Saturday, September 12, 2015

Interview with RCAF "Yukon" pilot Larry Byrne

Canadair CC-106 "Yukon" transport aircraft of the RCAF.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, my father was a career serviceman in the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) and, from 1968, after "Unification" had taken place, the Canadian Armed Forces. As a "dependent", or "brat", I was whisked about when I was growing up: RCAF Station St. Hubert, Quebec; RCAF Station Greenwood, Nova Scotia; RCAF Station (called "Canadian Forces Base", after 1968) Baden-Soellingen, West Germany; and finally, CFB Borden, Ontario.

In the summer of 1966, which I remember very well, too well, my next door neighbour, and best friend, told me with great enthusiasm, "we're going to Winnipeg!". He was bloody excited! I remember feeling a little down, partially because I'd be losing a good friend. I needn't have worried; days or weeks later my dad came home from work with the news that we were going to West Germany. That was exciting news for me. Bloody exciting! Not long after that, in October, I boarded a "Yukon" (or "Yuke") at RCAF Station Trenton for what would be a thirteen hour flight to RCAF Station Lahr, West Germany -- which is where 437 Transport Squadron flew to in order to deliver service people and their families.

(I should note that not all former 'brats' have fond memories of being the offspring of a military father -- and/or mother -- who was frequently "posted" to another location. In my time this would happen every four years or so. It has been said that it's stressful to move around constantly in your childhood, but I never had a problem with that; it was an exciting time. After all, being a 'brat' was the only life I knew. Also, you tended to follow each other around. One guy I remember, Mike White, I knew in West Germany and was eventually re-teamed with him back in Ontario.)

Let's time travel forward to the summer of 2005: While enjoying a beer on a patio here in Toronto I was sideswiped by a flood of memories, helped no doubt by the alcohol, of the Canadair CC-106 "Yukon". To make a long story short here I ended up researching and writing a piece on the "Yuke" and its crews. (I will post something in the near future on the issue.)

One person I interviewed, in this case via telephone, was former "Yukon" pilot Larry Byrne. He was very pleasant and generous in recounting his memories of his time flying with the RCAF, and with American Airlines.

Here is Part One. I will follow up soon with the remainder of the interview:


Simon St. Laurent: When did you join the (RCAF) and when did you start flying Yukons in particular?

Larry Byrne: I joined the service in the summer of '52 and I commenced flying Yukons on January the 4th, of ’62. It was ten years later.

SS: Were you a captain?

LB: Well, everyone starts out as a first officer… so when I started flying the Yukon, of course, I went to the OTU (Operational Training Unit). As I remember, I think we were Course 1 on the Yukon. There were other people who had gone to the company and got, had their training and those were the guys who instructed us. You used to go through the OTU and then you’d fly as a first officer until your turn comes up for captain. And then you’d go back to the school again and go through with the tests, etc., and a check ride… and you’re flying as captain.

SS: Did you like flying the aircraft? Was it a pleasure to fly or was it a handful?

LB: Oh no, I enjoyed the airplane very much. It was a unique airplane at the time and I certainly enjoyed it. I can’t speak for other people but I liked the airplane a lot.

SS: Based on the Bristol Britannia, of course… new engines…

LB: We used to start out… it was interesting because, when we fly across the Atlantic at that time, about the only aircraft flying across the Atlantic were mostly pistons… and they were at lower altitude. We’d start out of Trenton at about 17 to 18 thousand feet, something like that, and then we could get a cruise climb that... there was so little traffic we could actually get… you couldn’t do it today. But we used to get a cruise climb and we’d wind up over Europe at, you know, 31/32 thousand feet.

SS: The Britannia was a revolutionary aircraft in that way having turbines but it was just a little late as they say because the jets were right around the corner.

LB: That’s right, the same thing, of course, applied to the Yukon. The jets were coming and then… but at the time it was a very unique airplane.

SS: How did you feel about Canada adopting the Yukon and not going with the (Boeing) 707, which was actually the transport version, was actually coming out on the market or had been. Did you feel that was a good decision or you don’t really care? You just...

LB: Ah, frankly, no, I don’t care. I mean I flew the 707 when I got with American Airlines… fine airplane… several different models of it and, like I said, it was a fine airplane but at the time I never thought about Canada even considering buying the jet instead of the Yukon. After all, the Yukon was Canadian built too, you know…

SS: Yeah, it was built apparently, as I found out, because it was a bit of a work program because there was lack of work (at Canadair), and the government thought, 'okay, well we’ll just make an aircraft'. So that’s how the Yukon came to be and, of course, the commercial version; the CL-44. Of course, that’s not a concern of yours…

LB: Like I said, from my viewpoint that would have something to do with whether what airplane we should buy. If you got an airplane that'll do the job and it's built in Canada then I would say that’s the one were gonna buy.

SS: One concern that I know that David Adamson had... he was responsible because he was the squadron commander, wasn’t he? He was concerned about just the compatibility, because he said the problem with the Yukon, for instance, if it flew to some weird destination (and there was a need for a new or replacement part) there was not a commonality in parts…

LB: No, that is true. You were kinda stuck in a way because there just weren’t any around. I had an incident in Cyprus one time when we blew a couple of tires, and we wound up… they flew us in from an airbase on the south end, side of the island. They actually flew us in a couple of Britannia tires, which were too light for our airplane, but we put ’em on and they said that they would be good for a couple of landings. And all we had to do is get back to (RCAF Station) Marville (France), where we had tires of our own. As an instance, you know it was a problem if you got stuck some place in the boonies... you were stuck.

SS: Exactly, where obviously with the jets there was a little more commonality because more and more…

LB: You see there weren’t a lot of jets flying around at that time… I mean… the airplane was a little ahead of that… at least if my memory serves me right, the jets didn’t come along till after… or later. Let me put it another way… later on.

SS: We’ll talk in more positive terms, one thing I understand is pilots I’ve talked to are just amazed at the almost squeaky clean record the machine had for just serviceability and everything and, of course, no lives being lost and…

LB: No, and it was amazingly reliable. If I had anything that I didn’t like about the airplane was the fact that we had a heater in the tail and there was something that bothered me all the time about lighting a fire back in your tail (laughs)…

SS: Was it an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) or something?

LB: No it was a heater for deicing the empennage (tail) at the back… and like I said it always made me kinda nervous (laughs)…

SS: But so you’re the same you never had any scares at 20/30 thousand feet or anything?

LB: No… no, I had nothing. I’ll tell you, Simon, I’ve been blessed in all my flying… all my 40 odd years I never had anything… really… serious.

SS: That’s great to hear.

LB: Some of my friends, my best friends and they’re very, very good pilots… geez every time they turn around it seemed to me they were losing an engine (laughs)… or something was going wrong (laughs), but I was just very well, I was just absolutely blessed.

SS: So let me understand, Larry, when you left the RCAF, and as you said in an e-mail, they were polishing a desk for you…

LB: Yeah, that’s what was gonna happen…

SS: At what phase was that where you… you were finished your tour with Yukons, or…

LB: Well I had already finished my tour on the squadron, I was then transferred to the OTU and I was instructing on the Yukon… and I guess I could look and get you the exact dates if that’s necessary but I… as I remember I spent around a year, maybe a year and a half, at the OTU and then my transfer was coming through. They told me that I was going to Ottawa to 'Personnel'… and I just didn’t want to do it.

SS: You know if I flew myself, no way…

LB: Well, you know, if I thought that I was going to become a general or a staff officer or something… of some importance it would have been different, but I was a flight lieutenant and I was obviously, to my mind, was not going anywhere. And so some personal things entered into it and I... I decided I was going to kick over the traces as it were and I applied to several of the airlines and American called me and said 'come on down'… and it was a good move for me.

SS: Now, of course, if you had have stayed with the (RCAF) at that point… the conversion over to 707s… that actually hadn’t happened with you. So when you went to American Airlines, they trained you on 707s?

LB: Oh, yeah. Well I started out on the Electra…

SS: The Lockheed Electra?

LB: Yeah, everybody starts at the bottom… and so you go in and I went to school and I became an engineer on the Electra. And I flew that for six or eight months and then I went to first officer school on the BAC111, and flew the BAC, and then I flew the 727, and then I flew the 707, and I flew the 747, and the DC-10…

SS: What did you think about the DC-10?

LB: Oh I loved the DC-10, it was a nice airplane.

SS: I’m old enough to remember the big accidents there.

LB: Oh yeah… well you know, in fact the aircraft... the first officer on that trip in Chicago when the engine came off… he was a classmate of mine. So and when I finished the DC-10 I flew a long time as a first officer. At the airlines you move with a very strict seniority system, and when I finished the DC-10 I went to captains' school on the 727. And then I flew out of the left seat in the 727, and then the 767, and then I wound up on the (Airbus) A300 – 600 model, the two man airplane… and that’s what I retired on.

SS: So when did you retire, Larry?

LB: Let’s see, in ah, July. I left a little bit early because the stock market was up, so July ’92... thirteen years. With the airlines, of course, you might well know that when you’re sixty they throw you out and that’s it. But I didn’t have to go until October, till my birthday, but , you know, circumstances in the stock market, and my retirement was based on some of it... was based on the stock market. So I decided to jump out ahead of time, and you’d take a small penalty but that’s all. And that’s when I left. And then I bought myself a Cessna 310 and I flew it for four or five years and I finally sold it a few years ago.

SS: So, do you fly recreationally at all?

LB: Yeah, that’s my… my wife and I flew the 310 back and forth across the country (the USA) a couple of times, if guess. It was kinda fun flying around.


To be continued....

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