BUSH PILOT NEIL AYERS “WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING”
Sudbury-based Neil Ayers’ aviation enthusiasm stems from his first airplane ride in an Oshawa Flying Club Piper PA-12 during 1954. A year later, he labored with Ontario’s Junior Rangers and eventually, in tree nurseries to finance flying lessons. On June 4, 1957 he soloed a 65 hp Aeronca 7AC registered CF-DNO and went on to earn his commercial pilot license.
In the ‘50s and early ‘60s, an influx of unemployed pilots released from Arctic District Early Warning (DEW) line construction projects saturated the job market. In spite of his low hours, the persistent Ayers talked his way into a Piper J-3 agricultural sprayer with Hicks & Lawrence in Tillsonburg, Ontario, and survived a season with no more than a wheel strike against a power line while colleagues collided with fences, more power lines and the earth of tobacco fields. Hungry again, he found three weeks of work at Huntsville hauling tourists. There he developed float-flying skills in J-3s and a Piper PA-12 which kept him safe throughout his life.
Returning to the Oshawa Flying Club, Ayers became a part-time flight instructor and also occupied the co-pilot seat of a Beech 18 carrying car parts from Cleveland on night runs. An Oshawa contact suggested relocating to Sault Ste. Marie’s Algoma Flying Club on the edge of the boreal forest country. Within a year, word filtered out that a bush flying company called Air Dale Ltd. needed a float and ski pilot.
In April 1963, Ayers found himself installed in a Cessna 180 before Air Dale transferred him to Wawa in Lake Superior’s northeast corner. From the mining and tourist-oriented community, several bush charter services covered the “Pukaskwa” region’s short lakes, high hillsides and frequent fog. He also flew classics like a Noorduyn Norseman and Stinson SR-9 jammed with disassembled bulldozers, fuel drums and diamond drill parts and flew non-stop when weather permitted.
“We worked as hard as anybody, seven days a week, dawn to dusk. No question asked. You stretched everything right to the max,” Ayers recalled. “We only stopped at -40 degrees since it was just too hard on the engines and airframes.”