December, 1978, Canadian Aviation
by Larry Milberry
Lack of development funds–bane of most new aircraft schemes–scuttled the attempt of a Polish immigrant to market Canadian-made helicopters in the late 40s. Bernard Sznycer brought Canada to the verge of having its own helicopter industry.
Late in 1945, Sznycer, a Polish aeronautical engineer, came to Canada from New York City with a scheme to design and build a small helicopter. Assisting him was another engineer, Selma Gottlieb, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Financed by a group of Montreal inventors, Sznycer and Gottlieb had by 1946 completed a prototype machine in a Montreal shop. The SG-VI-C was a small, three-seater powered by a Franklin engine. With the exception of the engine and the tail rotor, every component was Canadian-made; 42 firms having participated as sub-contractors. Sznycer calculated that by procuring parts from many manufacturers he could assemble the final product in a mere 16 man-hours.
Tethered flights soon followed, and on July 9, 1947, the SG-VI made its first free flight. Test pilot Henry J. Eagle Jr. liked the craft, pronouncing it free of vibration or stick shake. A refined model, the SG-VI-D, followed and was christened the Grey Gull. On February 6, 1948 it made its first flight. But soon afterwards, investment money became tight and the financial backers, none of them appreciative of the typical high costs of any aircraft development, got cold feet and withdrew their funds. In October, 1949, however, the economy took a slight climb and the project was revived.
Next step for Sznycer and Gottlieb was federal Type Approval. In January, 1951, Dept. of Transport inspector Jack Charleson arrived at Montreal Dorval Airport to pass judgement on the new craft. He had in his hand a list of rigid criteria–mainly those which were applied by the U.S. government for certification there but tightened to meet Canadian conditions.
Testing began January 29 with the weather its mid-winter grimmest. Pilot Jack Godsy flew in near-impossible conditions and the helicopter was at times lost to view in swirling snow. Jack Charleson commented after the flight, “Temperature–ten degrees below zero. Altitude–instruments covered with snow. Wind–terrible. Aircraft–normal in all respects.” After five days of gruelling tests, the Grey Gull was granted approval–the first civil helicopter ever certified in the Commonwealth.
Ironically, the Grey Gull never progressed beyond that point. Once again its backers became edgy and cut off development finances. Coupled with this bad news, Sznycer was facing some other. Bell, Hiller and Sikorsky, about this time, were all offering commercial helicopters for immediate delivery.
Disgruntled, Sznycer sold the Grey Gull to interests in Brooklyn, N.Y. and returned to New York to resume designing helicopters. He soon obtained financing to design and build the world’s first twin-engine civil helicopter–the Omega BS-12D. Like the Grey Gull, this type was also certified but administrative problems led to its demise in the early 1960s.
Following this final disappointment, Sznycer retired from the aircraft industry to pursue his interest in the arts. He concentrated his efforts on his painting, sculpting and writing. His works included two plays and a translation of Chekov. He died November 30, 1970 at 66 years of age.
One of the Sznycer patents for the Omega is for his unique flying crane concept–later adopted by Sikorsky and applied to the S-64 Skycrane. Rights to this patent are still held by Bernard’s widow, Katherine Sergara Sznycer, of New York.
This article originally appeared in the December, 1978 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine.