Article: G-CASK and Lady Luck

  • Image of Fokker Super Universal, G-CASK, in the snow at Oxford Lake, January, 1929.

    October, 1930, The Bulletin

    Certain flights are outstanding in the history of aviation. Certain people and machines by some fortuitous chain of circumstances would appear to be predestined to participate in and experience more than their due share of the extraordinary things of this life. Such a machine is G-CASK, the Super Fokker powered with a 425 hp Pratt and Whitney “Wasp” and owned by Western Canada Airways.

    G-CASK is a sister ship to G-CASL. They left the factory together; their destinations were the same; yet today ask anybody where SL is or what she has done and a vague look results. Make the same enquiry about SK and you start a long story.

    For more than eleven months of the twenty-six that have passed since these machines left the factory, SK was sitting on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. That fact alone is outstanding, as no machine has ever before faced the exposure of a winter in this latitude. That the machine was ready to fly away in two and a half hours after such a long period of disuse was a noteworthy testimony to the standards attained today in the manufacture of wings, fuselage, and unit covers, not to speak of the motor and it accessories. After a study of SK’s flight reports on is compelled to admit that as a “pioneer” or “trail-blazer”, SK’s record must stand alone in the history of Canadian aviation.

    For more than eleven months, SK was sitting on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. That fact alone is outstanding, as no machine has ever before faced the exposure of a winter in this latitude.

    In October, 1928, SK was on hand to be taken out on the preliminary survey of the Prairie Mail Routes. When this was completed and the experimental flights had been made, on December, 10, 1928, SK had the honour of inaugurating the first Prairie Mail service.

    Then followed a charter in January to Oxford Lake, some 150 miles from the nearest settlement. The weather was -30 degrees F, which had something to do with the battery running down. The absence of a hand-starting crank, did not facilitate matters, but at a miner’s primitive forge some two miles distant (how lucky, only two miles!) the oil screen wrench underwent a metamorphosis at the hands of a desperate pilot and the engine was started. More months of flying around the Cold Lake/Cranberry area, then came another flight up the Hudson Bay to Eskimo Point.

    In August, 1929, SK started off on a 9,000-mile flight which extended to the shores of the Arctic by way of the Mackenzie River, then through the passes, as yet unknown to aviation, of the Bell, Porcupine and Yukon Rivers. The return trip was made from Aklavik via Dawson City, Carcross, Prince Rupert, Prince George  and Edmonton to Winnipeg.

    After this remarkable flight, four days at Winnipeg was sufficient to prepare SK for her flight in the unknown. The portion of this trip from Baker Lake, via Beverley Lake and across the Height of Land to Bathurst, had not been undertaken before. On the day appointed for the trip to Bathurst Inlet, the morning broke fine and clear. Later in the day snowstorms were encountered, while the wind increased. Proximity to the magnetic pole compelled use of the sun compass until the condition of the weather precluded even this, so with only the scantiest detail on their maps to guide them over what was in the main part uncharted country, SK and the other ship engaged on the charter, were eventually brought to a landing at Dease Point.

    In August, 1929, SK started off on a 9,000-mile flight which extended to the shores of the Arctic by way of the Mackenzie River, then through the passes, as yet unknown to aviation, of the Bell, Porcupine and Yukon Rivers. The return trip was made from Aklavik via Dawson City, Carcross, Prince Rupert, Prince George  and Edmonton to Winnipeg.

    It was decided that the machine should be beached and tied down for the winter, so in the absence of any facility the machines were skidded on their floats up the rocky foreshore under their own power, a similar method of launching before adopted later on.

    With only the ordinary engine cover over her nose, SK sat through eleven months of Arctic blizzard, drifting sea-fogs, salt spray, and the scorching twenty-four-hours-a-day sunshine of the short Arctic summer. “Apart from a little rust, there were no signs of damage; even the floats were in perfect condition. The engine was started up without any difficulty and the machine taxied into the sea within two and a half hours of our arrival.”

    After flying south to Fort McMurray, a safe prophecy would have been that SK would proceed to Winnipeg and take her place on regular commercial runs. However, fate ordained otherwise and in three days, with a renewed certificate or airworthiness, SK headed north for Hunter Bay on Great Bear Lake. Although her motor had not been changed since the beginning of the long flight around the Yukon, by September 15, SK was flying over the North Magnetic Pole, the first aeroplane to do so, and had landed at Victory Point and Terror Bay. An intense visual and photographic search was made for evidence bearing on the history of the Sir John Franklin Expedition. Returning to Winnipeg, SK was checked over and already has been out on a tour of inspection of the Air Mail emergency landing grounds.

    Seldom, if ever, in the history of commercial aviation has opportunity knocked so often at the one hangar door. Let us hope the story is as yet only begun.

    This article originally appeared in October, 1930 edition of The Bulletin, the Western Canada Airways publication.

    Postscript: Fokker Super Universal, G-CASK, one of the most historic Canadian civil aircraft, burnt accidentally while refuelling at Fort McMurray, Alberta on March 31, 1933.

    The image is of Fokker Super Universal, G-CASK, unloading passengers and luggage at Oxford Lake in January, 1929. The photo is from the museum’s library and archives.

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