Inspired by the Trans Canada Air Pageant which brought a gyrocopter, a Ford Trimotor and a flight of Siskin Fighters, to Brandon
in the 1930s, I took flying lessons at the local flying club,on an Avro Avian biplane like this one. Ours was one of those
supplied to flying clubs in Canada to stimulate the new art.
The Avian weighed 1,000 pounds empty, or 1,600 fuelled and with two crew, plus parachutes, in those early days! It flew at
85 miles an hour, in still air, or at 100 MPH all out. But, it flew slightly sideways in a stiff breeze! But, we dived it
at 110 MPH in order to perform a loop. Its ceiling was posted at 12,500 feet, but we never dared to climb abouve 6,000 feet
My first flying instructor was a very capable Lionel Vines. I had the rear open cockpit, with Lionel ahead with dual controls.
Those days it was a control column, or "joystick," removed by the instructor, when he was not flying. Once he failed
to lock it in place and the controls seized on takeoff. He looked at me, I looked at him, each thinking that the other was
at fault. Being a big man, he heaved on the faulty contol column and bent it slightly, regaining a little control, enabling
us to struggle around the circuit and land gently.
With Maurice Fry and his Monocoupe, we barnstormed the Prairies in the 1930s, flying into farmers' fields, often taking down
the barbed wire fence, and a row of stooks or two, for a runway. The price was $5 or $10- whatever we could get for a short
hop around the town. Usually the whole town turned out, and there was never a lack of customers.
Here is Barnstormer Roy at Virden, Manitoba in August 1935.
"Who's the girl" everyone asks. We didn't know her but we labeled her "Sylvia."
In later years we had several planes, Aeroncas, a Luscomb,a Piper Pacer, Colt, Tripacers, and a Cessna 170. Here wife Maude
and I are about to fly to the Bahamas- a 7000-mile round trip. We made it and returned there several times in the Pacer and
I learned to fly Avro Avians like this one.
Two places and open cockpits! Sometimes we wore flying suits in cold weather, but mostly our youthful zeal kept us warm. In
1934, after 6 hours and forty minutes of dual instruction, I flew solo. And got my pilot' licence soon after in 1934.
Being eager for flying time, we sometimes flew the telephone or power lines afte a winter storm, to locate downed lines, often
at 30 degrees below zero. But it was always considered "fun."
Below with Maurice Fry and his Velie Monocupe.
65 HP and room for two!
Below- the popular Pietenpol Aircamper- sometimes powered (?)with a (heavy) converted Ford automobile engine!
The Pietenpol (named for its designer) was usually home built from plans in popular flying magazines- sometimes well, and
sometimes no so well. A farmer in Southern Manitoba built one from old tea chests and scap wood, with a converted Ford automabile
engine for "power". He wasn't a pilot, and he couldn't find anyone to testfly it! But, hungry for time, and full
of beans, I volunteered! It was a hot day when we visited his farm. We had to remove some fences and implements to get room
for a takeoff. And he insisted on going along on the test flight! We ran through two of his big fields and approached the
telephone lines before liftoff. The problem now was to go over or under he wires- we sneaked under them- just- and staggered
into the air. I had to fly eight miles before I had enough height to turn back to the anxious friends on the ground!
Our pretty plane of recent years!- A Luscome! First it was an Aeronca Camp, then a Chief, the Luscombe, a Piper Pacer, a triPacer
and a Cessna 170B, all flown for many happy hours! During this time, I worked at Fairey Aviation at Victoria International
Airport.Among planes worked on was RCAF Neptunes. On one test flight, we lost all of the hydraulic oil, so couldn't retract
the wheels for landing. The tower sent us to Comox airport "where they have the guys with asbestos suits." So, we
flew around for hours to use up the fuel, while we tried tea. coke and urine, to get pressure in the system, to no avail.
One of my skinny electronic friends, bolder than the rest of us, climbed down into the wheel well, and kicked them down.
We still didn't know of they were properly locked, so Comox trotted out all of the emergency vehicles. But happily, we
landed safely! (But my pal, who bravely kicked the wheels down,had enough of flying- he took the bus back!)