Captain Roy Cooper – The Old Master of Flying

By: Retired Pilot Tom Green

I first met Roy Cooper when I applied for a job with Eastern Provincial Airways of Gander, Newfoundland back in the 60s. I was taken on as a station agent in Deer Lake, where their sked flights used to stop on their way to points in Labrador.

Roy told me at the time that they would take me on as a pilot when a position opened. I had just received my commercial licence from the flying school Central Airways in Toronto Island Airport a short while before. 

Roy was a very well-respected person in the aviation world; kind, never raising his voice, and always taught you how to manage your airplane and how to fly it. 

I can recall many flights with Roy in different airplanes with me flying and Roy telling me what to do, or not to do. I always remember him telling me how to land an airplane after dark on floats, just in case it was needed at some point. I can recall one night flying to Port Hope Simpson on floats at 2 a.m. to bring in a fellow to St. Anthony Hospital, who was dying of a bleeding ulcer. I did exactly what Roy taught me and it worked out well. 

Roy enlisted in the forces during World War II and was in the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit, sailing for Scotland. In May 1942, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and started flight training. 

He flew many RAF aircraft during the war, the last being a de Havilland Mosquito night fighter, a twin-engine aircraft that could achieve speeds close to 400 mph. His squadron was credited with the first downing of the German pilotless buzz bomb.

After the war he flew out of Moncton, New Brunswick with Maritime Central Airways, flying a DC-3 delivering supplies to the “Dewline” radar system, which was being constructed all over the Arctic. He flew from Gander in 1954 for Eastern Provincial Airways and was in charge of their bush line as a chief pilot. 

He flew contract work for Air Labrador for several years, with a year back on the water bomber with the Newfoundland Government. He was also elected to the Gander town council in 1959 and was later mayor for a short time. 

Upon his retirement in 1980, with over 15,000 hours punched, Roy was known to have flown 38 different airplanes. This in itself is quite an achievement. 

Roy used to ferry airplanes for his friends’ company in Gander, like the Citabria on skis, which was damaged in the Park Lake area of Labrador south of Goose Bay. He was ferrying the plane back to Gander, having flown from Park Lake to Flowers Cove in the Newfoundland straits area for fuel. He took off for Gander in March of 1974, and after experiencing heavy snowfall, was forced to land on what he thought was a pond. Upon landing, he realized he had touched down on a bog. His plane became bogged down, and he used all his gas trying to move it. He was missing for three days with search and rescue and other planes trying to locate him. 

I was stationed in St. Anthony flying the Mission plane Turbo Beaver. I drew lines on my map about three miles apart and went looking for him. The lines I had drawn on the map allowed me to fly the exact lines up and down the area where I thought he might be. The SAR aircrafts were searching along the high country of the Northern Peninsula, just where I figured he wouldn’t be given the weather on the day he went missing. 

On one of the lines of my map, I came across a big S.O.S. stamped in the snow with snowshoes, and I knew I had found him. 

I had plenty of fuel and several people on board with me as extra eyes. I would have landed on the bog if I was lighter, but I didn’t want to risk being bogged down as well. I called the SAR helicopter, which came to my location. I stayed overhead until they hovered and winched Roy aboard.

Roy called me on the radio from the helicopter afterwards, asking me if a Turbo Beaver could land where he was, which I agreed it could. 

The family was grateful I had found him. If not, the outcome of the story would have been very different.

That’s the story of Roy Cooper, a kind and gentle man who I call the Old Master of Flying. 

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