Article: Bush Pilot Lymburner

  • Image of Harold Lymburner and Herbert Hollick-Kenyon during their visit to Winnipeg in the summer of 1936.

    There are enough references to James Harold (Red) Lymburner in Canadian aviation history books to conclude that he was an exceptional pilot with a story to tell.

    First of all, he is a pilot of special interest to the Western Canada Aviation Museum because he was one of the pilots who logged the most hours flying CF-AUJ, the unique Fairchild Super 71 that was restored and is now in the permanent collection.

    Lymburner is also noteworthy in the annals of Canadian aviation because he was part of two expeditions Lincoln Ellsworth organized to explore the Antarctic in the latter half of the 1930s.

    According to a short biography on Lymburner prepared by Archeion, Ontario’s archival information network run by the University of Toronto, he “was a bush and test pilot during the 1930’s to the 1960’s, and a participant in the Ellsworth Expedition to Antarctica. Born April 24, 1904 in Castorville, Ontario, he enrolled at Jack V. Elliot Air Service at Hamilton in 1927 and obtained his private pilot’s license on April 12, 1929. He later obtained his commercial pilot’s license on January 19, 1931 and continued working for Canadian Airways as a bush pilot in Northern Canada until 1939. During this period he also worked with Fairchild Aviation as a test pilot, notably the Super 71 project. In 1935, Lymburner was given leave to participate in the Ellsworth Expedition. Later in 1935, Lymburner was excused from his work as a test pilot to participate in the Ellsworth Expedition to Antarctica and was later awarded the rank of honorary group captain by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) for his work there. He also participated in the later 1938-39 expedition. He retired to Florida in the 1960’s where he later died on August 5, 1990 after a lengthy illness.” Not recorded in this archival note is that he was buried in the Castor United Church Cemetery in Lincoln County, Ontario.

    Lymburner believed he was the only pilot who liked flying the Fairchild Super 71, CF-AUJ. Lymburner’s observations about CF-AUJ along with other insights into the history of this Fairchild Super 71 comes from the book, Canadian Aircraft Since 1909, by K.M. Molson and H.A. Taylor.

    CF-AUJ was first flown on October 31, 1935 at Longueuil, Quebec, and was equipped with floats. About three weeks later, the aircraft hit a navigation buoy on another test on the river. After repairs, Lymburger was loaned by Canadian Airways to complete the test progam. He took the aircraft to Ottawa in February, 1935 for its airworthiness tests. Soon after, AUJ was acquired by Canadian Airways and sent to its base at Oskelaneo, Quebec, where Lymburner flew it until July, 1935 when he left to go to the Antarctic as the back-up pilot on Lincoln Ellsworth’s adventure.

    Canadian Aircraft says that: “different opinions of the Super 71 will be obtained from different sources, but Lymburner considered that, although it had its faults, for doing a job of freighting in the bush it had no equal; but he believed that he was the only pilot who ever liked the aircraft.“

    During his stint at Oskelaneo flying CF-AUJ, Lymburner made his first entry into the aviation history books. Edward R. Green in a 1964 article in the Winnipeg Free Press described the incident. Most of Lymburner’s loads at Oskelaneo consisted of explosives and mining gear to northern Quebec mines. Green writes that: “he was preparing to load one day when a man drove a team of oxen down to the plane and said he had to get those oxen into the mining site as he had a contract to supply cordwood for the boiler.

    “Well, Lymburner thought, freight was freight no matter what form it came in. He bundled one ox in a tarpaulin, dragged it into the plane and packed it in with bales of hay. The flight was uneventful, so he did the same thing with the other ox. The only difference was the second ox was airsick.”

    In 1935, Lymburner and another pilot, Herbert Hollick-Kenyon were on the staff of Canadian Airways Ltd. K.M. Molson’s history of the company, Pioneering in Canadian Air Transport, writes: “the company was flattered by the request of Hubert Wilkins of the Ellsworth Antarctic Expedition for a recommendation of pilots to go to the Antarctic and carry out exploratory flying. G.A. Thompson recommended Herbert Hollick-Kenyon as first pilot, one of the main reasons being that he held a British air navigator’s certificate. A second pilot and air engineer, J.H. Lymburner, was recommended and both were given leave of absence to go to the Antarctic.”

    Lymburner came close to becoming the lead pilot in Ellsworth’s 1935 Antarctic flight. After two aborted starts on November 21 and 22 (the first because of an equipment problem and the second because of bad weather), an impatient Ellsworth considered grounding Hollick-Kenyon thinking he was too timid and replacing him with Lymburner. Ellsworth settled down and realized that the two decisions to abort the flight were in the best interests of success.

    Lymburner, however, did get a chance to be Ellsworth’s lead pilot in that explorer’s 1938 Antarctic expedition. This venture was focussed on the Indian Ocean sector of Antarctica with Ellsworth being the first American to bring the flag back to this quadrant after nearly 50 years of inactivity. Two aircraft were outfitted for the expedition, the last privately funded venture: an all-metal Northrop Delta monoplane with a 750 hp Wright cyclone engine, and a small Aeronca two-seater plane for scouting. Ellsworth, in addition to being expedition leader, was also its aerial navigator.

    After their return from the 1935 Ellsworth Antarctic expedition, Lymburner and Hollick-Kenyon were feted across Canada. One of these events included a parade and lecture in Winnipeg.

    Photo: The visit to Winnipeg of Harold Lymburner and Herbert Hollick-Kenyon in the summer of 1936 and the parade through the streets of Winnipeg attracted considerable attention, judging by the large number of people on the sidewalk in the background to this photo. Lymburner is the man on the left in the backseat of this roadster and Hollick-Kenyon is on the right. The other people in the photo are not identified.
    This article originally appeared in the Spring, 2011 edition of Altitude magazine.

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