The Aircraft Handler's Trade,(AH) was initiated in 1944 when the Minister of National Defence for Naval Service and the Cabinet authorized the manning by Canadian Naval personnel of two escort carriers, HMS Nabob and HMS Puncher. After the cessation of hostilities in 1945, 130 Canadian personnel on the strength of HMCS Niobe in the UK were recruited for a seven year engagement and selected for a three week training course in aircraft handling, fire fighting and crash removal at Easthaven, Scotland. Subsequent training was carried out at RNAS Gosport.
In 1946, recruits joined the RCN on a five-year engagement as Ordinary Seamen and on completion of New Entry Training were drafted to a ship to complete their basic training and select a trade. Personnel selecting Aircraft Handling received a three week course at what is now HMCS Shearwater.
It should be noted that the only AHs were an offshoot of the seaman's trade seconded to the Air Department Flight Deck for flying operations but reverting to seaman's duties, watches and promotion rosters at other times. This situation continued from 1945 through 1948/49 in HMCS Warrior and the first year of HMCS Magnificient's commission when poor living, eating and working conditions culminated in an incident/mutiny when Aircraft Handlers refused to "turn to". The subsequent Mainguy Report made recommendations which removed Aircraft handlers from the Seaman's Roster and established a seperate trade and better living conditions.
In 1946, the basic Aircraft Handlers training course was moved to RCAF station Dartmouth, Naval Air Section and trade group two courses of three months duration were conducted at Gosport. The terms of engagement were reduced fron seven years to five years, which continued into the 1960's. The seven year engagement upset many personnel who had no choice but to remain during those early years and upon compleation of their tour some very experienced tradesmen were lost and sorely missed as a result.
By 1948 the basic course was extended to six weeks followed by six months seatime to qualify TG-1 and the TG-2 courses were conducted aboard Magnificent. In late 1949, the AH trade was redesignated as the AC Aircraft Controlman Trade.
SHIPBOARD TRAINING: The senior NCO's, Ted Radcliffe, Peter Hope, Cecil Muzzeral and Roger Haspeck soon took over the training of the new comers with continuous flight deck drills and fire fighting exercises. As ship's company, many housekeeping duties had to be carried out, such as the never ending maintenance of the flight deck (FD) hangars and Air Department spaces, particularly when squadrons were not embarked. In addition there were watchkeeping duties such as telephone exchange, laundry, canteen, hangar sentries, scullery party and messmen and the never ending one in four duty watch system. When the squadrons were ambarked they assumed their share of these duties like cleaning the hangars, Air Department spaces and messdecks.
In 1951 all aircraft were flown to Quonset Point, RI, and hoisted aboard Magnificent for Carquals off Bermuda. Durig the first days of flying, with the Captain's wife and two daughters on board, the ship lost 3 aircraft and one pilot.
Life aboard for the single sailor was no picnic when in home port. Boredom was a major problem. Entertainment when not confined to the ship was the Stad's Wets,Sea Horse tavern,Buckingham Tavern, Piccadilly Tavern, or the Seagull Club or Olyimpic gardens dance hall and Snows Tatto parlour on Barrington street. In the close confines of the mess deck tempers would flare at times for the most simple slight, ie; awaking a messmate to go on watch or even trying to get him up in the morning and always the drunken louts who would return from shore leave and disturb the mess after 2300 lights out. It was rough living but it was all the single sailor had whereas his married messmate in harbour could go home to is family to relieve the monotomy after a hard days work.
SHORE TRAINING: Flying operations at Shearwater picked up during 1952-53, particularly the night flying aspect. When not employed as crash crew, members of the AC trade took on duties of "B" and "C" stand in the Control Tower. The "B" stand, previously trained at RCAF Station Centralia, was backup to the then Officer Controller "A" stand. His duties included communication and Air Traffic Control (ATC) Moncton, for Instrument Flight Regulation (IFR) clearances, restrictions, for instrument traffic logging, commercial TCA, MCA, NOTAM traffic, ensuring all tower instrumentation was properly calibrated, i,e,- radios, altimeter, anemometer and current meteoroligical forecasts, nt to mention the Aldis Lamp, and Very Pistols used in emergencies.
The "C" stand attended to the logging of all local traffic, departures, and arrivals, coffee maker for the "A" and "B" stands, radio checks, from Radio Bashers on the ground and ancillary duties, interesting and educational to a point and where many in the trade decided to go with the onset of unification.
Aircraft Control (AC) personnel on Trade Group 2 courses were trained to "B" stand level in Air Traffic Control at Centralia, (RCAF), with Aircraft Handling, Crash Firefighting and regulating training being conducted at Shearwater.
In 1953 the Magnificent took part in Exercise Mariner, billed as "History's Greatest Maritime Manoeuvers". The following provides an idea of what occurred on the flight deck during landings. The LSO's were Lts Bob Falls and Bob Williamson accompanied by LSAC Donald Sheard (Teller) and LSAC Jim Mills (talker).
The Teller informed the LSO of the state of the aircraft, i.e., undercarriage, hooks, and flaps down.The Talker likewise called the state of the deck,i.e., Pitching or steady deck, Barriers up,wires up, Green light, (traffic light from the Flying Control position) and finally Clear Deck. With this information the LSO did his thing. For night flying it was somewhat different in that the Teller had to depend on indicator lights on the aircraft, (through binoculars), and the Talker depended on lights from the Flight Deck Engineers for barriers and wires and Flyco traffic lights for landing clearance.
There was some concern expressed as to the capability of the arrester gear to handle a USN A4D that landed onboard during the famous fog incident but the FLYCO said to bring it aboard. It was the second last to land and happily the end of a hectic day.
During this period night flying became the norm and experiments were conducted with ultra violet light to illuminate the LSOs fluorescent taped suit and paddles. An eerie sight and blurred vision
Upon arrival in Portsmouth, the electrical refit commenced with the installation of an old fashioned coal fired boiler on the jetty, manned by ship's company stokers armed with shovels (coal scoops) and the set up of the out door privies on the jetty. What joyous but primitive life. The only saving grace was the sweet offering of a TG2 course in Shearwater as one's tour of service was coming to an end, but in order to get it required re-engagement for five more years.
Safety Equipment personnel commenced cross training to Aircraft Controlmen as a requirement for Commissioned Airmen and all courses were now fully carried out in NAMS and the Observers School ( Bob Hogg as navigation instructor).
In 1954, NAMS instructor Lt Vince Greco was now qualified to start and taxi a TBM on the lower parade ground which had a flight deck painted on its surface, upon which aspiring F/D Directors could practice. PO1s Bob Steep, Ken Day, Bill Antle (as Air Traffic Control instructors and last but not least PO2 Peter (rughead) Johnson - Handling and Firefighting (by numbers). The course was conducted over a period of 12 weeks, after which a Regulating Petty Officer's course was conducted at Shearwater and Stadacona.
This course covered all aspects of a sailor's living from joining to departure from any Naval establishment from A to Z; accomodations, victualing, security, K and QRCNs, rules and regulations and devious methods of detecting sailor crimes.
Upon successful completion of this training course, graduates were posted to various areas of employment within the trade, instructing, crash crew, tower traffic control, carrier F/D division, squadron line crew or other employment which afforded a reasonable sea/shore ratio. The line crew duties taught the rudiments of marshalling aircraft which came in handy on the carrier later on.
During this period, Aircraft Control TG3 professional examinations, oral and written, for qualification as C2AC3 were carried out and Safety Equipment personnel commenced cross training as a requirment for Commissioned rank. This training later involved other requirements for Preparatory School such as three exemplary recommendations, attaining the educational standard of CIET, (considered the naval equivalent of junior matriculation), attaining the rank of P1AC4and having one year's seatime in rank.
External Fire fighting courses were arranged for senior personnel and instructors (NAMS), at Quonset Point RI., (USN). The attendees were Lt (P) John Burns, PO1 "bill" Duchuk, PO2 Leclerc. PO2 Johnson (Rughead) and LSAC Mills. Aircrew survival training was incorporated into the Aircraft Controlman TG1 and 2 courses.
Air Traffic Control at Centrailia was terminated and this phase of training was transferred to Shearwater with the inclusion of a contact trainer being installed in NAMS.
An incident occurred in 1958 when an aircraft was requested to deliver fuel to Millinocket, Maine, for a Bell helicopter on its way to Sparton, Ottawa, for overhaul. (crewman Doug Bruce), Lt Les Hull, C2AT4 Tony Gasper and P2AC (RPO) Jim Mills departed Shearwater with a drop tank of fuel for siphoning purposes and arrived without any problem except the tank had to be released from the aircraft because the siphon technique wouldn't work, The fueling was carried out and the tank re-attached to the main plane of the TBM and the aircraft launched for Shearwater. Upon arrival it was noticed that the drop tank was missing and to this day no trace of it has been found.
The last Aircraft Controlman (AC) courses were terminated in 1959 with the re-muster to Naval Airman (AM) when recruits were enrolled into the RCN for a three year engagement.
Between 1960 and 1966, ex ACs and Safety Equipment personnel were imalgamated as naval Airmen. New trade specifications were promulgated and formal trade courses were set up for all trade levels. Practical cross-training was implememted for both trades and carried on until 1963.
The duties of Air Traffic Control, with some exceptions, were transferred from the Naval Airman (AM) trade to the naval Aircrewman Branch (NA). Exceptions were ACs qualified as Controllers, Ground Control Radar (GRC) and Carrier Controlled Approach (CCA) operators. By 1966, personnel of the former AC and SE trades were working and supervising in the opposite side of their former trade.
Former Naval Airmen were now given a new trade choice-to remuster to either safety Equipment (531) or Air Boatswain (581) with a few special cases among senior personnel being granted permission to remuster to Air Traffic Control (161). (i.e. C2s Bill Duchuk, (Dutch) Vanderberg, Ken Strickland, and Gene Irwin). The personnel on the Fire Fighting course being conducted at the time of remuster were given no choice but were remustered into the Air Boatswain trade. Trade remuster authority was posted in July 1967 with an effective date of 1 Oct 1966.
In late 1967 Basic Aircraft Handling training commenced at Shearwater for recruits, The Air Boatswain recruit had to do both the Basic Aircraft Handling and the Basic Fire Fighting courses to attain pay level 3.
Cross training and lateral training in fire fighting continued through 1966 until 1970. The last Air Boatswains ( all new recruits) completed Fire Fighting training early 1971. Of the F/F courses run before mid 67 a greater number of these personnel elected safety equipment as their branch and were lost to the FF/AH field.
Many complications arose since the establishment of this duel trade. Although all ex-Naval Airmen attended the basic Fire Fighters course no overall follow up training scheme was implemented and consequently the level of experience in the Fire Fighting field and the recognized qualification of these personnel varied greatly. Some personnel, since coursing, had nothing but Fire Fighting experience, some were in an approximate 50-50 category while others had served mainly at sea and had little F/F experience.
A TSQ (trade specialty qualification) of "Helicopter Crash Rescue Crewman" was developed to be filled by Air Bosn., Pay level 5 personnel.
What can be said about the hours worked under very stressful conditions of danger, weather, day-and
particularly night - flying operations? The winter operations when the F/D Div. was required to turn to at 0400 to remove ice and snow from the F/D with salt water from fire hoses with the ship into the wind and the temperature below O` F. The blackassed nights when parking recovered aircraft with no light other than the outline of the bird (often questionable) particularly with one's foot curled over the back bow hydraulic parking chocks knowing full well the aircraft had one/four persons aboard and all one had was experience and a pair of wands.
A particular problem was experienced in Bonaventure whose deck park was so confined within the safety lines so as to allow aircraft taking a Wave Off or Bolter, the abreast parking required the first aircraft starboard propeller to be arced so as to allow the succeeding aircraft's prop to spin through the arc. This conducted with no lighting, onl night vision.
The sustained flying operations - SUSTOPS - which required closely monitored safety precautions after days of 1 in 2 watches particularly at night when all personnel when "fallen in" were advised of their responsibility for the safety of their messmates.
A further note should be made of the physical condition achieved by the F/D Division in the many miles of running during flying stations when they were excused the annual physical test of the ship's company. They were also unsurpassed as "deck hockey" players.
Communication was of primary importance in preparation for and during flying operations aboard, particularly with squadron personnel in the hangar for aircraft movement to and from the flight deck. The Aircraft Control Room (ACR) had a display of the hangars and flight deck with model aircraft. Aircraft were controlled and movement passed to F/D Directors and hangar squadron personnel through the hangar Control Position, (HCP) via the hangar sentry.
Good relations were also a requirement with the F/D Engineers who maintained and operated the arrester gear, barriers, (in Maggie), catapult - fueling in conjunction with squadron personnel - operation of HF/DF, whips and WT mast hydraulics - F/D electrical personnel for their aspect of operation of the lifts, hangar ventilation, F/D lighting, mirror landing operation (Fresnel Lens), ships crane and a myraid of other electrical functions.
These relations were also extended to the Executive Branch (seamen), with whom cooperation was extended during ship refueling, jack stay tranfers (9 ) carried out via ship's crane and jack posts).
The F/D Div. frequently provided upon request personnel to act as shore party for berthing ship, particularly in confined waters, like inside the breakwater at Ireland Island, Bermuda, without tugs (1961).
The communication was further extended to the cooks (chief cook) and staff for provision of food - often during silent (off duty) hours when night flying - a midnight meal was not out of the ordinary and always appreciated.
It is hard to explain the difference between being squadron personnel versus F/D Division other than the latter were normally ship's company and tended to be more at sea - in more ways than one. Ten years is a long time.
The safety record of Canadian Aircraft Carrier F/D personnel is unsurpassed with only two fatalities - ABAC Stuart R. Tock and LSAC (Red) Henderson in all the years of operation from three carriers.