Autobiography of Captain W.R. "Bud" Cluett

  • Posted on: 30 January 2015
  • By: webtech
Photo:  Captain Bud Cluett in uniform

Bud wrote this back in July 2006.  We celebrated his life at Wyman after his passing in 2014.

Trans Canada Airlines
Air Canada
SEPTEMBER 28, 1949-September 30, 1986
21,000 Hours Flying
Plus 8 years Supervisor

Written July 2006

 I remember that we were all asked to present Retired Airline Pilot's of Canada with some form of an autobiography after retirement.  

If there is one thing in life that I excel in, it is procrastination.  This bio may never have been written, except that I inadvertently became airborne from a roof ladder, without the aid of wings or propulsion.  This is not a good thing and I recommend against it.  As a result, I mangled up my lower leg and ankle and will be having a meaningful relationship with crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, pain and casts, for the next 6 weeks at least. I am able to program everything on remote including Vivian, my wife of 55 years.

While I am hanging around enjoying myself, I might as well get busy with the bio: So here goes.

I was born in Sydney, NS, Cape Breton Island on the 13th April 1930, in the Salvation Army Hospital .The SA Hospital at that time was a maternity care, and not for unwed mother's as you might suspect.  As it turns out, my wife to be was born in the same room, different date. The SA Hospital now has an unusual use as a daycare for seniors- e.g. If you have a day job, drop your parent off in the morning and pick him/her up in the evening.

I am the oldest of 5 siblings and at this time of writing, reached 76 years. My brother Jack has a Commercial Flying License and brother Sonny, a Private.

Cannot remember when I was not interested in aviation.

At age 11, built a balsa model of the Spitfire and entered it in the Cape Breton Canadian National Exhibition.  Won 3rd prize too! My parents were so proud I could never bring myself to tell them that there were only 3 aircraft entered.

At this point!!  A warning!!
Memory fails a bit after 76 years and I have always felt a deep duty to embellish wherever possible.  Forgive me for that.

Completed High School in Nova Scotia at Sydney Academy.  Met Vivian Daye in Grade 10 and we have been an item ever since.  Married 55 years and picked a lot of blueberries for 6 years before we married.  I liked blueberries.  

I would always have been interested in becoming a pilot, but was fortunate enough to have won a contest in Air Cadet's, the prize being two hours flying instruction in a Tiger Moth at the Cape Breton Flying Club.  No turning back now and everything became accelerated!!

At the age of 15, had all the tests done for a Private Flying License, but had to wait to turn 16.  Didn't even know how to drive a car at that stage. Aircraft flown up to now were, Piper Cub J-3, Tiger Moth, Cornell, 3 place PA-12 Piper Cruiser and Sea Bee.

Would you believe that most of us at Sydney have flown with Buzz Beurling, Canada's #1 WW2 flying ace. After the war he was traveling around and decided to stay in Sydney for a while, having met a lady that he liked.  Believe about a year and a half.  He was always around Reserve Airport and we would run into him often. I have flown with him in a Tiger although he probably didn't know my name and didn't care. He used to call me either nothing or "kid". I remember the cold, steely, blue eyes. Very close to the airport, there was Lingan Beach and when the tide was out it could be landed upon and taken off from.  He needed someone to line up the next ride while he was airborne. He used to charge extra money for an aerobat. e.g. $2.00 for a roll, $4.00 for a spin, etc.
Other names I recall
---George Johnson CFI Cape Breton Flying Club, who sent me solo. He used to perform beautiful aerobatics in a Cornell. Eventually died in bad weather doing power line inspections for the NS government.
---Bill Bruce Owner Manager of Bras D'Or Airways, who eventually flew with Maritime Central Airways.
---Frank Cooke "Cookie" whose family was in the drug store business. Frank flew Spitfires and had a video of a one wheel landing he had to make and the ensuing ground loop. Frank was always keen to invite us kids up for a Tiger ride. Died of leukemia 3-4 years after the war.
--Gerry Bent, down from New Glasgow as a Flying Instructor.
--Walter Schurman same.
--Moose (Gordon) Mercer who went solo the same day as I did.
--Jim Shanahan who went on to own Eastern Flying Services. I
--Aubrey Kyte, who went on to University before joining TCA/Air Canada.
--Eddy Walsh who was later killed in a flying accident.
--- Doug Walsh, Eddy's Brother.

There were other great people that were associates while learning to fly and we are friends to this day. Can't name them all for fear of missing some one!

About two days after I soloed, and now knowing everything about flying, (a dangerous state), a friend and I visited our CFI who was still deep in the arms of Morpheous, the God of sleep, and asked if we could borrow a couple of aircraft for an hour or two. The CFI uttered a couple of un-intelligible grunts which we took to mean "sure - no problem". We got airborne and decided to sneak up on various areas of Sydney. Rumor has it that we might have been flying too low, to the point that people were phoning the airport to complain. Two flying instructors jumped in other aircraft to give chase and herd us back to the airport. We had no radios, so we had to assume that they wanted to practice dog fighting. My friend and I figured that we had won the encounter till we landed back at the airport and learned that we were now grounded for 30 days. Sometimes there is no justice in life!
While still 16, Cape Breton Airways and Bras D'Or Airways both folded up and we had nowhere to continue our flying. A group of about 5 of us decided the only thing to do was to start our own Flying Club and call it Sydney or Eastern Flying Club (I believe). We failed, mostly due to youth and in-experience and probably, as Secretary, I requested by letter to the DOT that we be allowed to use a Tiger Moth that had a "corroded" cylinder, instead of "a spot of red rust stain".  It was important to us that we have an aircraft and there was a Cornell for sale in Welland Ontario.  My job in life was to get the train and hitch hike up there to retrieve it.  Since my cross country experience in life was less than zero, I thought it prudent to bring along a parachute. At that stage of life, I probably thought that the thing to do was to sit on it on the way down to cushion the blow when you made contact with the ground. A good friend of mine named Ralph Metzler from Moncton, had a friend who did parachute jumping at air shows, so the loan of one was arranged. In Ottawa, on the way up, I phoned the field at Welland and was told of a huge snowstorm.  The field was snowed under and would probably remain that way till spring.  I believe that I wasn't that unhappy to return home without the Cornell.

Another opportunity came along. The Canadian Government and War Assets had a gazillion wartime training aircraft that they were going to sell for next to nothing. They were either to be sold or bulldozed into the ground. I located a Tiger that had very little flying time and could be purchased for $730.  Can you believe it! Might as well have been a million, as I had no money. However, with parental help and others, the purchase was made. The aircraft needed some work done to ready it for a conversion to civilian life. The work was done in Moncton and then it was to be taken to Charlottetown to be signed out by Gord Rainor who had the official licensing to convert it from RCAF to civilian life.

It was necessary for me to get to Moncton to pick up the Tiger Moth and since a friend had purchased a Cornell and needed to get it from Sydney to Moncton to have some maintenance done on it, I joined him for the trip. Our first stop was New Glasgow and then on to Dartmouth. Weather briefing at Dartmouth indicated great weather for the rest of the trip to Moncton. There was enough daylight left for the trip plus about a half hour. Ten minutes after take off, fog formed obscuring the ground and making VFR map reading impossible. It was necessary to take up a compass heading and hope for the best. It was dark when we broke out and landed in a beautiful farmer's field, big enough to get a DC-3 in and out of. Trouble was we landed in the only mud hole in the field, which promptly tore the undercarriage off and left the jagged oleo struts hanging down. The next contact was with solid grass which flipped the aircraft upside down and every which way.  It was a write-off as far as I was concerned. This turned out to be the only aircraft accident in my entire flying career. I thought they had bulldozed the wreckage into the woods, but have since learned that it was rebuilt and donated to one of the Aviation Museums in Canada.
The farmer kindly let us sleep there and the next day I hitch hiked to Moncton. In Moncton, picked up the Tiger Moth.  It was extremely hazy Moncton to Charlottetown and as the Tiger Moth had a minimum of instruments, formed up with a friend flying a Cornell to Summerside. Upon reaching PEI, he headed to Summerside while I got busy admiring farmer's fields and cows. The sun went down too rapidly and it was a dark arrival at Charlottetown. I do not believe that at this time YYG was registered for night flying but they were in the process of laying down the electrical wires to do so. Gord Rainor recognized the sound of the Tiger and arranged to have a string of runway lights turned on. After a day or two, CF-DHM was now officially a registered Tiger Moth civilian aircraft.

We were sitting around outside the hanger on a Sunday, hoping to find an excuse to go flying. A fellow showed up who had never flown before and wasn't too keen to do it. When questioned "why" he said, "them airplanes are made of nothing but table cloth and varnish". Then, along came someone we knew named Bill and his wife was with him. My friend took Bill up, and I took his wife. Our flight was uneventful but my friend and Bill were killed when the Tiger lower wing knifed into Sydney Harbor at South Bar for whatever reason. It was reported at the airport but people didn't know which Tiger had the misfortune. When we returned, they knew. I still remember the difficulty in telling Bill's wife what had happened.

Vivian had been up with me in a Tiger Moth before, but this day I decided to show her a Cornell. About 3 minutes after takeoff, the engine decided to go into sputter mode. It never really quit but was intent on not running very well. We made it back to the airport for a downwind landing in a light wind. It wasn't a dead stick landing but rather a sputter stick landing. Vivian was unimpressed.  

My first full time employment was with G.E. Leslie & Co, stock brokers, as a Board (bored) clerk. I was the guy who read the ticker tape and transferred the buy and sell prices to the blackboard with chalk. I didn't have the money to buy a suit, so I went to a well known finance company to borrow the money. They turned me down and practically laughed me out the door. My Father had a good friend named Jack Yazer, who had a clothing store in Sydney. Mr. Yazer told Dad I could have anything I wanted in the way of clothes. It would be nice if I could pay back whenever, but it wasn't necessary. Jack Yazer last year was awarded the Order of Canada for his lifetime work among youth. I have paid the money back a number of years ago and am very proud to have known such a man.

At the age of 18, I was accepted into the RCAF and attended IT at the "Old Hunt Club" on Eglington Avenue in Toronto. I was slated to be on the first RCAF jet squadron. They were getting Vampires. It seemed the rules started changing. I may or may not have been a pilot, but could wind up as a navigator or radio operator. The rules re marriage might change and Vivian and I wanted to get married. I was asked to sign up for 5 years and if I wanted out, would have to buy my way out (with money I didn't have).  I had also applied to Trans Canada Airlines as a passenger agent, and Mom called to say they were looking for me. As my aim was to be a career Airline Pilot, and since Wendy Reid mentioned that TCA would soon be looking for young people like myself, since they were realizing that if they kept hiring wartime pilots, the pilot force would all be retiring at the same time. For this reason, I ceased training from the RCAF and took the job with TCA as a passenger agent.

After about a year as a passenger agent and prompted by Wendy Reid to turn in an application as pilot. I received a message to arrive at Montreal for interviews, medicals and an interview with a group of psychiatrists. My first interview was with a great gentleman named Gath Edward. At this time I had the bare flying hours (200-250 hours) and had not written the DOT exams required for a Commercial License and needed 10 hours night flying. I had a private license only. Mr. Edward said they would hire me but I had to write off all necessary DOT exams and get the required 10 hours night flying before I finished the TCA three months initial training. They allowed me passes to go to Toronto Island, Central Airways, on the weekends to get my night flying. I recall circling Drive in Movies to get the night time and to try to figure out the plot of the movie I was watching. I did all that and received my commercial license the day I completed my check flight in a DC-3 at the end of training. There may have been others hired to fly with an airline with only a Private Pilot's License, but I don't know of them.
Incidentally, just as I finished my check flight and turned the aircraft to face runway 10-28 at YUL, an RCAF Sabre was attempting to overshoot runway 10 but bits and pieces were spewing out the tail pipe and it went right through the ILS shack, concrete base and all, at the 28 end. Everything was completely demolished but the pilot lived.

Thanks to Bing Davis for my initial course with TCA.

Finished my course in April/51 and Vivian and I were married in July in Moncton.

The course I was on included (and if I forget anyone-sorry),  Mel Matthews, Gord White, Roy Yates, Ray Nelsen, Bill Morrison, Terry McIntyre, Len Schmaltz, Morris Labine, Earl Robinson, Bob MacDonald, Herb Edwards, Bill McComb and others.
We were the second course after the wartime guys.

A person's standing on course determined his choice of bases. Vivian and I were fortunate because mostly everyone did not want Moncton, but, being from the Maritimes, although we could have been based elsewhere we chose Moncton. We were very happy. We lived in wartime housing across the street from Lakeburn Airport. Our rental house was 24 Black Street. The area was called "Dogpatch" and for good reason. The houses were not insulated, were cold, the wind blew harder inside the house than outside. They were heated by a one room oil heater that had to be filled up by a Jerry can.  We were young and it was great fun.

What better place to learn to fly than to be taught by great guys such as Ab Freeman, Bud Shane, Jack Logan, Em Bowser, Ed Marriott, Laurie Paxton, Charlie Payne, Hal Benon, Jim Little, Pat Leslie, Ralph Nixon, Bob Dick, and lots of others. Seems like every trip with these guys was educational. Also, they had cars ands we couldn't afford one, so they would pick us up and drop us off.

Then came some strange happenings.  Keep in mind that almost everyone in Moncton did not want to be there and were counting the days till they could get out. Vivian and I were quite happy, both being Maritimers, and wanted to stay. Then the rules changed. The company decided that in order to go on four engine equipment, you first had to have at least a 1000 hours (I believe), on two engine equipment. They then needed someone for North Stars in Vancouver and I qualified and the others in Moncton didn't. They force moved Vivian and I kicking and screaming out to Vancouver, where I flew North Stars and the early model Super Constellation without the tip tanks or radar. Our first child, Cheryl, was born in Moncton and our second child Karen, was born in Vancouver. Later on, Karen became a flight attendant, but I digress. (I hear the older people use that word, so thought I would try it out.)
After two years in Vancouver, they wanted to close the Moncton base and move to Halifax. The two years we spent in Vancouver were unusual. It was raining when we arrived, went from light to moderate to heavy and then back to mist or fog. It never really cleared up in the two years we were there and everyone was amazed at this. The summer after we left, they had 90 days of complete sunshine and no rain. Anyway, we got tired of waiting and since time for promotion was nearly here, we bid back to the Halifax Base. Everyone thought I must be ready for some serious therapy, having kicked and screamed about being forced to Vancouver and then two years later bidding back to Halifax.

On return to Halifax, got checked out again on the DC-3. It wasn't long after, had my left seat course. This was where, for practice, you needed to get 50 hours in without passengers. So you could invite any FO, or other left seater, they would fill the DC-3 full of fuel and away you would go to do whatever you wanted. You could also fly in the left seat on a passenger flight accompanied by a qualified Captain who would fly in the right seat.  Then came promotion on DC-3's and transfer to Montreal where our son Russell was born. Moved into a small town called Hudson which has everything to offer. I do a lot of sailing and curling. There are about 6 golf courses here but I don't golf.

Six years from initial course to promotion. They told us it would be at least 15 years.

In a natural progression, flew as Captain on DC-3, North Star, Viscount, Vanguard, DC-8, DC-9 and Lockheed 1011.

Supervisory pilot for 8 years on Viscount, Vanguard, DC-8 and DC-9.

Bid into Toronto and commuted from Montreal as the flying was much better and became senior on the L1011. Never flew the 747 officially as I was entirely happy with the 1011 and had my choice of blocks. At the time I felt it was a more advanced aircraft than the 747.  Also, I was heavy into competitive racing sailing and needed to be able to pick my own blocks.

A year or so before retirement, bid for the Singapore assignment and spent 5 months flying from there.

At one time in Halifax was the CALPA First Officer Representative the same year that Jim Little was Captain Representative. The exact year fails me.

Retired 4 years early on a package at the age of 56.  Finished with 37 years service and two days.

I cannot believe my good fortune in having an occupation that I loved. Also would not change one minute of my private and family life.  Lucky guy eh!

There is one thing I would like to change.  Could have done without the falling off the roof and breaking my ankle/leg. My friends claim that I was hiding my single malt scotch in the eaves troughing, hence, the accident. Just found out today that I will not be able to put any weight on my right foot for the next two months.

It's been fun talking at you and hope you haven't been too bored. Have a great life!

Bud Cluett