Jim Shilladay MOSQUITO RACER, by Don McVicar. Ad Astra Books, Dorval, 170 pages, illustrated, $27.50.
We're lucky that Don McVicar, after a lifetime of flying countless aircraft throughout the world, decided to recount that life in books - and that he is such a good writer.
This is McVicar's fourth book, all of them action-packed, evocative to the degree the reader is in the cockpit (or cabin) with him, all the way. It follows chronologically the others: A Change of Wings; Ferry Command; and North Atlantic Cat. Mosquito Racer tells how the author set up World Wide Aviation in Montréal, after the Second World War, and entered the competitive business of ferrying both new and patched-up aircraft around the world. Then, while at the U.S. National Air Races, in 1947, he got the idea that a Canadian-built de Havilland Mosquito would have a good chance of winning the Bendix race. What happens is the rest of the book.
McVicar's beginnings were here in Winnipeg. He was a teenage student at St. John's College School. By 1940, he was working in the control tower at Stevenson Field, now Winnipeg's international airport. From then on, his flying experiences - and his contributions to Canadian and world flying - were varied and important. He was a generation removed from the glory names of Canadian aviation - Punch Dickins, Wop May, Roy Brown and all the others, but he came from the same mould.
SMILIN' JACK: Congrats! Four great books in a row - you've hit the jackpot again. As usual you describe events so vividly that the reader feels he is right there in the cockpit with you! But frankly I don't think I'd like to be in the gremlin-filled' cockpit of a Mosquito!
Following is a review of "Mosquito Racer" by Beth Buchanan, retired Manager, Historical Services.
"I enjoyed reading Mosquito Racer even more than its predecessors, although I began to be afraid of running out of pages before we got into it.
"You have a gift of expression that is all your own and delightfully understated humor. This is needed where you look back on some of your experiences with more mature detachment, although still deep feelings.
"As always, the serious business of flying is the heart beat of the book and you have obviously been meticulous in your records, which ends up giving the layman such confidence in your flying ability that a slightly shaky syntax in the telling is more endearing than disturbing.
"Congratulations. You've done it again. I hope sales match its worth and know you will not disappoint readers of your previous books looking for a good story."
GLOBE AND MAIL, Toronto: Don McVicar's books transport the reader back to a time when life seemed a great deal less complicated than it is today. He tells of how he bought, converted and entered a deHavilland Mosquito in the Bendix trans-continental speed race. He also provides intriguing details about the Canadian aviation history during the thirties including descriptions of the wild parties during "freezeup" and "breakup". His daring girl friend, Loretta found the ideal solution to the long separations a career in aviation could inflict upon couples - she became his copilot. Ronald Sutherland. AIR CLASSICS USA: At the end of World War II McVicar set up World-Wide Aviation in Montreal. successfully entering the fiercely competitive business of ferrying both new and patched-up aircraft around the world. Most Warbird buffs will be interested in the story of his entry of a deHavilland Mosquito into the Bendix in competition against the Mustangs, as very little has been written by the pilots who raced in the post-war period. Highly recommended.
The year was 1946.
The Second World War was over and airmen were on the streets of Montréal trying to parlay their war-time skills as pilots and navigators into civilian jobs.
Wartime production had put Canada at the forefront of the blossorning aviation industry, with such companies as Canadair. De Havilland Aircraft of Canada and Avro Aircraft turning out airplanes by the thousands.
That's the setting for Mosquito Racer, a new book by Dorval author Don McVicar.
The book is the fourth for 70year-old McVicar and, like the others, is a sort of autobiography of his exploits as a pilot with the Felry Command.
The title comes from his attempt in 1948 to be the first foreign winner of the American Bendix Trophy cross-country air race.
Rife with airmen's jargon
But the account of the race in the wooden De Havilland Mosquito airplane takes up a only small portion of the 169-page volume.
The book is filled with airmen's jargon and the kind of "there-Iwas-at-10,000 feet" stories that pilots never get enough of.
But even for those who don't know the difference between airflow and airfoil, the sale last year of De Havilland and the proposed sale of Canadair have have made McVicar's latest book timely.
McVicar describes in detail a strong Canadian aviation industry - a phenomenon almost unknown to younger generations.
Although the book recounts events 35 years ago, McVicar provides readers with a glimpse of what was to come.
The failure of the Canadian government to provide veteran's benefits for members of the Ferry Command, the difficulty Canadian veterans had getting licences to fly anything but ferry or cargo runs. and the government's lack of support for its domestic aviation industry are all highlighted.
McVicar's own company, World Wide Aviation, was one of the casualties.
"In 1965, the Air Transport Board put me out of business," he recalled during an interview in the study of his Dorval apartment. "They said we were lacking financial viability, which meant we had run out of money.
"We were operating three Lockheed Super Constellations with Wright compound engines that weren't very reliable." The planes, he said, had heavy maintenance costsÑfor example, a breakdown in Amsterdam cost the company more than $50,000. While his first book, Ferry Co.nmand, was the hardest to produce, it is also his best- known work to date.
In the book, published in 1981 McVicar describes the perilous pioneering flights made by the Royal Air Force Ferry Command as its crews crossed the North Atlantic and the Arctic in winter to deliver new aircraft to the battlefront.
Although it concentrates on McVicar's own story, critics have called it a well-written account of wartime flying.
McVicar said the first 4,000-copy printing of ferry Command is sold out and he is waiting to find out whether British Airlife Publishing Ltd. will produce a second edition. For McVicar, a retirement career in writing has not come easy.
"I wrote over two million words before I got 60,000 published," he said. "I can't put in more than two to three hours a day and be productive."
Once Ferry Command was finished, McVicar had to get a publisher. "I spent one year sending the book to Canadian publishers and getting rejections. Then I sent a synopsis to four publishers in England. I didn't know what to do."
Airlife Publishing finally accepted the book and, even though McVicar is Canadian. his books sell better in England than they do in Canada.
In 1983, MeVicar published North Atlantic Cat. another collection of his experiences with the Ferry Comrnand in the latter years of the war.
A year later he published "A Change of Wings," an account of the ending of the war and his flights into jungle airstrips with British West Indian Airways and into Canada's north with Indian fur trappers.
McVicar has written two other books. One, More Than a Pilot, is scheduled to be published next year. "The Grass Runway," a novel about two aging pilots who are being regulated, cut of business and resort to smuggling, is still making the rounds of publishers.
Yarns better than life
If there is anything most male pilots like more than flying, drinking and women, it's telling stories about flying, drinking and women.
In one anecdote from his latest booze McVicar tells how he ran out of "real pilots" and pressed his girlfriend (now his wife) into service as a co-pilot.
"I noticed that on the drive back to our little love nest on Mackay St.. Loretta was very quiet. Finally I found out why. She thought that just like any other co-pilot, she was entitled to flight pay.
"Of course, as a typical chauvinist, and the boss as well, I was against this revolutionary idea. After some bickering, she accepted her flight pay as a big night out on the town." The book is available at W.H Smith, Ogilvy and the Double Hook Canadian Books or through the website.