We have all stood at a place in time and asked ourselves, "Which way do I go?" When Tom Cooke was confronted with that question in 1939, all hell was breaking loose in Europe. Tom was planning to make the banking business his career when he started thinking of enlisting in the service. He "chose the other road" one evening on his way to a movie. He entered a recruitment office and asked the recruiter what he had to offer. In return the recruitment officer asked Tom if he wanted to be a pilot. Tom said, "Yes, I guess so." and at that point his life changed forever. In June 1940, Tom went on active duty with the RCAF. He saw service with EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) London ON, SFTC (Service Flying Training School) Camp Borden ON. His next job was as a flying instructor in Dauphin MB in 1941. In 1942, now a F/O, Tom was loaned to #7 B&G (Bombing & Gunnery) at Paulson MB to convert pilots from single engine to multi-engine rating. Tom was posted to Yarmouth NS flying Canso amphibians. In 1944 he went to Iceland with his 162 BR (Bombing & Reconnaissance) squadron on anti-submarine patrol. On April 17, 1944 while flying on a regular patrol, F/O Cooke and his crew, flying Canso #9767, spotted Uboat #392 on the surface of the ocean. While under intense fire from the Sub they pressed home an attack, dropping three 250-lb. depth charges to sink the U-boat. For this feat, F/O Cooke was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Prior to leaving the RCAF, Tom participated in a first-time-ever program of aerial spraying of the budworm-infested forests near Port Arthur for the Ontario Government using specially equipped Cansos. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for this work.
Tom started a 37 year career with the Ontario Provincial Air Service in 1946. In 1965 he was appointed the Director of the Air Service Branch. When he retired in 1977 he had amassed over 13,000 hours of flying. His efforts helped make Ontario a leader in forest management and fire control. Through many years Tom, assisted by others, developed many innovations which contributed to the growth, and improvement of aviation in Canada
It was during his time with the OPAS that Tom became part of the development of the water bombing technology for forest fire control. During the summer of 1957 Tom Cooke made history by applying, for the first time ever, an aerial waterbombing pickup and delivery system. Without assistance, and while flying a DH Otter aircraft, he controlled a mile-wide fire front in the Sudbury District. A film of the aircraft leaving the hangar with the new roll over tanks installed can be seen at the CBHC museum. The technology continued to develop and grow into the worldwide acceptance it enjoys today
He continued to involve himself with the new and innovative ideas. He was the first to fly a Beaver with wheel-ski combination undercarriage. With some help from Stan Johnson, Tom designed the universal racks for carrying external loads, such as canoes, lumber etc., which are still in use on aircraft today.
In 1988 he was one of the founding members of the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre and served as its' second president.
Tom was the recipient of the Queens Jubilee Medal, the "Rusty" Blakey award and in June, 2004 was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame..
Sadly Tom passed away on August 17, 2004.