Back on civvy street I set about opening a hobby shop in Vancouver, unfortunately on a shoestring. But it was a good way to return to life after the nastiness in England.
I made a number of long-term friends through my shop and had some great model flying experiences including winning a number of scale model contests.
My Fleet Model
Making the local newspaper
At one point I decided to try my hand at learning to fly a real airplane so I went out to Vancouver Airport. All I could afford was one half hour of dual instruction on a Cessna 140 and that was the extent of my official flying instruction until years later. But the day would come when an opportunity arose for me to test my ability as a pilot with no official training other than that one half hour. As my story unfolds you’ll learn how that came about.
After closing out my hobby shop and rattling around for a time, I got married. While admitting to my Dad that I had no idea of how I was going to support a wife he suggested that I rejoin the Air Force. Steady income and a pension at the end! Following his advice I found myself at the Manning Depot in Aylmer, Ontario with a new career as an Airframe Technician.
While settling in I met up with two young recruits who, after some discussion on my past experiences around airplanes, owned up to the fact that they were the proud owners of a Tiger Moth. The two kids, Claude, 18 and Carl, 17 had bought the Moth for 400 dollars and had it in a hangar at Aylmer Airport which was inactive at the time. Claude stated he had about four hours dual on a Fleet Canuck, while Carl had never been up in an airplane. They wondered if I would care to check them out on the Moth.
The kids’ Tiger Moth CF-CKA
Initially I was somewhat stunned. Who, me? My first thought was, “Talk about the blind leading the blind!” But then a second thought struck me – it was a perfect opportunity to see if I could actually fly an airplane. There was no active flying at Aylmer and on weekends the place was deserted. Why not? Okay, I’d never had any dual on a Tiger Moth or dual on any airplane except for that one half hour just after the war. “So what?” I said to myself. I was convinced I could pull it off.
I was 25 years old and bullet proof.
In preparation I tried to dig up any handling notes on the Moth but came up with nothing. Reaching back in my mind to when I was a kid I remembered conversations with pilots who flew the Fleet and decided that since the Moth was similar to the Fleet – if I kept the airspeed above 60 miles per hour at all times I would avoid stalling the airplane. Then I suppose my experience with the Link Trainer kicked in as I set about plotting exactly how I would fly a circuit…or, putting it more bluntly, how I would perform MY FIRST SOLO FLIGHT!
The day before the flight I checked the aircraft thoroughly and was satisfied it was serviceable. The night before the flight I mentally reviewed my plan until it was burned into my brain. The runway faced due east. So, take off and maintain a heading of 090 to one thousand feet. Airspeed above 60 at all times! Level off and make a rate one turn onto a heading of due North. Hold that for approximately one minute and then another rate one turn to a reciprocal of my takeoff heading for my downwind leg. (See? My short time on the Link in England was coming into play.) Then try to judge when best to turn base leg and final. This last part of my flight plan was, I admit, a little vague.
Came the big day. I arrived at the airport, twenty five years old, with a brand new wife in tow who was totally unaware that she could very shortly become a widow.
Rounding the corner of the hangar there sat the Moth, engine ticking over, with the two eager kids grinning from ear to ear. I stated that I would take Claude along for the first flight being as how he had a lofty four hours of dual under his belt. I briefed him on my plan for a circuit, saying that I would do the takeoff and I would hand over to him on the climb out. I stressed the need to keep the airspeed above 60 miles per hour. All seemed to be in order so off we went.
Somehow while taxiing out I managed to remember the weird braking system and arrived at the button of 090. There was no wind, the sky was clear. As I advanced the throttle I was immediately aware of the torque trying to swing the Moth to the right. With lots of left rudder the aircraft rolled straight and before I knew what was happening we were airborne! As I glanced down to the left I noticed with a gasp that we had lifted off at half throttle. Immediately punching on full throttle I let the Moth settle into a climb, holding it at 60 miles an hour while thinking, “There’s only one person can get me down safely now and that’s me!” Oddly enough I don’t remember feeling unduly concerned.
Then it was time to let Claude have a crack at it. It only took a moment before I had to start hollering, “Watch your airspeed! Maintain the compass heading!” In short order it was obvious that Claude couldn’t read more than one instrument at a time.
I completed the climb and the first turn. Then turned downwind where I handed it back to Claude. He was “all over the sky”. I yelled that I would do the landing and turned onto final for the shock of my life! That runway looked so tiny! Well, yes, I was still at one thousand feet and fairly close in. No wonder the runway looked so small. But, hey, I’d never been taught the finer points of circuits so what did I know? Solution: throttle back, stuff the nose down, aim for the near end of the runway and hold my breath. Coming over the threshold I realized I had a slight bit of drift on but was not about to disturb anything. As we touched down in a three point attitude the Moth drifted gradually to the right which brought us off the runway onto the grass at which point we went into a very gentle ground-loop, the left wing just kissing the grass.
As we taxied back in I decided I needed to have another go at it without the ground-loop.
Jumping out of the cockpit and leaving the engine running I had a nervous cigarette and stated my intention to do another circuit.
The second and the third circuits were essentially the same as the first except, believe it or not, both were completed with three point landings with no drifting off the runway. When I finally climbed out of the Moth I made it clear that I was quitting while I was ahead. But Claude wasn’t about to give up. He stated that he would take his partner, Carl, up for a flight!
I was immediately very concerned, convinced that Claude had no real idea of how to handle the Moth, or any airplane for that matter. I tried to dissuade him but he was adamant. As they prepared to taxi out I cautioned Claude to mind the torque and use lots of left rudder on take-off.
I was very afraid at this point and stated to my wife that we’d best leave.
But curiosity got the better of me and I paused by the edge of the hangar as Claude started to open the throttle. Almost immediately the torque took hold and started to swing the aircraft across the runway. I couldn’t believe my eyes as he kept opening the throttle even while the plane was at right angles to the runway and bouncing across the grass. Still he kept pouring on the power until finally the Moth gave up and went into a vicious ground loop, crumpling the lower left wing. Finally Claude pulled the power and the poor Tiger Moth slumped back on its wheels.
As the dust started to clear I noticed a car approaching from the far end of the runway and I hurried myself and wife off the scene, mainly concerned with the possibility of running afoul of the Department of Transport.
As it turned out it was only a curious spectator wondering what was going on so I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Since that day I’ve been more than aware that had those two kids got the Moth off the ground they would have killed themselves. There is no doubt in my mind. And here’s the punch line. They had told me of their plans to fly the Moth home for Christmas…to Nova Scotia! They even showed me the Esso road map they planned to use.
Kate and I eventually learned that the damaged Moth was sold for 150 dollars to Bob Pettus of the St. Thomas Flying Club. We’ve been in contact with Bob who said that after he replaced the left wing panel the club used the airplane for some time and found it to be a sweet handling machine. I can attest to that.
But, to this day I often shake my head, wondering how I ever got away with it.
After “dicing with death” in the Tiger Moth, a posting to Calgary Repair Depot was my induction into life as an Air Force mechanic where I was involved in fabric work on Norsemans and repainting Harvards. Then on to Claresholm and maintaining Harvards in cold hangars until I was posted to the School of Instructional Technique at Trenton. While at Trenton I was treated to a T33 flight with one of my former hobby shop friends. From there to Camp Borden as an Airframe instructor on F86 Sabres.
While at Borden I was called upon to do technical drawings of Sabre components which prompted me to remuster to Graphic Arts. A stint at Air Force Headquarters in Ottawa set me up very nicely to leave the Air Force and seek fame and fortune on the west coast as a civilian Commercial Artist. But before leaving Ontario I learned to fly officially and obtained a Private Pilot’s license with Bradley Air Services at Carp.
Chapter Four of “The Life & Times of Glenn Mathews” tomorrow