Lester Blanck was born in a rural prairie area near Hardesty,
Alberta, Canada, to parents who had recently moved north from the
States. Until he was seven, the family remained in Hardesty, and Bob
remembered attending an old-fashioned one room rural school for two
years before the family moved to Florida. In 1985, in the interest
of documenting his early life for the benefit of his children and
grandchildren, Bob and I made a trip to Hardesty and were pleased to
discover that many of the names he remembered from early childhood
were still represented by local families. We visited many families,
and found the remains of the house where he had lived. His school
had become a storehouse for grain. I took dozens of photos, and
presented his children with albums at the next Christmas.
had been planned as a permanent move to Florida, where Bob’s mother
had relatives, was cut short when Bob was eleven, by a very
destructive hurricane, the strongest in anyone’s memory. After
weighing the pros and cons, the Blancks moved back to Canada, this
time to Vancouver.
During the years in Florida, Bob became aware of one very important
thing: he wanted to fly airplanes for a living. He had seen them
overhead, and decided by the time he was seven that he knew he
wanted to be up there in one of those birds, too.
Vancouver, the Blancks settled in, but in just another year or so,
something else settled in, too: the Great Depression.
Money was scarce, there
would have been no way to finance college, and besides that, Bob
wanted to fly. It took a while to be able to afford flying lessons,
but after working for a while in a very fine butcher shop and even
selling magazine subscriptions, he was finally able to afford flying
lessons. Was it $5 for 5 or 10 minutes? His earliest log book showed
five minute entries, one after another, until he had a license. (No
government paid for his flying lessons; he was never in the
a war going on in Spain, Bob was ready to fly, so he knocked on the
door of a recruiting office in Vancouver and tried to join a
Canadian group that was going to help one side or the other.
(When he told me the story, he didn’t remember which side he
would have supported; he just wanted to fly!) “No way, laddie; you
are far too thin!” Never mind that he was perfectly healthy, just
naturally skinny; he could come back and try again if he gained 40
forward a couple of years; World War II had taken a great many young
pilots from Trans-Canada Airlines away from their jobs, and TCA was
hiring; they hired Bob as a co-pilot
(He was still skinny, but TCA didn’t care.) and sent him to
Winnipeg. By this time he was married, and had a very small
daughter. A son was
born during the Winnipeg years. Years later, asked on a
questionnaire, “What was your most traumatic experience during WW
II” he wrote, “Five winters in Winnipeg.”
war was over, so was the job at TCA because the old pilots were
coming out of service and back to their positions.
After a short time, Bob learned about that new company called
“Flying Tiger Line”, made enquiries, and soon moved his family to
Southern California where he began flying domestic co-pilot out of
will read this knows the early ups and downs of the FTL and how
pilots were sometimes assigned to bases far from their homes, and
how more than occasionally, pilots were laid off.
After his initial hiring in 1946, he was laid off and did not
fly again until 1951, when he resumed his employ with Tigers. What
does a furloughed pilot do to feed his family? Anything he can, even
if it’s drive a bus for Los Angeles Transit Lines.
That fast reaction time that served him well in the cockpit
may have been a little too fast for the ladies on the Wilshire bus!
He probably destabilized a few strap hangers with quick stops, but
he figured most of them had it coming anyway; they’d slither into
the bus and fumble with their coins all the way to the May Company,
their intended destination, and leave without paying.
He was very glad when FTL business improved and he was
particularly enjoyed his early international trips and a very
special experience was the year and a half in Canada on the Dew Line
operation. He relished
this Arctic flying and the lifestyle that went with it and was sorry
when it was over. He
missed Yellowknife! Since his first goal had been to become a bush
pilot in Canada or Alaska, this was fairly close.
I met him
when yellow snow and furry mukluks were still fresh in memory, and I
saw his photo of a large sled dog “flying” the airplane.
Those seem to have been “the days”, maybe even better than
buzzing ant hills near Khartoum.
to have behaved quite conservatively during his early Tiger years,
was never thrown out of a hotel, and never broke any windows. His
idea of excitement after a flight was a surprise meeting with Johnny
Cash at the Captain Cook in Anchorage.
memory, one of the most daring things he did was a low and very loud
approach to LAX from an east coast domestic trip, some time in the
mid-60s. I was teaching
in an East Los Angeles junior high school; we heard an
overwhelmingly loud roar that sounded like a plane coming straight
at us! Many people hit the floor, including the principal! Of
course, the kids giggled and asked, “Was that your husband?” After a
glance at my watch and some quick mathematics, I lied, “I don’t
know.” It was. He
confessed that afternoon, but claimed total innocence of anything
out of the ordinary.
time we married, in 1961, the intermittent lay-offs were behind him,
but the days of flying “reserve” were not, nor were trips to Newark.
Gradually, the scheduling improved, and although he was still
apt to arrive at his own Christmas party a couple of hours late, in
uniform and with a flight kit in tow, at least he was on
International. During the conflict in Viet Nam, he flew more trips
than many Air Force pilots, and once spent New Year’s Eve in a
bunker. He particularly
enjoyed flying in Asia, even though as soon as jets replaced prop
planes, layovers were much shorter and “playing tourist” for a day
now and then was scarcely possible.
retired on his 60th birthday, in 1976, after a flight
home from Asia. He did not wish to retire, and had no physical
reasons for doing so, but was blocked by only a government
regulation based on an erroneous belief that any pilot over 60 was
going to die in mid-flight and take the plane down with him!
considerable cursing of government regulations, he decided that
being retired wasn’t so bad after all. He was active on the board of
Angeles Shooting Ranges, became heavily involved in genealogy, and
celebrated his Scottish heritage (mother was a MacGregor) with
several organizations, activities and an elegant kilted outfit. He
also belonged to the Association of Naval Aviation, whose meetings
we both enjoyed very much.
We made eleven cross-country trips, each averaging 8-weeks
duration, and figured out that we had both been in all 50 states and
almost every Canadian province. (He’d been to all the provinces; I
missed Newfoundland.) The long trips went north, east, and south --
because we were already “west” in Alhambra, California - the house
we bought in 1962. Our income property was closeby and demanded
illness of almost one year, Bob died from multiple myeloma and
lymphoma on 22 October 1994.
said that he considered himself to be privileged, since he had a job
that he loved.