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1938 S18D, c/n 178, CF-BKO
Operations at Prairie Airways and Problems
Excerpt From Boxkite to Boardroom by Richard W. Ryan who was the first manager at Prairie Airways, "several hundred Moose Jaw people were at the airport to see the new aircraft [CF-BKN] arrive. We had phoned after clearing customs at Pembina and had given our approximate arrival time. As we stepped off the aircraft we were given a great welcome. I believe this was one of the happiest days in my life. About two weeks later we took delivery of our second aircraft [CF-BKO] and we were ready to commence operations.
Our first regular flight was operated August 2, 1938. During the first month we didn’t carry passengers in order that our crews might first become familiar with the route and the aircraft. We had worked out a schedule, which we found we could maintain without difficulty. During the first eight months of our operation the aircraft performed well and we gradually built up our passenger traffic. In the late fall and winter there were a few days when we could not operate on account of bad weather but this was to be expected on a route not equipped for instrument flying. There were other days when one or more of the northern city airports were below limits. These points were passed up but we operate into the airports that were within our limits.
Early in 1939, we encountered cylinder and piston troubles in our engines. This trouble seldom caused a complete engine failure but the engine commenced malfunctioning and had to be shut down. Since the aircraft had good single engine performance there was no danger but the aircraft had to be called back to our main base at Moose Jaw where the engine was changed. The failed engine had to be torn down and the defective parts replaced. As this was happening far too frequently I phoned Mr. Jacobs in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where his plant was located, and advised him of our trouble. He pointed that our company apparently was the only one having trouble with his engines. I found this hard to believe so I phoned Walter Beech in Wichita and told him about our problem also told him what Jacobs had said. ‘Ridiculous’ said Walter, ‘I’ll say you are not the only company having troubles with his engines. All the people who bought my aircraft with his engines are having trouble. His damned engines are ruining the reputation of my airplanes. I’ll phone him, Dick, and build a fire under him.’ Very soon after this conversation a representative of the Jacobs Company arrived in Moose Jaw to check into our problems and to see how his company could give us the most help. Later the replacement pistons and cylinders we received from the factory gave us a little better service but they were never entirely satisfactory. In fairness to Jacobs, a smaller engine, which he had built and which was used quite extensively during the war, gave fairly good service. He had apparently run into problems when he built the bigger engine.
The utilization of our aircraft on the feeder line was very low. The average flying time on the operation each day was only about four and one half hours. With two aircraft in the service the average aircraft flying time per day was only two hours and twenty minutes. However, in view of the troubles we experienced with the Jacobs engines, we could not possibly have operated the route with only one aircraft. In spite of our problems we completed our first year of operation with a small profit. We paid the dividends on the preferred shares promptly at the end of each six-month period and our employees always received their pay chukkas on time.
During the second year of our operation we had our first belly landing [CF-BKN on Aug. 22,1939]. In the undercarriage retraction mechanism Beech had used a sprocket chain. This chain apparently was not strong enough to stand numerous take offs and landings, so on this occasion it broke while the undercarriage was being retracted after take off. The result was that the undercarriage could neither be fully extended nor fully retracted. A belly landing had to be carried our and the aircraft was recalled to Moose Jaw main base to carry out this procedure. On landing, the undercarriage went back to the fully retracted position but the wheels still extended partly below the body of the aircraft and prevented the main body of the aircraft from serious damage. However, the propellers were badly damaged and the engines had to be dismantled and carefully checked for possible damage.
This was an experience which neither Beech nor our company had foreseen. It meant changing both engines and propellers in order to render the aircraft serviceable again. I phoned Beech and told him what had happened. He expressed regret and said they would try to supply a heavier chain but this would take time. Meanwhile he suggested that we carry out frequent inspections of the undercarriage chains and replace them if there was any sign of deterioration. In spite of these extra precautions we had to make a second belly landing [CF-BKO on Dec. 12,1939] several months later.
Other than this defect the aircraft performed very well. If the engines had performed as well we would have been satisfied."
The following information from documents on the Canadian DOT microfilm of the files for CF-BKN and CF-BKO is of interest for the additional details it adds to the account of Richard Ryan. The extent of the Jacobs engine problems may be seen by the following for CF-BKN:
  • In December 1938 a new engine was installed but a piston failed one-engine hour later.
  • Another new engine from Jacobs was installed and within 2 weeks it seized.
  • In December 1939 cracks were found in a Jacobs crankshaft and crankcase.
  • On a flight on July 28, 1941 the right engine seized (16 hours after overhaul at Prairie A/W), the propeller twisted off the end of the crankshaft and the cowling tore off. The pilot landed safely at Prince Albert 25 miles away. A clamp on the rear section of the crankshaft failed allowing the crank pin and rod assembly to move out of alignment.
For landing gear problems with CF-BKN: the Aug. 22,1939 belly landing was caused by a bent sprocket tooth that broke the chain. Chief Beech engineer, Ted Wells, sent Prairie four new heat treated sprockets as replacements.
For CF-BKO engine problems:
  • In 1940 a master rod broke in flight, the propeller and cowling both separated from the aircraft but the pilot landed safely, 15 miles away at Saskatoon Airport.
  • It was discovered that an August 1939, Jacobs Special Service Bulletin concerning rod replacement was never received by Prairie Airways.
For CF-BKO landing gear problems:
  • On Dec. 6, 1939 it had a landing gear sprocket problem followed by a belly landing mentioned above on Dec. 12,1939. Prairie Airways notified the Canadian DOT that, "pending a satisfactory solution to the landing gear problems both our aircraft will fly with the landing gear extended and locked permanently down." Nothing further on that subject appears in the file.
  • CF-BKO had an accident on Jan. 22,1943 when it hit a hard ridge of snow at Edmonton and broke the tail wheel fork. On July 15,1943 a Canadian Pacific pilot deliberately flew into thunderstorm conditions according to the DOT report and was lucky to have survived. It rained so hard that CF-BKO lost power on approach to Saskatoon and it came away with only a damaged wing tip and a missing weight from the trailing antenna.
 
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