1957 – The Big Year

Under construction, March 28-April xx


New Brunswick

Airstrips (14): Boston Brook, Budworm City, Charlo (Budworm Headquarters), Dunphy, Juniper, Tabu, Taxis, Grog Brook, Horne’s Gulch, MacFarlane, Nictau, Renous, Rose Hill, Sevogle. Grog and MacFarlane were constructed in 1956 for the 1957 season. No new airstrips were built in 1957.

22 Cessna 170s, 172s and 180s from Laurentide Aviation of Montreal.
190 Stearman, based on a 4-page list with parts unreadable or missing (see below).

This was the biggest operation of all 15 years, thirty times larger than the first in 1952, and included 24 contractors from the US and Canada. A total of 5,195,000 acres were sprayed in New Brunswick, about 30% of the province. This largest spray so far was necessary because of the widespread deterioration in the vitality of host stands following the unusually severe 1956 season (Webb, MacDonald and Cameron, 1958, Bi-monthly Progress Report 14 (3)). Twenty-two airfields in New Brunswick and Quebec accommodated about 200 Stearman sprayers and twenty-five Cessna observation planes. The FPL mixing plant was moved to Dalhousie on the Chaleur Bay to take advantage of its winter port facilities.

The Charlo airstrip was established as the operational headquarters. A full-time dispatcher, “Rusty” Mulcahy, was assigned to keep up-to-date records on the disposition of each spray plane.

On our way to NB, stopover at LethbridgeAL_23May1957-Tom Wilson
Five Skyway Air Services Stearmans on their way to NB, stopover at Lethbridge, Alberta, 23 May 1957. Tom Marston was the second fatality of the budworm spray in 1958. This was provided by Tom Wilson, who was 20 at the time.
Stearmans parked at Charlo NB
Stearmans parked at Charlo Airstrip, 1957, northern New Brunswick. One can just make out the waters of the Bay of Chaleur and beyond that, the hills of the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec. The airstrip is now a community park. The location should not be confused with the long established Charlo Airport. [FPL Files]
Stearmans at air show, Charlo NB, 1957
The gathering of Stearmans at Fredericton Municipal Airport, 1957. The image shows the Premier of New Brunswick, Hugh John Flemming, and government and FPL officials, including the province’s premier, and media in a photo op. Aircraft pictured and that can be identified are, first row: N56439 Vince Dusters #319, N56910 Vince Dusters #317, N5158N Medford #91; and second row: N5015V Vince Dusters #301 and N56443 Vince Dusters #318 or #320. [Forest Protection Limited files]

Wheeler Airlines again was charged with obtaining the aircraft, and provided all the mechanics, spare parts and equipment. The subcontractors provided the aircraft and pilots. All aircraft gathered in Fredericton where they were inspected by federal Department of Transport officials before being cleared to travel to their assigned work sites. American pilots were given letters of authority to fly in Canada. Most of the 700 personnel were employees of Forest Protection Limited, and included loaders, first aid and fire protection staff, clerks, radio operators and air traffic controllers but excluded pilots and mechanics.

By contract, all aircraft were to arrive on the project site properly calibrated, and this is the responsibility of the contractor. At the airstrip assigned, each aircraft will be inspected by the inspection pilot after the first load flown and from time to time.

The timing of the operations from the 14 airstrips was based on a map of phenological development for northern and central New Brunswick. Dunphy airstrip, located on the southern edge of the New Brunswick spray area, was the first to go into action, on June 4, followed by a gradual move northwards as the biologists gave the go-ahead. The entire operation came to an end in New Brunswick on July 4, when twenty aircraft operating out of Renous sprayed their last acre.

Checking distances on the working map of New Brunswick, 1957. [Forest Protection Limited files]
Operational statistics by airstrip, 1957. Table 2 in “Studies of aerial spraying against the spruce budworm in New Brunswick. XI. Operational summaries and assessment of immediate results”. F.E. Webb, January 1959.

The Ferry to New Brunswick

The first twenty aircraft arrived in Fredericton May 23 from Old Town, Maine, to refuel. The remainder of the fleet will arrive in successive waves until June 4 when all are expected to be in position at their assigned airstrips. At one point, eight Stearmans were photographed flying in V-formation over downtown Fredericton. Many officials greeted them at the airport; these included Premier Hugh John Flemming, Lands and Mines Minister Norman Buchanan, President of Wheeler Airlines F.H. Wheeler, and representatives of Forest Protection Limited. The Premier was photographed trying on a pilot’s helmet presented to him by Mr. Wheeler. The red helmet sported a logo that read “Budworm ’57,” below which were the letters WA for Wheeler Airlines.

Left to right: Norm Buchanan, Minister of Lands and Mines, unknown, Frank Wheeler of Wheeler airlines, and Premier Hugh John Flemming with the red helmet, May 24, Fredericton Municipal Airport, beside N56439 Vince Dusters #319. In left rear is N52068 Farm-Air #122 and at right is N5015V Vince Dusters #301. [Forest Protection Limited files]

Stearmans organized by tail/project number – 1957

Below is the four-page list of Stearmans and pilots for 1957, 7th revision. It is much annotated, some of it is unreadable or barely readable (especially page 1, numbers 1-46), and the lower left quarter of page 4 is missing, undoubtedly from being folded and carried in a back pocket. The information is invaluable, containing the aircraft registration, assigned airstrip (added in pen), engine hours since overhaul, pilots (those with previous spraying experience denoted by an asterisk * – total >48; a ? means that I am not sure of the spelling), pilot’s license number and operator.

In some cases, the planes were listed at a different airstrip. For example, Elwyn Behnke was listed as being stationed at Tabu but actually flew out of Budworm City the morning of his fatal accident. Stearman in bold have either an image or a DOT accident card to illustrate their presence in 1957. Also, several pilots were photographed posed beside their aircraft at probably Charlo airstrip; the names of these pilots are bolded and illustrated below. These pilots are all employees of Farmer’s Air Service Vince Dusters, located on the part of the list that is missing.

Most of the images from the Forest Protection Limited files come from the Vince Duster and Farmers’ Crop Duster aircraft stationed at Charlo. There are not many images of the rest of the project, but some are provided where available.

Farmers Air Service, Klamath Falls, Oregon
Flew out of Boston Brook (BB on list). Farmers AS obtained #1 to #7 from the US military and #8 from Central Aircraft in 1957. No images are available from 1957.
#1 N62775 – J. Ellis
#2 N53399 – J. Retterath
#3 N58680 – D. Stammerjohn?
#4 N53483 – L. Anderson
#5 N56773 – R. Gardener
#6 N4742V – *L.W. Olsen
#7 N4758V – R. Nelson
#8 N4769V – S. Martin – Flew out of Budworm City in 1952 as #14 for Central Aircraft; purchased by FAS in 1957
Baxter Aircraft Inc, Yakima, Washington
Flew out of Boston Brook (BB on list). These are several of the old Central Aviation aircraft owned by Al Baxter.
#9 N1724B – A.B. Roberts
#10 N1729B – *R.F. Schmidt
#11 N4811V – H.F. Thierman
#12 N68441 – *J. Kellogg
#13 N1731B – A.H. Ketcham
#14 N1307N – *R. Dobrinska

Pillar Air Service, Andy Pillar
#15 N1152N - J.A. Anthony

Bemis, Kenneth L., Brawley, Calif.

#16 N63402 – *L.E. Stimson

#17 N56456 – M.L. Campbell

#18 N66523 – J.J. Chisum

#19 N5028V – H.C. Allee

Two Bemis Stearmans at Tabu?, N.B., June 1957. N63402 #16 and N66523 #18. Forest Protection Limited files.

Ueding Flying Service, Vincennes, Indiana
Flew from MacFarlane (Mac on list)
#20 N53545? – P.J. Arthion
#21 N55898 – *W.M. Mains?
#22 Nxxxxx – *? Richardson
#23 Nxx297? – *M.W. Trinkle?
#24 N5x397? – L. Corvissiano
#25 N1585V – H.M. Cook
#26 N9719H – J. Rothius, wrecked in 1955
#27 N1535N – V. Bullard, accident June 25 near MacFarlane airstrip, substantial damage (see accidents)
Arizona Aviation, Safford, Arizona
Flew from Nictau (N on list)
#28 N56736 – L.E. Prothero
#29 N1310N – N.R. Parnell (name underlined in list; replaced by Ballester after his accident?)
Quaadman Dusters, Corcoran, California (Greg Quaadman)
Flew from Budworm City (BW on list).
#30 N59448 – E. Gentry
#31 N1318N – D. Baker
#32 N68456 – Ernesto Ballester – a #29 is placed beside his name, so presumably reassigned to that aircraft after accident June 25 at Nictau, substantial damage
#33 N56843 – F. Maglio
#34 N68461 – *G. Mowen
#35 N68455 – T. Insall?
#36 N68458 – *E. Turner
#37 N62630 – H. Blowers
West Coast Air Service, ?
Flew from Renous (RN on list) (1957 only)
#38 N1059N – J.S. Burft
#38 N5852B (?B or possibly D) – D. Simpson
Aero Agricultural Service, ?
Flew from Tabu (Tabu on list)
#40 N5214N – A.V. Adolph

#41 N66301 – *B.H. Hinshaw
#42 N75669 – R.E. Stance
#43 N57935 – *W. MacBridges
#44 not used
Russell Dusting Company, San Antonio/Pecos, Texas
Flew from Nictau (N on list)
#45 N4747N – *D. Royal
#46 N64358 – D.G. Dickson
#47 N59727 – D.J. Betenbough
#48 N5216N – C.E. West
#49 not used
Tri-Valley Dusters, Holtville, Calif. (owners Marion and Mary Louise Walker)
Flew from Nictau (N on list) (flew in 1957 only)
#50 N46818 – D. Edwards
#51 N57449 – D.J. Chessman
#52 N4881N – K.N. Wells
#53 N67517 – M.R. Walker – flown by owner

#54 not used
Aerial Crop Service, Carlsbad, Calif.?
Flew from MacFarlane (Mac on list)
#55 N69881 – *R. Cox
#56 N50087 – H. Clevenger
#57-#59 not used
Hicks & Lawrence Ltd., Ostrander, Ontario
Flew from Renous (RN on list)
#60 CFJOU (typo, JOV in list) – G.F. Pressey, crashed May 29 near Courcelle, Quebec, see accidents
Wheeler Air Lines Ltd., St. Jovite, Quebec
Flew from Rosehill (RH on list) (all flew every year in N.B. 1953 to 1958)
#61 CF-EQS – *M. Gordy
#62 CF-EQT – *M. Beluse
#63 CF-EQU – *P. Holtendorp
#64 CF-EQV – A. Becker
#65 CF-EQW – *R. Craven
#66 CF-EQX – A. Pooley
#67 CF-EQY – *R. Wray, accident May 30 near Moncton, substantial damage, see accidents
Airspray Ltd., Wetaskiwin, Alberta
Flew from Rosehill (RH on list)
#68 CF-IAD – T.W. Korpatniki
#69 not used
Bradley Air Services Ltd. Carp, Ontario
Flew from Juniper (Ju on list) (most flew every year 1954 to 1958) #70 CH-HKZ – *L. Moffatt – Typo in list, was HXZ; see #79 CF-HKZ under Skyway for note on confusion. #71 CF-FBD – *J. Fewell
#72 CF-DZC – E.A. Waters
#73 CF-DQP – A.E. Bradley
#74 CF-IBA – S. Dsus
Leavens Brothers Air Services Ltd., Essex, Ontario
Flew from Juniper (Ju on list) (most flew in N.B. 1953 to 1958)
#75 CF-FRY – *Doug Worgan; accident at Budworm City, substantial, pilot Lingham; see accidents
#76 CF-FRW – *J.D. Burgess
#77 CF-FRZ – *R. Hodgins
#78 CF-GAR – John Leslie Lingham
Skyway Air Services Ltd., Langley, British Columbia
Flew from Juniper (Ju on list)

#79 CF-HKZ – J.C.F. Blackham – A crease across the page obscures most information; accident at Cartierville, Quebec May 30 as HKZ ran into a parked JLS; see accidents. A bit of confusion here as the DOT card refers to this as a Skyway Stearman, not a Bradley.
#80 not used

#81 CF-DFC – R. Elmore
#82 CF-DQL – *Tom R. Marston – Tom Marston was the first Canadian fatality of the budworm spray in 1958.
#83 CF-FBU – *Tom M. Wilson, unreadable pen inscription beside name but could refer to T. Marsten
#84 CF-JLS – *O. Osen – Accident at Cartierville, Quebec, stopover on ferry to N.B., May 30 as HKZ ran into a parked JLS; see accidents.
#85-#87 not used
Medford Air Services, Medford, Oregon
Flew from Taxis (T on list)
#88 N57415 – L.T. Rickers – Flew in N.B. in 1958 as Airspray #69 CF-LOB.
#89 N70036 – J. Starkey

#90 N1054N – Elwyn G. Behnke – Behnke was the first fatality of the entire 6-year program, June 20 near Budworm City; see accidents.
#91 N5158N – *D.P. Newton

Medford N5158N #91 parked at stopover in Fredericton, May 24, 1957. [Forest Protection Limited files]
Simsbury Flying Services, Simsbury, Connecticut
Flew from Tabu (Tabu on list)
#92 N1241V - C.E. Onfer
#93 N2535R - G. Cavoli
#94 N60723 - W. Portlock
#95 N58067 - R. Schuean?
#96 N58065 - V.Y. Leach
#97 N60255 - R.C. Deacomb
#98 N53899 - *G. Bailey
#99 N9386H - K. Goodall
#100 not used

Farm-Air Company, West Sacramento, Calif.
Distributed between Budworm City (BW on list) and Dunphy (D on list)
#101 N56237 BW – *W. McMahon – crossed out and replaced with Bailey
#102 N49366 BW – *Robert Annon – crossed out and replaced with Mac. Eventually sold to Hicks and Lawrence Ltd. of Ostrander, Ontario, in the 1960s
#103 N1323N BW – D. Bailey – to General Airspray, Ontario, c 1960 as CF-VOB #76
#104 N1074N BW – *A. Lefleur – crossed out and replaced with Hodgkin
#105 N56803 BW – J. Hodgkin – For image see Dunphy Airstrip below.
#106 N64736 BW – *D.F. Whatley
#107 N50329 D – *W. Swanson – crashed his Stearman in 1952 and still flying
#108 N9129H D – W.E. Weston
#109 N68138 BW – R.B. Erskine
#110 N53236 – J. Connery – Entire entry crossed out on 1957 list, “June 30 @ Pabos”, Quebec, entered in pen; crashed at Pabos airstrip June 30, flown by Robert Annon, destroyed by fire, no injuries; DOT card states that the aircraft is operated by Miller Dusting Company, perhaps a contractor under Farm-Air.
#111 N56416 D – S. Cook
#112 N56184 D – W.G. Anton
#113 N5057V D – C.C. Riley
#114 N53179 D – R. Morgan
#115 N61522 BW – J. McLatie?
#116 N68468 D – J. Van Zande
#117 N59258 D – T. Wilkerson
#118 N54929 BW – *R. “Buck” Wheat (see image under Baxter)
#119 N75590 D – F.S. Smith
#120 N56621 BW – R.S. Swift
#121 N1065N BW – F. Mary
#122 N52068 D – *E.F. Coulter
#123 N53084 BW – *G. Waage
#124 N56806 D – *R. Brown –
#125 N49411 BW – *J.C. Bello
#126 N52740 BW – J.E. Moberg
Numbers end at #126 and restart under Marsh at #201.
Marsh Aviation Co. Inc., Mesa, Arizona
Distributed among the following airstrips: T – Taxis, RH = Rosehill, SV = Sevogle, RN = Renous, D = Dunphy
#201 N53025 T – L.J. Smith
#202 N53033 T – S. Stringer
#203 N56383 T – *W.A. Goswick
#204 N56805 T – C.A. Taylor
#205 N59950 T – pilot name unreadable, on crease
#206 N64385 T – F.R. Sawler?
#207 N68162 T – *A. Richardson
#208 N75623 T – *R. Humphries
#209 N64386 T – *G. Bishop
#210-#220 not used
#221 N61433 RH – B.D. Taylor
#222 N54899 RH – *D. Malvern
#223 N64758 RH – Joseph L. Curry – crashed 5 July 5 km south of New Maryland, one of the five aircraft forced down because of fog and loss of fuel: damage substantial, injuries minor.
#224-#230 not used
#231 N53090 RH – W.C. Keller?
#232 N67884 RH – J.L. Kelley
#233-#237 not used
#238 N51965 SV – *F.A. McNeese
#239 N1345M SV – N.S. Taylor
#240 not used
#241 N4685N T – B. Marwine
#242 N5190N T – *H.J. Maddox
#243 N5274N T – R.W. Erwin
#244 N5192N T – J.F. Gaylor – crashed June 9 at Taxis airstrip, substantial damage, no injuries, pilot Gaylor. The DOT card states that N5192N was operated by the American Dusting Company.
#245 N5195N T – D.R. Brown
#246 N53091 T – D.W. Huffaker
#247-#250 not used
#251 N66005 SV – F. Sanders
#252 N54653 SV – T. Watable?
#253 N52117 SV – Perry Brown
#254-#260 not used
#261 N1558M SV – J. Reynolds
#262 N1521M SV – W. Gibson
#263 N48769 RN – R. Kern
#264 N1715M RN – A. Strong

#265 N73444 SV – E.W. Osborne
#266 N75517 SV – G.S. Butler
#267 N58477 RN – Bill Tedder
#268 N75360 SV – F.W. Bailes, jr.
#269 N75361 SV – Jack Lowers
#270 not used
#271 N53429 RH – *W. Robinet
#272 N66283 T – *C.O. Diefendorf
#273-#277 not used
#278 N4762N ? – A. Berkes – location not indicated
#279 N4812V RH – M. Ezell – one of 5 planes forced down near Fredericton on July 5 ferry, piloted by Bill Lininger
#280 not used

#281 N1148N RN – Ernest Marquis
#282 N56907 RN – Leroy Moore
#283 N4786V RN – Oscar Knight
#284 N4740N RH – Richard H. Joyce – one of 5 planes forced down near Fredericton on July 5 ferry, piloted by Joyce
#285 blank
#286 N1142N SV – D. Sorenson
#287 N1145N SV – C. Bowlsby
#288 N58978 SV – T. Atkinson
#289 N58715 SV – B. Buchanan
#290 not used
#291 N4789V RH – M. Curtis
#292 N49377 RH – R.L. Sheppard
#293 N4774V SV – J.C. Miller
Earlmart Dusters, ?
#294 N63543 SV – W.S. Wood – Probably subcontracted to Marsh but operator name can be seen on the tail.
#295-#300 not used

Stearman #294 N63543, Earlmart Dusters, at Tabu airstrip, June 1957. Forest Protection Limited files.

Farmers’ Crop Dusters, Bakersfield, Calif. / Vince Dusters, Buttonwillow, Calif.
Location possibly Charlo Airstrip. Strangely, this is where we have the most images of the entire spray fleet.
Here the lower left quarter of the folded sheet is missing. Ditto marks under Marsh Aviation continue for 24 more entries, but #301 is on a crease that obscures the company name. If there are no missing numbers, then they would be #302-325. Some of the registrations are gleaned from the colour images from the FPL files. Some are Vince Dusters and some are Farmers’ Crop Dusters.
#301 N5015V D (brown body) Vince Dusters – Homer F. Kliewer – To Budd Aero Inc, Dinuba, CA 6 Aug 1956 with new c/r N5015V (PT-13D, 75-5609) [Aerial Visuals]
#302 N5013V ? (brown body) Vince Dusters – Tom Douglass, Fresno, Calif.

304 to #309 probably not used

#310 N53154 Farmers’ Crop Dusters – Robert Eakin, Van, Pennsylvania
#311 N48792 Farmers’ Crop Dusters
#312 N66961 Farmers’ Crop Dusters
#313 Nxxxxx Farmers’ Crop Dusters
#314 N63585 Farmers’ Crop Dusters
#315 N67203 Farmers’ Crop Dusters
#316 N53040 Farmers’ Crop Dusters – J. Welton, called Foster Welton on image – crashed 1 July 4 mi northeast of Nepisiguit Lake, damage substantial, no injuries
#317 N56910 Vince Dusters
#318 no info
#319 N56435 (dark body) Vince Dusters
#320 no info
#378 N66658 (dark body) Vince Dusters or Farmers’ Crop Dusters

CBC Film

The black-and-white CBC Newsmagazine film about spraying from Budworm City in 1957, called “Canada’s Forests: Budworm Infestation and DDT” (8:51) can be found in the CBC Digital Archives. The reporter was Kingsley Brown and the broadcast date was July 7, 1957. Mentioned are:

  • Chief Pilots Bob Yates and Charlie Alcock
  • Earl Fitzgerald, Area Project Supervisor and unofficial “Mayor” of Budworm City
  • Mike Gordy of Simcoe, Ontario, pilot of Wheeler CF-EQS
  • Pat Korpatniki of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, pilot of Airspray CF-IAD
  • View of Marsh #243 N5274N in air (not spraying)
  • Views of parked Airspray Stearman #68 CF-IAD
  • Views of 4 Wheeler Stearmans flying together

Dunphy Airstrip

“War council of budworm battlers” Pilots and personnel at at meeting at Dunphy airstrip, probably 17 June 1957. On the left is Farm-Air Stearman #105 N56803. [Telegraph-Journal, 18 June 1957; Forest Protection Limited files]

Search and Rescue Helicopter

The saga of the search and rescue helicopter to be in service for the spray period is an interesting one. A letter from Barney Flieger of Forest Protection Limited, based in Campbellton, N.B., and dated August 14, 1957, to Mr. K. Brown of the provincial Department of Lands and Forests, outlines the problems with obtaining a helicopter. Apparently, FPL’s request to obtain the services of a Royal Navy helicopter, as in past years, was declined. This resulted in a mad scouring of the continent by J.L. “Rusty” Mulcahy for one of the S-55 type, which turned up nothing. Mr. Mulcahy then tried for a less satisfactory (for search and rescue purposes) S-51. About May 24 he turned up one in Linden, New Jersey.

A Canadian company, World Wide Airways, stepped in and purchased the aircraft, thus allowing a speedy import to Canada. The machine was already being modified for the spray operation conditions, and it started its ferry to Fredericton on May 26. The copter suffered some mechanical problems and returned to Linden, finally arriving in Fredericton on May 29. As a result of all these setbacks, the copter arrived two weeks late, at a time when 60% of the fleet had already passed through to project airfields. Barney says: “The machine paid for itself in bringing out a downed pilot but would not have helped much if our one fatality had been only a serious injury.” In that case, dense woods prevented the helicopter from lowering the doctor by cable.

By the Skin of My Teeth: A Cropduster’s Story

By the Skin of My Teeth: A Cropduster’s Story by William “Bill” Robinet was the basis of much of the following. In this very readable book, Bill describes his years as a loader and a pilot cropdusting cotton with Stearmans and other ag aircraft in Arizona and Mexico for the years 1950 to 1957. He visited New Brunswick as a pilot to take part in the Spruce Budworm Spray Project for three of those years, 1955, 1956 and 1957, and his insights and descriptions of those situations are vivid and provide a real look at the program from the ground level up.

Billville Press is a book publishing imprint of WJR Enterprises, Inc., which is a company that buys and sells aircraft, repairs them and gives flight instruction; Bill Robinet is the president. He is a Mechanical Engineer, Flight Instructor, A & P mechanic and IA. He is also a recipient of the Orville and Wilbur Wright Master Pilot award. He has written two books and has a third nearly ready to publish. Leslie Robinet, Bill’s wife, is the company Secretary/Treasurer and a flight instructor. The stories below are told mostly in his own words. This was Bill Robinet’s last year on the budworm spray program.

Bill arrived at the Marsh facility to find out that John Neace was no longer manager; he was now a manger for Forest protection Limited. The Marsh fleet of twenty left Arizona on the morning of May 15; their first stop was Liberal, Kansas. Gail Bishop was again the leader. The twenty planes eventually arrived at old Town, Maine, where the Chief Engineer of the Department of Transport examined the Stearmans.

Rosehill Airstrip

The next day the fleet arrived in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and then on to Nictau airstrip where they underwent calibration tests. The Nictau Chief Pilot then included them in a flight of eighteen that left for Rosehill, located just west of Bathurst, to await the commencement of spraying. After two years flying in pairs in New Brunswick, Robinet was assigned as the lead pilot. Lee Saucier was Chief Pilot.

Bill liked the flat terrain and the fact that the airstrip was close to “civilization.” “The locals were always hanging around the airport to watch the action. There was even a small automobile parking lot and a set of bleachers just off the runway ….” Rosehill, also spelled Rose Hill, was historically called Rosehill Settlement, but the actual site of the strip was farther west in South Tetagouche, just north of Highway 180. Rosehill was an 18.2 ha property comprising an airstrip and surrounding properties, now woodland, one of three former airstrips owned by FPL. The site was prepared for reclamation in 1993. It was a typical U-shaped strip with landing to the north, the loading pits at the end, and takeoff to the south.

Eventually Bill and the crew moved on to Charlo airstrip, the headquarters of the project, but their stay there was short. They moved on to Quebec and Cap Chat for the remainder of the season.

Eight of the Stearmans, including Robinet’s, were to fly to Charlo, spend the night, then move on to Fredericton with eight others who had departed from Grog airstrip. Bill takes ten pages to describe what happened next.

Gallery: Bill Robinet and his Marsh Stearman N53429 #271 at Taxis, New Brunswick, 1957. Bill’s book reports that this was taken at Taxis in 1956, but the number, registration and owner logo are that of the aircraft he flew in 1957. [By the Skin of my Teeth: A Cropduster’s Story]

Accidents – Spray Planes are Forced Down

Bill Robinet’s account: We arrived at Charlo in the afternoon (of July 4), but things seemed to be moving slowly in the morning. Of the sixteen Stearmans that had gathered at Charlo for the trip out, only four were from the original group of twenty that had come from Arizona in May. The take-off the next morning was being delayed because the airstrip officials were waiting for the weather report. However, at 7 a.m., the group was given the OK and headed for Fredericton in pairs with Cessnas in the lead and at the end. About twenty miles from Fredericton, Bill noticed a large bank of clouds, which soon became a solid undercast, and found out later that they had overshot the city. Eventually, the Chief pilot made a 180 degree turn and tried to take the group to the Taxis airstrip.

Bill observed one Stearman go down from lack of fuel, and found out later that two others did the same. He worried about his chances of making it to Taxis given that he also was running short of fuel. They were over the small community of Durham Bridge when he saw his flying partner head for an opening in the cloud deck. Should he follow or stay with the group, only to run out of fuel on the way to Taxis? He followed his team mate down through the hole in the clouds and they suddenly saw an L-shaped pasture that looked appealing for an emergency landing. His partner went for it, but there was no way both planes could land there together at the same time because of the chances of collision. Bill flew over the field and saw that his partner had landed safely, so he landed at the far end of the field and taxied along to where his partner was. By this time the fuel gauge was reading empty. Bill looked at his watch and saw that it read 9 a.m., just two hours after they had left Charlo. There was no damage to either of the Stearmans.

A man, Arnold Frazer, who had bee driving home to Nashwaak Bridge, had seen the planes land and drove up to offer help. Frazer took them to a local store where they used the phone to inform an official at the Fredericton Airport of their situation. Then they obtained some fuel at a local bulk station (Bill says that he convinced the attendant to bill it to Wheeler Airlines) and returned to fuel up their planes.

Eventually they took off, Bill leading as usual and his buddy following closely, and headed to Fredericton Airport by following the local roads. However, perhaps feeling a little too cocky, Bill missed the turn-off to the airport. After a period of searching, he found the runway and both planes landed safely. At about 3 p.m. at the airport Bill gave a fifteen-minute interview with a reporter of local radio station CFNB in which he recounted all the events of the last few days.

They were shuttled to a Fredericton hotel where “everybody” was staying, including Forest Protection Limited officials from Montreal who were there to confer with federal Department of Transport officials in the investigation of the days “fiasco.”

Bill was cleared to return to Arizona the next day, but he had significant engine trouble on the way. Because of massive oil loss, Bill had to ditch N53429 in a field near Sullivan, Missouri, where he had to abandon it.

Other accounts: After operations had ended, 5 planes from a squadron of 11 were forced down near Penniac (just north of Fredericton) “on July 5 … as they were returning to the U.S. from the northern part of the province. All the pilots escaped serious injury as heavy fog and lack of fuel were the main cause of the accident.” [Seto, unpublished report to FPL] Two of the craft were extensively damaged.

The Moncton Daily Times reports (June 6) what happened. The squadron was headed to the Fredericton Municipal Airport to refuel, but pilot Bill Liniger of Yakima, Washington, said that the field was fogged in. He said that they were over Penniac when a plane piloted by Dick Joyce of Phoenix, Arizona, was forced down in a field, broke through a fence and nosed over, losing a wingtip. Liniger and Joe Curry circled over the field until Joyce signaled he was OK. They ran out of fuel near Charters Settlement (called Chartersville in the article, but that is actually in Moncton/Dieppe and not likely to be the crash site) and selected an intersection on Route 28 (now called Route 101) where Curry made a forced landing. The left wing of the plane struck a telephone pole, causing it to nosedive, but Curry escaped with only bruised ribs. Laniger landed in a nearby field.

Two other planes were forced down along the St. John River, but the rest of the squadron returned to the Taxis airstrip.

Accident – The First Fatality

On June 20, the first fatality of the six-year budworm project occurred. Pilot Elwyn G. Behnke, from Eagle Point, Oregon, and of Medford Air Services, crashed into thick forest three miles south-southwest of Budworm City. He was piloting Medford #90 N1054N. Behnke had departed Budworm City at 6:09 a.m. About 11 minutes later, the pilot of the companion aircraft saw the crash from an elevation of about 300 feet. The S-51 helicopter was dispatched from the Charlo airstrip, but the dense woods prevented the pilot from lowering Dr. Graham Little to the site. The copter landed a mile away, and Dr. Little hiked in, reporting later that the pilot had been killed. A ground party arrived from Budworm City, and the pilot’s body was removed and transported by the helicopter to Budworm City, then to Charlo and later to an undertaker in Campbellton. The DOT accident card records that the aircraft failed to maintain adequate flying speed and spun off in a left-hand turn at low altitude; the aircraft was destroyed. Behnke leaves a wife and five children.


DDT was applied to 1,255,000 acres. in 1957 “In the peak year of operations (1957) 80 spray aircraft and 12 inspection aircraft operated from 9 airstrips constructed for this purpose.” [Blais et al. in Prebble 1975] Webb et al. (1961) state in Table 2 that 107 Stearman sprayed in Quebec. Airstrips used were Patapedia, Cap Chat, Laverendrye, Nouvelle, Lesseps and Pabos; the latter two airstrips were constructed for the 1957 project. Farm Lake was not used this year. Spraying started on June 13, five days earlier than 1956, and ended on July 5, four days later than in 1956 because of unfavourable weather. Commercial airfields Rimouski and Gaspé were also used.

Cap Chat Airstrip

Bill Robinet describes being at the Cap Chat airstrip in 1956 (see HERE), located on the north coast of the Gaspé about 60 miles inland from Matane and the nearby coastal community of Cap Chat [English: Cape Cat]. This Gaspé airfield was configured such that the departure was the same direction as the landing, with the pits situated in a dogleg in the middle. The landing approach was from the east, then a right turn into the pits and a left turn to leave them for the takeoff runway. Bill Robinet and colleagues spent the remainder of the 1957 season at Cap Chat. Compared with Rosehill, the flying in the Gaspé was difficult, as most of the flying required a flight over a mountain range.

Robinet describes a chaotic arrival at the tricky airstrip in which many of the aircraft had to do a go-around, resulting in several mishaps. In his words, “four airplanes were creamed on that very first landing at Cap Chat, including one that landed on its back.” However, I have not found any DOT accident cards for any of these.