September, 1950, Aircraft and Airport
The second post-war class was recently graduated from the RCAF’s Para-Rescue School at Henry House Field, near Jasper, Alberta. The class was made up of an RCN chief petty officer and twelve RCAF personnel, including Squadron Leader J. R. Jackson, the first Air Force medical officer to qualify as a para-rescue jumper.
Part of the RCAF-operated Search & Rescue organization, the eighteen-week course has but one object… to train men to parachute into otherwise inaccessible spots to save lives. Those taking the training are selected volunteers, chosen on a basis of previous bush experience, general fitness and mental alertness. On finishing training, the RCAF claims that they are ready to cope with situations which may range from climbing a mountain to aid victims of an aircraft crash, to leaping into heavily timbered country to act as a midwife.
The school is commanded by Flight Lieutenant C. W. Weir and is located on a small natural air field in a valley surrounded by an imposing cluster of mountains. The field, Henry House by name, is nine miles from Jasper and was selected as an ideal outdoor classroom for this specialized training. Seldom used, it is close to terrain suitable for instruction in jumping into both open and timbered country, mountaineering, ice field techniques, canoeing or rafting, and general bush lore.
The most spectacular part of the training is the actual jumping. Each graduate does ten jumps before he gets the RCAF’s para-rescue badge, a tiny emblem with a parachute worked into it in silk and the inscription “Para Rescue”, worn on the left arm. Six jumps are made into open country and four into heavily timbered areas. Much time is also taken up by other phases of the course, not quite so spectacular, but nonetheless very important; physical training alone takes up about 120 hours, first aid another 150 hours. The para-rescuers learn bush lore which enables them to survive in the wilderness with a minimum amount of equipment. Classes in mountain climbing includes instruction covering snow, ice, and rock work… the use of ropes, ice axe, crampons, and so on, as well as skis and snow shoes.
The RCAF’s para-rescue service dates back to 1943 when W. R. ‘Wop’ May of Canadian Pacific Air Lines, then managing the Western Air Observers schools, selected the first squad of four volunteers from aircraft mechanics at the schools. Para-rescue came into being in the Air Force officially the next year.
This article originally appeared in the September, 1950 edition of Aircraft and Airport magazine.