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Reviews: Vancouver Sun and B.C. Aviation Museum

Vancouver Sun

The story of the tempestuous rise, fall and rise of Queen Charlotte Airlines passes into legend with the publication of The Accidental Airline, sequel to last year's BC bestseller Spilsbury's Coast.

Those who have read the first book will remember an engaging journey through 40 years of the life of coastal pioneer, A.J.(Jim)Spilsbury. The sequel picks up where the first book left off, and focuses intently on the 10-year flight of Queen Charlotte airlines. During this period, 1945-1955, the pace and gravity of Spilsbury's life snowballed as rapidly as 20th century technology itself.

As living legends go, Spilsbury, at age 83, ranks pretty well at the head of his class. Logger, artist, manufacturer, author, and one-time head of Canada's third largest airline, he rode in on the mid-century crest of two technologies, communications and flight. His boyhood fascination with the wireless became a radio business which in turn engendered an airline.

With warmth and a sense of wonder, the book recounts Spilsbury's role in bringing the 20th century to the BC coast. It is less drawn out and more dramatically intense than Spilsbury's Coast because the trajectory of Queen Charlotte airlines was short and intense by nature. In a decade when pioneering the technology of coastal flight was a risky business at best, the authors cite some bone-chilling statistics. Heated competition led to repeated loss of life as pilots pushed risk factors to the outside of the envelope in the scramble for business.

The invisible hand of Howard White renders a lucid and dramatic reconstruction of Spilsbury's middle life and the vicious BC Air Wars of the '40s and '50s. Drawing upon Spilsbury's journals, period newspapers and various official documents, White has pieced together an alternately charming and harrowing account, told in Spilsbury's candid, unpretentious voice.

Like lovable old barnacles on a trusty boat, numerous thumbnail portraits adorn this tale with a menagerie of heros, villians, aristocrats and working men of the era. Their story chronicles a period of unprecedented industrial growth and conflict in BC, and subsequent government intervention from Ottawa. And though White has made Spilsbury's story both personal and compelling, it ends on an abrupt note which is somewhat unsatisfying.

Once again belying the fascination of Harbour Publishing for the legends of the Canadian West, The Accidental Airline completes a biography which will be of interest not only to history buffs and students of Canadian aviation, but to followers of psychology and living legend as well.

by Charles Pitts
The Vancouver Sun

B.C. Aviation Museum

The Accidental Airline, the story of Queen Charlotte Airlines is a brilliantly written, long overdue, history of one of B.C.'s 'own' airlines.

The Accidental Airline fills a void left in the wake of Justin de Goutiere's outstanding book on West Coast flying, The Pathless Way (1968). From beginning to end, this book is filled with 'true' versions of all those famous stories that have been making the coffee shop circuit for years now.

Written with the same style and wit as Spilsbury's earlier bestselling Spilsbury's Coast, this is a must read for anyone who has an interest in aircraft.

This book can simply be described at the best aviation book I have read in a long time. The best.

David Maude,
Curator.