Background on AME History in Canada
In researching this subject it was readily evident how little historical information had been kept concerning the history of this important facet of aviation industry. Sandwiched between the exacting work of designing aircraft and the excitement of actually flying aircraft the sphere of the maintainer has not been well recognized or documented.
A good case could be made that the early pioneers of aviation were, in fact, AMEs and designers before they were really pilots. As the first real flyers, the Wright brothers were bicycle enthusiasts and their early designing and engineering work to develop a flying machine reflected this influence. The framework for their early prototypes was constructed of bicycle piping and silk fabric. Their role as designers/AMEs is also reflected in the fact that they made a number of modifications to their flying machines to allow them to fly safely. They recognized very early in the development of the aircraft that a concurrent problem with getting airborne was the problem of bringing the aircraft down safely.
In Canada it was soon recognized that Air Engineers as they were called in the early days of aviation were an important aspect of successful flying. When the Air Board was formed in 1919 the Air Regulations were enacted and a Certificate Board was established for civil aviation personnel. A Flying Operations Board was created to oversee government flying and in 1920 Air Engineers came under government supervision as one of the responsibilities of the Air Board.
The first licensed Air Engineer in Canada was Robert McCombie who received License No. 1 on April 20, 1920. He worked very closely with Roland J. Groome who held Canada’s first Commercial Pilot’s License. Both McCombie and Groome were working in Regina, Saskatchewan at the time. Today the Ontario AME’s Association has a maintenance excellence award named after McCombie.
Air Engineer was the original certification title adopted by the Air Board which was established in 1919. The RCAF retained this unit and title until 1936. By 1950 the title became Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) and remains so to this day. In some other Commonwealth nations they sometimes add licensed (L) to the title and they are known as LAMEs.
By the early 1970s some AMEs were beginning to consider the formation of an association. The first National Advisory Committee on the licensing and training of AMEs meeting was held in February 1974. Most of the major airlines attended as well as some AMEs. Mr. John Mew, then Chief, Manufacturing and Maintenance, the Chairman of the Committee, suggested AMEs be invited to attend as a distinct group. This soon led to the Atlantic AME Association joining the committee. This initiative by Transport Canada led to the formation of other professional AME associations. The historical highlights that led to Aircraft Maintenance Engineers having their own associations are interesting to note. An attempt was made in Quebec to form an association but that failed mainly because many technical employees at Air Canada did not support it. Then an energetic group of Maritime AMEs formed Canada’s first AME association followed by Ontario and then the Western and Pacific Regions of Canada.
There are some interesting technical historical firsts that affected AMEs. The first internal combustion aircraft engine was imported in 1906. In 1910 in Victoria, B.C. the first aircraft engine manufactured in Canada was completed. In 1911 the first airplane flight in Alberta took place on April 29 which was a Curtiss Biplane. In 1915 the first manufacturing plant was Curtiss Airplane located in Toronto. By 1917 they had exported the first Canadian built airplane, a Curtiss Flying Boat. Ten years later on June 6, 1927 the first controllable pitch propeller was made in Canada. In 1929 the first receive-transmit radio set was installed. The first jet engine built in Canada was completed in 1953. On April 1, 1955 the first turboprop aircraft used in North America was a Vickers Viscount operated by Trans Canada Airlines (TCA). By 1961 the pure jets had arrived, the DC-8, which were used by Trans Canada Airlines and Canadian Pacific Airlines.
The first mechanic to apply his skills to aviation was Charles E. Taylor, an American mechanic, who went to work for the Wright Brothers in June 1901. He was paid $18.00 per week and was a real leader in the field. He helped to build wind tunnels, airplane engines, gliders and entire aircraft. When one of his early engines failed Taylor completed the first aircraft maintenance task. Despite his early successes he was found near penniless in 1955. The American aviation industry, in recognition of his great contribution to the early roots of aviation, raised funds and installed him in a private senior’s home. When he died on January 30, 1956 at the age of 88 he had no family so he was buried in Folded Wing Mausoleum dedicated to aviators. Today the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a special award named in his honour.
While the evolution of the AME profession has not been well documented or preserved the AME in aviation development remains paramount. Without them, aviation might never have happened. The challenge we faced was how to introduce new Aviation Safety Maintenance Inspectors to the history of the AME licensing system and some of the accomplishments of its leaders. In the early 1980s the very need for an AME licensing system was in question. It is very easy to discredit a system if you do not understand its origins or its importance. Thankfully, Brian Whitehead, Tony Soulis and I won that battle and we still have the system in place. I will deal more with this matter in my comments on Transport Canada.
The idea of trying to capture and preserve the history of Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers in Canada came to me sometime in the early 1980s. This occurred during my time as Chief of Airworthiness Inspection, within the Airworthiness Branch. The Airworthiness Branch was at that time part of the Canadian Air Transportation Administration, a major component of the Transport Canada structure. I first broached the subject with Ben McCarty; President of the National Canadian AME Association and Lorne Amos, who at that time was the Regional Director, of the Atlantic Region, all who thought it would be a great idea to write about AME history. At the very least I could compile and save as much information as possible. I encouraged notable AMEs across Canada to write their personal history for me. In addition, with the support of the AME associations I was able to commit some of the data to digital form for future reference. I also started to prepare presentations on AMEs and aviation history in Canada. This work simply confirmed the lack of records.
I have divided the work into several chapters that relate to the major events in AME history. Hopefully, I can provide sufficient information in each category to encourage further work by others.
Roger Beebe, AME