November, 1979, Canadian Aviation
There should be a place in the World Book of Records for Sandy Tweed. He walked away from a cushy $78,000-a-year senior capacity of a CP Air Boeing 747 on the Tokyo-Vancouver run to pilot a DH Turbo Beaver out of Fort Simpson, NWT, for $18,000 a year plus blackflies in summer and cold feet during the spells of -48° F in Arctic winters.
Of course, Thornton Alexander “Sandy” Tweed is something more than your everyday airline skipper. He’s of a bush flying dynasty that goes back half a century to the day in 1927 when his dad, Charlie, got his commercial license at the Lethbridge Flying Club, took to barnstorming, then bush-piloted for Grant McConachie’s United Air Transport until June 15, 1939, when he was killed hitting an unseen pylon taking off in a Fairchild FC-2W2 from Juno harbour against the sun. Four months later, Sandy got his license at the Edmonton Aero Club and right out of high school at 19 he got a pilot job with CPA.
It’s a good bet the dynasty of the flying Tweeds will continue for at least another half century. The third in the succession, 34-year-old Bill Tweed, is a pilot president of Simpsonair and Bill’s 12-year-old son is growing up around the Fort Nelson airport.
Sandy got an early start. When still a toddler he’d ride around on his mother’s lap in the spare cockpit of Charlie’s barnstorming Gypsy Moth. He achieved national attention in 1934 when, at 11, he was the youngest in Canada ever to solo. His son, Bill, was lined up for a law career but had learned to fly the family Aeronca Sedan and failed to resist the lure of aviation.
Sandy Tweed launched his 25,000-hour commercial flying career in a primitive Travelair 6000, graduated during his 34 CP years to a motley succession of mounts – Fairchild’s 71 and 82; Stinson Reliant; Norseman; Bellanca Aircruiser; Barkley-Grow; DC-3; North Star; DC-4; DC-6B; Britannia; DC-8; and B-747.
His favourite? “I’ve never encountered anything to compare with the 747 as a wonder plane, fantastic performance, but to me it’s not real flying. The gadgets do all of that and you’re more like the commander of a ship. For sheer enjoyment give me the Norseman on floats. I flew that stodgy, clattering, rugged old workhorse for 5,000 hours and I guess I must have fallen in love with it.”
Why did Sandy opt out of the 747 flight deck with all that comfort, opulence, seniority and seven more lush years before retirement?
“For one thing, having worked for a corporation all my life, I wanted to see if I could make it on my own. Perhaps more, I wanted to get back to basics, to real flying.”
Thus on June 16, 1976, Capt. Sandy Tweed landed CP Air Tokyo-Vancouver Flight 402, turned in his registration and proceeded to Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories to join his son and a CP Air colleague, Val Valencourt, as partners in Simpsonair.
There were no Norsemen around and few floaters. But Sandy found joy at the controls of the DH Turbo Beaver. On his first Simpsonair hop to Fort Wrigley he was dumbfounded. Since his previous landing there 30 years earlier the settlement was on the other side of the river. It had been moved to the east bank.
Still chief pilot of Simpsonair, Sandy Tweed, now 56, spends some of his time in semi-retirement at Vernon, B.C. He goes north periodically to conduct staff pilot proficiency and category checks and to fill in on the flying roster but the appeal of the Arctic flying is starting to diminish for him.
“Today’s bush planes are not a helluva lot different from the early days. A bit faster, more efficient, but they’re still damn cold in the winter and I guess I’ve reached the age when I like to keep my feet warm.
This article originally appeared in the November, 1979 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine.