October, 1941, Canadian Aviation
The illustrious records of Canadian aviation are vivid with the exploits of pioneer pilots. But much less has been recorded of the heroes in overalls, the maintenance men, the ‘black gang’ without whose unobtrusive perseverance and everyday ingenuity the greatest flying exploits in our history never would have succeeded.
Thus the award of the 1940 McKee Trophy to T.W. ‘Tommy’ Siers, at long last and deservedly, is welcomed not only as a tribute to the man but also as a long-overdue recognition of the air engineer.
The Siers biography in detail would constitute a veritable review of bush flying back to its origin and would extend into the last war when he gained his first real experience with the internal combustion engine.
Perhaps the most notable pioneer victory, in terms of handicaps imposed and lives saved, was the salvaging of G-CASQ after it had broken through the ice of Bathurst Inlet during the famous McAlpine search. Faced with grim alternatives, Tommy Siers, who was in charge of maintenance for the search expedition, decided to salvage the sunken plane. This proved to be a masterstroke of strategy, for a short time later, it alone, of all the aircraft engaged in the search, was serviceable. G-CASQ provided the only communication with the outside world.
Unique in the nature and extent of his experience, the 1940 McKee winner has had more aircraft under his maintenance supervision for a longer period of years and under more difficult conditions than any other man in the country. His practical knowledge of winter bush operation of aircraft has few if any rivals.
First with the Air Board (1922), later with Western Canada Airways and eventually with Canadian Airways, Tommy applied all his energies and summoned others’ inventiveness to whip the big tough bogeys of sub-zero aircraft maintenance. In the development of accessories and in technical modifications contributing to more reliable operation under extreme conditions, Mr. Siers has been the outstanding individual.
In the perfection of skis, ski pedestals, ski harness, carburetor hot spots and other experience-tested auxiliaries of northern aviation, his contribution has been the indispensable one. The modification of ordinary aircraft to perform the extraordinary feat of flying continuously and reliably with cargo and passengers, through winter and summer, anywhere between the railroads and the Arctic Ocean has been a big part of Tommy’s job for more than a decade.
The achievement for which T.W. Siers will be remembered and most frequently blessed, particularly on those bitterly cold early mornings when the bush planes are getting under way, is his adaptation of the Worth oil dilution system to Canadian flying operations. This successful effort specifically won him the McKee award.
His imagination alive with possibilities involved in the idea of diluting engine oil with an injection of gasoline to ease cold-weather starting, Mr. Siers returned from a U.S. convention determined to banish the dangerous, tedious blow-torch method from the northern bush. During the winter of 1937-38, a measure of success was achieved with the experimental aircraft that Canadian Airways willingly assigned to his project. The winter of 1939-40 saw complete success and subsequently aircraft with the dilution system he developed have been started in the North without pre-heating at 56 below zero.
Recently the Maintenance Committee of the Air Transport Association of America heard Mr. Siers read a paper on his development of the oil dilution system in Canada. The importance of cold-weather starting in military aviation is evidenced by the fact that the Worth system is being installed in Canadian-built Bolingbroke bombers.
Now supervising aircraft overhaul for the Air Training Plan, Tommy Siers nevertheless is essentially in the business of keeping bush planes in the air. For occasional relaxation he shoves aside reports and charts, tilts back his chair and exchanges northern flying gossip with anyone who talks the language. He has always believed that the air engineers were the real he-men of the North and right now he’s busy side-stepping, in their favour, the banquet which, in his opinion, rightly belong to the greasy aristocrats of the north-land.
This article originally appeared in the October, 1941 edition of Canadian Aviation. The photo is of Tommy Siers and an unnamed engineer, taken at Churchill, Manitoba.