Charlie Skinner -- barnstormer, bush pilot and test pilot


bush pilot

test pilot

-Charlie Skinner's story

The following article on pioneering Saskatchewan airman Charles Skinner appeared in Ken Liddell's "Country Club" column in The Leader-Post on July 10, 1947. For more information on Skinner, visit the village museum in his hometown of Willow Bunch, south of Moose Jaw.

Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan -- Charlie Skinner looked up from under the hood of the car where he was fixing something, said some day he was fixin' to borrow an aeroplane and fly the thing around for 23 hours.

When he does that, Skinner will have logged flying time of exactly 10,000 hours as a prairie barnstormer, Ontario bush pilot and war-time test pilot.

Statistics show that the average life of a pilot is 320 hours in the air, but Skinner put in 1,000 hours flying Curtiss Helldivers for the United States Navy at a Fort William, Ont., plant.

When that job was over, and as he was a grandfather, Skinner decided he had better get settled down somewhere, so today he is back where he started from: running a garage in Willow Bunch with his brother, Russell.

In the interim, he had seen a lot, been many places, thinks it would be a shame not to round out 10,000 flying hours, which is quite a parley from the four hours of instruction he received in 1928 in North Dakota, where he and a brother, Claude, began flying together. Claude was later killed by an aircraft propeller.

Skinner was born in Boissevain, Man., but lived his early life in North Dakota.

In 1915, Skinner and some other chaps came up to Willow Bunch with a boxcar load of horses. Skinner decided to stay and opened a garage when there were only three cars in that country. It's the same garage he has gone back to, in partnership with his brother Russell.

In the meantime, however, Skinner had spent 9,977 hours absolutely off the face of the Earth. In 1928, he bought an old Jenney (sic), flew it around Willow Bunch and became a man of mercy to the isolated valley farmers when he began flying ambulance cases, one of the first in the province to do that work. The next year, he brought a trim Swallow, flew it around Willow Bunch until 1934, when he went to Regina and flew an ambulance machine.

One day, he was reported to Ottawa for not circling the Regina airport before landing. Ottawa aeronautical authorities asked him to explain. Skinner said he brought it in as a passenger had given birth to a baby in his plane. What should he do in a case like that? He got no reply.

In 1941, Skinner went to northern Ontario, flew as a bush pilot for Starratt Airways, now a part of Canadian Pacific Airways. They were busy times. From May 8, 1941 to April 5, 1942, his logbook showed he spent 1,050 hours in the air, carried 6,173 passengers and 1,720,909 founds of freight on 3,049 trips which covered the equal of 93,000 miles.

All this was in the northern bush, mind you. Often, he would sideslip and stall to land in a gully, then have to get help to haul the plane to a hill for a takeoff. "But it was rather monotonous at times," said Skinner-"I used to amuse myself looking for new lakes and naming them after my friends."

It was test-flying the Curtiss Helldivers that carried the excitement. He spent the two years at this after leaving the hush and said every trip had two things in common: he was never sure whether he would get off the ground and, if he did, was never sure just how fast he would come down.

But when that was over and the boys were calling him Canada’s flying granddaddy" -- the former Vivian

Skinner, now Mrs. Al Snider of Fort Francis, Ont., where Mr. Snider now flies, is mother of the grandchild -- Skinner thought it was time to quit.