The Wong Brothers
While converting the content for this edition into HTML format, I was concerned about the use of the phrase "The Chinese Airforce" in the submission we received from Roger Slauenwhite about the Central Airways Flying School.
We are very careful to avoid any offensive terminology as many phrases in common use in the past are just not acceptable today. Cartoons for the 'Smileys' section are frequently a problem.
I considered omitting the phrase because it did not seem to be critical to the story but I decided to look into it further; it led me to a wonderful story.
Alan Rust used to say "we don't know what we don't know" in reference to the constant learning curve of life. I was surprised that I had never heard of the story of the Wong brothers and their place in Canadian aviation but I am always excited to increase my knowledge.
In June 2015, the Toronto Star published an article by Angus Skene entitled "When the Wong brothers soared over Toronto" about Chinese Canadian aviation pioneer Robert Shun Wong.
Born in Nanaimo, British Columbia in 1917, Robert Wong was unfairly denied Canadian citizenship due to the Chinese Exclusion Act and not allowed to join the RCAF during wartime. However, he rose above the discrimination and more than did his duty (as a civilian) by training many of the pilots who did serve.
After the war, Robert and his younger brother, Thomas Shun Wong, opened the Central Airways Flying School at the Toronto Island Airport and continued to train pilots for many years.
Treat yourself to an uplifting read by clinking the link below.
I contacted Mr. Slauenwhite to ask for his personal experiences with the Wong brothers; he graciously replied with the following:
"I know quite a bit about their flying school. I learned to fly there and went on to be a part time Flying Instructor and Charter Pilot for Bob and Tommy Wong. I worked for Air Canada during the week in Sales and Central Airways on weekends.
At Central Airways I was known as Roger White because Tommy found my name too difficult to spell, and he was the one who did the pay envelopes. My pay was $1.25 an hour when I flew, and after what seemed to be an eternity, my pay increased to $1.75. If you did not fly on a given day your pay was zero!
The best flight I had, (which seems like yesterday) was a charter with Bob Wong in our Aztec to Idlewild Airport in New York (IDL) now John F. Kennedy Airport. It was a night flight. The passengers were the comedians, the Smothers Brothers, and two ladies, who had done a ton of shopping in Toronto.
We lifted off runway 06 at Pearson Airport at the stroke of midnight, gut loaded and I do mean loaded. There were four passengers, two pilots, the baggage holds were full as well as the full tanks.
We left in such a hurry we had to file our flight plan when we were airborne. I’m sure we were well over upper New York State before it was activated.
This event all started at 21:30 at the Air Canada Reservation Office on Bloor Street where I was working that night.
We received a call requesting an Air Canada Viscount charter to New York that night from the Smothers Brothers. A simple request but not likely to happen. I called Bob Wong at home and things really started to happen fast especially when we verified their credit card was good for the trip.
It was a long day for me having worked a full shift at Air Canada and then doing a return trip Toronto to New York at night.
I did the landing the next morning at Toronto Pearson at 06:30. These were pleasant memories and I would do it all over again if that was possible.
To answer your query without drifting off too much, I could write a book on my time at Central Airways.
For me, Bob Wong was a gentleman who really knew airplanes. He was a graduate from an Aeronautical school in the US and a pleasure to work for. His brother Tommy was a different cut, but both were excellent pilots and had the respect of all their staff.
In my view, the best pilot trained at Central Airways was Peter Gutowski (now deceased) who finished his career as an Air Canada Check Captain on the 747-400. We had several flights together when at Central Airways and he was the very best.
The photo below is of myself from the early 1970’s. I flew this Twin Piper Apache to Pearson Airport (YYZ) from the Island Airport (YTZ) for the photo.
A good airplane for charter work, but not as fast as the aircraft along the side of it!"
Best of the season to all of you,