Flying Tiger Line Pilots Association
Robert L Blanck
Robert 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.
What 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.
Once in 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 military.)
There was 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 pounds.
Fast 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.”
When the 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 Burbank.
Anyone who 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 re-hired!
He 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.
He seems 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.
In my 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.
By the 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.
Bob 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!
After 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 attention, too.
After an illness of almost one year, Bob died from multiple myeloma and lymphoma on 22 October 1994.
He always said that he considered himself to be privileged, since he had a job that he loved.Back To Memorials