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Bob Laidlaw — A Canadian in Mojave
By Mike Davenport, EAA 89102
November 2018 - Last month I wrote a short piece on a Canadian named Bob Laidlaw who I knew as a Tiger Moth owner as well as a little of his past as the owner of Flight Systems Inc. located at a former Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station in the Antelope Valley in the Mojave Desert in California. During his 83 years Bob had an incredible career in aviation. In conversations with others who spent much more time with him and his wife, Nell, I learned much more.
I knew that he was Canadian, that he was born in Ontario, and that he had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, having added a year to his age to get in. The time between then and his creation of Flight Systems Inc. (FSI) spans an aviation career that is almost beyond comprehension.
What I didn’t know was that he went to England after completing flight training in Canada where he flew Spitfires and a photo recon version of the Mosquito through the war. Little more is known of his wartime service. After being discharged in 1945, he came home and obtained work with de Havilland Canada as a Chipmunk and Beaver test pilot. When that became “too routine” he left and joined the U.S. Navy as a naval reserve pilot, became carrier qualified, and spent more time as a test pilot.
He graduated from MIT with an advanced degree in aeronautical engineering and went on to work for North American Rockwell, which is now part of Boeing, where he served as vice president of research and engineering and as a test pilot from 1954 to 1968. He even did a term as president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
He formed FSI in 1968 and based the business in Mojave, which has been a hub for experimental aviation for many years. Mojave has been or is home to businesses such as the Rutan Aircraft Factory with the VariEze, Long–EZ, and numerous others; Quickie Aircraft with the Quickie and Q2; Aero Gare with the Sea Hawker; the National Test Pilot School; Scaled Composites; and Virgin Galactic. In addition, it has been a vast storage yard for both new and retired airliners.
During this time he met Dave McEwen, another Canadian, who was in the aircraft salvage business in Moncton, New Brunswick. Over time, Bob obtained 55 surplus RCAF F-86 jet fighters from Dave.
In addition to Dave’s F-86s, Bob also planned to purchase a number of the former RCAF fighters that had been sold to Pakistan, but politics got in the way of that deal. A Beaver, a number of T-33s, a leased B-26 and some F-100s, and A-4 Skyhawks all shared space on his ramp in Mojave.
FSI’s primary business was to assist in the development of surface-to-air missiles for the U.S. Army. The Stinger missile and the Patriot missile systems are two of the more successful projects Bob’s company participated in. Later on, FSI became more involved in civilian projects, including advising on the flight testing of the Montreal-based Challenger jet program. In 1978, not having far to travel, he competed in the jet races at Mojave along with such other aviation luminaries as Bob Hoover and Clay Lacy.
In 2005, at age 78, Bob was honored with Aviation Week’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He died five years later in 2010 from cancer. A fascinating life well lived.
Read more about Bob Laidlaw’s fascinating life.