Air Observer School
I was born at home on my father's farm two miles east of the village of Rocanville, Saskatchewan on March 17, 1923. My mother, a feisty red-haired widow, had emigrated along with two daughters from London, England to Canada, where she met my father John Edwin (Eddie) Dumville, a steady local farmer who was charmed by her. Emily was worried about her girls being accepted by a new step-father, but Eddie said, 'Emily, marry me and I will always treat the girls as my own.' She did, and he did. You can read about them and see their pictures elsewhere on this Web site.
The transcanada air route passed by a few miles to the south, and the 'mailplane' was occasionally heard in the distance, droning its way across the country. When it strayed close enough to be seen, it invariably evoked a stampede out of house or school for a clearer view. 'Mother,' I reportedly said, 'when I grow up I'm going to become a pilot and fly you to England to visit your family.' I did the first, but not the second.
I was about twelve years old when I got my first close-up look at an aeroplane when a barnstorming pilot landed near our village giving rides for five dollars. Of course I did not have five dollars but my indulgent father supplied the money and the thrill of a lifetime!
School years were affected by depression and drouth but thanks to a hard working and prudent father we did not suffer as many did. I completed high school, and then attended machinist training and went off to Montreal, Quebec to work in a factory manufacturing field guns. A year later and now considered old enough for aircrew training, I returned home and joined the RCAF.
I reported to Manning Pool in June 1942 and entered the aircrew training pipeline. It involved:
Manning Pool, Brandon, Manitoba: learn the rules, marching and saluting.
Initial Training School (ITS), Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: learn the basics of aviation, get tested on the Link Trainer, and be selected as a pilot, navigator or bomb aimer.
Elementary Flying Training, School (EFTS), Virden, Manitoba: ground school and some forty hours' flight training on the Tiger Moth. The fun stuff! First solo was the highlight and it usually came after six to eight hours dual instruction. Unsuccessful candidates were released soon after that. For me, six hours and then eight hours came and went with no explanation from my flight instructor. I was in the throws of despair when at eight hours I made an unusually bad landing and had to recover and go around and land again. After that, my instructor proceeded to get out of the aircraft and say in his usual gruff manner, 'that was awful. Youíre getting worse instead of better and too dangerous for me to fly with. Go fly by yourself,' and stalked off. I was uncertain whether this meant fly solo or pack your bags but decided this my only chance, so off I went. After graduation with good results, I had enough confidence to ask why the delay in first solo. His reply was that a student had to demonstate the ability to recover from a bad landing. It had taken eight hours for me to make a bad landing to recover from. (Why didn't he say so earlier? I could have bounced one for him.)
Service Flying Training School (SFTS), Yorkton, Saskatchewan: more ground school and some one hundred and seventy hours' flight time in the twin engine Cessna Crane. Graduation June 1943. My mother and father attended the graduation parade with my mother pinning on my wings.
On graduation I was transferred to No. 2 Air Observer School in Edmonton, Alberta, as a staff pilot ferrying military students of all nations on their training exercises. Air Observer Schools were run by local companies and operated by mostly civilian personnel. The pilots were civil pilots, mostly veterans of bush flying, airline operation or flying clubs, and in very short supply. To ease the shortage, I and a few other recent RCAF graduates were seconded to and paid by the operating company, Canadian Airlines. It was most interesting to hear their stories but it did look incongruous to see them mixing with twenty-year-olds like myself (who looked about sixteen), all dressed in the same airline captains' uniform. In December 1944 I was transferred to No. 7 AOS in a similar capacity, and by June 1944 the system was starting to wind down. In March 1945 I was released back to the RCAF and discharged.
Grandpa, how did you meet Grandma? Every Grandpa gets asked that question, I am sure. My answer is that the first morning after Jim Cameron, a long time buddy, and I were transferred to Portage la Prairie, we were eating at the local snack bar. I nudged Jim and said, 'did you see that girl across the way?' He looked and said, 'thatís little Ruthie Flock, a friend of my family!' and rushed off. I waited for a few minutes and followed him. When he could not ignore me any longer, he introduced us. One year and one month later we were married.
At the end of the war there was no market for any pilots who did not have five thousand hours on four-engine types, so I attended the SAIT (Training Institute) in Calgary for two years. Then we moved, now three of us, home to Regina, Saskatchewan where I worked as an electrical technician until 1951.
By 1951 the Cold War had heated up, and the RCAF offered re-enlistment to former aircrew as pilots, air traffic controllers and fighter controllers. For reasons that I do not fully understand even now, I applied for air traffic control rather than pilot, and was accepted. It is a decision that I never regretted. After training in Grand Bend, Ontario, I spent the next four years as a tower controller at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and Gimli, Manitoba. It was challenging work with large numbers of training aircraft (Harvards and T33s). In my spare time I requalified on Harvards and got in all the flying time I wanted doing minor flight tests. I also was taken on one memorable ride in a T33 by a friend and allowed to fly it for a while. He offered to check me out if I would take a week's pre-training. Common sense made me decline albeit with regret, but this was too much aircraft to be flown by a part-time pilot.
We, now with four children, left Gimli in 1955 on posting to RCAF HQ, Ottawa. Initially the job was to handle the reports, complaints and procedures which followed the the tragic mid-air collision over Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan between an RCAF training Harvard and a TCA airliner. As that part of the job subsided, the job expanded to include writing and amending the military equivalent of the civilian air traffic control manual, handling other complaints, and arranging approval for civil aircaft to land at military airports. Of all the jobs I held while in the RCAF, this job was the one I enjoyed the least, but probably it was the one that taught me the most, at least administratively. Off the job, we enjoyed Ottawa and also acquired camping gear and used it extensively.
In 1959 I was transferred to No. 2 F Wing Gros Tonquin, France, as an airport controller and terminal controller within our assigned area. The job was demanding but rewarding what with the implications of individual aircraft safety and the role of the Wing and NATO. Aside from some tense moments when either side was flexing muscle, the tour was sheer magic. We had a comfortable PMQ (Married Quarters). Every amenity possible was provided on base, ie Canadian schools, medical facilities, store, snack bar, skating rink. In addition most of the American facilities were open to us. Cheap tax-free gas and availability of European campgrounds opened the whole continent to those of us with camping gear.
In 1963 I was transferred to Camp Borden as an ATC Instructor, and subsequently Chief Instructor of the ATC School. This School was where all Canadian Forces ATC personnel were given classroom and simutator training. Here we also acquired twin boys, but the two older children left for University in Calgary. (Note by this time the RCAF and the Army had been combined under the name Canadian Forces.)
In 1968 I was transferred to CFB Namao, Edmonton in charge of the Flight Planning Center and control tower. In 1969, one year later, having reached the compulsory release age for my trade and rank, I was superannuated.
Superannuated is not to be confused with retired. It sometimes means, as in this case, released at a certain age with a pension too small to live on at a time when your expenses are highest. But not to worry. Those twenty-five years spent in administration, training, flying and controlling had imparted certain skills still in demand by the Department of Transport. I applied and was accepted in the civil air traffic control branch and sent to Windsor, Ontario control tower to check out and become licensed. One year later I applied for and won a position as instructor in the DOT ATC School in Ottawa. I may have changed hats, but here I was on the same track, well started in a new career.
Another great opportunity came to me after two or three years at the ATC School. The Department needed to replace worn out equipment, and the modern replacement in radar, communications, and data handling were all computer driven. But computer systems specialists and air traffic controllers simply did not speak the same language so the department contracted for three courses to teach selected employees the basics of automation. I was fortunate in being selected for that course and was fascinated by it.
However, the trained personnel moved on to other jobs and there was a need to train their replacements. It was deemed desirable to do this in-house, so another instructor and myself along with a computer consultant became an Automation School within the ATC school. By attending a university course on a part-time basis, and by dint of much coaching by our computer consultant, we were able to keep a step ahead of the students. In fact this introductory automation training was an unqualified success.
As the new equipments were selected and delivery dates approached, the Automation School was expanded to train selected controllers to use this new equipment This involved installation of training systems at the school, development of the training courses, and delivery of the training.
In 1977 the position of Supervisor of Technical Training was established at Ministry of Transport HQ to oversee the training requirements and delivery of training for new and proposed equipment within the ATC system. I filled that position until I retired in 1986.
In 1986, at sixty-three years of age with twenty-five pensionable years with the Canadian Forces and seventeen years with the Government, I was needed more at home than at work, so I retired. Seventeen more years have passed since then but I remain just as busy with my PC, genealogy research, walking club and summertime lawn bowling club.