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The Amazing Nonstop Cross-Canada Flight of Red Morris
By Mike Davenport, EAA 89102
December 10, 2018 - This story about a record-setting cross Canada flight continues the series on notable Canadian pilots.
I recently gave in to the pressure to review the contents of some boxes in the basement. What she actually said was, “Get rid of that junk down there.” For the record, I don’t have junk, I have neat stuff; she’s the one with junk.
In one of those boxes I came across a file with a copy of Canadian Homebuilt Aircraft — a 1978 magazine that had a feature story on Red Morris. Included in the file were letters from EAA Canada, the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association (RCFCA), and my notes from Red’s record-establishing flight on July 1, 1978.
Robin (Red) Morris was born in England in 1930 and immigrated to Canada with his family at the age of 3. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at age 19 and did his training on Harvards at RCAF Station Centralia in Ontario that spring. He then moved on to Chatham, New Brunswick, flying Vampires and Sabres.
He was later posted to England and, while based at North Luffenham, continued to fly the Sabre. He was selected in 1953 to fly in the mass fly-past of 640 aircraft to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.
As the story goes, all went well during practices until shortly before the event when a new commanding officer, who had not been involved in the lead-up practices, decided to fly lead. During a turn with this very large formation of 60 planes, the CO cut it too short with the result that Flying Officer Morris, flying on the inside of that turn and attempting to stay in position, stalled his Sabre and spun down through another formation. At one point, he found himself canopy to canopy with another Sabre, and he narrowly missed several other aircraft. Military protocol required an investigation, and Red ultimately received a rebuke for loss of control and failing to hold his position in the formation. On the actual day, however, all went well.
Another moment of excitement occurred when Red got into a furball with a couple of British Vampires when one of them clipped the other and broke up, resulting in the pilot ejecting and no harm — other than to the airplane.
He carried on with his career with no other significant dramas and subsequently retired after 25 years of service with more than 6,000 hours in 50 different aircraft. He was active in the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association and EAA, and served as a director of Aerobatics Canada. He owned a variety of aircraft ranging from a J-3 Cub to a Fieseler Storch. Somehow, though, all of this was not quite enough. There were still some things he needed to do.
On Canada Day 1978, Red undertook a challenge that few but he clearly understood.
I met Red in 1978 when he arrived in Vancouver for the attempt to fly 3,000 miles nonstop across Canada — something that had never been done. Period. Not even by the airlines or the military. Red was planning to do this in a homebuilt aircraft: a Zenair CH 300. This early kitbuilt aircraft was the largest of Chris Heinz’s designs at that time and with Chris’ approval was extensively modified for the trip with a 180-hp engine and four additional fuel tanks in the wings and two in the fuselage. This increased the total fuel capacity from 32 to 170 gallons. Significant sponsorship was obtained from Leggat Aviation, Edo–Aire, and from the Canadian Pepsi-Cola bottlers, which explains the red, white, and blue paint job and the Pepsi decals.
The Zenith design had a gross weight of 1,850 pounds, but Red’s aircraft came off the scales at 2,718 pounds, which meant it would require a waiver for the overweight condition at takeoff. It was also equipped for IFR flight as Red considered that to be necessary as the chances of getting VFR conditions over 3,000 miles of Canada were somewhere between slim and nil. IFR flight was also something that was not done in a homebuilt in Canada at the time so this would also require a special waiver from the DOT. Both things were not easily obtained, but eventually permission was received. These were requested in October with the overweight permit received in January and the IFR permit on March 15. The overweight permit came with some rather onerous requirements but was eventually granted.
I was a member of the local EAA chapter at the time and, along with other members, volunteered to help where needed. I was drafted as the western Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) observer on behalf of the RCFCA and as such was required to certify the aircraft’s weight and to seal the fuel tanks and barograph. My signatures on the seals would verify that nothing had been added during the flight.
Electrical problems and fuel leaks persisted throughout the day prior to the takeoff and again when the alternator packed it in over Hope, British Columbia, and that necessitated a return to Vancouver for replacement. While this sounds like little more than a time-consuming problem, the volunteers had to be contacted as they were needed back at the airport with tools. Red had to use his not inconsiderable piloting skill to land the significantly overweight aircraft back at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). A new alternator was obtained and installed, refueling was completed, and the tanks and barograph resealed. After all of that, he was away again in just over an hour. To add to the excitement, his chase plane also had a problem with a significant oil leak. Seems someone had left the oil cap off the right engine requiring a stop at Abbotsford. Troubles, like grapes, seem to come in bunches.
The flight proceeded without further incident until near North Bay when the alternator again became an issue forcing him to shut down as many electrical devices as possible including radios, strobes, and his wing leveler. The lack of radios caused a great deal of concern for the escort plane as it no longer had any way to contact Red. Once east of Montreal, it became apparent that fuel concerns ruled out any thoughts of continuing on to Newfoundland, and the flight would be ended in Halifax.* Red also had some doubts that he would even make Halifax and was considering St. John as an alternate. In the end, all went well and a very tired and nicotine-deprived Red landed in Halifax 22 hours and 45 minutes after takeoff from Vancouver. He later advised me that the FAI had confirmed three nonstop world records including Vancouver to Winnipeg, Vancouver to North Bay, and Vancouver to Halifax.
He later flew the Pepsi Special (C-GVOK) back to Vancouver and Delta Airpark where he gave thank-you rides to all of those volunteers who helped make the trip a success.
The record flight CH 300 airplane can be seen at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in the Ottawa area having been delivered there by Red in 1984.
*Sometime later Red obtained a chart of the portion of the flight over northern Ontario from NORAD, which had been tracking the flight in its entirety. This chart showed a large and approximately one-hour, 360-degree turn in one segment. Red does recall that at about that point in the flight he was off heading and realized that he must have dozed off for a time resulting in the circuit and unplanned fuel usage.