At age 11, while living with my Grandparents, I would drive my grandmother to distraction by leaping up from the dinner table every time I heard an airplane flying over the house. My Father encouraged my enthusiasm by enrolling me in a model airplane club where I was to hone my skills as a model builder and actually win third place in my first flying model contest. Years later I wound up as President of the Vancouver Gas Model Club and won a number of scale contests.
At age 13 my Dad came through again with a birthday present of my first airplane ride. The airplane was a tired old Brunner Winkle “Kinner” Bird…
(Courtesy Elwood White)
…and the pilot was Clancy whose name I would see on a bill board every time I rode my bike to the airport. “Fly with Clancy!” the sign said and I always pictured Clancy as a tall, dashing aviator.
But that first flight will always remain in my memory as a magical moment. I didn’t know at the time that only two years later I’d be doing maintenance on that very airplane.
At age15 I entered the magical world of real airplanes, being allowed to work “for free” with Foggin Flying Service, a small collection of light aircraft, from the beautiful Fleet 2 to the clunky old “Kinner” Bird to a couple of Luscombe Silvaires.
(Courtesy Elwood White)
I was to enjoy many flights in those airplanes with guys who were putting in time for their Commercials. After about six months I was taking home the grand sum of two dollars a week. But, heck, I was in seventh heaven. That delightful time ended when my boss, Len Foggin, spun in inverted in the little Fleet.
From there I worked briefly with Canadian Airways on De Havilland Rapides and a Waco cabin, all on floats. Then Canadian Pacific Airlines Overhaul on Bolingbrokes and Lockheed Electras.
Next came an invitation to work on Tiger Moths and Stearmans at 31 EFTS at DeWinton in Alberta when I was 17. So I hopped in my 28 Chev coupe and, after picking up three hitchhiking soldiers, slammed over the Big Bend highway between Revelstoke and Golden, arguably the worst piece of pot-holed dirt road in the universe, and on to Calgary. How that old car stood the pounding on that road I’ll never know!
With winter coming on it was cold work servicing dozens of Moths and Stearmans. I often wonder what happened to all those wonderful airplanes.
(Me and DeWinton Stearmans)
Immediately on turning eighteen I hung up my greasy old coveralls and visited the recruiting office in Calgary to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, eager to fight the good fight as a pilot. No such luck. Showing an aptitude for other things, I was designated a Wireless Operator Air Gunner and endured bags of torture trying to learn Morse code at #3 Wireless School in Calgary, eventually achieving a speed of 30 words per minute.
From Calgary it was on to Bombing and Gunnery School at Dafoe, Saskatchewan where I was to make close friends with Bruce “Dad” McLennan, a big, fun loving blond kid from Gull Lake, Saskatchewan. Bruce had an older brother, Ian, serving as a fighter pilot in the desert. Nearing the end of our gunnery course I was sitting in a gun turret blasting away at gophers when there came a loud banging on my turret doors. Sliding the doors open I was greeted by an outburst of shouting, “We’re posted, we’re posted!” Bruce was yelling as he jumped up and down. Where to? I asked. With a big grin, Bruce said, “We’re going overseas!” Somehow I couldn’t share his enthusiasm, having read some of the accounts of aircrew losses in Europe.
Chapter Two of “The Life & Times of Glenn Mathews” tomorrow.