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Eric Blackwood

by Frank Tibbo

Eric Blackwood's name is part of Newfoundland's aviation history because of his notable achievements in the period following WWII. One of the reasons that his name was one of the first on a Gander street is because of the powerful influence Eastern Provincial Airways had on the town at that time.

Born December 7, 1921, at Wesleyville, Newfoundland. He was one of three sons of Captain Job Blackwood. After one season in the family business of Labrador fishing and the coastal trade, young Blackwood went off to St. John's where he attended Prince of Wales College with the aim of civil engineering career. It was not to be. In 1943 with the world totally immersed in the war, he volunteered for the RCAF. The RCAF trained him as a navigator and wireless operator and then kept him in the unit for several months training others. Then in 1944 he was told that his request to be released from instructor duties and to go overseas was granted. He had attained the rank of Flying Officer when the war was over.

Blackwood had a great desire to be a pilot, but the RAF told him he was needed as navigator and wireless operator. He decided that if the RCAF wouldn't train him as a pilot, he would do it himself. During his furlough and other free time,he went to Levens Brothers' Flying School, Toronto, Ontario, and paid for flying lessons.

His great desire on leaving the RCAF in the summer of 1945 was to commence a flying service in his native Newfoundland. He knew the need of aircraft in this vast, relatively unpopulated land. When he got back to Newfoundland, he discovered that two St. John's businessmen, W.R. (Ren.) Goobie Jr. and Jim McLoughland, had purchased two Piper Cubs from the United States Army to start a flying club. He was also delighted to discover that they did not have a pilot.

He approached Goobie and McLoughland to determine if they were interested in a partner – one who could fly. They were, of course, and negotiated the cost of a partnership at the princely sum of $4,000. That was fine with Blackwood but there was only one hitch. He didn’t have $4,000. However, he knew his mother did so he made arrangements to borrow the funds from Mrs. Blackwood. The three formed a partnership; and in December 1945, Newfoundland Aero Sales and Service (NASSCO) was formed.

It was Newfoundland's first commercial airline; but with no regulations governing the airways or flying in Newfoundland, NASSCO spent the first winter on the ground.

Blackwood saw an advertisement in LIFE magazine for a Seabee aircraft for $5,000, an aircraft which Blackwood considered ideal for Newfoundland operations. The single-engine (pusher) could accommodate a stretcher and was amphibious.

Blackwood had been very busy but saved time for romance. He was determined he was going to get the Seabee, despite the fact that the timing was coincident with his wedding plans. Being a very ingenious chap, he suggested to his bride-to-be that they spend their honeymoon on a trip to New York where they would purchase the amphibious Seabee and then fly it back to Newfoundland.

It happened just the way he had planned it. On the way back from New York, they stopped in Sydney to hire another pilot for the company, Joe McGillivray. The Seabee became the most versatile and famous of the company's fleet.

Somewhere between all of this, he realized that he needed a civilian pilot's licence and approached the Canadian Department of Transport. The inspector didn't ask too many questions when approached by the ex-RCAF airman, assuming that he had been an RCAF pilot. Blackwood wrote and passed the written examinations and passed the commercial pilot's flight test the same day.

In August 1946, a licence to operate the first plane, VO-ABG, finally came through. They quickly bought two versatile Norseman on floats, a Supercruiser, two Ansons, and leased a Grummond Widgen. Within nine months, the company logged more than 112,000 passenger miles. Based at Quidi Vidi, it quickly snapped up government contracts, inaugurated the first air mail service and regular passenger travel to northern Newfoundland, and operated charter flights for businessmen and sportsmen.

From 1946 through 1949, NASSCO cornered the airline market in the province. However, increasing demand meant larger and more modern aircraft were needed, and the company lacked money for capital expenditures.

Against Blackwood's wishes, Goobie & McLoughlin sold NASSCO to the larger airline, Newfoundland Airways, a subsidiary of a Canadian company, Maritime Central Airways. (Blackwood suggested looking for investors.) He was on his own. When he was bought out, there wasn't enough money to break even on his original investment.

Carl Burke, who owned Maritime Central Airways, asked Blackwood to stay on as chief of flying operations; but that wasn't for him – he still wanted a Newfoundland airline.
Eric Blackwood did not give up the dream of playing a major role in forming a significant Newfoundland airline. In the fall of 1948, he wrote every businessman in Newfoundland asking for investments in an airline. He raised $16,000 at $25 a share. Wealthy Newfoundland businessman Chesley Crosbie a put in the major shares. It was Crosbie who would prove to be instrumental in the future development of Eastern Provincial Airways.

With $16,000 backing him, the 28-year-old entrepreneur was back in the airlines business again. He ran an advertisement in the St. John's newspapers asking for suggestions for a name for his new airline-to-be and offered a turkey as a prize for the winner. A youth by the name of Butler was the winner, and the name was Eastern Provincial Airways. It was January 1949.

Jack Fennell, an aircraft maintenance engineer, left NASSCO to join Blackwood. Next came Marsh Jones, Bill Harris and Don Patey.

The new company was incorporated on March 8, 1949. Its first aircraft was a used twin-engine five-passenger Cessna Crane purchased for $2,500 from Denver. Blackwood flew it to Torbay airport and from there to Quidi Vidi where he fitted it with skis. The inaugural flight was a mercy mission to Lascie during which the aircraft was damaged on the rough ice-covered surface. To Blackwood's chagrin and embarrassment, Newfoundland Airways had to be called in to pick up Blackwood and his passenger. Blackwood called that a minor setback.

With Crosbie's backing, Blackwood bought a DeHavilland Beaver and was successful in being awarded the public health and mail contracts. He said the main reason EPA got the contract was, " … mainly because of the poor service that had been provided by Newfoundland Airways."

Operational headquarters was Torbay Airport, but the lousy weather forced them to set up other operational points at Gander, Millertown Junction, and Roddickton. Later the headquarters was moved to Gander because of its central location and better flying weather.

By the spring of 1952, the political bug had bitten Eric Blackwood so severely that he succumbed. He left EPA to run against Joey's hand-picked candidate, another Wesleyville native. He never thought that he would be running against Joey's candidate because he was asked by a large number of people in Labrador to run for the Liberals. They persisted that they wanted the popular pilot as their member. He went to Joey and offered to run for the Liberals. Joey had already had his man (Andrews) and was so concerned that Blackwood would run as an independent Liberal said, "Eric you're not going to run, are you!?"

Blackwood was obviously non-committal at this point whereupon Joey offered him $600 cash and as much government business as EPA could handle. This was against Blackwood's principles, and he had no trouble turning down the bribe.

The Progressive Conservatives heard about the matter and asked him to run. Blackwood's reply was that he would if he had an aircraft in which to do his campaigning. They asked him what he wanted and Blackwood said a Seabee – what else? He got the Seabee but it was all in vain. The weather prevented the ballot-boxes at Goose Bay from being distributed. Blackwood fired off a telegram to the returning Officer and offered to deliver them. Seeing a possibility of impropriety in this, the Returning Officer declined. The mailboxes stayed in Goose Bay, and the election was postponed until the following spring. By that time, Blackwood had lost his appetite for the political arena and called off his plans for the legislature.

He left Newfoundland and went to Ontario where he joined Austin Airways, followed by Georgian Bay Airways of Ontario. In 1964, Eric gave up the airline business and went into private business.

Blackwood is mainly known in Newfoundland as Managing Director, pilot and founder of Eastern Provincial Airways. He married Alma Carlson of St. John's and had three daughters, Janet, Beverly and Deborah. He moved to Burlington, Ontario, and became president of Eastcoast Investments Limited and co-owner of two flee-markets and a small retail mall in Toronto.

 

Contributed by F. Tibbo

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