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The Flying Superintendent’s Fairchild

by S. Bernard Shaw

The first “Flying Superintendent” of Algonquin Park was Frank A. MacDougall, later to serve as Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Lands and Forests. Probably the most important single factor in MacDougall’s success was an open-cockpit Fairchild KR-34C biplane, the CF-AOH, with which he kept an eagle eye on Park activities. This is the story of the AOH in the Park, its subsequent firefighting exploits, and its crash, neglect, recovery, restoration and flight “in disguise” as C-FADH.

At $7,000, the AOH was an expensive aircraft in 1931, but it was a quality product, selected personally by MacDougall. Fairchild Aircraft of Farmingdale, New York, had purchased the design from Kreider-Reisner and improved it to carry the sophisticated Fairchild aerial cameras. Quite a small biplane, with a wing span of 30 ft., a length of 23 ft., and 165-h.p. engine, it could haul two passengers over 500 miles at a cruising speed of 82 m.p.h., and could operate with wheels, skis or floats. It was finished in the standard Fairchild colours—black fuselage, fin and rudder, with orange wings and a large company emblem on the vertical tail. MacDougall insisted on a larger tail for better manoeuverability on the water, a modification probably carried out at Fairchild’s Montreal plant.

Using this airplane, MacDougall effectively erased the poacher problem that had plagued the park since its inception in 1893. From his base at Cache Lake, he would fly over the vast expanse of the park. There was no escaping him in winter, as tracks were plainly visible from the air. In summer, he would land alongside suspect canoes to check that fishing limits had not been exceeded. MacDougall was able also to check personally on and direct the many park improvements that he initiated.

At the end of the 1933 season, the AOH had a complete overhaul at the OPAS headquarters at Sault Ste. Marie. In the process, it was repainted yellow, with silver sides, and the Fairchild emblem on the vertical tail was replaced with the words “Algonquin Park.” A series of Ontario Provincial Air Services mechanics kept the aircraft in the air, including Stan Knight (1931-32), Jack Humble (1933-35), James Cairns (1936-37) and Francis Hughes (1938-39). MacDougall flew the AOH until 1938, when he relinquished it for a more powerful, enclosed-cockpit Stinson Reliant. Another overhaul at “The Soo” resulted in an all-yellow paint scheme with black lettering and a stylized OPAS emblem on each side of the forward fuselage. Stationed at Temagami, the AOH was then flown by several OPAS pilots.

Aerial forest firefighting is now a huge and routine operation, but the technique was pioneered by Carl Crossley flying the AOH over Algonquin Park in 1944. Bruce West tells the story in The Firebirds. Inspired by seeing a fire started by lightning and then extinguished by a shower, Crossley realized the value of getting water to the fire before it was fanned by the wind into a major conflagration. An aircraft should be able to do it, but how? After some thought, he installed a 45-gallon steel drum in the front cockpit of the AOH, with a system of three-inch pipe and elbows protruding into the water.

Unfortunately, the snorkel water pick-up was not effective because Crossley could not taxi fast enough to generate adequate pressure to force the water up into the drum: he had to fill it up with a fire pump. A small bush blaze started by Phil Hoffman, Chief Ranger at Temagami, and Rene Simard, Crossley’s air engineer, was extinguished in a few passes with ground guidance from Simard, who stood a little too near the target and was the beneficiary of a free shower. It was a beginning, and experiments continued with larger planes, leading to the specially designed water bombers of today.

In 1944, some thought was given to rigging the AOH for aerial spraying of spruce budworm but, before the plan could be initiated, the aircraft was sold (for $2,043.59) to Fletcher Air Transport of Wawa. In 1945, the AOH was sold to Air-Dale Flying Services of Sault Ste. Marie and was kept busy until 1948, when engine failure on take off from Wildcat Lake, north of The Soo, resulted in its wreck on the shoreline. Pilot John Hampton was not seriously injured but the AOH was abandoned.

In 1963, OPAS decided to retrieve the historic aircraft and restore it to non-flying condition for display at the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa. Considerable work was completed before they found out that the museum would only accept aircraft in flying condition. This was too big a task to tackle at the time and the AOH was put on the shelf.

Many retired OPAS personnel lived around The Soo (and still do), however, and they volunteered to restore the AOH to flying condition for the 50th anniversary of OPAS in 1974. Largely because of the difficulty in obtaining drawings, parts and technical information, the volunteers could not meet the target but, undeterred, they pressed on. The restoration was completed for OPASOs 60th anniversary and the aircraft flew again in September 1984, with OPAS Chief Pilot Al Stewart at the controls.

But it was no longer the CF-AOH. After the crash and write-off, this registration had been reassigned to a DC-3, and Canadian registrations had been changed to begin OC-O. The closest registration to the original that could be obtained was C-FADH.

C-FADH operated from The Soo airport hangar for a series of trials and photo opportunity flights before returning to the OPAS hangar on the waterfront. When the air service operation moved to new quarters at the airport, the OPAS facility became the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, where CF-AOH can be seen today “disguised” as C-FADH.

In recognition of MacDougall’s exemplary service as Park Superintendent from 1931 to 1941, and his twenty-five years as Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Lands and Forests, in 1976 the section of Highway 60 through Algonquin Park was named the Frank MacDougall Parkway. Frank MacDougall was elected to Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame and received the prestigious Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy. CF-ADH is a permanent tribute to Frank MacDougall and to the other bush pilots who did so much to open up northern Canada.

The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre has a unique collection of aircraft and equipment used in Canadian bush and firefighting operations. Among the displays is the remains of the prototype Noorduyn Norseman, the first true bush plane, that crashed in Algonquin Park after playing a leading role, along with Brenda Marshall and James Cagney, in the bush flying epic Captains of The Clouds. Jack Minor, one of the volunteers who run the centre, provided most of the information used in this article. The Centre’s web site can be viewed at

This is an original story, first published in The Country Connection Magazine, Issue 32, Winter/Spring 1999. Copyright S. Bernard Shaw.



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