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Pacific Western Airlines

Bush pilot


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Russ Baker

Francis Russell Baker was born on 31 January 1910 in Winnipeg. He attended school  there, learning to fly at age 16. He continued his studies at the University of Manitoba and earned a commercial pilotís licence.

He then spent time as a barnstormer, appearing across the province of Manitoba. In 1929, Baker moved to British Columbia, and in 1937 he became a pilot for Western Canada Airways.

Baker was a respected bush pilot Ė a skill exercised flying rescue missions. He also flew geological parties into the mountains of northern British Columbia where no other pilot had flown before.

Shortly after the Americans entered the Second World War following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, there was an effort to build a highway to Alaska to allow American troops to move north if the Japanese invaded. Baker was one of several bush pilots who were employed by the Americans who needed them to fly along the route to survey it. He demonstrated his abilities when a number of American bombers were forced to land in the northern mountainous range of the Yukon. Baker was the pilot who was able to find and rescue the crews, which earned him the United States Air Medal in January 1942.

Baker worked for his old friend Grant McConachie when he was a pilot for Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPA). He was made senior captain, and later divisional superintendent for CPA at Whitehorse.  The staff of Pacific Western Airlines photograph.

During his experience at CPA, Baker realized that there was great potential for charter aircraft companies, so he left in 1946 to establish his own company, Central B.C. Airways, based in Fort St. James. He started with two Beechcraft seaplanes, two employees, and a contract with the B.C. Forest Service. To fulfill the needs of the Forest Service, he acquired four more aircraft in 1947.

In 1948, he bought the first Beaver airplane that was manufactured by de Havilland.

The success of Bakerís Central B.C. Airways began in 1949, when he bought up struggling companies that included, Kamloops Air Service, Skeena Air Transport, Associated Air Taxi, Whitehorse Flying Services, Queen Charlotte Airlines, Associated Airways, Aero Engineering Ltd., and Airmotive Accessories Ltd. These acquisitions made Central B.C. Airways the third largest airline company in Canada at the time, after the larger Trans Canada Airlines, and Canadian Pacific Airlines.

Another opportunity came Bakerís way in 1951 when Central B.C. Airways won the contract to provide air support to the Aluminium Company of Canada (Alcan) who was building the large smelter complex at Kitimat and Kemano.

Baker changed the name of Central B.C. Airways to Pacific Western Airlines (PWA) in 1953. At the same time, he started to fly a scheduled service from Vancouver to Kitimat.

Harold Heacock

Ice Floe Rescues Ė Harold Heacock
Harold tells the story of a daring ice floe rescue.
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