Yukon Transportation Museum
This top-quality museum is located on Airport property directly behind Runway 19. It contains some good aviation exhibits uncluding a Fairchild and a Waco that are under restoration and that flew the Yukon skies at the turn of the century.
IF you are interested in historic aviation check out Bob Cameron's book "YUKON WINGS", you can find both the book, and Bob, at the Transportation Museum most days.
Many wonderful people have been involved in aviation in the Yukon, we celebrate them with the "Roll of Appreciation" accessed here;
RCAF War-Time Experiences Re-lived;
My Father, William Thomas Balmer, worked for Yukon Southern Airways in 1943 when he was 17 years old. After his 18th birthday he quit and joined the RCAF and he spent the next three years in the 39 th Photo Reconnissance Wing of the RCAF. To see some of his photos and to read of some of his experiences just Click HERE !
To hear a short clip from the recording made by Bills 10 year old grandson in 2013 when Bill was 87 years old click this link;
(This entire interview is available at the bottom of the page accessable above.)
Yukon Air Crashes and Historic Sites
Aviation has played a large role in the history of the Yukon, and it's importance continues to this day. One of the "by-products" of 80 plus years of aviation are a few inevitable accidents. If you are interested in these sites they are listed HERE, BUT, if you travel in to any of these sites I ask that you respect them and leave them as you found them. Most are protected legally, all of them should be left intact.
B-36A - A Cold War Story with a Yukon Connection
(* Note; this story has been edited to correct some pervious inaccuracies pointed out by Mr. Dirk Septer who assisted Dr. Craig in his pursuit of this story and who played an important role in gaining legal protection for this crash site.)
These days the phrase "Broken Arrow" isfamiliar to most people, pilots and non-flyers alike. But, in the mid 1950's when Yukoner, Doug Craig, was using his new Graduate Degree in Geology from UBC, it wasn't so common. As Doug did his prospecting lines in the remote regions of Northern BC on that summer day he didn't have military conspiracy in mind when he encountered an abandoned piece of electronic equipment attached to an old parachute. He quickly recognized it as a geiger-counter, sporting military markings, and a manufacture date of 1952. The next day he was the first person in very many years to encounter the rest of a B36-A spread across the mountain in front of him.
Dr. Craig (as we knew him) wasn't one to let a mystery so unique to remain unanswered. For thirty years he pursued and queried the United States military for information about the wreckage, and the story of how it came to be laying where he found it. Originally, the US military had responded to his letters by inform ing him that the wreckage was from a B36-A that had crashed in 1950 and they insisted there were no nuclear devices on board. Of course Dr. Craig responded, with gathering conviction that, if that were true, there would have been no need to drop geiger-counters onto it 2 years later (recall the date on the parachute). Dr. Craig continued to pester the US Government for more detail for 40 years.
In 1995 Dr. Craig came into the office of Environment Canada in Whitehorse seeking me out. He was aware of my position there, and of my aviation orientation. He presented me with a copy of an official report he had finally received from the United States Air Force. Among the sparse information (a half dozen photo-stated forms), was the Weight and Balance sheet for the flight of #2075 on Feb 13, 1950. It was detailed (in military fashion...it even outlined positions of spare parachutes, fire extinguishers) and it appeared unedited. What caught my eye were that the crew names were disclosed, and the "Nil" entries in all bomb bays, except the entry; Bay #1, 1 item, weight= 10,200 pounds.
I expressed my suspicion to Dr. Craig that that sounded like a "Fat Man" bomb from the era. He smiled, and passed me the pages copied from an encyclopedia detailing that exact weight to a "Mark IV" nucear weapon ( a Fat Man). Now, back in the early 70's I did some time with the Canadian Military, and from my limited experience, I was skeptical about the US military of that time (and certainly before), simulating anything, let alone allowing one of their most valuable military assets to make a lengthy journey without the capacity to become "operative" (my word).
At one point, one of the surviving crew was interviewed and described the events of the night in frank detail. I will only sum his story up by paraphrasing his report that, on a dark winter night of Feb 13, 1950 they knew the aircraft was going to be lost, observing radio silence, covered in ice, three engines on fire, unable to maintain height, "...Capt Barry turned the aircraft out to sea...", and "...We were at about 8000 feet when the bomb exploded so we could see the flash as it exploded...". You can read his exact words at ; www.cowtown.net/proweb/brokenarrow3.htm.The official report of their findings that day are attached here (B36 92075.pdf).
Doug Davidge, from Environment Canada, would spear-head the government response to Dr. Craig's case, and together they pursued more details. In 1997 Doug Davidge and Dr.Doug Craig arranged to fly into the wreckage to look for further evidence of nuclear equipment, or risks. It was only once the entire trip was arranged that the Canadian Military finally expressed any interest, and agreed to supply one lone Bell 212 for transport. They flew in from Smithers, for Dr. Craig it was to visit an aircraft he hadn't seen for 45 years.
On their arrival they discovered that unseasonable warm weather had melted the glacier thereby uncovering more of the wreckage, almost the entire aircraft was available for examination./p>
In point form here are some of the other findings recorded either there, or from Doug Davidge or Doctor Craig to me personally;
- -There were drums of unused explosives present that were probably dropped by the military in the 1950's and that efforts had been made then, after the crash, to blow up the wreckage.
- -The sealed case of detonators was present, and had been opened, and the required number of detonators to trigger a nuclear explosion had been extracted (only the four spare detonators included in the case.
- -The carrier for the Plutonium "core" which had been present at one point, was removed by person or persons, and the US Government subsequently has recovered this material.
- -There were machine guns, 20mm Cannons, and live ammunition in place.
- -Upon their departure in 1997 the sight was revisited by persons anonymous who removed much of the attractive wreckage. (One cannon was removed by the military and is now on display at CFB Cold Lake.
- -Following the crash in 1950 the attention died down untill the 90's but Dr. Craig wasn't the only one interested in this accident.
The reports, photos, and other details are available from Environment Canada's office in Whitehorse. Their official report can be downloaded in .pdf format by clicking HERE. (Call Doug Davidge at 867-667-3400 to arrange viewing).More information is also available at www.mysteriesofcanada.com?BC/broken_arrow.
In an ironic twist one of the items available from Environment Canada's library is a 1955 vintage Hollywood production starring Jimmy Stewart called "Strategic Air Command" which is a shockingly accurate version of this story. (Does life immitate art, or does art immitate life?).
One final twist I noted; a news article (about 2 inches of print) in the middle of the Globe and Mail about six months later confirmed that the United States Government had just admitted to the loss of two nuclear weapons in Canada during the "Cold War" years, one in British Columbia, and one in Quebec.
Les Allen buys a "Duck"
Les Allen is a long-time Yukoner who you can find under the Union Jack that has flown under the bridge at Johnson’s Crossing for the last thirty odd years.Les has had a long involvement in aviation starting with his enlistment in the RAF during the Second World War and his service as a “rigger” in Northern India (where else?). He can relate lots of adventures there, and perhaps I can pry a few of these out of him in time. Following the war he moved to the Yukon and, like many, was engaged in a number of adventures before settling down to work for DIAND as a fire-fighter. Les managed the “Hanger”, (the special helicopter and smoke jumper fire-attack facility out of what is now hanger “D”), until he retired. He relayed the following story to me;
In about 1954 he was living in Brooks Brook. It was a CN camp alongside the Alaska Highway in between Teslin and Johnson’s Crossing. He and Earl Graham were looking at starting a fish guiding business. They went to Mary Simmons (George Simmons spouse) and offered to buy the carcass of both the Eastman Flying boats that remained. Several of these had been brought up to do bush flying in Yukon and Northern BC in those early days. She agreed, and so for $50.00 ("...big money in 1954...") he and Earl took the CN “pole truck” on a weekend, and drove down to Atlin where they loaded the hull of the first aircraft that was lying abandoned on the beach there. Then they drove up to Carcross and loaded the second that they found laying near the runway. The one in Carcross had been disassembled, but lying beside the hull was an engine, flying wires and the “main planes”.
Everything was loaded and moved to Brooks Brook where their plan was to construct a catamaran type fish guiding boat using marine plywood to sheet in between the two hulls. Earl borrowed the floor polisher from the government and proceeded to clean up both hulls. (The effort required the use of all the polishing pads available there, a fact that apparently resulted in some complaints from management.)
*Les provided me with the two attached photographs which obviously were taken following this polishing procedure. That is Les sitting on one hull in 1954.
Unfortunately the entrepreneurs soon discovered that marine plywood cost $ 15.00 a sheet in 1954 and a lack of that kind of capital killed the venture shortly thereafter. Eventually the engine was sold to Tiny Kitchen who fastened it onto an ice-boat that raced around Teslin Lake for a short while. George Prestone bought one of the hulls from them and proceeded to cut the stern off and replaced it with a wooden transom to make an aluminum skiff out of it. The remaining hull and parts were sold and went south into British Columbia. This aircraft was the basis of the Eastman Sea-Rover that was lovingly restored by the Aviation Museum in Sidney BC at the Victoria Airport. (It never was actually a “Duck”.)
Once again, nothing stranger than truth?
Sad Loss to Yukon Aviation
John Witham left us just before Christmas at a very young age. Many of us enjoyed flying with John he was a personable and extremely competent pilot who flew in the Yukon for more than 40 years.
John Witham in Ross River in 1978.
There are other photos of John on this web Page and a Christmas story he wrote you can read "HERE".
A Sad Loss to Bush and Northern Aviation
F Atlee Dodge died Saturday July 23, 2010 in Anchorage. Atlee was a wonderful character and devotee of aviation and Piper Cubs in particular. He was solely responsible for almost all improvements made to the Piper Cub series of aircraft used by pilots flying in the Northern Bush.
I have to relive my encounter with F Atlee Dodge that occured one day back in the 1980's. During one of my first flying trips into Anchorage, I was on final for Merril Field when a sudden explosion and a roar from the engine compartment announced trouble. Once landed and safely parked I discovered that my exhaust had blown out the cones and split in the process. (In Whitehorse I had just seen the identical exhaust replaced for nearly $ 1,000.00 and I didn't look forward to this, but I was committed to doing what was required to get home.)
Ron Sullivan was the fellow who picked me up. He suggested I remove the exhaust and that we take it over to a friend of his to see if it could be fixed. I was a relatively low time pilot, used to dealing with Canadian bureacracy in all things aviation, but I had heard stories of the "Alaskan" way of dealing with realities of aircraft maintenance. So I pulled the exhaust with a crescent wrench and a leatherman.
I recall we drove up into the suburbs of Anchorage to a private residence with an attached garage, and another addition added to that. Inside I was suprised to find a bustling small machine shop and I was intrduced to F Atlee Dodge. I plead my case and he agreed to take this on. I feared a lengthy delay ( based on my Canadian experiences), but his response to when it would be ready was a pause, a shrug, and then; "How about four oclock?".
I was back there by quarter-to-four. I tried to ask in my most casual, disinterested sort of way if my exhaust was ready? "Yup", he said, "But it was worse than I thought....I could pretty much only use the old fittings and ends."
Even desperate as I was I shuddered to think what this was going to cost.
"How about a Hundred and Fifty Bucks?" Atlee asked.
"I'm short on American cash, would you take a credit card?"
A Sad Loss to Yukon Aviation !
Lloyd Ryder was one of the few Yukoners who was around when Whitehorse was a town of only 300 people. When he died earlier this month at the age of 87, Ryder left behind a legion of friends and family around the territory.
A “dyed in the wool” Yukoner, Ryder knew the region like the back of his hand, said his wife Marny. Born and raised in Whitehorse, Ryder was best remembered for his lifetime dedication to flying, a passion he took up in 1955.
Ryder met his wife while he was piloting a medevac flight. Marny had come from the Ottawa Valley to work as a community health nurse in the Yukon, flying between communities like Ross River and Telegraph Creek. “He was the pilot, I was the nurse ... we were bound to meet sooner or later,” she said. “Since then, during all our years of marriage, we’ve been best friends.” While flying with him it was easy to see that he was in his element, said Marny. “He used to say that he was ‘above it all’ while flying. It was in his bones, he loved to fly.”
In 1962, Ryder began piloting commercially for the Whitehorse Flying Service - a job he kept throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Two years later, he would famously fly Senator Robert Kennedy’s companions to the St. Elias Mountains where Kennedy would become the first person to climb Mount Kennedy, named after his brother John. He didn’t actually fly Kennedy himself, at that time Kennedy wasn’t allowed in a single-engine plane, but he met Kennedy at the base of the mountain. But that, and the time he flew explorer Brad Washburn, were just like any other flights for him, said Bob Cameron, of his mentor and longtime friend. “He didn’t get a big head about these sorts of things.”
Ryder usually piloted de-Havilland Beavers, which were vital links to remote camps and communities in the Yukon. He spent a lot of time shlepping climbers and Japanese tourists on private charters to the St. Elias mountain range. “Having gone up there with him I can see why he loved it - it was pristine,” said Marny. Ryder was an outdoorsman who loved to fish, hunt and ski with his father and family friends.“He was never exactly successful at hunting, but he loved being outdoors,” said Marny with a laugh.
Before becoming a pilot, Ryder used to deliver oil and wood to people in Whitehorse such as Cameron. Ryder, along with Cameron’s father, who were longtime friends, up and left the Yukon in 1943 hoping to become “war heroes,” said Cameron. But Ryder missed his chance and was sent overseas only after all the action had died down. “They laughed about it for years,” said Cameron. “Lloyd got there in time for the victory parades. “He was there getting adulation and kisses from all the Dutch girls. “I can still see him there at the parade with that Lloyd Ryder grin on his face.”..
Photo by Mike Thomas /Yukon News, Story by Vivian Belik / Yukon News
And Another Sad Loss !
One of the most enjoyable and helpful people at the Whitehorse Airport died prematurely fall 2012. Bill Baker always had time to help anyone who needed it and invariably provided more than was asked. We will miss you a lot Bill.
It has been over a year now and the effect of Bill's absence has become obvious. Field-side facilities have deteriorated, services to pilots have been reduced, and the gophers have over-run us. He once told me; "I am not a pilot, I don't know what you guys need." It turns out he was wrong.
Some passages from the "Mayo Miner" News Paper in 1936
Friday July 24 1936;
“Pilot Wasson punches hole through low ceiling over Mayo."...With a heavy white rain mist hiding Hungary Mountan from Mayo view, Everet “Smiles” Wasson, chief pilot for Whitepass Airplane Services in Yukon, droned in from Whitehorse Tuesday Forenoon in the all weather Fairchild cabin plane, and hit off for Dawson in a heluva hurry after discharging cargo here. The White Pass ship landed here from Dawson 7.30 the same evening bringing as passengers Mr. and Mrs. MJ Gillespie, Volney Richmond and 1 other.
Pilot Wasson hi-tailed for the capital half an hour later, flew back to Mayo 9 a.m. Wedensday morning with five Dawson sky riders for Mayo: Although aviator Wasson found clear sailing Tuesday and wedensday outside of Mayo, the ceiling over Mayo was packed with storm clouds both days and the veteran Yukon ace had to seek out an opening over the Stewart before landing Wedensday forenoon. He continued on to Whitehorse an hour later after the skies had broken over Mayo.Everett said that Minto Lake , 21 miles away, was in clear sunshine as he flew over that way.
Livingstone Werneke ...in his new plane, purchased recently from Wallace Beery, screen star and avaition enthusiast of Holywood, Mr. Werneke believes that he has found the best possible ship for his purposes.
On his recent flight to Mayo he and his pilot, Charley Gropstis, broke all records for speed from Vancouer to the Yukon’s silver metropolis. The new plane is one of the latest model Bellanca’s, a five place job fitted with evry modern flying device and comfort. Powered with a 500hp Pratt and Whitney motor, the plane cruises at a speed of 160 miles an hour, top speed being 196 m.p.h. The tanks carry enough gasoline for 9 hours flying. On take off the motor develops 650 hp.
Although the flight from Prince George to Mayo recently took 8 1/2 hours, Mr Werneke explains that Pilot Gropstis had to duck storms most of the way. Ordinarily he says they should make the flight in 5 hours, direct from Prince George to Mayo."
Sept 4 1936
“ Edmonton to Sawson in nine flying hours is the record set by prairie aces Pilot “Hal” Hayter and air engineer Jack Brown who set their pontoon-equipped Norseman” streamliner down on the Yukon River 5p.m. Saturday last after a flight from ...Fort St John ...Carcross to Dawson...."
Sept 11, 1936
"For the first time since last December , Pilot Everett Wasson was grounded in Mayo for a day this week due to bad weather."