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Aviator speaks to OMAH group

Jim Watt, submitted

Retired navy aviator Gary White spoke to the most recent gathering of the history committee of the Orillia Museum of Art and History. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Retired navy aviator Gary White spoke to the most recent gathering of the history committee of the Orillia Museum of Art and History. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Gary White, who retired to Orillia, always knew he wanted to be a flyer. However, he couldn’t have conceived he would be landing on aircraft carriers and chasing down Soviet submarines.

White made a fascinating presentation on his career in naval aviation to a large turnout at the monthly meeting of the Orillia Museum of Art and History’s (OMAH) history committee.

While in the air cadets, White received a scholarship to learn to fly and obtained his pilot’s license at age 17. In 1953, he joined the navy and was selected for HMCS Venture Naval Officer’s School at Esquimalt, B.C., in 1956. From there, he travelled to Pensacola, Fla., the mecca for naval air training, where he qualified for his wings. Part of his training at Pensacola was going over obstacles, urged on by a marine corps sergeant. White then spent 1958 to 1962 in the depths of the Cold War, posted to the HMCS Bonaventure, a modern but decidedly short-decked aircraft carrier.

White’s job while aboard the “Bonnie” was submarine detection. Flying a bulky but reliable two-engine aircraft called a tracker, White and his crew searched for Soviet submarines throughout the Atlantic. The Soviet subs provided a threat because they positioned themselves off our coast in order to pick up Canadian communications with our allies. The speaker pointed out there were “no live bullets in those years, but carrier flying was a risky business.” Being stranded in the middle of the Atlantic made weather an important element in determining the safety of a flight. Since satellite information did not exist, the flyers relied on raw weather data from ocean station vessels, which often turned out to be unreliable, leading to landings on a wave-tossed carrier in zero visibility.

White recounted one experience he had on a mission. His aircraft spotted a Soviet sub on the surface. Feeling in an aggressive mood, White buzzed the vessel, then dropped one of his detection devices on the conning tower, which happened to provide a small explosion, causing some minor damage to the sub, an action that strictly contravened official orders. Called to see his commanding officer for his action, White feared the worst. However, the commanding officer showed his respect for White and his aggressive attitude by saying, “I will take care of this.”

While White might not have predicted playing such an important role in the navy, he probably did not foresee flying more than 25,000 miles as a pilot for Air Canada in 427s and other huge aircraft after his naval career had ended. After confronting danger in two careers, his biggest threats these days consist of making it down the local ski hill and completing a takeout shot in his curling league.

Upcoming happenings at OMAH include the next Speaker’s Evening featuring Lori Oschefski talking about British home children, the International Women’s Day Art Show beginning March 8, the annual Carmichael Lecture May 8 at Swanmore Hall and the War Exhibit, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, beginning in May.

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