Canada’s Peacetime Air Conquest

DOROTHY G. BELL April 1 1926

Canada’s Peacetime Air Conquest

DOROTHY G. BELL April 1 1926

Canada’s Peacetime Air Conquest


SEVEN years ago, the only thing aerial about the Royal Canadian Air Force was its name. Not one piece of flying equipment did it possess. Then, at the close of the war in 1919, Great Britain gave Canada $7,000,000 worth of surplus air stock and equipment. The story of what the Dominion has done with that gift, what she has made it do for her, is one of national progress, governmental initiative, personal courage and determination.

Seven years ago, nothing. To-day the Royal Canadian Air Force possesses a fleet of ninety-four aircraft and a self-supporting aerial defence. It leads the British Empire in aerial survey work. It was the first to enact a se^ of air traffic regulations It is one of the most important factors in Canadian Civil Government work. It has re-mapped the country, caused lakes, river and stretches of territory to be moved—on maps and charts— to the places they correctly occupy. It is protecting the natural resources of the country. It is enforcing the law of the Dominion.

During the seven years that have elapsed since the war, the Royal Canadian Air Force has proved beyond question that the Dominion has other than wartime uses for a flying service. Aerial surveying, forest protection, law enforcement and exploration are only a few of the duties of the men who fly the ninety-four machines now owned by Canada.

All this was not accomplished without a struggle. To accept a $7,000,000 gift was one thing; to keep it up was another. But the handful of active flying officers who had survived the war and who at that time composed the flying personnel of the Air Force were men of vision. With their bird’s-eye view of the Dominion they saw the vast northern area as yet untraced by man, and realized the value of aircraft in exploration and transportation there. They saw, even in hasty observation, the inaccuracy of Canadian maps in comparison with the actual topography and they knew that rectification lay in aerial survey. They saw great, untouched timber tracts, and believed that their worth, their type could be distinguished and valued from overhead. They realized that from above the forests they would be able to see warning wisps of smoke, invisible from the ground until they had become roaring flames leaving destruction in their wake. And, seeing these things, they believed that Canada, in peace time as in war, had need of their services. They went to work to prove it, and it is the result of that work, together with the co-operation of the government departments, that has made the operation of aircraft successful both in civil development and in the preservation of Canada’s natural resources.

Apathy Met And Conquered

OUT government co-operation did not come easily. The idea that the departments should use aircraft was a new idea, and, like advocates of most new ideas, they suffered rebuffs at first. Dreamers they were called—men who not only flew in the clouds but thought there. Dreamers they

may have been, but assuredly they were fighters, too.

Abandoning their aircraft for the time being, they made a thorough canvass of government offices from coast to coast, expounding the value of air work. They met with interest and courtesy on all sides, but with no encouragement. The Dominion Government, however, seeing the possibilities, passed an Air Board Act in 1919, for the establishment of a central civil organization to supply flying facilities to any government service that wanted it. But nobody wanted it!

Then it was that these Air Board men showed their faith. Realizing that the worth of their service must be proved before it could be accepted, entirely at their own expense they began their demonstration work. By January, 1920, the results of their forestry exploration and protection work and aerial survey experiments were such that the cautious government heads began to see the practicab'Hty of an air unit. An inter-departmental conference oi government services that might be effected was called; when it adjourned a full programme of .aerial operations had been adopted in which further experiments could be made. Civil government flying work had begun in earnest.

Stations for the training officers were established at Camp Borden, Vancouver, B.C., Morley, Alberta, and Roberval, Quebec, mainly for the purpose of forest protection. The governments of British Columbia and Quebec made grants to the Air Force toward the establishment and maintenance of these stations in return for which they received flying service. So successful was the work that the following year the forestry branch of the Department of the Interior asked for the establishment of a base at Victoria Beach, Winnipeg, for the patrol of

the Lake Winnipeg and Lake Winnipegosis forest areas. A request also came from the Ontario Government, and a station was established between the Sioux Lookout and the Ontario-Manitoba boundary line for the survey and exploration of forests. That same year the Morley station was moved to High River, Alberta.

The close of 1221 marked the end of the period of preliminary organization in Canadian aviation. The usefulness of aircraft in civil Government work, especially in forest protection, transportation and survey service, had been proved beyond question. The growth since then has been steady, though somewhat hampered by lack of funds. In January, 1923, the Air Board became a part of the Department of National Defense and is now playing a dual part. Payment for flying services done for Provincial Governments whose natural resources are under their own jurisdiction, puts the Defence Department on a selfsustaining basis. Just what the value of that aerial defense is to Canada is difficult to judge. While it is admitted by Wing Commander J. L. Gordon, of Ottawa, that in actual war it would be a mere drop in the bucket, it is generally conceded, too, that the war strength of a country’s aerial force depends to a very large degree on its commercial and civil flying. With this development we may consider that our war strength has increased.

Indians’ Winged Santa Claus

/'A F THE large and varied range of civil work now carried on by the Air Force the patrol of Fisheries and Forestry and Topographical Survey operations have become the most thoroughly developed and the most important features. In addition to these, however, there

are lesser jobs of just as vital importance and interest both to the departments concerned and the flying staff.

One of these is the delivery of treaty money to the Indians in northern Manitoba for the use of their reservations. The Indian agent makes his rounds by air in two or three days where formerly it took him several months. These visits are made festive occasions, and it often is impossible for the flying officers and government officials to get away without participating. Wing Commander R. N. Johnston, of Winnipeg, recalls an amusing story of one of his flying pilots on such an occasion.

Having arrived in the midst of a joy-fest planned for their benefit, the flying officer was approached by a stout and buxom squaw.

“You dance me— ugh?” she asked.

The pilot was an exceptionally small man, but he was every inch a sportsman. Seizing his ponderous

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partner by as much of her waist as he could reach he guided her to the best of his ability across the rough board floor. But, unfortunately, he was not sufficiently skilful to please her ladyship. Wresting herself from his feeble grasp, she seized him in her fat arms, whirled him around until he was dizzy, then let go of him and sent him flying across the room to crash through a stove-pipe at the other side.

Indians in all parts of that northern area regard the planes with fear and wonder. On one occasion when a seaplane landed they fled to their huts in terror, to appear later dressed in their most gorgeous clothes to sit on the beach and watch the machine lying at anchor. Suddenly a puff of wind moved the flying boat towards them. Springing up in fright, they ran back to their huts, creeping out later in fascinated curiosity.

Squadron Leader D. B.

Hobbs had an amusingexperienee with the native on one of his early flights into northern Manitoba. He landed off the shore of a small village to find it deserted. Walking through the queer little streets and entering one or two huts he found signs of habitation, but no human being could he find. Feeling the uncanniness of the situation he was about to leave the village when he caught sight of an old man crouching behind some bushes. As the officer approached, the old Indian tottered to his feet, and rolling his eyes in terror, would have run had he been able to do so. He would make no reply to Lthe questions put, and Major Hobbs, more mystified than ever, was about to make further search of the village when he spied first one Indian and then another peering at him from the woods. Gradually and cautiously they crept back to the village and after much persuasion Major Hobbs was able to get their story

The Destroying Angel

A FEW days before, they had obtained a generous supply of “firewater” and men, women and children had imbibed freely while it lasted. On the last day of the debauch the priest had appeared unexpectedly, andirefully told them that the destroying angel would undoubtedly descend upon them for their wickedness. He had left them in the sad, sober moments of “the morning after the night before.” No sooner was his canoe out of sight than there had come a roar from the heavens, and looking up they had seen the great yellow-winged plane bearing down on them from above! They had never seen a seaplane before, but neither were they familiar with the sight of a destroying angel, and implicitly believing the word of the priest, they had fled from the terrifying demon that was so swiftly and surely descending upon them.

Another valuable side issue with the Air Force is the work done for the Customs at Vancouver, where the smuggling of narcotics from liners from the Orient is frequently attempted. A favorite method of avoiding the Customs is to throw the contraband overboard, from whence it is recovered by accomplices in power boats. The bird man’s view as he circles over the ships and flies low over the water spoils this game, for nothing can be dropped from the ship without attracting his attention.

In the location and running down of rum-runners’ craft which infest the Pacific Coast, the flying boats have been of inestimable value to the Customs. One of the cleverest bits of flying ever reported in Canada was done by Flight-Lieut. Earl MacLeod on one of these expeditions, with the result that a desperate band of bootleggers was arrested and the contraband cargo captured.

With a customs official on board, the seaplane set out in search of a tug said to be somewhere off the coast of Vancouver Island with a cargo of liquor. After making a careful survey the tub was sighted. Knowing her to be heavily armed, MacLeod dropped down behind an island and skimmed along the water out of sight and sound of the unsuspecting tug. Judging his distance to a nicety he suddenly lifted the machine up over the timbered shore, and cutting off hiengine the moment he

“Boiling” Over the Rockies

Severn River’s actual course runs 175 miles north of where it is on the present map. These are merely instances of the startling corrections that are being made in addition to the hundreds of lakes, waterways and topographical features hitherto unknown which are being not only discovered but recorded.

To persuade an airman to talk of physical dangers in his work is a difficult thing.

Flight-Lieut. Mercer had a narrow escape under such conditions not long ago when making a survey flight over the Rockies. It was bright and clear when he left the base at High River, but later that afternoon, as he circled the great snow-clad peaks, the clouds suddenly gathered and hemmed him in on all sides. For a time he traveled above them, but with his vision completely obscured he lost his sense of direction and was forced to dive below them and fly among the mountain tops. Lower and lower pressed the clouds; lower and lower he was forced to fly. Then a mist walled up in front of him, and before he could tilt his plane for an upward climb it crashed into the rocky face of a mountain peak. The wings crumpled, the plane rolled down the side of the bluff and landed, a pile of matchwood, in the valley below.

How long Mercer lay in the wreckage he never knew, but when he came to his senses he found himself bathed in blood which was flowing from a big wound in the side of his head. Groping among the splinters he found his message bag, and packing it into the hole in his head, he pulled his helmet down over it and began a long weary tramp to town on weakening limbs. When he reached the hospital the crude plug was removed, and a wing splinter, fully two inches long with a couple of screws still in it, was taken from his skull, just a fraction of an inch from his brain.

to hope that they will in due course map and re-map the whole country thoroughly. Already, some 400,000 miles are in process of mapping as a result of the aerial photography done by the airmen under the supervision of the Topographical Survey Department of the Dominion Government. According to the figures of that department ninety-five per cent, of Canada is inaccurately mapped. On the face of it the statement is startling, but considering the tremendous areas of unopened country where traverse is made possible only through the waterways, it is easily understood.

Probably one of the most outstanding examples of map inaccuracy discovered by the flying men, is the case of Lake Kississing. For years prospectors on this lake have been staking mining claims which later could not be located by map. Lawsuits in many cases resulted, and sometimes even total loss of the claims. Aerial photographs have since proved that the lake is not only of an entirely different shape from that shown on the map, but that it is twenty mdes out of position.

As a further result of topographical survey from the air it has been discovered that the Ontario-Manitoba boundary is twenty miles out of position and that the

OTHER flying mishaps have occurred in this same line of work, happily with less unfortunate endings. Flight-Lieut. Carter, with Walker, the High River photographer, was doing photographic work a few miles from the base one day last summer. When they finished, early in the afternoon, the sun was shining, the air was clear and flying conditions were perfect.

“It’s too nice a day to go home. Let’s take a flip over the mountains,” suggested the photographer. Carter succumbed to temptation and they “flipped.” With a perfectly running motor they were sailing through the blue, looking down on the majestic mountain peaks. Suddenly Walker’s face lost its glow.

“We’re boiling!” he shouted in Carter’s ear. Looking down over the side the pilot could see a jet of steam issuing from the engine. The nearest landing place was forty miles away. There was only one thing to do, and that was to keep the motor running as long as it would. With ears strained to catch the first splutter of the rapidly overheating engine, with nerves tensed to meet any emergency that might arise, and with their respect for those mountain peaks below them growing with every moment, the joy of their joy ride was more or less eliminated during that last forty miles. But there was more in store for them.

With the steam pouring out of the motor they knew that their radiator must be nearly dry. Hope almost was abandoned when they sighted a farmhouse and what was yet more welcome, a field. They landed safely and rolled up to the door of the house in a cloud of steam. Two girls appeared on the veranda, as the airmen climbed over the side of the plane.

“May we have some water?” asked Walker anxiously. “Why, yes,” replied one of the girls, “but wouldn’t you rather have a cup of tea?”

This is the first of a series of three articles on various phases of the work of the Canadian Air Force. The second will appear in an early issue.

had cleared the tree tops, he dived, struck the water with scarcely a splash, and gliding up behind the tug, ran the front cockpit of the plane to within two feet of the stern of the boat. The customs officer stepped from the plane to the tug, and, emerging from behind the pilot house, presented the muzzle of his gun to the astonished crew. Had MacLeod been a moment late cutting off his engine, had he misjudged the speed of the plane or the boat by a hair’s breadth; had he bumped the side of the tug in landing, the alarm would have been given and the crew undoubtedly would have opened fire with disastrous results

Putting Canada on the map probably is the biggest job the Royal Canadian Air Force has yet undertaken. In spite of the fact that the Dominion’s area is nearly 4,000,000 square miles, the R.C.A.F. is optimistic enough