On Patrol with the Flying Policeman
In order that readers of MacLean’s might know just what the fisheries patrol of the Royal Canadian Air Force in northern British Columbia is and does, Miss Bell accompanied one of the pilots on a regular trip out from Prince Rupert. Her story of this flight, and her report of the service rendered by the Air Force in protecting the forests of the middle and far western provinces are both contained in this article.
DOROTHY G. BELL
THE Skeena River lay in the glory of full flood, leisurely lapping the wooded shores that rose sheer above it on each side.
Hundreds of fishing boats, dipped in the shining gold of a late sun, drifted quietly across its mirrored breadth, their nets, caught by occasional lazy currents, twisting in a maze of corklines up and down the stream. It was the moment after the day’s toil When Nature, softening her zephyrs, lowering her sun, bids the world rest.
The men in the boats, responding to her mood, lay on their oars or across their decks, smoking and talking idly while their nets filled.
Suddenly there was a stir in every boat. Men stiffened from their attitudes of relaxation and sat up, tense with interest. With one accord they turned their eyes skyward. The highwalled waterway, so quiet a moment before, echoed now to a peace-shattering roar as a great yellow-winged plane skimmed over a nearby mountain peak and swooped with a terrifying speed toward the boats. Below the level of the hills it straightened again and circled in broad sweeps.
Then, flying low, it winged its way Up river and out of sight.
“What’s ut?” queried a weatherbeaten fisherman of his partner.
“Ain’t ye heerd, Jo? Ut’s the new fisheries patrol,” replied the boatpuller.
“Huh,” grunted Jo. He watched for a moment in silence the bend around which the plane had disappeared. Then: “The flying policeman,” he said solemnly. “Jock, we’ll have to mind our eye now or that chap ’ll git us good.” That was four years ago in July. The fishermen have been “minding their eye” ever since, for the “flying policeman” has been “getting them good.”
Before the advent of the air patrol the guarding of the northern British Columbia fishing area was a heartbreaking task. There are 6,000 miles of intricate WaterWays to be watched and the effectiveness of the fisheries protection patrol boats had been seriously diminished by
reason of the activities of a mysterious “intelligence service” among the fishermen.
Hundreds of men in the frenzied battle for big catches dropped their seine nets into restricted waters, added unlawful web to their regulation gill nets, fished in closed seasons and used prohibited gear when the opportunity offered. And it offered frequently, for the sixty-five patrol boats that plied in constant watch up and down the coast were unable to cope with the situation. There was fear—
even real danger—that these northern waters, now the hope of the salmon canners, would become depleted, like the Fraser River, of their source of supply. Something had to be done and the Government turned with this problem, as it has turned with many others, to its air force.
The British Columbia branch of the Royal Canadian Air Force with headquarters under the command of Squadron Leader J. H. Tudhope at Jericho Beach, Vancouver, had in addition to many other experiments made investigations regarding the Fraser River fisheries and it was from data based on these inquiries that officials rested their belief that an air patrol of the northern fisheries was the only solution to the crisis. In June, 1922, therefore, FlightLieut. E. L. MacLeod headed his plane north and winged his way in record time of six and a quarter hours to Prince Rupert, where he established a sub-base and began his difficult but wholly successful task of patroling the enormous fishing areas which extend from the Alaskan Boundary to Cape Caution.
On Patrol With the “Flying Policeman”
A/T AKIN G a flight with the “flying policeman” over the patrol area of the northland is like sailing in a magic airship over fairyland. From the moment we took off Digby Cove, Prince Rupert, the earth began to fade away and in its place appeared a fantastic pageant. As we lifted over the fringe of trees that lined the cove, the little city of Prince Rupert l?.y beneath us like an elfin child’s play-box with the contents upset and scattered: the flat-lands, soft green of the foliage, seemed to be great rolling lawns, and the hills giant tables. Here and there, a slim winding stream sparkled like a great diamond chain. The Skeena River was a dazzling sword of silver and, as it narrowed and the mountain walls hemmed it in, it became thickly dotted with tiny sail boats and winding nets which shone in the sun.
A nudge from the pilot brought me back. This wasn’t a dream after all; it was business. He was writing on a pad in the front of the cockpit, for the noise of the engine make conversation impossible.
“Long net directly beneath us. See it?”
“I see millions,” I wrote back, “but they all look alike.”
MacLeod’s white teeth flashed in answer and the plane, under his practised hand, dipped, banked and touched the water as deftly, as gracefully, as the gulls that screamed at our intrusion. Working his machine into the side of the offending boat, the “flying policeman” ran lightly along the wing and sprang to the deck.
“Gentlemen good evening,” he greeted the men in the boat. “How’s fishing? Should be pretty good with that long net.” His smile was genuine enough as he lifted his goggles.
The Japanese in the stern of the boat looked craftily from the officer to the plane and back again to his boatpuller and his narrow eyes swept the boats around him. There was no help anywhere. In a gallant attempt to be playful he came closer to the airman, nudged him in the ribs with his elbow and drew his upper eyelid down in a prolonged wink.
“You tellum me cuttum where. You tellum me, eh? I do.”
The smile left the patrolman’s face. “No,” he said, Bternly. “Too late to cuttum now. Pick up and let me look at it.”
As the dripping corks clattered in over the combing the officer counted them, mea' uring, as he did so, the distance between them. When at last the buoy was lifted into the boat several more fathoms of net than the law allows lay coiled on the deck. Making a note of his name and number, MacLeod instructed the boat to follow him and climbing back into the plane taxied to the cannery for which the law-breaker fished and made his report to the manager.
Later the summons would be delivered and the fisherman haled into court, and made to pay his fine.
When the patrolman came back to his plane the manager of the cannery was with him. The tide in the river was running fast and a stiff breeze had sprung up so that with every attempt to get clear the machine was forced back against the wharf. MacLeod, fearing for the safety of his wings, asked the manager if he would order one of his boats to tow him to safety. Beckoning to a fisherman standing by, the manager explained to him what was wanted. The fisherman, iiesitating for a full moment, closed the distance suddenly between himself and the manager and, jerking his thumb towards the stranded plane, said in a lowered voice: “You like me tow him rough or easy, boss?”
The boss laughed. “Handle him easy, Bud,” he said. “After all he’s our friend.”
Still somewhat dubious of that fact, the man dropped into his boat, started his engine and towed the seaplane into mid-stream. From there we took off safely and ended the flight uneventfully at the base a few minutes later.
Spotting the “Handy Billy”
T ONG nets are merely one of the incidentals that go to ■*—'' make up the work of a fisheries patrolman. There are other things for which he has to watch—things more difficult to detect. One of these is “Handy Billy.”
Suspecting the use of a “Handy Billy,” Lieut. MacLeod boarded one of the little fishing vessels one day and ordered the fisherman to pull in his net. Drawing it in hand over hand, the Japanese coiled it carefully on the floorboards of the net hold at the stern of the boat. As the pile grew it began to waver and finally it toppled over. Patiently the man piled it up again but again it tumbled and with a muttered curse he let it lie and began a fresh pile over another opening to the hold. When the net was in there were two huge stacks of web over the two openings and the Jap himself stood over the third and only other entrance. The hoax was a clever one, but MacLeod had had dealings with such men before. Ordering the man to the upper deck, he opened the small hatch over which the fellow had stood. As he expected, he found a “Handy Billy” —an extra piece of web — neatly laid against the boat’s ribs and still wet from recent use. Here the airman’s knowledge of fishing gear must be accurate, for only certain types of nets are allowed during certain seasons and often these “Handy Billies,” as well as the big nets, are of a forbidden mesh, in which case, the fine is doubled. So expert have the patrolmen become that it is said they can spot the type of net being used by the way it hangs on the corks and drifts with the currents of the river.
The elimination of a large percentage of Japanese licenses has caused the flying men an extra amount of work, for it leaves a surplus of Japanese fishermen without fishing permits. With the canneries as their sole means of livelihood, they are desperate enough to fish, however, wherever they can, sometimes under the name and number of someone else. The latter was one of the chief offenses last year.
In order to give the fish a chance to reach the heads of the streams and rivers to spawn, all fishing is prohibited between Fridays and Sundays. Before the days of air patrol it was almost impossible to make the fishermen comply with this law, as there were many unseen bays and coves where they could fish in safety without fear of detection by the patrol boats which had such vast distances to cover.
Keeping the creek mouths clear is another difficult job, or seine and gill-net operators like to circle their nets around the openings of the streams where the fish gather on their way to the spawning grounds. One or two seasons
of such methods would probably wipe out the salmon industry entirely. The greatest difficulty the airmen find here is with the Indians. For years the Redmen were given the right to fish the mouths of any streams that emptied on the edge of their reserves and, though the privilege has long since been cancelled, they still insist in many cases that the right is theirs.
Still another patrol duty of the aviators is to prevent poaching. This happens occasionally along the Portland Canal which forms the boundary line between Canadian and Alaskan waters. It is not a frequent offense, however, and occurs only when American boats find themselves^ w e a t’h'e rbound for two or three days at a time in Canadian waters.
“Nowhere Where They Ain’t”
IT IS a little too soon yet, perhaps, to state the definite results of the air patrol in terms of actual conservation of the salmon, but both canners and fishermen alike admit that eventually it must augment the source of the industry and that meanwhile it has done more to eliminate ruthless fishing than any other method.
“The air patrol has, without doubt, done good work,” said General A. D. McRae, director of the Wallace Fisheries. “It has put the fear of the Lord into the fishermen and the moral effect has been excellent.”
General McRae’s opinion is emphatically corroborated by an old fisherman who has spent the greatest part of his life on the northern fishing grounds.
“Huh!” he remarked, pushing back his yellow sou’wester from his grizzled head, “there’s nothin’ what they can’t do and there’s nowhere where they ain’t.”
It is this element of uncertainty in the air patrol’s movements that keeps the fishermen guessing, for they can never know when or where a flying boat will turn up.
A big Swedish fisherman at Buttedale was as mystified over the operat ion of the flying machine as a little child would have been at the story of the flying carpet.
“By gollies,” he said, wonderingly, “dere iss no scare in dose fellas. I anchor in Buttedale von night and goes to bed in de pitch black night time. Dere iss no sea blane dere den. In de morning de fog iss so tick I can’d see efen my own masd. Den de fog she lifd up and dat damn skyboat dere she sits righd in frond off me. How she get dere you tink? She haff eyes like de cat.”
It was Flying Officer A. H. Hull who made that midnight trip through fog and blackness into Buttedale. It was not from choice that he went but it was part of his job.
And they are puzzled, too, these fishermen, as to the number of planes on the job. This was evidenced by a conversation that Flying Officer Hull had with the skipper of one of the boats he was examining last summer.
“Catch anybody over the boundary?” asked the fisherman as the officer was making his investigation.
“I haven’t been up there,” replied Mr. Hull.
“Wasn’t it you who flew up river about half an hour ago?” queried the fisherman again.
“No, this is my first trip up here to-day.”
As he spoke there was the distant hum of a motor, and the men, looking up, caught the faint outline of another plane above the hill tops.
“That’s the guy who was up there, I guess,” said the fisherman.
“No,” replied Mr. Hull. “That’s one of the fellows getting back from Swanson Bay.”
The fisherman looked at him in astonishment and let fall an oar with a clatter to the deck. “By thunder!” he exclaimed. “How many hundred planes have you chaps got on the job, anyway?”
“That’s the question,” answered the officer laughing. Climbing into his “bus,” he left the man still staring—still guessing.
In addition to actual patrol work, the aviators have other duties. When a fishery official wants to connect with a patrol boat in some inaccessible spot, if he has need of quick transportation, inland to a hatchery, he goes by air and the government is saved thousands of dollars in time. An official trip was made by Major Motherwell last summer in a day, which, if taken by boat, would have taken him two weeks.
The seaplanes also play an important part in hatchery work and fish eggs are transported by air with less danger of damage to their fertility than if they were carried by boat.
Sun-tanned, cheery, ready to face whatever dangers, difficulties or adventures the day may bring forth, the men of the air patrol never know where the next nightfall will find them. Weatherbound once for three days at Bella Coola, FlightLieutenant MacLeod was the guest of the cannery manager and his wife where he spent his time playing bridge, dancing, and eating well cooked meals at a linencovered, nicely appointed table. The following week-end found him caught at the head of a far away inlet out of reach of civilization, paddling ashore in his collapsible canvas boat, heating his emergency rations over a camp fire and sleeping on the rocks. And a few weeks later while the elements raged, he was forced to bide his time at a prospector’s cabin where he drank strong coffee and ate bacon and beans beside a red hot stove.
Saving the Forest
JUST as the Air Force has come to the rescue of the fisheries with its police protection so has it brought salvation to the forests with its fire patrol. As a result of its initial demonstrations in forestry work, Ontario now operates its own air service and Quebec patrols its forests by contract with commercial flying companies. This, with the exception of British Columbia, which calls on the Vancouver seaplanes in emergency, leaves the Dominion Air Force free to concentrate its forestry patrol work on the prairie provinces where the natural resources are still under the jurisidction of the Federal Government. It is in this mid-western area, where the vigil has been so rigid, that fire loss during the period of air patrol has become infinitesimal.
From their headquarters at Victoria Beach, on Lake Winnipeg and High River, Alberta, small detection or scouting planes make daily trips over the vast acres of valuable timber lands in northern Manitoba and the watershed of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. If a fire is sighted the plane circles over the blaze until its location is secured and a report is wirelessed back to the officers at headquarters who immediately despatch assistance.
If the fire is a big one and some distance from any suitable landing place, the pilot commandeers what aid he can. It was by this method last year that a very serious blaze was checked in record time. The pilot was en route to the base for help when he sighted two men in a canoe crossing a lake. Knowing this lake to be the most direct water passage to the Pas, whither many prospectors were travelling, he landed and, taxi-ing up to the canoe, he directed one man to the fire and stationed the other at the head of the lake to enlist the services of any others who might pass that way. When the plane returned, a long line of canoes was drawn up on the beach and a little army of prospectors had the fire under control.
If, on the other hand, the scout plane sights a fire on the edge of some waterway that provides an accessible landing place, he returns for the suppression plane, a larger machine carrying four men, a gasoline pump, hose, axes, spades and other necessary equipment. The task of bringing these big aircraft down safely into the narrow lakes, rock-infested bays and highcanyoned rivers is a hazardous one that calls for cool-headedness, quick action and exceptional skill. Even after the landing is made danger often lurks in the take-off for in strange, shallow waters i*t is impossible to know the risks that lie ahead, and if the wind should change or the weather roughen during their absence inland the chances of jeopardy are increased to such an extent that the airmen have to wait for hours, sometimes days, in lonely places.
One Way ol Getting a Visitor
FLYING men naturally do not like to endanger their machines under any circumstances and it is only necessity that forces them to take landing chances. It is the human element, however, that sometimes tempts them to take extra risks and it was the thought that someone was in need of aid that led Flight-Lieut. Gus Edwards, of Winnipeg, into an annoying, though somewhat amusing experience last summer.
Flying over the patrol area, his eye was attracted by a flash of light from below. Thinking at first that it was the glitter of the sun on a stream he paid no attention but when he got the flash again and again directly upon him he came to the conclusion that he was being signalled by heliograph. He circled and flew back over the spot from where the flash had come to learn that the only possible landing place for miles around was a narrow, winding, steep-banked stream. Believing, however, that he would only be signalled in case of extreme emergency he decided to risk the danger. Dropping earthwards he caught sight of a group of people standing on the river bank gesticulating wildly and, convinced then, that he was needed, he made a skilfull landing among the jagged rocks.
“What’s the trouble?” he shouted, running the nose of the plane into the little group that crowded to the edge of the shore.
“No trouble,” answered a handsome young brave, laying his hand cautiously on the wing of the machine. “We see you every day in sky. To-day we like to see you more close.”
Remembering the chances he had taken, Edwards was inclined to be indignant at first, but the Indians, genuine in their interest, and ignorant of the risk of landing in such a place, were anxious to atone for their action. So, they turned out in their canoes, sounded the river thorughly, and marked the danger so that the pilot was able to make a safe rise.
Such calls to earth, however, usually have a more serious significance. Perhaps one of the most pathetic emergency calls experienced by the Manitoba flying men was the case of a woman who lived with her husband on the edge of a lake several hundred miles from civilization. For months she had watched the plane fly overhead. With the watching had developed a passion that she, too, might fly. She seldom saw the plane without expressing a wish to go up in it. Then, she became suddenly ill and the husband, believing his wife to be at death’s door, signalled the patrolman as he flew over the cabin. Even in the agony of her illness the woman was overjoyed at the prospect of a flight. But, as they carried her from the cabin to the plane, she lost consciousness and did not regain her senses until she reached the hospital and the flight was over.
THE moral effect of forestry patrol, as in fishery protection, has been to check carelessness and deliberate damage. As ninety-five per cent, of the forest fires in Canada are man-made, this has been a very great factor in the elimination of serious blazes. The remaining five per cent, of forest conflagration is said to start with lightning. After an experience while on forest patrol duty, over the Alberta mountains, squadron leader Tudhope is of the opinion that lightning could start anything.
Flying into a violent thunder storm with his wireless telephone set in operation, the aerial was struck with lightning before he could get a chance to take it in. Instinctively, and at the moment he was hit, he switched off his engine. Then he lost consciousness. The machine planed steadily and perfectly and when he came to his senses a few minutes later he was only two hundred feet from the ground. Throwing on the ignition he climbed again to safety. It was not until he had the plane under control that he realized he was still wearing the telephone ear set and that it was burning and pricking his face. It was probably this fact that saved his life, for it was the scorching friction against his face and head that brought him to. When he attempted to pull off the set it was still so charged with electricity that it stuck to his hands and he had to knock it off against the side of the machine.
Danger from lightning has now been eliminated, however, and aerial telephones are used to great advantage in forestry work. Every patrol machine is now equipped with wireless telephones so that a pilot may keep in touch with his base during the whole of his flight. As a result of a great deal of experimental work, actual voice communication may be maintained from a plane in flight two hundred miles from the base. As yet, however, only one-way contact is possible. “And this has its advantages,” declared one pilot, “because it is the one time you can say what you like to headquarters and get away with it.”
Editor's Note: This is the second of a series of articles by Miss Bell on the work of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The third will appear in an early issue.