Russ Baker (pilot)
The boy attended Isaac Brock Elementary School and finished his public education at age 14. He then took up shorthand, typing, penmanship, English, spelling and bookkeeping at Success Commercial College in 1924/5. He worked in the offices of Western Canada Airways. In 1928 he began flight training with that company at Kirkfield Park. He obtained his commercial pilot licence on October 29, 1929. However, from 1931 to 1933 he worked for his father’s company, Western Gypsum Products.
Baker got his start as an entrepreneur in aviation by restoring a De Havilland Fox Moth for Ginger Coote at Gun Lake (British Columbia) in the winter of 1936/7. Later Baker made Fort St. James his base as he freighted supplies to mining operators in the North. He worked for Grant McConachie’s company United Air Transport. Later Punch Dickins offered him a job with Canadian Airways in the same region.
In January 1942 Russ Baker rescued the crews of three B-26 bombers that had made an emergency landing between Fort Nelson, British Columbia and Watson Lake, Yukon where there was a refueling station. The mishap occurred the 16th of January, and Russ eventually located the planes and crews. To an improvised runway he flew a dozen missions over several days to extract 24 crewmen and two officers. The Norden bombsights were recovered from the downed aircraft. He was recommended by Lt. Robert O. Cork for the Air Medal which Russ was awarded March 22, 1948, in Vancouver by the U.S. consul George D. Andrews.
In February 1947 Pierre Berton was assigned the northern beat by Hal Straight of the Vancouver Sun. Russ took Pierre across the Rocky Mountains and up the "headless valley" of the Nahanni River. The newspaper series was named Best Adventure Series of 1947 by International News Service. Pierre wrote the Forward to Wings over the West (1984) by John Condit. Berton described Russ' mountain flying:
- Baker flew his Fox Moths and ancient Junkers through the angry ocean of peaks that sprawl across the midriff of British Columbia. He knew these mountains as well as we know our own street corners. When the fog hung heavy on the cordillera, he found his way home by recognizing the granite tips of the mountains that poked above the cloud blanket. The dreadful downdrafts that have caused more than one pilot’s death held no terror for him. These Niagaras of air, pouring off the ridges, can send a plane plummeting a thousand feet in a minute, but Baker wrestled his aircraft through the turbulence like a horseman on a bronco. He had the physique of a boxer and the strength of an ox and needed both in that tempest-tossed land.
Russ Baker died of a heart attack in November 15, 1958.