Turi Widerøe paid a flying visit to Montréal the other day

Turi Widerøe speaking with a flight attendant aboard a Sud Aviation SE 210 Caravelle of Scandinavian Airlines System Denmark-Norway-Sweden. J.-C. Fortin. “SAS ne compte qu’une seule femme pilote de ligne: Turi Wideroe.” Le Petit Journal, 1 March 1970, 28.

Hei, my reading friend, hi! Are you ready to explore the amazing world of aviation and space? Wunderbar.

The little / small subject before us today came from a weekly newspaper in Montréal, Québec, the title of which is probably familiar, Le Petit Journal. More specifically, the 1 March 1970 edition of said publication.

The saga behind the photograph which inspired this article in our blog / bulletin / thingee began in September 1937 with the birth of Turi Widerøe, in Norway. Her father was none other than Viggo Widerøe, a pioneer of Norwegian commercial aviation and founder of a small (bush?) air carrier, Widerøe Flyveselskap Aksjeselskap, in 1934. This air carrier still existed as of 2020, by the way.

You will be delighted, or not, the choice is yours, to learn (read?) that one of the first aircraft of Widerøe Flyveselskap was a Bellanca Model 31-42 Senior Pacemaker, a type of flying machine mentioned in a February 2020 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

In 1958, Widerøe, the young woman and not her father, completed a design / book design course offered by the Norwegian state school of crafts and the arts, the Statens Håndverks- og Kunstindustriskole. Better yet, she won a prize from the Norwegian association for the art of the book, the Foreningen for Norsk Bokkunst, that year for the concept she had imagined for a book published the previous year.

With her degree in her pocket, Widerøe worked for at least one publishing house as a book designer / graphic designer. In 1960, she became the assistant editor of Byggekunst and Arkiteknytt, the magazines of the Norwegian national association of architects, the Norske Arkitekters Landsforbund. In 1964 Widerøe became the executive assistant to the boss of the mining company Aksjeselskap Sydvaranger. These jobs were only a means for the young woman to pay the rent. Her passion was elsewhere.

Indeed, in her spare time, Widerøe took flying lessons and obtained her private pilot license in 1962. Would you believe that at least part of her training was done on de Havilland Tiger Moths, a type of aircraft present in the amazing collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario?

Yours truly does not know at what point Widerøe began to think about starting a commercial / airline pilot career. In any event, the fact was that her father tried to dissuade her from this. This job involved many risks, he said, and working hours were very long. Aware of the fact that he could certainly not give orders to his daughter, Widerøe senior bowed with good grace to her wishes.

Widerøe, the young woman, not her father, obtained her commercial pilot license in 1967. In fact, Widerøe, her father, not the young woman, offered her a job as a floatplane co-pilot. In the spring of 1968, she became a captain and pilot of Noorduyn Norseman and de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter floatplanes. During the summer, Widerøe flew on de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otters as co-pilot.

And yes, my reading friend, the magical collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes a Norseman, an Otter and a Twin Otter. It also includes a Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver bushplane and a de Havilland Canada Dash 7 short takeoff and landing airliner, 2 other types of aircraft used over the years by Widerøe Flyveselskap.

Widerøe decided to seek an airline pilot position with Scandinavian Airlines System Denmark-Norway-Sweden (SAS), a reputable international air carrier owned at 50% by the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish governments. She was part of a group of around 200 people. Widerøe seemed to be the only woman who was then trying to join the staff of this firm.

A series of tests wasted no time in eliminating nearly 150 candidates. Widerøe soon stood out among the survivors. She knew the regulations and procedures like no other and her piloting skills were second to none. Indeed, she had the third highest score in the group. After 50 or so hours spent on a simulator in Stockholm, Widerøe completed her training with 10 or so hours of flight time flying a relatively small twin-engine aircraft. In early May 1969, she became a part-time co-pilot. That same month, Widerøe became a captain. SAS entrusted her with a Convair CV-440 Metropolitan, an excellent medium-range airliner.

The only woman among the (1 150?) pilots who worked for SAS at the time, Widerøe was also the first female airline pilot employed by a major Western / capitalist air carrier. The terms Western and capitalist were / are important. Aeroflot, the national air carrier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, mentioned in a February 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, actually used female pilots many years before 1969.

Would you believe that Widerøe wore a uniform made especially for her? Said uniform included pants. A skirt and nylon stockings were somewhat inappropriate / uncomfortable in the cockpit of an airliner, cluttered with levers and other stuff. Widerøe wore a skirt only on solid ground.

Widerøe took her celebrity with a grain of salt. “Everybody is making such a big thing of it but I don’t see what difference sex makes. There have been doctors and lawyers and engineers for years who are women. And a modern aircraft is built so simply that a child could fly it.” In fact, it should be noted that Widerøe said then that she did not subscribe to feminist ideals. You will remember that Dr. Margaret Beznak, mentioned in a February 2020 issue of our you know what, shared this view. Yours truly is not sure what to think of such statements. Anyway, let’s move on.

And now the moment that you feared so much has arrived. Yes, yes, yours tormentally, sorry, truly will pontificate on the airliner on which Widerøe began her career with SAS. Oh joy. For me.

A Convair CV-440 Metropolitan airliner flown by Scandinavian Airlines System Denmark-Norway-Sweden. Wikipedia.

A Convair CV-440 Metropolitan airliner flown by Scandinavian Airlines System Denmark-Norway-Sweden. Wikipedia.

The beautiful story of the airliner family which included the Metropolitan began, like that of several other airliners put into service during the second half of the 1940s, with the grand lady of air transport, the Douglas DC-3 – an airliner represented in the superb collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Manufactured in great numbers during the Second World War and widely used by the Allied air forces under the designations C-47 Skytrain, C-53 Skytrooper and Dakota, the DC-3 became the airliner of choice of many airlines once the conflict was over. Indeed, it was available in large numbers at an unbeatable price. The aircraft manufacturer Canadair Limited of Cartierville, Québec, alone converted more than 250 military transport aircraft, including the DC-3 of the aforementioned museum, into airliners which it delivered around the world.

And yes, my reading friend whose patience I test week after week, Canadair was a well-known subsidiary of the American defence giant, also well-known, General Dynamics Corporation. This aircraft manufacturer was mentioned in many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since February 2018. General Dynamics, on the other hand, was mentioned in many issues of that same you know what since March 2018, but I digress.

As early as the mid-1940s, some air carriers and aircraft manufacturers began to consider replacing the DC-3 with a more modern medium-range airliner. American Airlines Incorporated was one of the first air carriers to speak out on this issue. Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation (Convair) designed a twin-engine aircraft that could transport 30 passengers to meet its requirements. The CV-110 made its first flight in July 1946. American Airlines having indicated even before the end of 1945 that it wanted to buy a larger aircraft, Convair offered a new more powerful twin-engine aircraft with a pressurised cabin that could accommodate 40 passengers. The air carrier ordered this CV-240 (2 engines and 40 passengers) before the prototype even took to the air, in March 1947. The expressions Convair-Liner or Convairliner were soon adopted to identify the new airliner.

Convair, however, experienced serious difficulties at the time. Many airlines preferred to buy war surplus DC-3s. Convair workers also went on strike for almost three and a half months in 1946. Engineering and tooling costs for the CV-240 increased, and delays added up. Convair’s decision to offer each customer a specific interior layout did not help matters. Worse still, the aircraft manufacturer sold its aircraft at a loss to remain competitive with a competitor, Glenn L. Martin Company, which produced an aircraft, the Model 202, which was similar to the CV-240.

All these factors meant that Convair posted a large financial loss in 1947. The consequences of this state of affairs were not long in coming. Convair became the property of Atlas Corporation, an investment firm. This being said (typed?), its financial situation only improved gradually.

American Airlines’ first CV-240 entered service in June 1948. A dozen other air carriers, American and foreign, ordered a hundred or so examples of this aircraft, the best in the world in its category despite a slightly high noise level in the cabin. Anxious to modernise its fleet, the United States Air Force (USAF) also bought many T-29 Flying Classrooms used for the training of navigators and bomb aimers, C-131 Samaritans used to transport wounded soldiers and VC-131s used for the transport of staff officers. In fact, these military contracts contributed greatly to the restoration of Convair’s financial situation.

Sales of Martin Models 404s, an improved version of the aforementioned Model 202, and a sharp decrease in air traffic on American soil, around 1949-50, caused serious headaches for Convair however. The aircraft manufacturer found it so difficult to sell the last CV-240s built that it seriously considered closing its assembly line once its military contracts were completed. Convair, however, decided to develop a stretched version of its airliner that could accommodate 44 passengers. With a longer wing that facilitated operations from high-altitude airports, the CV-340 prototype flew in October 1951. The American air carrier Braniff Airways Incorporated made the first commercial flight with this aircraft, in November 1952. More than 15 other American and foreign air carriers soon ordered CV-340s. The USAF and the United States Navy (USN) also received aircraft used for the transportation of passengers and staff officers.

At the time, the international aeronautical community experienced a fascinating period linked to the entry into commercial service of the first airliner fitted with a type of turbine engine, the turboprop. The British Vickers Viscount entered service in April 1953. And yes, the amazing collection of the Canada Aviation Museum includes a Viscount, but back to our story.

The fact was that the entry into service of the Viscount was causing Convair a lot of headaches. Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Limited, a subsidiary of the industrial / defence giant Vickers-Armstrongs Limited, and the firms which used its airliner reminded everyone who wanted to hear that the Viscount was very quiet and not very subject to vibration.

To remain competitive, Convair was forced to introduce a new version of its airliner. The aforementioned Metropolitan included various modifications to reduce noise in the cabin. Continental Airlines Incorporated placed the Metropolitan in service in March 1956. While some American airlines soon followed suit, the fact was that the Metropolitan was much more successful abroad, including in Europe. The new aircraft was so successful that many of these airlines did not purchase turboprop airliners and waited for the entry into service of the first medium-range jet airliners.

Contrary to what had been the case in the past, the USAF and USN only ordered a small number of aircraft used to train the operators of the electronic countermeasures equipment of heavy bombers (USAF) and transport passengers (USN).

Ultimately, Convair manufactured approximately 1 075 Convairliners and military aircraft between 1947 and 1958, including just over 510 for the USAF and USN.

The end of production of the Convair twin-engine aircraft did not signal the end of their story. Available, reliable, robust and safe, these excellent machines attracted the attention of 2 engine manufacturers, one British, D. Napier & Son, Limited, and the other American, the Allison Division of General Motors Corporation, who wished to convince civil and even military users to replace the piston engines of their aircraft with much more powerful turboprop engines. They really embarked on this adventure around 1956-57. Even the British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce Limited threw its hat in the ring in the mid-1960s.

These 3 engine manufactures were of course mentioned in our blog / bulletin / thingee,
- D. Napier & Son, in July 2018;
- General Motors, in several issues since March 2018, and
- Rolls-Royce, in several issues since August 2018.

Smoke starting to come out of your pretty ears, my reading friend, I will not go any further down this road, but you do not know what you are missing. These are fascinating stories, involving Canadair and… All right, all right, I’m changing the channel, no pun intended.

Very widely used around the world, Convair twin-engine aircraft were often found on the big screen and on television. Various versions, civil and military, with piston or turboprop engines, were / are visible in 50 or so films, mainly American but also European and South American, and this from the 1950s to the present day. Let us mention for example Slaughterhouse-Five, a 1972 film inspired by the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, one of the most important science fiction novels of the 20th century, published in 1969, by Kurt Vonnegut, Junior.

Convair twin-engine aircraft were also featured in 4 television series, including an American classic of fantastic television, The Twilight Zone. The episode in question was / is one of the classics of fantastic television. Entitled Nightmare at 20,000 feet (1963), it starred a young actor born in Montréal, William “Bill” Shatner, mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee, and this since November 2018.

A Convair twin-engine aircraft was even among the many aircraft that populated / populate the adventures of Tintin, a cartoon hero mentioned many times in our you know what since July 2018. A CV-240 of the Belgian national air carrier, SABENA-Belgian World Airlines, was indeed clearly visible on 2 pages of The Calculus Affair, a story of kidnapping and espionage published in an album, in French, in 1956. You will obviously remember that Cuthbert Calculus was mentioned in July 2018, September 2018 and May 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Did I mention to you that the amazing collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum included a Convair CV-580, in other words a CV-340 fitted with American turboprop engines many years after its entry into service? Said aircraft, used in Canada for almost 40 years by the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources / Environment Canada, played an absolutely crucial role in the history of remote sensing in Canada. Would you believe it was Northwest Industries Limited of Edmonton, Alberta, a firm mentioned in a February 2020 issue of our you know what, which turned the museum’s CV-580 into a remote sensing aircraft in 1975? But back to our story.

After spending some time at the helm of Metropolitans, Widerøe became a jet airliner pilot. First, she flew on Sud-Aviation SE 210 Caravelles, a French twin-jet aircraft and the world’s first operational medium-range jet airliner. In 1975, Widerøe was given a McDonnell Douglas DC-9, an American medium-range twin-engine airliner. And who has a DC-9, my reading friend? No, not Santa Claus. Sigh. The fantabulastic Canada Aviation and Space Museum has a DC-9.

And yes, my reading friend with eagle eyes (Hello, EG and EP!), Widerøe was in the cockpit of a Caravelle in the photograph at the beginning of this article. This being said (typed?), yours truly believes that said photograph was in fact a publicity image which did not reflect Widerøe’s daily activities at the moment it was taken. And yes, I am as shocked as you are.

By the way, in said photograph, the flight attendant who was talking to Widerøe was none other than her (older?) sister, Kari Widerøe, who also worked for SAS.

Indeed, aware of the publicity that Widerøe could generate around the world, the management of SAS sent her to North America for approximately 3 weeks in February / March 1970 in order to visit several cities (Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New York City, New York; San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Toronto, Ontario; etc.) where she gave a series of lectures. Said tour explained in all likelihood the flying visit in Montréal in February of that same year, coming from Toronto - the only Canadian stop on her tour. Widerøe also participated in several television shows.

Indeed, and you will forgive me, at least I hope so, the following comments, the management of SAS was not without knowing that Widerøe could count on many assets in her functions of ambassadress, and this both in North America in 1970 and elsewhere at other times. Being about 1.8 metre (almost 6 feet) tall barefoot, Widerøe did not go unnoticed. This multi-talented blonde woman was also fluent in English, conversed easily with anyone and was very pretty. And long live patriarchy!

This being said (typed?), the fact was that Widerøe’s contribution to the development of commercial aviation was recognised more than once. In 1969, she received one of the 3 Harmon Trophies awarded annually in the United States to 3 exceptional aviator, aviatrix and aeronaut. Recognising her contribution to the cause of aviation, the Fédération aéronautique internationale awarded her the Diplôme Paul Tissandier in 2005, the centenary year of this organisation mentioned since January 2018 in many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Better yet, the first uniform worn by Widerøe as an SAS pilot was (is?) on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, District of Columbia, one of the great aerospace museums in the world, mentioned many times in our publication of outstanding significance and national importance since April 2018.

This information having taken us away from the chronological frame of our story, let us return to said frame with a happy heart.

In the early 1970s, Widerøe became the editor of SAS’ magazine Interno. Said magazine became in 1974 the magazine of the Norwegian aeronautical association, or Norsk Flygerforbunds, under a new title, Cockpit Forum.

When Widerøe became a mother in 1979, SAS’ management grounded her, permanently it seemed – a situation that also seemed to affect female flight attendants around the world at least until the 1970s. And long live patriarchy! For some reason or other, Widerøe remained single. She also continued to fly as much as she could, for fun.

Widerøe joined the staff of the Norwegian state radio and television broadcaster, Norsk Rikskringkasting Aksjeselskap, in 1979 as a contract employee and received training in television journalism. She then worked as a programming secretary and program manager. During this second career, Widerøe contributed to the creation of the first television programs aimed at protecting consumers broadcasted in Norway.

Between 1986 and 1988, Widerøe became an editor for the major Norwegian publishing house Gyldendal Norsk Forlag. She later worked as a consultant and information officer for a few companies and organisations. In 1998, she joined the staff of the Oslo Nye Teater as director of information. She held a similar position at the Norwegian national theater, the Rikstteatret, in 2001-02. Widerøe then took a semi-retirement.

It should be noted that Widerøe was a member of the Norsk Aero Klubb’s recruitment committee during the 1990s. She then set herself the objective of increasing the number of women in the small world of Norwegian aviation.

Widerøe completed a master’s degree in science at the Universitetet i Oslo in 1998 and a master’s degree in history at the Universitetet i Tromsø in 2006. Her master’s thesis in history examined the airborne and geophysical cartography of Antarctica between 1929 and 1939. Yours truly bitterly regrets not being able to read Norwegian.

Widerøe was still with us as of March 2020.

På gjensyn, my reading friend, goodbye – and see you next week.

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Rénald Fortier