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Member Profiles


Frederick Ronald Kearns

Nickname: Fred
Birthdate: March 11, 1924
Birth Place: Quyon, Quebec
Death Date: November 14, 1987
Year Inducted: 2008
Awards: The C.D. Howe Award (CASI)

"His determination and dedication to the aerospace industry transformed Canadair into an internationally recognized and highly regarded manufacturer of commercial and military aircraft with great benefits for Canada's economy." - Induction citation, 2008

Frederick Ronald Kearns was born on March 11, 1924 in Quyon, Quebec, the sixth of twelve children. He joined the RCAF in August 1942, one of 5 brothers to serve in the armed forces. By age 20 he was flying Spitfires with No. 443 Squadron in Europe, where he flew 140 operational sorties in nine months, serving with distinction.

After the war he attended McGill University's School of Commerce. He continued to serve with the RCAF on weekends as a Vampire jet pilot with No. 401 'City of Westmount' Auxiliary Squadron.

He joined Canadair in 1949 as a time-keeper. He worked his way up in accounting to become Vice-President and Comptroller in 1957, and in 1965, at age 41, he was made President and CEO.

Co-workers described Kearns as a tremendous visionary, the person who provided most of the drive at Canadair. Combining his fighter pilot's keenness and determination with his training as an accountant, he established Canadair as a world class aircraft design and manufacturing firm. While President, he oversaw a number of key projects, including the CL-41 Trainer, the CL-215 Water Bomber, the CL-89 and 289 Short Range Reconnaissance Drones, and the CL-600 Challenger Business Jet.

The CL-215 Water Bomber is one example of a unique product that would not have existed but for Kearns' strong determination to get approval for the project from Canadair's parent company General Dynamics. The Water Bomber is a world-wide success and is still being manufactured.

The aerospace industry was experiencing tough times through the late 1960's and 1970's. Canadair, owned by US-based General Dynamics, had completed several substantial military contracts after the war, but there were no large projects ahead. Kearns worked tirelessly to create revenue by bringing in sub-contracts for major component manufacture for Lockheed and Boeing. Canadair sales declined to $40 million in 1973 and by 1975 staff was below 2000 from 10,000 in 1969. There were no new contracts on the horizon. Kearns knew they had to seek new markets on their own if they were to survive, but foreign ownership restrictions and banks unwilling to invest were huge roadblocks. For over a year he lobbied the Federal Government to buy Canadair from the US-owned company and finally succeeded.

The Canadian government bought Canadair early in 1976. But a new owner wasn't enough. Kearns needed a new business model that elevated Canadair from a sub-contractor and military supplier into a manufacturer of leading edge technology in the commercial aircraft market.

He reviewed industry sales figures and identified a trend of healthy business jet sales despite the energy crisis. He began to search for a viable business jet concept, and conferred with Bill Lear, famous for his Learjet series. He had the full support of Canadair's top engineer, Harry Halton (Hall of Fame, 1984), to develop a new business jet. They would go ahead.

Kearns made the biggest decision of his life when he ordered the Challenger into production. Engineers began designing the first wide-bodied business jet, state-of-the-art with its widened fuselage and supercritical wing. It was the most exciting civilian aircraft program Canada had seen. The first prototype took off at Montreal in 1978, and testing of the CL-600 began.

Certification of this ground breaking new technology took longer than anticipated: it took nearly two years for the Challenger 600 to receive Canadian and US approval. Modifications were called for, schedules delayed, and finances were severely strained by delays and when interest rates soared to 18%. Only Kearns' extraordinary determination in the face of long odds, and his belief in the people behind a great product, kept the company going. He relied on the dedication and tireless efforts of many production, engineering and flight-test personnel to make this Canadian dream a reality.

The last major product developed during Kearns' tenure, the Challenger, is now a complete technical and financial success. Since the struggle of the early development days, the Challenger has now sold over 750 aircraft that still generates annual sales of over $680 million. The Challenger has spawned derivative aircraft such as the Regional Jet and Challenger 300, which have sold an additional 1800 aircraft. The 2000 jobs at risk in 1975 were, in five short years, redirected into producing a product that is still in production 30 years later, and that transformed the Canadian aerospace industry, creating thousands of new jobs at Canadair and the new Canadian supply base that emerged.

The fact that Canada's aerospace industry can now justifiably assert that its jet transport products are the best and most technologically advanced in the world is because of this one man, Fred Kearns. While others have helped from the outset and have since developed the products to their present level of excellence, in the end it was the man with the dedication and faith in Canadian enterprise who made it all possible.

Kearns retired in June 1983, after 34 years of service. Canadair was later sold to Bombardier, but Kearns' legacy continues. The original Challenger will always be known as the first business jet to fly faster, quieter and farther than any of its competitors. Today, the Challenger 604 series is the world's best selling jet in its class.

In 1981 Kearns received the prestigious C.D. Howe Award (CASI) which recognizes achievement and leadership in Canadian aeronautics and space activities. In part, the citation read: "Mr. Kearns has been the driving force behind the transformation of Canadair from a relatively unknown manufacturer of military aircraft designed by other companies to an internationally recognized and highly regarded manufacturer of commercial aircraft of its own design and world leader in unmanned surveillance systems ...He has been and is a strong believer that Canada can compete successfully in international markets and has maintained a continuing effort to this end with Canadian businessmen."

Kearns was a member of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Montreal Board of Trade. He served as Director on several Boards, including the Air Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), the Canada-China Trade Council, and St. Mary's Hospital. He was an Honorary Director of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame for several years.

Fred Kearns and his family made their home in Montreal, but he died at age 63 in London, Ontario on November 14, 1987 of complications following a liver transplant..

Frederick Ronald Kearns was inducted as a Member of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame at ceremonies held in Toronto on May 28, 2008 at a ceremony held in Toronto, Ontario.

Two of the most important aircraft in Fred Kearns’ life were the Challenger and the Spitfire. When he was to be presented with his former Squadron’s Standard in 1981, Kearns organized a ‘Spitfire Event’ with actor Cliff Robertson’s Spitfire in Montreal. Many former WWII Squadron pilots attended, making this very memorable occasion for him.

Harry Marlowe Kennedy

Birthdate: August 27, 1904
Birth Place: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Death Date: June 11, 1989
Year Inducted: 1979
Awards: A.F.C., C.D.*

"He gave full measure of his airmanship to all tasks set to him, as a first generation bush pilot, a wartime military aviator and a peacetime military commander, which resulted in outstanding benefit to Canadian aviation." - Induction citation, 1979

Harry Marlowe Kennedy, A.F.C., C.D.*, was born on August 27, 1904, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he was educated. In 1925 he joined  the Royal Canadian Air Force Officer Cadet Program and during three summer periods earned his pilot's rating and a Commission as a Flying Officer. This was followed by an advanced flying course at Jericho Beach, Vancouver, British Columbia.

In 1928, while flying for the Canadian Air Board, Civil Air Operations, out of  Winnipeg, Kennedy made aerial photographs of many landing facilities in northern Ontario and Manitoba and aerially mapped large sections of Canada for the proposed prairie night-airmail routes. When personnel numbers in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) were reduced in 1932, he joined the Manitoba Government Air Service carrying out forestry patrol flights and fire suppression missions.

Western Canada Airways hired him in the fall of 1932, and he flew airmail along the Winnipeg-Pembina route before transferring to bush operations in the north. In this role he was involved in a number of mercy flights, resulting in the saving of human lives. Northern bush float-flying usually came to a halt in late October, and all personnel were involved in the maintenance program of aircraft repair and engine overhaul in the operational base hangar. Floats were exchanged for skis to be ready for winter flying conditions.

In 1934 Kennedy went to work for Mackenzie Air Service at Edmonton, Alberta, operating from bases in the Northwest Territories. There he was involved with Matt Berry in the lengthy, but successful search for two RCAF members, Flight Lieutenant Sheldon Coleman and Leading Aircraftsman J.A. Fortey, downed in an inoperable aircraft during a photographic survey mission to Fort Reliance on the northeast point of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories.

On New Year's Day, 1937, Kennedy made a trip to Eldorado Mines on Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories, flying men and supplies into their camp and bringing radium concentrate out to the railhead at McMurray. When Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada, scheduled a visit to Coppermine on the Arctic Coast in August of 1937, Kennedy was selected as pilot because of his extraordinary airmanship and knowledge of the North.

He became one of the first pilots to join Trans-Canada Air Lines, where he served until 1940. At that time he obtained leave for war service to re-join the RCAF as a Flight Lieutenant with 12 Communications Squadron at Rockcliffe, Ontario. When he was named Squadron Commander, he envisioned an Aerial Transport Service for the RCAF which eventually became the RCAF Air Transport Command. Kennedy was appointed its deputy commander under the leadership of Z.L. Leigh. These organizational undertakings, coupled with his piloting of the Duke of Kent on a wartime Canadian coast-to-coast tour, resulted in his being awarded the Air Force Cross (A.F.C.) in 1942.

At Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick, Kennedy helped to create the RCAF's Air Transport Instrument and Night Flying School, and graduated from Staff College. At the end of the war, he was recalled to TCA and remained an airline pilot until he was offered a permanent commission in the RCAF in 1946 with the rank of Wing Commander.

In his new role Kennedy was assigned to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and subsequently was named Deputy Director of Air Intelligence for the RCAF. Later, he was assigned to the Canadian Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, to establish the new post of Air Attache. In 1949 he was appointed Commanding Officer of RCAF Sea Island Air Station at Vancouver.

Three years before his retirement, he was promoted to the rank of Group Captain, and given command of the largest fighter base in Air Defence Command, at St. Hubert, Quebec. He was awarded the Canadian Forces Decoration (C.D.) and Clasp. Kennedy retired in 1956, and died in Vancouver on June 11, 1989.

Harry Marlowe Kennedy was inducted as a Member of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame in 1979 at a ceremony held in Edmonton, Alberta.


In February 1933 Marlowe Kennedy was ordered to fly a welder and his equipment to Lac du Bonnet, the Western Canada Airways base, in eastern Manitoba, operated by F. Roy Brown. It had been snowing all morning, but eased up in the afternoon sufficiently for him to attempt the trip. However, the snowfall thickened, forcing him to use the power-line as his guide. The snow storm rapidly worsened, resulting in limited visibility, causing him to miss picking up the Lac du Bonnet shore line. While trying to find a shore line to land by, he found himself completely without visual references at low altitude over the middle of the frozen lake. He crashed down onto the ice about half a mile out from the base, completely wrecking the plane. After being treated for their injuries, both Kennedy and his passenger were back working again less than a month later.

Leslie George Kerr

Nickname: Les
Birthdate: May 15, 1928
Birth Place: Langley, British Columbia
Year Inducted: 1999
Awards: The Lifetime Achievement Award (B.C. Aviation Council), The McKee Trophy The Award for Dedication to Wildland Fire and Suppression (NAFC) The William Mitchell Medal (INAC)

"His visionary leadership in pioneering the development of aerial application technology has made Conair Aviation Ltd. the world's largest operator of aircraft used for special aerial delivery systems, constituting a major contribution to Canada's aviation industry." - Induction citation, 1999

Leslie George (Les) Kerr was born in Langley, British Columbia, on May 15, 1928. He obtained his Private Pilot's Licence in 1948 and a Commercial Licence in 1952. He managed his family's ranch at 100 Mile House prior to joining Skyway Air Services in 1952 as an agriculture spray pilot. He managed various divisions at Skyway for both aerial application and aerial fire fighting before being promoted to Chief Pilot in 1963. In 1965 he was appointed Operations Manager for the Aerial Application and Fire Control Division, which, at the time, was operating Boeing Stearman and Grumman TBM Avengers.

In 1969 he formed his own company, Conair Aviation Ltd. He acquired the Aerial Application and Fire Control Division of Skyway Air Services, successfully combining experience, leadership and entrepreneurial spirit in a true pioneering effort. This culminated in the development of a world renowned, state-of-the-art, aerial application business.

Kerr and his company have many firsts to their credit. He was the first Canadian owner and operator of the Douglas A26 Invader, and through the use of innovative technology and unique operational strategy, brought the two-engine aircraft safely into aerial fire fighting. He successfully introduced the Douglas DC-6B as a heavy lift fire fighting and spray aircraft. During his years as President and CEO of Conair, a series of aircraft were modified as fire fighting and spray aircraft. The Grumman Tracker was outfitted with an improved retardant delivery system designed, developed and installed by Conair. Realizing that turboprop aircraft would eventually replace aircraft powered by reciprocating engines, Conair launched the Fokker F-27 and Turbo Firecats. Both types of aircraft have been fully certified and are in production and use in Canada and abroad.

In 1976 Kerr foresaw that helicopters with fixed ventral tanks and water pump-up systems were a natural complement to fixed wing fire suppression aircraft. This led to the purchase of Frontier Helicopters and to the development of many innovative Conair design systems to aid aerial delivery. Today, over fifty Conair-designed delivery systems are in operation on six different helicopter types in Canada, Europe, South America and Australia. During his tenure as President and CEO, the company aggressively marketed their aircraft and Canadian special-purpose aviation products throughout the world, generating over fifty million dollars in annual sales. By the time he left Conair in 1995, Kerr oversaw the operation of the company's fifty fixed wing aircraft, forty helicopters and four divisions: Conair Aviation Division, Conair Europe, Frontier Helicopter Division, and Aerospace Division.

In the field of land-based airplanes and helicopters, Kerr's contributions to aerial applications have given Canada superiority in a technology that is vital to the protection of the world's forests. Clearly a visionary leader in the development and operation of both rotary and fixed wing special purpose aircraft, he has earned national and international praise for his efforts, attested by an extensive list of honours and awards.

The past Minister of State Transport, when describing the influence and contributions of Kerr to the National Advisory Committee on Review of Air Regulations had this to say: "You can be justifiably proud of your lasting contribution to the creation of a slimmer, more responsive and efficient Canadian regulatory system, which will help increase our competitiveness and prosperity to the benefit of all Canadians."

Kerr has contributed much to his community, province and country, by serving as a director or member for numerous municipal, provincial and national committees and associations. He was a Director for the British Columbia Aviation Council and was President of that organization in 1980-81. He has served as President and Director of the Abbotsford International Airshow and as a Director for the B.C. Trade and Development Corporation.

In 1983 Kerr accepted, on behalf of Conair, the Robert S. Day Award from the B.C. Aviation Council. In 1990 he received the Award for Dedication to Wildland Fire and Suppression from the North American Forestry Commission and Fire Management Study Group. The British Columbia and Yukon Transportation and Industry Association named him Man of the Year for 1991. In 1991 he received the Brigadier-General William Mitchell Medal from the International Northwest Aviation Council (INAC).

In 1992 Kerr was awarded one of Canada's highest aviation honours, the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy. The B.C. Aviation Council awarded him a Lifetime Achievement in Aviation Award in 1995.

Leslie George (Les) Kerr was inducted as a Member of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame in 1999.

From 1992 to 1995, Les Kerr was Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron at Comox, B.C., followed by another three years as Honorary Colonel for the same squadron. This has been one of his long term interests.

Wilbert George Melvin Knox

Nickname: Mel
Birthdate: March 12, 1911
Birth Place: Howich, Ontario
Death Date: November 13, 1996
Year Inducted: 1974

"The application of his exceptional talents as a pilot and operational leader, despite adversity, were responsible in great measure for this nation's first commercial air link with Asia, which service has been of outstanding benefit to Canadian aviation." - Induction citation, 1974

Wilbert George Melvin (Mel) Knox was born in Howich, Ontario, on March 12, 1911. As a child he moved with his family to Tuxford, Saskatchewan, where he was educated. In 1929 he gained his Private Pilot's Licence at the nearby Moose Jaw Flying Club, and eventually joined Prairie Airways as a commercial pilot, barnstorming throughout Saskatchewan and Manitoba. During this period he also qualified for his Air Engineer's Licence and Instructor's Rating. He graduated from a specialized course given by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) for civilians after the outbreak of World War II, and he returned to work at the Moose Jaw Flying Club training student pilots for the RCAF .

In 1941 he began instructing at No. 3 Air Observer School. The following year he re-joined Prairie Airways flying the Regina, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford routes in Saskatchewan until Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPA) absorbed Prairie Airways in 1942. When he was transferred to Edmonton, Alberta, he gained his first northern flying experience flying into northern British Columbia and the Yukon. The next year he was moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, and flew the Yukon to Alaska route until he was transferred to Regina as Flight Superintendent in 1947.

When CPA designed its Asian routes in 1949, Knox was one of nine captains to proceed on the first overseas survey flight to Shanghai, China, by way of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The initial flight took 14 days, in an unpressurized Canadair North Star aircraft. For the first time, Canada and the Orient were linked by commercial transport, as envisioned by CPA's president, Grant McConachie. Knox operated two additional charter flights to Hong Kong via Tokyo, Japan, before regular service began in 1949.

He became captain on the South Pacific Ocean routes to Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. In 1958 he was named Check Pilot for all overseas routes, testing the competency of the flight crews. In this role he flew to Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Holland.

Knox was named Chief Pilot Overseas in 1968, attesting to his outstanding abilities, and when the technology was created for the Inertial Navigation System (INS), he was chosen as one of its flying e valuators. This equipment, manufactured by the same company which was responsible for the navigation equipment that accurately guided the astronauts to the moon and back, displayed the aircraft's present position (latitude and longitude), the distance to the destination, the course to fly to reach that destination, and other data. Upon Knox's recommendation, the Carousel IV INS was adopted by CPA, and he became responsible for operational and training procedures, pilot qualification flights and the composition of flight manuals. On March 21, 1971, he captained the first flight without a navigator, using the INS, from Vancouver to Hawaii.

As an airline captain he flew all of CPA's routes to five continents. As Pilot-In-Command during 43 years of flight, he logged 26,000 hours in 28 aircraft types for a distance of 7,000,000 miles (11,265,000 km), equal to circling the globe 280 times at the equator, without injury to passenger or crew. Included in this mileage are 204 flights across the Pacific Ocean, 84 flights across the Atlantic Ocean and 56 flights across the Arctic Ocean between Vancouver and Amsterdam, Holland.

On retirement from CPA in 1971, Knox joined the Ministry of Transport at Vancouver, as an air carrier inspector for the Douglas DC-8 and DC-9 aircraft. Knox died in Vancouver, British Columbia, on November 13, 1996.

Wilbert George Melvin (Mel) Knox was inducted as a Member of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974 at a ceremony held in Edmonton, Alberta.


When Mel Knox began flying in 1929, he flew a one-passenger Gipsy Moth with a gross weight of 1,800 lbs (816 Kg) and top speed of 80 miles-per-hour (128 km/h). His sole navigation equipment was a compass. Forty-two years later, on his final flight, he commanded a 240-passenger DC-8 jet with a gross weight of 355,000 lbs (161,000 kg), and cruising speed of 580 mph (930 km/h). Its control panels included the sophisticated Inertial Navigation System equipment.