|Dawn Dawson was a young lady just out of high school when she earned her pilots license in 1950. Few Canadian women obtained commercial pilots licenses in the 50s. It was a male-dominated profession and Dawn was ‘just a girl’.
The windows of the U-Fly dispatch office were open and Dawn heard the inspector announce to both Lloyd and Al and anyone else within 20 feet that. “I told you before and I’m telling you again. I’m not going to fly with no goddamn girl! I never have and I’m not going to start now!”
"Oh, yes you are, Bill!” Lloyd’s voice was firm and steady, as it had been all during Dawn’s training. “If I say she’s ready, you have no legal right to refuse to give her a flight test. And I say she’s ready!”
“OK, maybe I gotta ride with her, but there ain’t nothin’ in the book says I gotta pass her.”
Gordon first met Dawn in 1952 at Calgary Flying Club where she had just been hired as a flight instructor. Over the next six years, Dawn honed her flying and management skills, running Pacific Western Airline’s (PWA) Whitehorse Flying School. When the Canadian Airline Pilots Association removed Dawn’s name from PWAs pilot seniority list because she was a woman, she resigned. In 1958, she and her husband formed Connelly-Dawson Airways, Ltd.
The second pivotal “lady” was named CF-CPY. She began life in 1942 as a C-47 transport assigned to the 10th Air Force in India. She was retired after the war and in 1945 was sold to Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPA) where she transitioned from a military C-47 into a commercial DC-3.
In 1960, Gordon was a First Officer flying for Canadian Pacific Airlines and a partner in Connelly-Dawson Airways. Looking to expand, Gordon and Dawn approached CPA to purchase one of their old DC-3s. CF-CPY was selected and joined the Connelly-Dawson fleet.
A DC-3 was no ordinary bush plane and Dawn was no ordinary pilot. For the next 10 years, CF-CPY, Dawn and Gordon flew the Big Dipper Route from Whitehorse to Dawson and Inuvik. Serving remote communities, oil rigs and mines near the arctic circle with temperatures regularly at 40º below zero presented many unique challenges. Lady on a Pedestal gives the reader an appreciation for the skill, ingenuity and nerves of steel required to operate an airline in this environment.
Gordon Bartsch captivates the reader with his calm, no-nonsense narratives about their flying adventures. Life and death situations were all in a day’s work.
I needed no urging from Bob to keep trying to raise somebody on the radio. I went up and down all HF frequencies and called on the VHF frequencies or 121.5, the emergency frequency, and the 126.7 frequency we had talked to Lady Franklin on when northbound. Nothing!
We had not talked to anyone in over seven hours.We were lost, going to run out of fuel within an hour, over rough terrain, pitch black, 40º below zero, and nobody would know what happened or even where to start looking for us.
The pucker factor was building
My CPA (Canadian Pacific Airlines) training had been first-class, both in flying skills and the proper loading of the DC-3. It was called weight and balance so neither the nose or tail got too heavy. The one area they missed was short-field landings on sandbars! Dawn and I were about to get an education.
The book on “How to Fly” says that you should do a precautionary landing into really short strips. Come in slow, just above the stalling speed using lots of power, nose high and drag it in. When you cut the power you quit flying and touch down at low speed, just above your stall speed. Right! You can forget that page as far as I’m concerned.
We wasted the first couple of hundred feet, were too fast, and the rough sandbar pitched us back into the air a couple of times. Finally CPY, likely in an act of self-preservation, gave up bouncing and settled down. Rolling with the swales and hummocks, we final stopped about 20 feet from the end of the ‘runway’.
The people of Old Crow had come out in force to greet CPY and the first landing of a big airplane. They had gathered at the far end of the sandbar that we were rapidly approaching, braking hard. Dawn cut the engines when she saw the gathering ahead in the event we didn’t come to a timely halt. We both remember opening the side cockpit windows and looking down at smiling upturned faces gathered under CPY’s nose. We quickly developed a whole new technique for sandbar landings.