Don Rogers, Jet Age Pioneer
Donald Howard Rogers was born in Hamilton November 26, 1916. He learned to fly Tiger moths at the Hamilton Aero Club, earning his Pilot’s Licence in 1936, his Commercial Licence in 1938, and Instructor’s Rating in 1939. He completed, as a civilian, the Royal Canadian Air force instructor course at Camp Borden, in September 1939 and subsequently instructed RCAF inductees and civilian students at the Hamilton Aero Club to October 1940. He then served as Assistant Chief Flying Instructor at No. 10 Elementary Flying Training School, Mount Hope until December 1941.
In January 1942, Rogers transferred to the aircraft division of National Steel Car Co. (NSC) at Malton Airport. NSC was part of a three-company consortium, under the name of Federal Aircraft. NSC license-built Westland Lysanders and Avro Ansons, which Rogers flight tested to April 1943. On November 5, 1943 NSC Malton was taken over by the Canadian Government and renamed Victory Aircraft.
During the tooling-up for Avro Lancaster production at Victory Aircraft (April-August 1943), Rogers joined the Royal Air Force Ferry Command flight test unit at Dorval, Quebec, where he tested Lockheed Hudson and Ventura maritime patrol bombers, B-24 Liberators and B-25 Mitchell bombers. He delivered a Hudson and a B-24 to Britain and he spent five days at the A.V. Roe (Avro U.K.) Woodford airfield familiarizing himself with the Lancaster. The first Canadian-built Lancaster B.MkX (RAF Serial KB700) rolled out on August 6, 1943. Rogers did production flight testing on Lancasters to September 1945.
That December Victory Aircraft became Avro Canada Ltd. Rogers became chief test pilot, flying overhauled and modified Venturas, Mitchells, Douglas Dakotas, and Lancasters for the RCAF, and Hawker Sea Fury carrier fighters for the Royal Canadian Navy.
Avro Canada, strengthened by James C. Floyd from Avro U.K. took up the design of the 40-seat C.102 jet airliner and the CF-100 twin-jet two-seat interceptor. Four years from founding, the company had designed and prototyped both aircraft, plus the Orenda engine to power the CF-100. Rogers was co-pilot to Avro U.K. test pilot Jimmy Orrell (and flight test engineer Bill Baker) on the Avro Jetliner’s first flight August 10, 1949. The following November 22, Rogers took the Jetliner past 500 mph with Mike Cooper-Slipper as co-pilot, Baker as engineer, and Jim Floyd and Mario Pesando as observers. On April 18, 1950, the Jetliner flew the first jet airmail, Toronto to New York, with Rogers at the controls. He flew 440 hours in the Jetliner, during most of its flight and development testing, until the program was halted during the Korean War. The Orenda jet engine for the CF-100 first flew on July 13, 1950, when two Orendas replaced Lancaster FM209’s outboard Merlins, with Rogers as pilot and Bill Wildfong and Walter Bellian as flight engineers. Rogers also flew hundreds of hours in each CF-100 variant, including dangerous tests proving the CF-100’s anti-icing systems.
In 1958 Rogers was named flight operations manager for Avro as the supersonic CF-105 Arrow project approached the first flight. With the Arrow cancellation and the Avro shutdown in 1959, Rogers joined deHavilland of Canada (DHC), where he was employed as test, demonstration and training pilot on all of DHC’s Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) types. A partial list of places in which he showed what DHC’s STOL aircraft could do includes Central and South America (Turbo Beaver); Alaska (Caribou); Brazil and Argentina (Buffalo); Morocco – Middle East – India, England – Scandinavia – Greenland – Iceland (Twin Otter). He delivered aircraft to Togo, Chile, Panama, Switzerland, and Nepal, often training the customer’s pilots on site.
Following retirement from DHC flight operations in 1980 at 63, Don Rogers continued part-time training of customer’s aircrews for seven years, and finished with 12,000 hours on 30 types. He won Canada’s foremost aviation award, the 1983 Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy and was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1998. He was also accepted as a fellow of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute during 1998.
Don Rogers passed away on July 19, 2006. During the fall of 2006, in honour and memory of this fine aviator, the CAHS Toronto Chapter, a Division of The Canadian Aviation Historical Society established a memorial scholarship in Don’s name at Georgian College, Barrie, Ontario. The award is given annually to the graduate of the three-year Aviation Management Program who has met the selection criteria. The criteria states that the award is “Presented to a student who has demonstrated academic excellence (80%+) , a commitment to a career in aviation, an avid interest in Canadian aviation history and the desire to pursue additional research in this field”.
Compiled by George Georgas