Historical Aircraft

CFB Rivers – A Collection of Anecdotes


F/O Gerry McKenna and myself, both “sprog” pilots with 123 Search and Rescue Flight, then based at RCAF Station Sea Island BC, were selected (without our consent) to attend the Helicopter Conversion Flight at CJATC Rivers commencing on 3 April 1950.  I was not too happy about being selected because I’d just completed the 2.5 month Flying Boat School course on the 6 January and I had enjoyed flying the Canso. I also liked flying the Dakotas, Lancasters, Expediters and the Ventura that were also on strength with the unit. In addition there was a rumour going around the Flight that if you became qualified on helicopters, you wouldn’t be allowed to fly fixed wing aircraft.

The helicopter course was supposed to last 2 months but, in actual fact,  it  lasted until 27 June or a total of 3.5 months.  The reason it took that long was because, in early May, the Red River overflowed its banks causing major flooding and, on 11 May, all the helicopters, two Bell-47Ds and two Sikorsky S-51s and their pilots, including our instructor, F/L Bob Heaslip, were sent to the Winnipeg to assist with rescue duties.

By that date, Gerry and I had just about completed the Bell-47D portion of the course and, in fact on the 10 May, we were tasked to carry out a mutual flight completing all the various sequences that we had been taught. After I’d finished my 45-minute portion of the flight, I landed in a farmer’s field and exchanged seats with Gerry. His trip went well until he backed off the throttle to commence his last exercise, an auto-rotation, and the engine quit. Fortunately, he made an excellent landing into a nice soft snowdrift and no damage was done.

With all the helicopters gone, Captain Joe Liston, one of the few remaining pilots offered  to check us out on the fixed-wing, Army aircraft , the Austers and DHC-1 Chipmunks.  We didn’t have any restrictions on where we could fly, so, on the 19th May, I flew DHC-1 #18002 to Saskatoon, my home town, and Gerry was to fly it back to Rivers.  However, when he returned to pick me up on the 23 May, he told me that on the way back to Rivers in #18002, he’d had to make an emergency landing because of low oil pressure. This time we made sure that servicing at RCAF Station Saskatoon checked the oil.  I had another memorable flight during that period with Capt. Percy Davis on a “moose-counting’ flight over Riding Mountain Park in an Auster during which we never once rose above 200 ft. I guess the theory was that at that elevation by the time the moose saw us coming they didn’t have time to  go and hide.


Rivers was a very busy field in the 1950s and, in addition to helicopters, there was a tactical squadron flying P-51 Mustangs and Harvards plus a  Dakota unit carrying out supply and live -para drops, as well as towing Waco gliders full of troops and/or equipment. The most spectacular exercise carried out by that unit was the “snatch” of  the stationary Waco gliders by an airborne Dakota taking them from zero to full  flying speed in only a few hundred meters

The floodwaters in Southern Manitoba finally subsided and the helicopters returned to Rivers, and on the 27 June we recommenced our course.  The Bell-47D portion consisting of a          30-minute dual check ride and then a one hour solo refresher flight was completed on that date.  The next day we started our instruction on the much larger Sikorsky S-51. The weather remained good from then until three weeks later when the course was completed.

There were only three incidents that happened during that period that I still remember. The first was on my initial S-51 solo, when, after Bob Heaslip had exited the aircraft,  my right boot caught on something just as I pulled up on the collective and I consequently did a complete 360-left turn before I freed my foot and was able to apply right rudder pressure. I’m sure Bob thought that I was being a smart ass. The second was on a cross country flight when Gerry and I got cut off by a thunderstorm that was so severe that it twisted the airframe, causing the large left front window, that was held in with a large rubber seal, to dislodge. Fortunately, I was able to grab the window before it got blown away and hold onto it, while I carried out an emergency landing.  At one point, after we had landed, the wind shifted 90 degrees and threatened to flip the chopper on its side so I got out and laid over the into-wind main undercarriage wheel. I got soaked to the skin but once the storm passed we were able to start up and fly back to base. Fortunately there wasn’t any hail. The third incident was on the 19 July and I was completing my final exercise, the lifting of a 150 lb dummy  by the hoist which was operated by a crewman sitting in the back seat next to the door. Gerry who had finished his 30 minutes of hoistings was sitting next to the crewman.  I had just picked up the dummy for my final lift and started downwind at about 200ft when the engine quit.  Somehow, I managed to complete a successful auto-rotation and as the blades were slowing down I looked at the fuel selector, which was hidden under the pilot’s seat, and discovered that instead of it being selected to both, where we always positioned it, it was selected to the forward tank.  Since Gerry was the one who did the start-up, then this near accident was also his fault. Gerry went on to be involved in so many accidents in cars and with trains and planes during his career either as the driver or pilot or just as a passenger that a book could be written about all his misadventures

While we were undergoing our training at Rivers, North Korea attacked South Korea and Canada agreed to provide forces to help man the UN contingent being sent to expel the invaders. We thought that they would require helicopters there and maybe we might look forward to seeing a different part of the world. Our fixed wing Army instructor, Captain Joe Liston, did get sent over to Korea as an observer flying Austers and he was shot down and taken prisoner. I heard that he was such an obnoxious and uncooperative prisoner that, when the armistice was finally signed, the Korean / Chinese guards were only too happy to get rid of him!

The previous rumour that chopper pilots would not be allowed to fly fixed wing was definitely dispelled when, three weeks later on the 8 August I found myself at Seba Beach, Alberta commencing the Float Conversion course on the Norseman. One of my fellow students on that course was Jack Woodman who, a few years later, became the only RCAF pilot to fly the Arrow.

By Dan Campbell

I arrived at Rivers in August 1963 as a brand new F/O and Radio Officer having graduated from ANS, Winnipeg, in March and having just completed the North Star and C-119 Operational Training Unit (OTU) course at Trenton. I don’t remember the exact date, but that afternoon as I was settling into my room, working on a “40 oz Bacardi” that I’d picked up on the OTU trip to Thule Air Force base in Greenland and listening to the radio I heard that the Red Knight of the day had just killed himself by flying into the ground during an air show at Gimli. Bob Kanngiesser found me there later that afternoon, he had just landed on return from a flight to Bermuda, and joined in on the rum; we have been friends ever since.

I had been posted to the Transport Support Flight (TSF) at Rivers, which was actually a detachment of 435 Squadron Namao, north of Edmonton. There were a number of wartime air crew on the flight that I was in awe of. Some of these aircrew were: the Flight Commande,r S/L Paul Bissky, DFC, who had flown Typhoons; pilots F/L “Johnny” Johnson, DFC and Bar, who had flown Mosquitoes on 418 Sqn and I think made one of the first Mosquito bombing runs on Berlin, F/L “Bugs” McBain who flew Spitfires on Malta, F/Ls“Herby” Herbert and Del Mooney, both of whom were in Bomber Command. Del had been shot down and became a prisoner of war and had been on the forced march west ahead of the advancing Russian army at the end of the war. F/L Doug Cove, ex-RAF, was the Nav-leader and F/L Bob Lashley, was the RO- Leader or “Rad Dad”. They were both ex-Bomber Command veterans as was F/L Doug Trick, DFC, another nav. Other pilots, that I remember being there at the time, were F/Ls Fred Tobey, John Moore, ex-RAF who had trained in Canada, Ralph McArthur who had been in the PPCLI during the Korean war, Tom McNamara, Frank Fay, Doug MsQueen, and F/O Herb “Tex” Ritter, who had been a kid in Duisburg, Germany during the war and remembered being bombed by the Allies (He later became a 747 captain with Air Canada). The other navs were F/L Jeff Spikings and F/Os George McCreadie and Don Lueger. Besides Bob Kanngiesser and myself, the other R/Os were F/Os John Hanlon and Bill Feltham.


The TSF was equipped with four C-119Gs and its main role was to provide air support to the army’s airborne and air support schools, so we spent hours over the drop zones at Rivers and Shilo. We did occasionally break out of the circuit and do freight runs across the country. On 23 November 1963, I was on a freight run from Rivers, Winnipeg, Cold Lake and back to Rivers with Frank Fay and Doug McQueen when over northern Saskatchewan with the ADF tuned to CKBI radio in Prince Albert, when we heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated.


In the spring of 1964, when flying operations out of CFB Rockcliffe, were terminated 408 Squadron’s Lancasters were retired and they were re-equipped with C-47s for photo reconnaissance and moved to Rivers. We then became the 408 Sqn’s “Heavy” flight.


In those days, the single teachers lived in the officer’s quarters and hung out in the mess. The first day of school in the fall of 1964 this neat little blonde showed up in the dining room for breakfast; we were engaged 6 weeks later and married the next summer.  After close to 51 years and 4 kids and 8 grand kids later, we are still together.


That was about the time our C-119s were taken out of service and put in storage at Saskatoon and we were given the four C-130Bs that had been at 435 Sqn. They were later replaced there by the new C-130Es that were coming into service. As well as the normal para work then we had weekly service flights hauling 104 engines from the supply depot at Downsview to the wings in Europe- Marville, Zweibrucken and Baden Soellingen. In early 1966, we participated in “Arctic Express”, the first NATO exercise in Northern Norway.  In June 1966, the 408 Sqn “Heavy” Flight was shut down; the aircraft went to the OTU in Trenton, and the aircrew were divided between 436 Sqn at Uplands and 435 Sqn at Namao.  I went to Namao for another 5 years of Herc flying and later, after cross training as a nav, had another tour on Hercs on 436 Sqn.


By Larry Klein

In the morning, we completed several monorail drops for the parachute school at CJATC Rivers. F/O Fred Tobey was at the controls of C-119 Box Car’s #22115 and #22117 for those series of routine drops. We returned to the hangar just before lunch, anxious to head to the Officer’s Mess for a barley sandwich after a morning of flying and amassing a total of 1 hour and 50 minutes. As a Radio Officer (R/O) my role was as “dispatcher” on these flights; a tough job! I stood at the back of the Boxcar, hanging on to the post, to await the message in the headset and watch for the green light and then push the button to release the Monorail containers through the open forward belly hatch. The “Dollar 19” was also a bomber!

At the hangar, we were met in the pilot’s lounge by S/L Frank Apperley, the CO of the Transport Support Flight (TSF). The “Bunch Leader” as he was affectionately known, said, “Boys, we have been asked to send a Boxcar to Fort Nelson tomorrow morning.” Pointing to his hand-picked crew he said, “You will leave at about 1100, go to Namao to pick up drums of de-icing fluid and take it to Fort Nelson. You should be back the next day.”

The next morning, at 1655z, Thursday, 11 October 1962, with a bag packed for three days (we were trained to always carry two extra pair of undershorts and socks!), Boxcar #22108 lifted off from Rivers bound for Namao. The crew consisted of F/L Ralph McArthur as Captain, First Officer F/O Vic Ruppell, Navigator F/O George McCreadie, myself as R/O and Cpl. Dave Climie as the Flight Tech. We picked up a load of 45-gallon barrels of de-icing fluid and landed at Fort Nelson at 0140z after 5 hrs and 45 min of flight time in the log book.

The Searchmaster met us, “Good to have the de-icing fluid here, but even better to see you guys and your airplane – you have been seconded to the search. Get some shut eye at the hotel and be out here at 9 am tomorrow morning ready to fly.” So there we were; on a search for an indefinite time, and me with just three pair of socks!

The missing pilot, Ken Stockall had been in the RCAF and was then a bush pilot flying out of Yellowknife. He had been chartered by Henry Busse, a well-known photographer, to fly over the Nahanni Valley and take some photos. Along for the ride on board the Cessna were two hard rock miners from Giant Mine. They had flown from Yellowknife to Fort Simpson to refuel. They took off in deteriorating weather for the Nahanni Valley, and were never heard from again. A search was launched and the number of civil and Air Force airplanes was growing every day. The weather was generally quite good, but the aircraft had to be deiced each morning after the overnight build-up of ice from the heavy evening dew.

We did not fly the next day, rather spent much of the day in briefings and pouring over the maps with the Searchmaster and his assistants. But the next day, 13 October, we completed our first search but for only 2 hrs and 50 min. We were in the air again on October 14 and 15th for a total of 14 hrs and 15 mins. On October 16, we did our first night search, logging 7 hrs. and 45 min. On Oct 17 we went to Namao for some more de-icing fluid and returned the next day. Late that night we were sent out on our second night search. We flew north of Nahanni Butte and west of the MacKenzie River over the Canyon and Backbone Ranges and the South Nahanni River. This was very rugged country and the maps had many white (blank) areas with the comforting notation, “Charts incomplete; peaks may reach up to 15,000 ft.”

At first there was a good moon, but after an hour or so we were in and out of heavy cloud and visual ground contact became very difficult. I recall we were at either 13,000 or 14,000 ft, when we suddenly entered cloud with very heavy ice. The leading edge de-icing heaters were quickly started, but the ice was building. The throttles were advanced as the airspeed started to fall off and the aircraft began to lose altitude. We used to joke that the Boxcar was the only aircraft in the RCAF fleet that if you lost both engines it would fall backwards! That rumour was beginning to come alive, as we were sinking fast. I checked the radios to ensure we were still tuned into Edmonton Airforce radio and ran the emergency message through my head. I looked over to George’s maps spread over the nav table to see all the white blank spots of uncharted terrain. Ralph, Vic and Dave Climie were discussing whether to activate the superchargers, which required the throttle to be retarded and flip the switch and hope that the damn things would not blow apart as they were known to do. Captain Ralph McArthur made a decision for no superchargers.  He then asked George for a heading to “get us the hell outta here?” We turned a “180”, with ice still building as we continued to descend through cloud. Now down to about 10,000 ft, we were again reminded by George that “peaks may reach 15,000 feet!’ Suddenly, we broke out of cloud, the moon was back in its glory and all eyes were out the windows to find us in a valley with mountain peaks at our height with a few above us. The ADF needle showed Fort Nelson straight ahead. The heaters did their job, the ice fell away from the leading edges and the “Dollar 19” was once again safely purring along.

We landed at Fort Nelson at 0515z with 3 hrs 25 min in the log book, grabbed a taxi and headed to the pub for a much needed brew… or was it three!

We flew until the end of October amassing 104 hours and 45 minutes of flight time, then rotated back to Rivers in C-45  #1392, sleeping all the way. The search ended a week or so later. The next spring, a helicopter pilot doing aerial survey work for the oil companies noticed a glint of reflected sunlight from the trees below. Circling around, he saw the glint again, dropped a parachute marker and noted his position on the topo map. A few days later a ground search party reached the crash site; the aircraft had hit the canopy of the tall Lodgepole Pine trees and the canopy had closed back in, hiding the wreckage. All the occupants had died on impact.

On 7 November, I was back into the Rivers routine, flying as dispatcher for monorail and para drops over the Drop Zone south of the airfield.

By Bob Kanngiesser


This is a story about my stays at Rivers, our wedding and our favourite car-a TC MG called Emma. My first introduction to Rivers was  15 January 1951 when I arrived, along with twelve other students, after a long train ride from Ottawa, to take the  Joint Air Photo Interpretation Course. courseIt was cold, the temperature on arrival was minus 30, warming up to Zero a couple of times, during our stay until 26 February.  During my air crew training I had been advised to take every course presented and this was to the second, the first was learning to drive Snow Plows on the Rockcliffe runways, the object being to keep the runways clear if a snow storm developed during off hours by living in Officers. It was a lot of fun but never put to use.  The Photo Interpretation course, while interesting with a wealth of geographical, environmental and made man features from war torn France and Germany seemed to be extra long and I was glad to leave for Ottawa.

I had arrived at RCAF Station Rockcliffe in February 1950 and it wasn’t long before getting attracted to a Nursing Sister named Frances Boudreau who seemed to enjoy  my TC MG and limited Bridge ability. Back on flying duties, with 408 Squadron, through March to the end of May we got to know each other.  At the end of May I  went on two months temporary duty on the  long range Navigator course  with 426 Squadron in Lachine, Quebec. At the end of the course I was posted to 435 Squadron Edmonton. In the meantime Frances had been posted to the Aero Medical Evacuation Centre  Gunter AFB, Alabama along with USAF and USN nurses to take a seven week course in Air Evacuation.  Then to spend four months flying between mainland USA and Tokyo  bringing the wounded from Korea. During September and October I was loaned to 426 Squadron to fly on the Korean Air Lift and we were hoping to meet up in Tokyo however that did not happen and we became engaged by mail. I had  bought the ring in Edmonton leaving it at the Jewelry store until we could meet up again.  That  happened sooner than expected when Frances phoned me on 22 December from San Francisco to say she was flying out to Chicago and would be taking the train to Ottawa as she had finished her duties in USA. When asked I told her that there was not a chance of me being able get to Ottawa for Christmas. However, when I went to the mess that evening for dinner it was a serendipitous meeting with a crew from 408 Squadron who were leaving at midnight for Ottawa, and yes they had room for a passenger. carNow the task was to get leave over the Christmas week and to get the ring from the Jewelry store. It was a wild stormy snowy night however  I was able to convince the jeweller to go back to the store so I could pick up the ring. The Emma did noble service, with its narrow tires, getting through the snow storm. Next day in Ottawa I started meeting all the trains coming in from Chicago and it wasn’t until late the night of 24 December that she finally arrived and was rather surprised to see me but very pleased. We went to her brothers house where I was able to present the ring. Frances reported for duty 02 January and after telling her old boss that she was going to be married they promptly sent her to Aylmer, Ontario to work out her three months notice as married nursing sisters was not allowed. During this Christmas period we had arranged to have the wedding at the Chapel on Base Rockcliffe 14 April 1952 and I managed to get a flight back to Edmonton. There all went well until early March when I was posted to Summerside for the SNIN {Specialist Navigation Instructor Navigator) Course. Phoned Frances to change wedding plans to Summerside instead of Ottawa, loaded up the MG and set off for Summerside. Driving in an open car in the rain and slush across the country is no enjoyable task and I was glad to stop off in Brantford, Ontario for a few days visit with my parents. While there I had a telephone call from Edmonton  telling  me the course was cancelled and to return to base. Called Frances to say wedding to be in Ottawa after all and to proceed as planned and left the MG in Brantford. Back in Edmonton for a few days when I received notice to take the Transport Support Course at Rivers starting 07 April. This was just too much to bear, however my buddy Fred Johns who was to be on the course stating 28 April, suggested that we arrange to exchange courses. This was done and now we could get back to the original wedding date of 14 April in Ottawa. Wedding over we were ready to start out in the MG for Rivers with 14 days to get there. After a few days visiting Niagara Falls and a couple of Motorcycle stores in Toronto we were ready for the trip of a life time.

Arriving in Brandon a couple of days before the course started we found a motel for the next three weeks to start our honeymoon. It was not great but OK with a hot plate and small fridge so we could manage for a few weeks.  I was in training to navigate the Dakota to the Drop Zone at 1500 feet above ground at an air speed of about 150 MPH. After which the flight crew completed the pre-drop and slow-down checklists, then the soldiers would rise out of their seats and move at the jumpmaster’s direction to the paratroop door.  At “green light” the stick of soldiers would exit the plane – jumpers continued to move to the door until the red light was illuminated. The weather was starting spring like and I could drive over most days with the top down. We enjoyed the evenings and weekends exploring the country side and were a bit sad to leave at the end of the three weeks.  logbook

Quite a contrast to my first experience at Rivers. we have always remembered Rivers with fondest memories and it turned out to be a good start on a marriage that is now entering its 65th year. In our old age we live in White Rock, BC and still enjoy the TC MG.  Last year we drove to California and managed to get a run on the Nascar Race Track in Napa, California.car2

Peter Clegg