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Reviews: Airforce and Skyways

Airforce Review
The Queen Charlotte Airline was born of Jim Spilsbury's frustration at time wasted travelling by boat, selling and repairing radios at remote places on the west coast. Started on float planes, it graduated to flying boats and then to land planes. It grew painfully with limited funds, a mixed lot of pilots and aircraft that were a variety of cast-offs. "We learned how to keep a Dragon Rapide on a regular schedule ten years after it had personally decided to retire."

There were terrible accidents and many hairy incidents such as operating float planes off snow.

Rather than the cockpit, we enter boardrooms, the backrooms of his wily competitors, of industrial giants, the offices of Ottawa bureaucrats, politicians and even the daunting C.D. Howe.

He had an ongoing struggle with DOT, in regard to licensing of his pilots, aircraft and routes and with a mean postmaster-general who wouldn't pay QCA anywhere near as much as other carriers to transport the mail.

Eventually, QCA was developed into the third largest airline in Canada, but it cost the author a great deal. He was bought out by PWA and his marriage did not survive the continuous stress.

This is the story of tremendous effort to open up the west coast, of some great characters and of the indomitable spirit of Jim Spilsbury. Fascinating!

-Grahame Inglis, Airforce

Skyways Review
Although Canada is a small country in terms of its total population, its aviation history is easily the equivalent of that of the United States, especially in the area of civil aviation. The Accidental Airline gives us another fine example of the uniqueness of the Canadian bush flying experience and the special flavor of the narratives which have come out of those experiences. Jim Spilsbury began Queen Charlotte Airlines in 1943 in an attempt to find an alternative means of traveling up the western Canadian coast from Vancouver to Ketchikan when the war effort adversely affected travel by boat. Spilsbury was in the radio operation and repair business and needed some means of reaching his customers. The only way he could obtain permission to fly in wartime Canada was to become an airline, and even then that route was difficult until he received government approval to fly in support of the Canadian defense radio network, for which his company was providing important technical support. So, because of the war, his familiarity with the coast and his background in radios, Jim Spilsbury's QCA came into existence. When Spilsbury sold QCA to Pacific Western Airlines in 1953, it was the third largest airline in Canada.

The Accidental Airline is a first person account of the history of QCA, told by Spilsbury, its owner and occasional copilot. The history of QCA is indicated in its alternative name, "Queer Collection of Aircraft". The aircraft which QCA flew included a Waco, a Dragon Rapide, a Grumman Goose, a Norseman, a couple of Stranraers, a Canso, some Ansons and some DC-3s. Although the book is advertised as a humorous account, Spilsbury's recollections of the numerous accidents QCA experienced are as tragic as they are funny. Co-author Howard White has helped to shape Spilsbury's narrative into a chatty, down-to-earth style appropriate for the rough and ready experiences of the Canadian bush pilots. The book, illustrated with many photos and maps, is a softcover reprint of a book initially published in 1988.

-Kirk Vaughan