of the navy, Capt Gillis aced the course! This notwithstanding, they had a successful tour and participated in the type of naval flying mentioned above, plus delivering mail to salvage vessels where, occasionally the cargo net did not come back up empty! Upon integration, Capt D.P. Chambers, flew fixed-wing, twin engined, CS2F Tracker aircraft at sea with VS 880 Squadron, became the first army member of a anti-submarine warfare crew and, later, the first and only army officer to command such a crew.
One officer, Capt F.T. Zeggil had three consecutive flying postings in Europe. He was the first, and only, officer to fill a helicopter pilot establishment position in an RCASC field transport company (see 1 Tpt Coy in Chapter One). When that helicopter crashed, the position was abolished and he became one of the HQ 4 CIBG helicopter pilots. He then enjoyed a two-year “foreign” posting to HQ 1 British Division in northern Germany, which included a brief au pair attachment to the French Army Air Corps. At this stage, he had flown American, Canadian, British and French helicopters. All of this experience unearthed one disadvantage. He had to remember that while most rotor blades turned in one direction, the Alouette II blades turned the opposite way!
Near the end of 1959, there were 45 Service Corps pilots and 45 RCEME and RCASC technicians in the service. By 8 August 1963, the number of trained RCASC pilots had reached 56 – seven majors, 35 captains, and fourteen lieutenants.
During the early 1960’s, it became evident that the RCASC was losing its “rearguard action” to prevent RCEME from assuming full responsibility for all second line vehicle, aircraft, and equipment repair. However, the decree was not announced until February 1963. While the change affected RCASC field and static units as outlined in Chapters One and Two, it was probably most profoundly felt in the small, closely-knit, RCASC aviation community. In true military fashion, the transfer of helicopter mechanics to RCEME was “voluntary.” That is, a mechanic could voluntarily transfer to RCEME or cease being a mechanic! Most RCASC helicopter technicians accepted the inevitable and transferred, but a few, like S/Sgts Betcher and Germain, continued as transport operators. As he was nearing retirement, S/Sgt E.H. Martin accepted the stipulation that “considera-
12For other accounts of these events, see Chapter Two, pp. 127 and 152.
13E-mail. H.E. Wirth to the author, 16 August 1999.
tion will be given to allow selected RCASC personnel to cover establishment positions now designated RCEME, until retirement.”14
Unlike the 1950s situation, the RCAF gradually assumed a greater role in both the initial and advanced training of RCASC pilots in the 1960s. Thus, by 1962/63, the Chipmunk and L19 phases remained unchanged but the student then proceeded to basic, tactical, and cargo helicopter training – basic at the Basic Helicopter Training Unit; tactical at Army Aviation Training School; and cargo on the Piasecki H21 at RCAF Station Trenton. At this stage, the army was conducting only the student’s L19 and tactical helicopter training. 15
On the advanced training side, Capts C.H. Reid and F.J. Wagner attended the Instrument Flying Course given by 1 Advanced Flying School at Rivers, from January to May 1963, and qualified for their “green tickets.” Although it was intended that all RCASC pilots attend this course, few did because of the school’s small capacity and priorities associated with the ultimate event – the acquisition of helicopters. Later, this requirement was met by 3 Flying Training School at Portage where up to eight army students at a time qualified on a “Dual Stream” course. “Dual” in that, in addition to their instrument ratings, they attained a fixed-wing, multi-engine qualification on the C45 Expeditor. 16
What brought about the new RCAF attitude toward army flying? Three possibilities exist. First, a 1959 agreement between the Canadian Army and the RCAF (details in “Equipment” section, hereunder) might have been a factor. This can be largely discounted, as the only immediate effect of it was RCAF Centralia’s assumption of responsibility for army ab initio training. Second, the approval for the purchase of army helicopters may have convinced air force authorities of the inevitability of army aviation. Third, integration of the forces was in the offing and it was to the RCAF’s benefit to provide advanced training, especially to those younger army pilots that it planned to have in the new Air Operations Branch. The reader may deem this wild speculation but, although full unification did not take place until the late 1960s, the integrated CFHQ was formed in 1964. CFHQ did not just magically appear! The advance planners were working on it well before its inception and RCAF officers were in the vanguard of these planners. All of this notwithstanding, upon integration, the navy and army pilot training schemes disappeared into the CF “pipeline” system. “You poured a nineteen-year old into the pilot training pipe and he came out the other end wearing wings and ready to proceed to advanced training related to sea, land, or air element aviation!”
When it was finally apparent that the helicopter buy would be the tandem-rotor, twin-turbine powered, Boeing Vertol 107 – designated the CH113A Voyageur by the Canadian Army – the need for additional tandem-rotor training and experience, especially for those trained prior to the inception of the Trenton cargo course, was quickly recognized.
14SD 1 Letter No. 63/7, dated 13 February 1963.
15E-mail. E.H. Booth to the author, 3 October 1999.
16E-mails. E.H. Booth, D.P. Chambers, and A.J. Waldrum to the author, 4 and 6 June 1999.
Again, the US Army filled the bill.17 In 1964, it wasn’t the sunny south, but rather Alaskabased US Army units, equipped with the Piasecki H21, that came to the rescue. While, Capts Hardy, Swain, and Lt Hall became familiar with tandem rotors at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Capts Danyluk, Gillis, Guy, MacIsaac, McBride, and Wagner enjoyed northern hospitality and scenery at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
During the long interim, most RCASC pilots received non-flying postings but continued to increase their experience through continuation flying training. Under this scheme, pilots were authorized to fly eighteen hours per calendar quarter at either a nearby flying unit or at an approved flying club. The Air OP Flights in Canada and Germany were always generous in providing their L19s for continuation flying. Flying clubs were located anywhere from British Columbia to the Aero Club du Liban in Beirut, Lebanon.
The Beirut club accommodated many of the RCASC pilots posted to UNEF. It was equipped with Cessnas but it also had a Mark VII Auster that was rarely serviceable. Finding it serviceable one day in 1963, Maj E.G. Crosbie and Capt J.D. Murray requested a checkout, as they had not been trained on the ancient machine. Maj Crosbie “drew the long straw” and taxied out in the Auster with the Club’s British CFI as aircraft captain. Capt Murray followed in a Cessna. If what happened next had befallen Capt Murray, it would have been understandable as he was solo. As the two aircraft turned at the edge of the taxiway to do their run-up, the Auster’s right wheel (on the CFI’s side!) fell into a unmarked two-foot square hole, the propeller crashed onto the concrete, and the two Canadians were never again to see the Auster in serviceable condition. The hole, plus several others, may have resulted from airport lighting repair, but the CFI appeared too embarrassed to explain why he did not know about this hazard on his home airfield.
While the RCASC had trained sufficient pilots and solved the mid-rank staffing problem, not one Canadian Army general officer had, as yet, expressed an interest in joining the army aviator’s club. In high-level discussions involving aviation, this left the army at a disadvantage – at least a perceived one. The RCAF, and even the RCN, had very senior officers wearing pilot’s wings but the army had none! While the generals about to be involved were not former Corps officers, their story is told here because most of their tutors were RCASC.
In 1960, Capt C.H. Reid was dispatched from Rivers to RCAF Station Rockcliffe to instruct Maj Gen R.W. Moncel,18 the QMG, on an L19 that had been covertly taken out of war reserve by the Directorate of Land Air Warfare (DLAW) for continuation flying purposes. Maj Gen Moncel proved to be adept at the controls and equally skilled at the non-flying aspects of aviation. After receiving his wings, he requisitioned a pilot to serve as his aide and, of course, to continue giving flying instruction. Capt L.M. RodenBush, who was on staff of DLAW, found himself selected to carry out the dual role.
17Like other early RCASC pilots, Maj Reid often contemplated the wisdom of purchasing tandem- rotor helicopters when over a decade’s energy had been spent training on single rotor machines.
18At 25, Maj Gen Moncel was the youngest general in the Commonwealth during WWII. He resigned as VCDS in 1968 over integration.
Somewhat later, Capt F.J. Wagner was placed on temporary duty in Ottawa to tutor Maj Gen J.V. Allard,19 VCGS, following the “Moncel programme.” Reasonably talented in the cockpit, the General was less than interested in the ground school and flight planning part of the game. This caused Capt Wagner no end of grief. “Mon dieu! Just like a jeep!” the General would say. “What’s all the fuss about?” was his response when he was discovered taxiing around the Ottawa airport without his radios turned on and unable to locate the live runway. The tower was flashing red lights and firing Very-pistol rounds to attract his attention. Capt Wagner, according to the General, was late and he saw no reason to wait!
Subsequently others, including Cols D.N.D. Deane-Freeman, D.H. (Don) Rochester and N.G. Wilson-Smith came under RCASC tutelage as they took specially designed senior officer courses at Rivers. It is believed by several in the business that, although they never became active aviators, getting wings to adorn the breasts of senior officers was a contributing factor in selling the concept of aircraft being operated by and for the army.
The RCASC’s first equipment initiative, described by a high defence source as an
“Air Truck,” was a project to develop a very basic short take-off and landing (STOL)
fixed-wing, aircraft capable of carrying 20 fully equipped soldiers or two and one-half tons
of cargo. The belief was that such an aircraft, which would match the capacity of the
“deuce and a half” truck, would be the ideal vehicle to cover the increased distances on the
nuclear battlefield. Another advantage of this initiative was that, as the Toronto-based De
Havilland company was the world leader in the development of such aircraft, it could be a
“Made in Canada” buy.
Over forty years later, in an era in which public relations specialists are an integral part of the military, the press release of 1956 can be seen as a “red flag” waved in the face of the RCAF. It stated in part:
The plane, known as the DHC 4, is intended primarily for use by the army in its plans for an air component, or army air force distinct from the RCAF. Its characteristics, however, are expected to make it an important development as well in civilian aviation, especially bush flying….
The defence committee of the cabinet agreed Aug. 13 to make substantial contributions toward the development costs of the DHC 4. This decision is believed to constitute tacit Government approval of the army’s plans for an air transport organization under the operational control of the army rather than the RCAF.20
19Maj Gen Allard was the first Commander Mobile Command and, upon promotion to General in 1966, became the first French Canadian to be Chief of Defence Staff.
20“Football Field Take-Off For New Troop Plane,” Gerald Waring, The Telegram, Toronto, 28 August 1956, pp. 1 and 4.
From an RCASC perspective, the announcement above and the developments that followed were actually “too good to be true.” De Havilland’s expertise quickly exceeded the basic tenet’s intent. While a twin-engine aircraft had been envisaged, no requirement for retractable landing gear had been specified. DeHavilland quickly advised that retractable gear could be included with no adverse effect on other specifications. Naturally, the army accepted. Next, the company stated that the capability for all weather flying (IFR) could be included without altering any other requirements. Accepted, again! So, the DHC4 Caribou aircraft was contracted for and the prototype built. Now, RCAF officials, completely “au fait” with the army’s aviation plans, stepped in. De Havilland’s enhancements to the prototype played right into their hands. Their contention that the retractable gear, IFR capable, DHC4 was clearly the purview of the air force was accepted. As the RCAF had no interest in the combat re-supply of the army, the Caribou almost never landed on other than several thousand feet of hard-surfaced runway (exception: 115 ATU of the first UNEF routinely landed the Caribou at the Gaza “Golf and Country Club!”). The RCASC was denied the aircraft that it had spawned and funded to the tune of two million dollars21 and the RCAF had one that it never wanted!
Even though the Corps visionaries had believed aircrew training and equipment purchases would progress more or less in lock step, in reality, this didn’t happen. From the early 1950s through 1959, a number of events slowed the purchase of Army Service Corps air vehicles. First, but not necessarily the most important, was interest on the part of other corps, beyond the RCA and the RCASC, to get into the game. This gave cause to consolidate primary responsibilities for army aviation from DST and D Arty to DLAW. Secondly, and probably the most delaying factor, was the debate over inter-service mandates (brought on, in part, by the Caribou fiasco). Questions gyrated around the purchase, ownership, maintenance, training, and operation of air vehicles in support of the army.
It wasn’t until the spring of 1959 that the problem, elevated to the Cabinet Defence Committee, was more or less resolved. In brief, the army would own and operate air vehicles supporting the forward battle zone. Command and control was to be exercised by the CGS through established Canadian Army channels. The roles to be carried out by helicopters and light aircraft were agreed to be:
21E-mail. H.B. Brodie to the author, 28 May 1999.
22Memorandum to the Cabinet Defence Committee, April 1959.
In addition, air support units of the Canadian Army would be available to engage in search and rescue operations on the request of the RCAF. Also worthy of note is a summary of the other important aspects of the agreement between the two services:
Over a decade had passed during which flying training was in top gear and the equipment debate was going on, but not one RCASC machine, fixed or rotary-wing, had taken to the air. The one Hiller CH112, which had flown briefly with 1 Tpt Coy in Germany, was part of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps’ purchase of twelve such helicopters for its reconnaissance squadrons. To say that the Corps’ flying community was becoming frustrated with its lack of aircraft would be an understatement! Also, this was not an era when communication was accorded a very high priority. Thus, some of the stories that circulated among the junior-officer pilots only added to the uncertainty and frustration.
One such 1950’s story was most disconcerting. Reportedly, unnamed authorities in AHQ had refused an offer from the US Army to supply the RCASC with several H34 helicopters at a cost of one dollar each. The alleged reason for the refusal was that acceptance might jeopardize the tri-service helicopter programme. (Your author has never heard this story confirmed or denied!) The submission to Treasury Board was further delayed, for budgetary reasons, and the Corps remained without helicopters.
Notwithstanding the disillusion that had crept into the field, authorities in Ottawa were doing their best to get a helicopter procurement project approved by both the National Defence and Treasury Board hierarchies. It wasn’t until 13 May 1958 that the
23Ibid. The Inter-Service Agreement annex was signed by Air Vice Marshal D.M. Smith, Vice Chief of the Air Staff, and Maj Gen J.V. Allard, Vice Chief of the General Staff in Nov 58.
Chiefs of Staff Committee considered the first major submission concerning army aviation. The army’s “wish list” was for 31 recce helicopters; 31 cargo helicopters; six Beaver L20s; and five Beechcraft L23s or a similar type. On 28 November 1958, a much-reduced list of twelve recce and twelve transport helicopters was forwarded to the Minister of Defence, the Honourable Douglas S. Harkness, for consideration.
Capt RodenBush, ADC to the QMG at the time, recalls a meeting in the Minister’s office to go over the army’s cargo helicopter submission. Attending were the three service chiefs, Vice Admiral H.G. de Wolf, Lt Gen G. Walsh, Air Marshal H. Campbell, plus Maj Gen R.W. Moncel, the QMG, by this time a qualified pilot. Minister Harkness obviously surprised the naval and air force chiefs when he came up with the notion that the three services should all have the same heavy-lift helicopter. The RCAF had already agreed with the army to a version of the preferred Boeing Vertol 107. Air Marshal Campbell was willing, and in fact appeared eager, to endorse the Minister’s idea. The navy chief hesitated. He was obviously not prepared for a debate that involved his service’s helicopter requirements. However, he too, seemingly with reluctance, acquiesced to the suggestion even though the navy had set its sights on the Sikorski S61. After a few technical-type questions, the Minister approved, in principle, the purchase of cargo helicopters for all three services. The Corps was one step closer to having at least twelve cargo helicopters of its choice. Unfortunately, the concurrence of the Chief of the Naval Staff with the Boeing Vertol machine opened the evaluation process once again.
By late 1962 and early 1963, staffers were still wrestling with the type selection dilemma. So it was that an army team, headed by Brig D.A.G. Waldock, DQMG (Electrical Engineering), descended upon the short list companies, Sikorski Helicopters, Division of United Aircraft of Baltimore, Maryland and Boeing Vertol of Morton, Pennsylvania. Col Sarantos, DST, Maj R.O. Jones, DLAW, and Capt RodenBush, now with the Army Equipment Engineering Establishment (AEEE), represented the Corps. Capt RodenBush participated as the Test Pilot. The findings supported a much earlier evaluation and decision by the army selecting the Boeing Vertol 107-II-28 (Voyageur CH113A). The air force also reconfirmed their desire for the 107 (Labrador) but in the final analysis the specifications to meet the RCAF prerequisites produced a completely different version from the Voyageur. The senior service eventually convinced the government that their needs could only be fulfilled by the Sikorski S61, dubbed the CHSS2 Sea King.
On 7 February 1963, The Minister of Defence Production, the Honourable Raymond O’Hurley, announced that an order had been placed with the Boeing Company, Morton, Pennsylvania, for twelve CH113A heavy helicopters (Boeing Vertol 107) for the army. The Canadian Army and the RCASC would have their transport helicopters with delivery to commence in 1963. The accompanying press release describes adequately the Voyageurs specifications and capabilities.
The new look in helicopters for the Canadian Army has come in the shape of Vertol’s new tandem-rotor gas turbine CH-113 series. It is 83 feet long from tip to tip of its twin rotors, stands 17 feet high and weighs about 10 tons fully loaded. Powered by two General Electric gas turbine engines, it can carry 25 fully equipped troops, 15 litter patients or 2 ½ tons of cargo over distances of 200 miles at speeds of 150 mph. The watertight hull gives the helicopter an emergency floatation capability.
In that long interim period when the “lords and masters” were trying to get the
helicopter acquisition program off the ground, two minor activities helped to maintain the
interest of some RCASC pilots.
At Camp Borden, RCASC pilots were fortunate to have an RCA friend. In the late 1950s, Maj A.B. Stewart, a former OC of LAS, was posted to the RCS of I as artillery advisor. As the number of pilots in Borden, who were doing their continuation flying at the Toronto Flying Club, was increasing, Maj Stewart convinced the authorities to place an L19 aircraft in Borden. He also convinced RCAF Station Borden to hangar and maintain the aircraft. After Maj Stewart’s departure, Maj E.G. Crosbie, then DAAG at Camp Borden Headquarters, became the aircraft custodian. This tiny semblance of an RCASC aviation element provided continuation flying training for up to thirteen pilots and met hundreds of transport and training requests over the years.
In Ottawa, the Army Headquarters Training and Liaison Flight (AHQ T&L Flt) was established in January 1961 and was equipped with four Cessna 182 aircraft, assigned the nomenclature L19L.24 It was based, in succession, at RCAF Stations Rockcliffe and Uplands. The aircraft were considerably faster than the L19, Bird Dog, and carried four persons including the pilot. Besides continuation flying training for the ever-growing number of Ottawa-based army pilots, the unit provided “on demand” air transportation for AHQ staff, from Ottawa to bases from Manitoba to Halifax. Also, the now qualified generals were given a checkout and flew the new aircraft. Although command of AHQ T&L Flt was not specifically assigned to the RCASC, it fell, de facto, to Corps pilots. Capt RodenBush set-up the unit while continuing to fulfil his QMG ADC/Instructor duties. Capt G.W. Brownrigg took over command from Capt RodenBush and other RCASC officers such as Capts Barkley, Binney, Carr, Cockerill, and Hurley served as line pilots. These few pilots certainly did not fly all of the flight’s missions. The practice of combining continuation flying training with assigned missions minimized the requirement for full-time pilots and gave meaningful work to those who might otherwise just “bore holes in the sky” while flying their stipulated eighteen hours per quarter. Eventually the unit was disbanded and the aircraft dispersed to other bases and units. As an example, for a time, one L19L was located at St Hubert for the use of the Commander and staff at FMC HQ.
24DLAW proposed the purchase of four civilian Cessna 182s, calling them L19Ls, and claiming they were replacements for damaged beyond repair L19s as an “easy sell” to the Deputy Minister. He was not fooled but, because the relatively small cost was within his authority, the buy was approved.
Finally, the approval of the helicopter buy cleared the way for the formation of 1
Transport Helicopter Platoon RCASC (1 Tpt Hel Pl RCASC) effective 10 December
1963.25 The unit was under the operational control of AHQ (i.e., policy, training, trials/
tests, and military personnel matters) and under Western Command for all other functions.
Of course, as the new unit was located at the CJATC, Rivers Camp, Manitoba, its
commander was to be kept fully informed concerning the unit’s activities. The platoon’s
mission statement was to “reach a state of organization and training sufficient to allow it to
join a field formation as an operational unit by Nov 65.” 1 Tpt Hel P1 was activated at
Rivers on 2 January 1964.
At this early stage, 1 Tpt Hel Pl bore little semblance to a unit. Capt C.H. Reid was promoted to acting major to command what? He had three other people, Capt G.C. Walker, a storeman and a clerk. He had no aircraft, no vehicles, no furniture, no stores for the storeman to store, and no typewriter for the clerk! Further, his staff had little expertise in how to set up a new unit and was being provided with no advice on how to do so. Maj Reid wrote a letter to Ottawa outlining his predicament. The clerk, thinking that he was showing his initiative, borrowed a neighbouring unit’s typewriter, and typed the letter. When he presented it to his CO for signature, in typical Reid fashion, it was torn in pieces. To make his point, Maj Reid ordered the clerk to forward the hand-written copy to Ottawa.
At the same time, Sgt F.G.D. Nash of the Air Supply School was given the task of drawing up the complete package of instruction for the first CH113A crew chiefs course. At first, he had only one Boeing Vertol booklet and the staff’s previous experience concerning the Piasecki H21 as guides. But, as cargo nets, material, and more information arrived, he realized that everything was totally different from the H21. As he was putting his package together, he was also witnessing the gradual arrival of 1 Tpt Hel Pl’s potential crew chiefs in Rivers and, as there were no helicopters, their employment at sections throughout the CJATC. Sgt Nash completed his work, all the students were in place, and, a few days before the course, Sgt Nash was posted to 1 Tpt Hel Pl and advised that he was a student on the first CH113A crew chiefs course. The other students on the October 1964 course were WO2 D.P. Germain, Sgts R.A. Brydges, C.E. (Cliff) Davis, R.F. Fleming, J.L.R. Fontaine, C.G. (Cy) Piccott, G.W. Kube, Cpls W.C. Cannon, P.I. Flug, G.D. (Doug) Ford, R.I.C. (Bob) Helman, R.S. (Stan) Larson, H.G. (George) Loewen, and L.B. (Bernie) Rice. Of interest is that the unit chief clerk, Sgt Piccott was a course graduate as was its designer, Sgt Nash!
During 1964, other personnel and the equipment required were gradually amassed at Rivers. In September, Maj Reid and Capt A.D. Schultz26 took part in the Boeing Vertol
25SD 1 Letter No 63/38 dated 24 December 1963 signed by Maj Gen J.P.E. Bernatchez, VCGS. The official short title for this unit is “1 Tpt Hel Pl,” not “1 THP,” as stated in some publications.
26Capt Schultz, posted to the RCAF Central Experimental and Proving Establishment Detachment at the Boeing Vertol plant for one year, was a member of the team responsible for flight testing the army helicopters before they were delivered to Canada.
hand-over ceremony marking delivery of the first helicopter to DND. However, the formal acceptance of the first two CH113As by DND and the unit occurred at RCAF Station Rockcliffe on 10 November 1964. The Commander Mobile Command, Gen Allard, presided and Maj Reid and his 2IC, Capt Walker, took delivery of the aircraft. Along with copilots and technicians, they flew the two aircraft to Rivers arriving on 16 November 1964. The dream was finally becoming a reality!
Subsequent to the formation of 1 Tpt Hel Pl, a Transport Helicopter Training Unit (THTU) was established in 1965, also at the CJATC, under the command of Capt A.F.B. Danyluk. Capts V.R. Taskey, A.D. Schultz, and Lt W.G. Charland were the flight instructors and Sgts J.F. Dowdell, P.W. Phillips, and G.P.L. Poole, all RCEME but formerly RCASC, were maintenance instructors. 1 Tpt Hel Pl and the THTU each had six CH113As although one of the THTU machines was permanently used as a technician training aid. The THTU was short lived and was disbanded in the spring of 1966 as being in excess of the foreseeable training needs of the forces. Its resources were transferred to 1 Tpt Hel Pl. The platoon took on the task of conversion and refresher training as well as technician training. This method of training continued even after integration.
Fighting formations from time immemorial have surrounded themselves with identifying symbols. 1 Tpt Hel Pl was no different. A crest designed “in house” was submitted to the Director of History under cover of the 1965 Annual Historical Report. The unit stated that it had “adopted” a unit crest to be worn on flying clothing and to be placed in decal form on selected unit equipment. Upon furtherance to the Director Ceremonial, the crest caused a bit of a stir. This style of crest, bearing the “St. Edwards” crown, was usually reserved for RCAF “Squadrons.” Could a mere army platoon have an equivalent crest? Also, the Queen’s blessing was obligatory before it could be officially adopted. Records indicate that the crest was not approved until after integration, when the unit became a CF squadron. “The badge device is described as ‘argent, in front of a Viking axe and sword in saltire gules, a Viking helmet Or’ and is largely based on the 1 Transport Helicopter Platoon badge which was inspired by the name Voyageur. The difficulty in making the drawing historically correct resulted in a suggestion that the design reflect the voyageurs of early Canadian history but the original 1 THP concept was retained.”27
The official crest also included the 1 Tpt Hel Pl motto “By Air to Battle.” According to Maj Reid, under whose watch it was created, it referred to the manner in which the unit performed its operational role of delivering men and equipment to the battle area.
Although 1 Tpt Hel P1 had not been tasked to become “operational” until November 1965, it received its first non-training task almost a year earlier. On 14 December 1964, RCAF Search and Rescue advised the unit that a civilian light aircraft had forcelanded in northern Manitoba the previous day. The position of the aircraft had been plotted but a helicopter was required to lift out the pilot. Maj Reid and Capt Walker rescued the downed pilot about four hours after their take-off from Rivers. While pictures taken at the site reveal his happiness at being retrieved, he refused an offer to sling-lift his aircraft
27Capt A. Eaton, “By Air to Battle,” (Ottawa, 1965), p. 24.
back to the nearest airport at Dauphin, Manitoba. He feared that the fabric-covered plane might not withstand the journey. Fortunately, he was able to recover his aircraft later.
By the end of 1964, 1 Tpt Hel Pl had a complement of twelve officers, two WOs, 35 NCOs, and 35 men. At 84 personnel, it was fast becoming a rather sizeable “platoon,” even without considering its rather expensive equipment table! As reflected in Chapters One and Two, many RCASC companies were smaller. In addition to the CO and 2IC, the Pl HQ had an AO in the person of Capt J.O.Y. Pommainville. “A” Hel Sec, commanded by Capt F.J. Wagner, had Capts R.G. McBride, L.T. Rowbottom, and Lt E.H. Booth as its other pilots. “B” Hel Sec’s, commanded by Capt D.A. Guy, pilots were Capts G.M. Danford, C.R. Gillis and M.C. MacIsaac. It was a truly RCASC flying unit! RCASC pilots filled all of its HQ and pilot positions and RCASC Tpt Ops performed all the crew chief duties. The major exception was Maintenance Section.
As the transfer of responsibility for maintenance and repair to RCEME took place before the formation of 1 Tpt Hel Pl, the Maintenance Section commander, Lt F.H. (Fred) Leach, and all of his helicopter technicians were RCEME, although some were former RCASC. These maintenance personnel were proud of their accomplishments including the ability to manually strip a Voyageur of its six blades in twenty-five minutes.
During 1965, Capt Rowbottom and Lt Booth left the unit. Lt D.J. Giffin joined the platoon but took his release later in the year. Capts P.M. Darrach, R.A. Hall, D.E. Stovel, and Lt W.R. Craddock were posted in early in the year and Lts J.K. Oakley and A.J. Waldrum came aboard on completion of their pilot training. The arrival of Capt R.B. (Ray) Manning in the Maintenance Section doubled the unit’s RCEME officer strength. These and other postings brought the strength up to 17 officers, two WOs, 41 NCOs, and 40 men. That made it the RCASC’s largest platoon ever – 100 all ranks!
In early 1965, 1 Tpt Hel Pl took to the field for its first exercise as a unit. Exercise “Ready III,” was held in the Camp Shilo training area with 3 RCHA and 4 Tpt Coy RCASC also taking part. Poor weather hampered the flying portion of the exercise during the first few days but, toward the end of the one-week exercise, the weather improved and gave ample opportunity to operate from a field location. The exercise was successful in all respects and provided an excellent precedent for further field deployments. After all, is that not what tactical transport is all about?
Two major events also dominated the unit’s scene in early 1965 – the Assiniboine River floods and the Gagetown summer concentration. In April, the unit flew several sorties in flood relief. It flew Manitoba Premier Duff Roblin and his staff to see the flooded area first hand and took in demolition experts to break up ice jams near Portage la Prairie. At the Gagetown concentration, 1 Tpt Hel P1 moved over 5,000 tons of cargo and flew 5,000 passenger miles; all with a serviceability rate of 75%.
A problem occurred during one of the above “demolition” flights but Capt Walker and Lt J.E.L. Houle, at the controls, may have been oblivious to it. As S/Sgt Nash and Sgt Kube watched the demolition expert approach, they noticed his awkward walk but thought nothing of it. All was fine as the man was fitted with the “horse collar” attached to the winch cable that would lower him to the ice. Upon reaching the river, he was asked to sit on the lip of the floor hatch in preparation for lowering. When he sat down, one leg bent
naturally but the other stuck straight out. At this moment, the sergeants realized that the man had an artificial leg with no knee. Still, there was no problem! Lowered to the ice; he placed his charges, and attached and lit his fuse. However, winching him back into the helicopter was another matter. The cable length was purposely set so that, when the winch stopped at its upper limit, an average man’s buttocks would be right at the lip of the floor hatch so that he could resume the sitting position and slide backward into the helicopter. Unfortunately this man’s straight leg prevented him from getting into the sitting position. The fortunate part was that two strong and very athletic NCOs were on board. S/Sgt Nash and Sgt Kube simply grasped the man under the armpits, lifted him into the helicopter and unhooked him, all in the standing position.
While in Eastern Canada in July 1965, the platoon conducted some quickly arranged trials with the RCN. Flights were made from HMCS Bonaventure, an aircraft carrier; HMCS Assiniboine, a destroyer; and, HMCS Provider, a logistic support ship. The results were: “The CH-113A can operate from all three ships under way or at anchor but a sea state 3 or less is required.” By this time, RCN ships were equipped with a helicopter haul-down device known as the “Beartrap,” which enabled heavy helicopters to land on a small, pitching deck. Unfortunately, the Voyageur was not equipped for “Beartrap” use. Had it been, then the sea state limitations would have been much higher – no doubt equivalent to the RCN’s new Sea King machines.
During January 1966, six helicopters were deployed from Rivers, to the west coast of Newfoundland to participate in Exercise “White Caribou” (the work-up for Exercise “Winter Express” later in Norway). The trip from Rivers to Corner Brook took eleven days and was memorable due to winter flying conditions. It included three attempts, over four days, before desperation set in and a crossing of the Cabot Strait, from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to the USAF’s Harmon Field, in Stephenville, was achieved. In spite of a lack of pilots with instrument ratings, most of the journey was made on top of the clouds. Close radio contact was maintained with “Corner Brook Control” to make sure the destination weather remained clear. Due to the delays, the unit deployed to the training area without a recce and during another snowstorm. Given the restricted visibility, it set up bivouac in the only flat terrain that could be found. Only the next morning, with the arrival of strange looking trucks, did the crews discover what their noses had been telling them – they had landed in the snow-covered city dump of Corner Brook! The weather remained dreadful throughout the exercise period and little useful flying was accomplished.
At the end of the exercise, a call was received from Search and Rescue in Halifax. An RCAF Labrador rescue helicopter had been forced down because of weather, near Kitty’s Brook, about 100 miles from the platoon location. The Labrador had damaged its main landing gear by striking a rock on touchdown. Maj Reid made sure that he had a photographer accompany him. Photos were taken during the rescue of the “rescuers” even though they protested vehemently! On the return to base, the Voyageur lost an engine. The navy provided one from its stock. It turned up two days later. A fine example of the three services co-operating!28 Minister Harkness would have been pleased!
28E-mail. C.H. Reid to L.M. RodenBush, 11 June 1998.
In March of 1966, 1 Tpt Hel P1 participated in Exercise “Winter Express,” a NATO deployment to Northern Norway. WO2 Germain relates a pre-exercise story that tended to bring the unit back to earth. The unit was loading supplies on HMCS Provider. Alongside was HMCS Bonaventure, awaiting the arrival of a dockside crane to move a “mule” (aviation slang for an aircraft towing tractor) off the carrier to a flatcar for a rail move to Shearwater. Reflecting upon recently demonstrated skills while working with the navy and the double-handling complications of a three-mile move, Maj Reid volunteered to slingload this relatively small vehicle to Shearwater. Red faces were much in evidence when the load could only be lifted about two feet. With temperatures rising, Maj Reid saw no hope of moving the vehicle to Shearwater and lowered it back to the deck. It was later discovered that the vehicle weighed more than 10,000 lbs! The RCN had heavy “mules!”
Back to the Norway exercise! RCAF C130s moved an advance party of ten personnel and one Hiller helicopter to Bardufoss, Norway. Most of the other personnel were moved by RCAF Yukon aircraft to Stavanger in the south of Norway and were ferried north to Bardufoss in Hercules. Capt R.G. McBride headed a small group that, along with three CH113s and the remaining unit vehicles, made the journey by sea on board HMCS Provider. There were terrible storms with heavy seas. A few of the vehicles stored on deck broke loose and were damaged. Those most severely damaged, including the CO’s van, were promptly jettisoned at sea. Maybe the CO’s selection of Capt McBride as OIC “sea-party” was not such a good idea after all!
Upon arrival in Norway, and as soon as the helicopters were serviceable, the mangled remains of other jeeps and ¾ ton trucks were slung and dumped in the North Atlantic. Serviceable ones, along with tons of supplies and POL products, were also slung, but to shore! It’s an understatement to say that the RCN was impressed with the Voyageur’s ability to perform these tasks. Even the ship’s captain was taking pictures! In fact, he had sufficient faith in the process to allow the exercise’s entire ration of over-proof rum to be slung ashore!
During the rest of the exercise, the platoon provided close support to the RHC (Black Watch) Bn Gp. They even had the honour of transporting the Norwegian Monarch, King Olav, from the Bardufoss airport to HMCS Provider and return.29
Maintenance became a challenge for the technicians. A hangar was shared with an Italian Helicopter unit. When the Italians began refuelling in the hangar, the 1 Tpt Hel Pl gang quickly moved outside to the minus twenty degree Fahrenheit temperature for the remainder of the exercise.
As was common for unit personnel deployed on exercise, their quarters were fiveman tents and they cooked their own rations. They had four crews for the three Voyageurs and one Hiller. The three-week exercise was indeed demanding and very successful for 1 Tpt Hel Pl.30
29Eaton, op.cit., pp. 18-22.
30In 1967, three helicopters once again crossed the Atlantic on board the Provider to participate, with 4 CBMG, in the NATO Exercise “Reforger.”
Back in Canada, the unit continued to train and to perform rewarding tasks. But it was soon to be on the move again – this time permanently! The main unit was ordered to move to St. Hubert, Quebec, in August 1966, and a detachment of three “birds” was to be formed at CFB Edmonton, Alberta.
The Western Detachment was commanded initially by Capt G.C. Walker. His pilots were Capts Charland, MacIsaac, Schultz, Wagner, and his pilot/AO was Lt P. Armstrong. This group was soon to be joined by Capts R.N. Coward, I.W. Binney, P.A Davis, and F.T. Zeggil. The crew chiefs to go to Edmonton were S/Sgt F.G.D. Nash, Sgts R.F. Fleming, P.I. Flug, G.W. Kube, and H.G. Loewen. Cpl G. (Gary) Young-Husband was the clerk. Lt F.H. Leach commanded the detachment’s Maintenance Section.
Of course, Maj Reid headed the main body of his unit as it proceeded to St Hubert. His pilots were Capts C.R. Gillis, R.A. Hall, D.W. Hardy, R.J. Hill, F.A. Isaacs, F.J. Kendall, R.G. McBride, D.E. Stovel, Lts W.R. Craddock, J.K. Oakley, and A.J. Waldrum. The AO, Capt J.O.Y. Pommainville, was soon to retire from the military and Lt R.C. Mathias took on the appointment. WO2 D.P. Germain continued in his CSM job at St. Hubert as did crew chiefs Sgts R.A. Bridges, C.E. Davis, E.B. Ferguson, R.I.C. Helman, J.A.R. Lacelle and R.S. Larson. L/Sgt R.M. (Bob) Desmarais handled the clerical duties. Capt R.B. Manning headed the Maintenance Section. Sgt C.H. (Charles) Weatherbee, RCEME but ex-RCASC, was one of his technicians.
Tasking continued without a pause. An aircraft from St. Hubert was dispatched, as requested by “someone in Ottawa,” on a mission of mercy in the Laurentians to recover a floatplane. The pilot had beached the aircraft on a small lake. The owner was asked where he wanted the aircraft delivered. As he definitely wanted it returned to his lakeside cottage, it was carefully set in the water next to his dock. Upon release the aircraft slowly sank to the bottom and out of sight. The floats had been punctured. Mission complete but with questionable success!
In January 1967, the CO departed from St Hubert, was joined by two more helicopters from the Western Detachment, and flew on to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, for a winter exercise with the Van Doos. One difficulty was that the CH113A had an endurance of only about two hours and twenty minutes, which was inadequate for most legs of this journey. In order to extend the range for this deployment, long-range internal tanks, initially used on DC3s, were modified and installed by the Western Detachment maintenance crew under the direction of Capt F.H. Leach.
In May 1967, Capt F.T. Zeggil was promoted to major and assumed command of the Western Detachment. One of his early, self-imposed, duties was to call upon Col D.H. Rochester, Commander of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, and offer him helicopter support. The polite reply was, “Thanks, but no thanks! We are Airborne! We jump from aircraft and I doubt if we will have much business for you.” Famous last words! Not long thereafter, at an exercise near Watson Lake, Yukon, a number of these “airborne” personnel dropped into trees on a night jump. Maj Zeggil and Capt Walker spent most of the night evacuating the injured to hospital. Later, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was to discover that rappelling from a helicopter to a parade square was great sport!
In June of the same year, one Voyageur and crew were dispatched to support the Goose Bay Annual Resupply mission.31 Previously, the RCAF had been doing this chore with Search and Rescue helicopters.
The next major event was a change of command that occurred in July 1967 when Maj J.P. Harrison took over from Maj Reid. Unfortunately, this one sentence summarizes the command of 1 Tpt Hel Pl. Maj Reid had formed the unit and brought it into operation. Within the year, Maj Harrison would become responsible for the transition of the RCASC’s only flying unit to an integrated Canadian Forces Squadron. Also, on promotion, WO2 G.R. Jackson arrived from 2 Tpt Coy and succeeded WO2 Germain as CSM. Both the officer and NCO aircrew was still predominantly RCASC but the ground crew was beginning to look like a cross between RCEME and RCAF. But, “let’s not get ahead of our story!” The final episode of the saga will be included following a description of the platoon’s participation in Canada’s 100th birthday celebrations.
As Canada was to celebrate its centennial in 1967, almost a year in advance, headquarters was pressuring field unit commanders to submit ideas for special projects. While still in Rivers, Maj Reid had called his unit together to solicit ideas and to explain his own two proposals. One was to equip two Voyageurs with long-range tanks and fly non-stop from Alaska to Ottawa or Montreal, thus setting a world helicopter distance record. The second was to fly to the North Pole and thereby be the first helicopter to do so. There was a pause and S/Sgt Nash was heard to say from the back of the room, “For Christ’s sake, don’t anyone tell him there is a moon!”
The unit’s Edmonton Detachment had no such problem. An imposed centennial project created one of the major events in the history of 1 Tpt Hel Pl. It was the search of King William Island for any remnants of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin expedition. The August 1967 mission, as tasked by FMC HQ, was to lift a party from the PPCLI, plus some scientists, geographers, and photographers, to the Arctic for this purpose and to support them during their search.
Certainly, the long-range tanks, mentioned above, would be required again for this trip. However, by this juncture, these tanks, which had pipes to transfer the fuel running out the port window in a rather primitive fashion, had become controversial. Possibly for this reason, AHQ refused to authorize the use of this system. (A quirk of military aviation – you were authorized to install an item and not authorized to use it!) The “catch 22” was that the mission still had to be completed. Assuming that he had just been promoted to make this type of decision, Maj Zeggil decided to proceed. Two CH113As made the trip. The other pilots with him were Capts I.W. Binney, W.G. Charland, R.N. Coward, and P.A. Davis. The crew chiefs were S/Sgt F.G.D. Nash and Sgt R.F. Fleming.
The helicopters arrived safely at a Distant Early Warning site on King William Island and remained there for a month. Although restricted somewhat by fog, some very interesting flying was undertaken. The social side of life was a bit restricted but, at least, the fishing was good! Of course, the saga of the long-range tanks was not over. Using the logical justification that 100 hours had been flown safely using them, Maj Zeggil again
31The site was euphemistically known as “SAR-1.” In reality, it was a fishing camp for senior officers and other officials.
requested formal approval. He did not get the reply that he wanted and was granted a “one time only” authority to get back to Edmonton. The other disappointment was that they did not find “Sir John” but they saw a good picture of him in a museum in Yellowknife on the way home!
The final irony concerning the Franklin exercise was played out back in Edmonton. As it was a centennial project, Maj Zeggil requested Centennial Medals for all his participating crew members. At this point, one of the hazards of being a detachment reared its head. HQ 1 Tpt Hel Pl, in St Hubert, assumed that its detachment would get medals from CFB Edmonton’s quota and, of course, CFB Edmonton assumed the reverse. When this story reached FMC HQ, the situation was “rectified” by the award of a medal to Maj Zeggil, personally, and the issue of one more for a selected detachment member. It was an embarrassment to Maj Zeggil to wear the medal that he had recommended be awarded to all members of the Franklin crews.32
Expo 67 saw one CH113A on “stand by” in the event of trouble during Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s visit. Fortunately, the helicopter was not needed.
The final event of this fascinating story, was the redesignation, on 29 March 1968, of 1 Tpt Hel Pl RCASC to 450 Heavy Transport Helicopter Squadron (450 Hvy Tpt Hel Sqn).33 This very special, one of a kind, RCASC unit had passed into history but, in many ways, its RCASC legacy lived on for many years. As the Air Operations Branch of the new Canadian Forces was one of the last to have its badge approved, ex-Corps pilots were still wearing the RCASC badge about a year after all other RCASC personnel were wearing their new CF branch insignia. Through this quirk, officers who were no longer in the Corps, were the last Regular Force personnel to wear the RCASC badge – as late as 1974.
In 1 Tpt Hel Pl’s last weeks, Maj Harrison was not anxious to acquiesce to being assigned one of the many RCAF squadron numbers. He argued that a new designation was the only practical way to go. Eventually, and after much debate, the “powers that be” conceded and the number 450 was assigned to the Hvy Tpt Hel Sqn. It was not until after Royal approbation had been received that it was discovered that 450 had been a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron. Even though the assignment of squadron numbers was purely coincidental, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the role of 450, whether wartime Australian or peacetime Canadian, was unequivocally linked to the army. In their time, all three units, 450 Sqn RAAF, 1 Tpt Hel Pl RCASC, and 450 Hvy Tpt Hel Sqn, had plenty of practice putting up and taking down tents!
Although it was now a CF air squadron, another ex-RCASC officer, Maj Roden- Bush was next to assume command. After the RCN and the RCAF had a turn, Lt Col H.F.E. Swain assumed command in 1977. The Western Detachment also continued to have an ex-Corps officer at the helm as Maj L.T. Rowbottom succeeded Maj Zeggil in July 1969. Other former RCASC officers to command the detachment were Majs Swain, MacIsaac, and Craddock.
32Personal letters from F.T. Zeggil to the author. June 1998.
33Eaton, op. cit., p. 24.
It seems highly unlikely that the Canadian Forces, at the turn of the millennium, would have an inventory of more than 150 helicopters with some 85 assigned to serve the land forces had it not been for the RCASC initiative. In fact, in 1999, there were more helicopter pilot seats in the forces than all other aircraft pilot seats combined. The RCASC is entitled to take a bow in this tremendous feat. The initial process of establishing an organization to provide transport helicopter support to ground forces can be attributed to the RCASC. Nil Sine Labore!
The above ends the chronicle of aviation in the RCASC, but one final section will
serve to honour those who lost their lives in this worthy cause. While only those tragedies
that occurred during the tenure of the Corps are listed, this section is equally dedicated to
those RCASC members who perished later in the service of the Canadian Forces Air Operations
As in most aviation endeavours, accidents did occur in RCASC flying – some, unfortunately,
with fatalities. However, on balance and by comparison to other army corps
and, indeed, air force comparable units, the accident rates for Service Corps personnel involved
in flying were relatively minimal. During the period 1952 to 1968, of the six fatal
accidents involving Corps personnel, two were US Army operations. Details of these misfortunes
are summarized below:
34The aircraft is pulled up into a steep climb. Just before stalling a “heavy rudder” 180- degree turn is accomplished and the aircraft enters a dive. Recovery below 300 ft is most difficult.
35Interview with J.A.A.L. Séguin, Ottawa, 23 October 1998.
|Murray, J.D. & Rodenbush, C. (2001). Chapter 9. In The Last Waggon (pp. 494 - 517). Summerside, PEI: Williams & Crue. The Corps in the Air|