John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 12.01.03
Fool's Hollow, Quebec


Pioneer aviator inducted posthumously into Quebec Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame

aviatorRoger Smith was born to fly.

His life-long love affair with airplanes began in 1928 when he was 15 and ended only last August when he died at age 90 -- just three months before he was inducted into the Quebec Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame.

Sadly, he died of pneumonia on August 3 before learning officially that he, along with eleven other flying pioneers, would be inducted into the Hall of Fame on November 26.

Roger Lovewell Smith was born a fifth-generation Canadian in Coaticook, Quebec, in 1912 and he and aviation grew up together.

His career began as a teenaged mechanic for Continental Aero Corporation at St. Hubert Airport, outside of Montreal. He soloed in an open-cockpit bi-plane when he was just sixteen.

After that, he did it all: Barnstorming at county fairs, bush pilot in northern Canada, operating his own flying company, commercial airlines captain. In WWII he flew the hazardous trans-Atlantic route for the Canadian Government's non-commercial air service.

Barnstorming days

Here are some of the other highlights in the distinguished flying career of this Canadian aviation pioneer:

  • Buys first aircraft -- a Travel Air E-4000 bi-plane -- at age 18 on May 10, 1931.
Barnstorming days
  • At age 19, on July 18, 1932, he becomes the youngest licensed commercial pilot in Canada. Establishes the 'Roger L. Smith Air Service.' Motto: 'Passenger flights anywhere.' Parachute jumpers, anglers, country fair flights at $2 per head. He does it all, mostly in Quebec and Ontario.

  • 1934: Awarded his Air Engineer's Certificate. He and brother Wellman begin rebuild of four-passenger Curtiss Robin mono-plane.

  • 1935: Pioneering bush-piloting in northern Quebec.

  • 1936: Buys Waco Cabin bi-plane. Flys the bush through 1938.

  • 1939: Recruited by Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) from his piloting job with Montreal's Dominion Skyways.

  • 1940: First Officer, then Captain for TCA. Begins training RCAF and USAAF pilots as part of war effort.

    1941: Pilot-in-command of Lockheed Electra 14 on the historic flight between Moncton and Halifax that linked Canada from the Pacific to the Atlantic, thus establishing a truly national trans-continental air service.

  • War Years: Flies the Canada-UK route for the non-commercial Canadian Government Trans-Atlantic Air Service.

  • 1947: Flies North Stars, Super Constellations, and DC-8s for TCA on regular commercial domestic and international flights.

  • 1961: Sets world trans-Atlantlic speed record between Winnipeg and Prestwick, Scotland in a DC-8 jet. Six hours, 54 minutes -- he shaved an hour off the existing record.

    1971: Retires from Air Canada after 33 years of service which saw more than 1000 Atlantic crossings and 24,000 hours in the air -- mostly as a pilot-in-command.

But Captain Roger Smith was not one to let it stop there.

After retiring with Catherine, his wife of 57 years, he owned and restored several aircraft: A Cesna 140, a Piper Cub, and a SeeBee Amphibious. In 1999, at age 87, he piloted a Stearman PT17 in the company of one of his three sons.

Roger Smith first saw a photograph of an airplane in 1925, when he was 13. The story was about Charles Lindbergh. And he fell in love with the idea of flying.

At the end of his life he had put in more than seven decades in the pilot's seat and accrued more than 27,000 flight hours in aircraft ranging from open cockpit bi-planes, bush planes in the frozen North, to huge ocean and continent-hopping commercial jets.

His was a love affair that didn't end with his death -- it lives on in the history of Canadian aviation.