Vancouver to Montreal in 15 hours of cushioned speed and streamlined service — Canada's new national airway is off to a soaring start
HE WAS a stocky newspaperman with the round face and enquiring eyes of a well-matured cherub. During the hours our Trans-Canada Air Lines silver craft had borne us with sure and triumphant engine duet high over British Columbia mountains, purple prairie, and Eastern Canada lake and mining country, he had commented little. Now he stood in the carpeted aisle.
“It’s okay, this kind of flying,” he said. “Sure—but where’s the story? You get aboard; muffled motors do things; you read the papers, smoke, eat, chat; the stewardess hands you your hat, and you’re home. This isn’t my kind of flying. This—this—shucks!” he exploded, “where’s the story?”
The genial cherub had been a War pilot, later had covered the start of commercial flying in the West and North; he had played with barnstormers, gambled on weather, on fuel supply, on maintenance, on darkness closing down. Now here was the new in flying, in aircraft design, in airports, communications, radio beam, speed by day or night, all adding up to last-word passenger travel, the very precision and smoothness of which came as a rude jolt to him.
Today anyone can fly in comfort. Abruptness of climb, letdown, bank or turn, is eliminated. Relax in your favorite chair with the maid using the vacuum cleaner in an adjoining room, and you about have it, engine sound and all. Compare a ten-year-old car cm rutty roads with your present smooth-gaited motor job on tarvia; you have it again, the old and the new in flying. You may cross the Rockies with no greater sag or abrupt lift than in stepping on or off a curb; you will coast from 12,000 feet to twelve feet with as slight a vibration or sense of speed as in a limousine freewheeling to a stop. Cushioned speed guided above a world of cloud beauty with a sureness no homing pigeon could hope to emulate—there you have Trans-Canada Air Lines’ new service.
“A Long Smooth Glide”
THERE was no cloud beauty during the first leg of our flight. There were no clouds. From Winnipeg’s Stevenson Field, 1,169 miles westward to Vancouver’s Sea Island Airport, the sky was a clear dome, deep blue velvet pinked with a million stars at take-off, a crimson glory as an hour later the sun crawled sleepily to work over the rim of the world, and from then on a burnished chromium heaven matching the silver wings and inner luxury of our droning sky salon.
Already below us was Regina—a tracing of ground mist like a delicate chiffon veil intertwined with plumes of smoke forced from a thousand chimneys as citizens poured on the morning coal. A wide circle that required an almost imperceptible lowering of one wing, a long smooth glide, and air-cushioned wheels touched ground. We taxied forward, an even flow of power brought the craft around, and engines were cut. Passengers filed out for recess, pilots and stewardess strode to the dispatching room, white-uniformed figures transferred mail and express from holds to T.C.A. trucks, while a mechanical staff checked the big ship.
A twin-engined Prairie Airways craft was warming near by, ready for its branch mail hop to Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, North Battleford and Prince Albert, to connect at the latter point with bush-flying companies distributing mail in the North. Fifteen minutes, then down the long runway and off. Regina swam away, and two hours ahead lay Lethbridge.
Across the aisle a big man with reddish hair grinned. I returned his grin. We each knew what the other was thinking. Nine years earlier, as Inspector of Civil Aviation for Western Canada, A. D. McLean had made the first night flight ever completed between Moose Jaw and Calgary, a forerunner of the old Prairie Air Mail service. Representing Maclean’s, I had accompanied him, our ship a single-motored Fokker 14 with the then amazing speed of 100 miles an hour, our pilot, Eskimoclad, perched in an open cockpit near the tail. Our only guides that blizzardy night had been gas beacons at tenmile intervals, tireless in theory7, but they often did tire. No chance then to climb above sky muck. For a pilot to miss ground contact in dirty weather meant plowing around till he found it. No radio then to give weather reports or bearings en route, no friendly beam hum in his ears; only space and darkness whirling past his helmeted
head, and somewhere in his world a feeble spark of light that must be found.
Mucking through a wool blanket of blizzard that night in search of a beacon that seemed a million miles lost, our single engine coughed and conked. A lightning switch to an auxiliary fuel tank revived it as white and black ground shadows of snow and trees screamed toward us a scant 100 feet away.
Now, after nine years, we were flying together the same country, our speed 220 miles an hour, with A. D. McLean, Superintendent of Airways, Civil Aviation Branch, Department of Transport, lounging in a luxurious chair behind two engines, either of which could carry us over the Rockies, and waiting for a trim stewardess to bring his breakfast. Little wonder we grinned !
“This,” said Dan McLean, with a gesture that included not only the wonders of our new conveyance but every angle of operation, ground or air, “is what we aimed at then. It has materialized only through a lot of men doing a lot of work.”
“A lot of men doing a lot of work.” That’s putting it mildly. I thought of the story behind Trans-Canada Air Lines, its growth from early training of personnel to the inauguration of fast Coast-to-Coast mail, express, and passenger service, which has already been told in these pages. First came the vision, then the financing, then actual development. Ground facilities had to be provided - main airports suitable for fast plane operation, intermediate fields by the score and, in the Rockies, emergency fields only thirty-five miles apart. Radio ranges for ship guidance, meteorological stations, hangars, office buildings—all had a place in the scheme. Suitable aircraft had to be chosen and purchased, suitable pilot material found and trained in the science of transport work, engineering crews organized, radio “ops” lined up, office forces mobilized, schedules, express and passenger tariffs worked out.
Five executives came from established air lines in the United States, bringing with them many years experience in transport aircraft operation. Pilots were chosen, the majority long-experienced men from the ranks of bush fliers. When passenger service opened on April 1, TransCanada Air Lines had 423 employees, the figure including thirty-nine pilots and nineteen stewardesses, but not including Department of Transport radio and meteorological operatives from whom pilots receive their radiorange guidance and weather reports, or employees of the Canadian National Railways who handle secretarial, treasury, purchasing, medical, and advertising and publicity work.
“Not a Ripple on a Coffee Cup”
OUR CREW members west out of Winnipeg were Captain Jock Barclay, First Officer Ted Allan, and Stewardess Margaret Beeber. With pilots closed off for’ard, the duty of keeping passengers comfortable, happy and informed, devolves largely upon the stewardess. Before take-off, Miss Beeber was at the ticket counter, immaculate in the navy-blue T.C.A. stewardess uniform that ever will remain a credit to its designer, an ensemble to be replaced during summer months by a lighter material in blue-grey. Within minutes she knew each passenger and greeted him by name as he came aboard. She saw that seat belts were fastened and all smokes out for take-off, regulated cabin heat and ventilation, disposed of coats, hats and parcels, and adjusted seat backs to suit various anatomical types. In a rear compartment rested her medical kit, numbering among its many items settlers for any stomach that might seek revenge for ill-treatment accorded it by an overindulgent owner the night before. (And here, time out to note that in 5.000 miles of T.C.A. flying, weather good and not so good, with lists showing many íirst-flighters, I observed not a single case of air-sickness.)
“Will you have breakfast now?” Stewardess Beeber fitted a light tray across seat arms. Sturdy paper cups and bowls held orange juice, cereal, cream; individual glasspaper envelopes protected buttered rolls, sugar both lump and loose, and after-meal mints. There was a choice of fresh fruits, with coffee served from a special thermos equipped with an air-pressure release necessary when flying at high altitudes. Cigarettes and match folders with T.C.A. crest followed, for except during landings and take-off, smoking is general, air-conditioning freeing the cabin at once of any smoke or smoke odor. Gum-chewing had begun earlier, the same being recommended for any whose ears might feel change of altitude, precisely as during a motor-car descent of mountain roads. All the foregoing was of course “on the house,” for when you fly everything is included in the price of your ticket.
“Fair enough,” I remarked to Dan McLean, with breakfast disposed of. “Not a ripple on a coffee cup. This kind of flying looks good enough to me, but what’s the vision for the next five years?”
He was cautious. With world engineers working steadily, a thousand new angles may develop, for in aeronautics five years is a century. Bigger, faster ships with sleeper accommodation, are assured. Landing aircraft solely by
radio and automatic pilot, comfortable stratosphere flying at breathless speeds, new types of aircraft power plants, fog dispellers, week-ending in London from Canada a score of potentialities were discussed and returned to the possibility shelf. And there ahead was Lethbridge.
Not only Lethbridge. Beyond where the flatlands divided and became streamlined hills in readiness for their abrupt ascent to the Rockies, snow peaks were rowed far along, gleaming white and jagged as a wolf’s side teeth. Still beyond lay limitless mountain waves dotted with whitecaps, a blue, tumbling sea of peaks that dropjjed from sight behind the near white barrier as we completed our gradual letdown and slid to a sun-wanned earth at Kenyon Field; time 9.20 a.m.
Lethbridge was a busy port. Mail, express, and several of our passengers were transferred to the T.C.A. service touching Calgary, with terminus at Edmonton—a brief daytime jaunt of slightly over two hours. A second trip from Edmonton, by night, connects with Trans-Canada’s main-line East-West schedule at 10.10 p.m., and is back at its Northern terminus an hour after midnight. A businessman can leave Edmonton at seven o’clock in the morning, lunch in Vancouver at twelve o’clock noon, have a seven-
hour day there to transact business, and be back in Edmonton at one a.m. With bush-flying connections at Edmonton embracing the Yukon, the vast Mackenzie Basin, and other air-minded Northern areas, the Edmonton-Lethbridge line promises to pour a strong and steady stream of mail and passenger traffic into main-line channels.
Over the Rockies
LIKE A beautiful silver salmon with wings,” one of our * party described the sky ship as Stewardess Beeber invited us aboard for the Rockies crossing; and as if the tang of salt water ahead were an inspiration, our conveyance swam into a sunwashed sky. Ascent to a height of nearly three miles was gradual, but suddenly the tumbled terrain below lost its teeth and faded to a lumpy counterpane of haze-blue, patterned with valleys of deep purple and winding splashes of silver lake. Comparisons of explorers taking years to thread the maze, of steel pushed foot by foot through a hell of rock and hazard, had no place here. Such things, commendable in their time, now were merely part of a sordid earth while we moved through a new and glorious world of space. True, the old world was there should we need it such dots as Cranbrook, Nelson, and Okanagan towns, nestled in their tiny earth crevices or flanked by miles of fruit orchards—but there was no thought of that need. We had our own world, with shining sky ports like Mounts Baker and Rainier in the distance beckoning us on.
Far ahead, the Strait of Georgia, and beyond it Vancouver Island, grew into the picture. Beneath us as we coasted on a gradual descent was the Fraser Valley and a wild river with toy bridges, to the right Harrison Lake and near-by lesser lakes, waters varying in color from pea-soup green to deep indigo. Down, down we idled, following the Fraser River and an even patchwork of green farmsteads, then suddenly we were clear of the mountains and over w’ider waters dotted with the crawling commerce of the Pacific. Vancouver City, the inner harbor, Lions’ Gate Bridge like a jewelled crown, revolved slowly from sight; we circled the port for rumvay clearance and gentled down
to a smooth landing ten feet above actual sea level. On time, 11.35 a.m. to the minute.
Moored near by was the float-equipped Canadian Airways twin-engined Rapide, waiting to hoist mail and passengers across island-studded straits to Victoria, on T.C.A. contract. Trans-Canada Air Lines’ own trip was ready for its noon hoist through to Seattle, a service pioneered by Canadian Airways and acquired by T.C.A. in September, 1937. Mailbags and greetings flew, mechanics made ready to stable our silver steed, and passengers scattered by motor to the (lower-decked reaches of Canada’s third city.
/^\UR eastbound return schedule called for a 6.45 p.m.
take-off. C.A.L.’s Rapide, with Victoria mail posted at office closing, arrived at 6.20 p.m. The Seattle ship settled in five minutes later. At the office desk in the administration building, its passengers cleared their immigration and customs papers.
Captain Bruce Middleton, since gone overseas to Imperial Airways service, First Officer “Scotty” Moir, and Stewardess Florence Shanahan, manned our new craft,
identical with the other except for the "Fasten Belts, No Smoking” sign illuminated on the pilot compartment door before each take-off and letdown, which warning in this instance appeared both in English and French. The great ship had been groomed to a speckless finish, engines tuned to peak of performance, and with us into dusky space nxie that most reassuring combination of all good omens, a new rncxm over the left shoulder and a red-headed girl born a twin in the month of May.
Good-Omen Stewardess Shanahan distributed newspa x*rs and magazines and touched light buttons above each head as our tiny wing lights, one red, one green, winked their steady approach to the stars. Mountains now’ were a velvet shroud drawn over a lumpy earth, with the light glow' of valley towns seeping through scattered rents in the fabric. Already the old world seemed far away, the engine song a lazy lullaby, as from exhausts beneath each wing, flowing blue-green flame was nibbled off in chunks and sw'allowed by the night.
Threatening sleep was thwarted by a visit up ahead. Pilots sat in a maze of dials and levers, earphones adjusted, the captain gazing from a wide-view window, first officer busy alternately with radio dials above his head and a logbook across his knees. Control wheels stood idle as that marvel of gyroscopic and hydraulic principle, known officially as the automaticor gyro-pilot and to the boys simply as “George,” guided the great craft unerringly upon its radio-beam course. Ahead and far below showed a postage-stamp square of light, outlining a measure of ground, carefully prepared, actually enough and to spare for a big-ship emergency landing. We moved upon it, passed over at a height of 13,000 feet—a welcome haven when needed, tonight appealing vaguely only as a suitable setting for a gift finger ring.
A short two hours and thirty-five minutes for the eastbound Rockies crossing from Vancouver to Lethbridge, twenty-five minutes less than the westward flight scheduled into prevailing winds. Westbound ships fly at even altitudes, eastfxmnd at odd, as eleven, thirteen or fifteen thousand feet, with 11.000 the minimum height for a
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mountain crossing. What a few years back had loomed as the greatest barrier to Trans-Canada service had been passed in our stride, over an air route that, allowing a long easy climb from either mountain approach, is rated as America’s shortest, safest, and most natural Rockies passage.
We settled in over red boundary lights like strings of sjxMighted rubies, touched lightly in a crisscross maze of ground lamps, our wing floodlights sweeping ahead along the runway, spinning profiler discs outlined sharply against the reflected glow. A visit to the hangar, liquid sustenance for our conveyance from a grey and red gas truck with T.C.A. crest, adjustment of passengers and cargo occasioned by transfers and pickups from the Edmonton line, and once again our ship lifted clear, drew its round rubber feet snugly into its silver belly, and pointed eastward.
Somewhere in the night, food was served. Lamps were dimmed, seat backs lowered, and sleep descended while 300 miles of darkened prairie plain passed beneath. Almost immediately, it seemed, we were at ; Regina, rolling to the hangar through a ! ground garden of sleepy lights. Night air.
I hustling uniforms, drowsy farewells, and the city dropped away into blackness, leaving shaded cabin lights, the soft rush j of fresh air from breather inlets, and up ahead the soothing song of power and flowing sjx'ed . . . Another 300 miles that allowed barely time for a nap, and below us beckoned a greater sea of lights— Winnipeg, departed a brief twenty-two hours earlier, now an interlude in what i well might prove to have been only a ! dream.
ACTIVITY in waiting-room, dispatcher’s office, the great hangar flooded by weird blue-green mercury-vapor lamps, and blatting speakers of radio operators, soon dispelled the illusion. Groups of “airgineers” worked on several of the fourteen big ships Trans-Canada has in service, for Winnipeg is pivot point and operating headquarters for Trans-Canada. A large machine shop at the rear, with the most modern in machinery and instruments, shone in every corner. Beyond was the giant soundproofed tunnel where engines receive tests and an eight-hour run-in on the stand after each overhaul.
At Winnipeg, too, pilots have their test stand. Officially named the Link Trainer, known otherwise as the Jeep, a miniature airplane with standard cockpit and controls is mounted on a bellows pedestal, the whole electrically controlled by an operator seated at his desk. Hooded in, earphones in place, a pilot finds the radio-range hum there as in regular flights. He can practice any letdown procedure peculiar to any airport, the chart of that port being spread on the desk. A three-legged electric “crab” reproduces faithfully in red ink upon the chart every move of the pilot, each beam leg he crosses, his reaction when hit suddenly by turbulent weather, Jeep-generated. All pilots take regular refreshers on the Jeep, with Operator Pat Howard, backed by a special course taken at the Link factory, doing his best to stick them with problems far beyond those to be met in actual flight.
A loaded trip leaving an airport reflects
a variety of activity. Airgineers have been busy, individual experts on fuselage, radio, instruments, propellers, motor parts, landing gear, controls. Rule number one in the T.C.A. manual calls for strict observance of three items, listed in order of importance: A. Safety; B. Comfort of passengers; C. Speed and regularity of schedules. Weather plays a big part in operation. Pilots and stewardess are on the job one hour before departure time. In the Meteorological Bureau, weather maps are ready, compiled from information gathered all along the route. Wind currents have been mapped from the reported behavior of large balloons released and observed through instruments at various points in Canada. Taking into consideration present weather, indicated weather, helping or unfavorable winds at different altitudes, pilots, weatherman and dispatcher go into their huddle to decide on a flight plan, and an alternate flight plan, which information goes out by radio to all stations and airports en route.
Meanwhile the traffic department is busy. Mail, express, baggage and passengers must be checked. Advices go forward by radio regarding load and where stowed in the ship, for the information of handlers at each call point. A passenger manifest is forwarded, listing seats taken, those to be vacated, and those available for reservation. Even in loading, nothing is left to chance. An aircraft has a centre of gravity or balance, at which it gives its best performance. The Librascope, a compact
panel of many knobs and dials, accepts weights of fuel, passengers, mail, express, and their disposition as listed on load slips, and shows on a dial the actual centre of gravity. Necessary changes are made and the sky ship is perfectly trimmed, its trimmer no closer to it than within faint earshot of its warming engines. In the stewardess department, food and supplies are loaded under supervision of HeadStewardess Lucille Garner and her first aide, Pat Eccleston, co-workers in the handling of stewardess training, which included an initial chore of choosing seventeen stewardesses from over 1,700 applications.
Muck and Murk
OUR eastbound flight plan, leaving Winnipeg at 3.55 a.m., with Captain Kelly Edmison, First Officer Jim Follett, and Stewardess Sheila Neil as crew, called for a cruise of three hours and thirty minutes above 5,000 feet of heavy overcast to Kapuskasing, passing ports at Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Wagaming, Nakina and Pagwa. Again we left the lighted city, this
time abruptly, as at 1,500 feet we met the cloud ceiling and eased up through moist darkness toward open sky somewhere above. Now the world was surely lost to us, no ground, no sky, only our snug salon and the steady drum of flowing power.
Recollections persisted of cloud flying in aircraft of earlier years, of pilots coming out of it to find their craft in a spin or cavorting merrily upon its back. One look at the instrument panel up ahead and such thoughts faded. Gyro instruments told the pilot at a glance whether his ship was climbing, gliding, banking, descending, or on the level; they gave him his course or rate of turn, while the first officer conversed cheerfully with the ground, a complete stand-by radio set at his disposal if ever required. Climbing at 400 feet a minute, our brief cloud passage ended with ragged grey fingers of mist clawing along the windows, and above us was clear sky with winking stars.
Two hours above the cloud floor, flying to meet daylight, and suddenly the sun bounced over the cloud horizon, a flaming ball of light and warmth. A period of pinkcloud world shimmering below us, then we slanted down, to sink slowly beneath its surface into murky depths hiding our destination. Again brief minutes, and the world lightened to show trees and water below, roadways, isolated houses, our first sight of the earth in over three hours. We made an easy circle of tall chimneys belching smoke, and settled on the airport near the paper-making town of Kapuskasing.
“Two-hour layover till weather allows the trip to clear Montreal for North Bay,” the dispatcher decreed. Taxis whisked the passenger load a mile to the hotel, home of papertown employees during winter and of Northern tourists in summer. Courtesies extended by hotel staff and citizens made our stay all too short, then up again through the clouds, a season of bright sunshine missed by those on the earth, and another long slant, riding the beam unerringly through muck and murk to an airport wrested only after tremendous work from rough country adjacent to North Bay.
Here the T.C.A. building was crowded— spectators, passengers from two ships, uniformed crews, ground staff. Stewardess Neil of our Toronto trip, and Annette Brunelle of the Montreal, shepherded their respective flocks, checked baggage and parcel transfers, arranged for those wishing to advise friends ahead by wire of arrival time. Within months, transfer points would extend to include cargo and passengers for Moncton in the Maritimes, and proposed lines to Windsor and Buffalo serving Southern Ontario and looping to Montreal.
Another hour in the air, lake and evergreen country, a solid checkerboard of green fields, trees neatly rowed, clean farmsteads, wriggly snake fences, then Malton Airport, greetings, farewells, and a bowling over smooth roadways through suburban Toronto to city centre.
Vancouver-Toronto on daily schedule in fourteen hours, Vancouver-Montreal in fifteen hours, including stops en route; mail and express hoisted days ahead. Sky magic, to be sure! A friend leaving Vancouver by train Sunday evening within minutes of your take-off time would r^uch Toronto Thursday morning, as compared with your Monday noon arrival. You could spend a business day in the East, fly back to the Pacific Coast, have an afternoon for business there and be back in Toronto or Montreal still eighteen hours before his Thursday morning arrival. Your office mail and express receives the same fast carriage.
■pXPENSIVE, you say? Cost of flying " Trans-Canada Air Lines is six cents a mile, ten per cent reduction when you purchase a return fare. VancouverToronto by air, all first-class, costs $130.90,
including meals, as against your friend’s first-class rail fare of $76.24, plus $22.30 for a lower berth and a menu minimum of $8 for meals, a total of $106.54. Rating your time saved as a businessman or vacationist at only $8 a day, the two fares balance. The thrill of flying costs you nothing, and if your time is worth more, that’s velvet. Air travel today is not a costly service, as witness the situation at Lethbridge. Train fare LethbridgeVancouver, plus bertli and meals, is $42.70; plane fare is $30.05. By plane you take three hours; by train, thirty-six hours. If you take train day coach and pack a lunch, your ticket costs you $30.05; you can fly for exactly that amount.
Leaving Toronto with its diadems, crescents, and looping strings of light at 10.30 p.m., and arriving in Winnipeg, square-cut gateway to the plains at 5.20 a.m., the overnight trip westward was one of tilted chairs, dimmed lights and engine lullaby. Our crew personnel was the same, fresh from a night and day in Toronto, with a three-day layover awaiting them at Winnipeg. Connection with the Montreal ship was made at North Bay;
and from then on there was a full cabinload to be fed, belted, unbelted, and kept comfortably tucked in their woolly rugs by the ever solicitous stewardess. Kapuskasing gave us fuel, brightly lighted air fields passed below us in the night, and we coasted to a jarless landing on Winnipeg’s Stevenson Field at journey’s end.
Service! There was the answer to our genial cherub's query, “Where’s the story?’’ Dawn, brought with us from the East, soon would tinge mountains to the West. At isolated points across the Dominion silver ships were being towed into hangars, their night’s job done. Already wilderness fliers, those pioneers of Canada’s network of air routes, were leaving on daylight runs, bearing to far corners of the Northland freight cargo and their share of His Majesty’s Mail.
Fast service within our own land today, soon to extend beyond our shores. Transocean mail is in the offing, and across the broad Atlantic statesmen nod approval. The Lady of the Snows is on the job, her link in the great Empire chain is ready. With men, equipment, and ground facilities second to none, Canada Flies !