Dan McGowan

 Dan McGowan (1922-2016) obituary

Dan shown in front of the SE5A that he designed and built.
The aircraft is still in operation at the Museum.

Dan McGowan died on Thursday night the 6th of October, 2016. He grew up in Surrey and joined the RCAF at the age of 18 and became a pilot but never went overseas. He trained on Tiger Moths, got a few hours in Harvards, got 30 hours in Bristol Bolingbrokes (Blenheim Mark IV’s) and ended the war with 1200 hours almost all on Avro Ansons flying training missions for aircrew of all trades.

During the war several incidents stand out. One was when he was training as an airman, an Airspeed Oxford landed at his station and parked in a hangar. In the evening this was swarmed by the excited trainees because they’d never seen a multi-engine aircraft before. Everything was innocent fun until somebody pulled the landing gear lever in the cockpit and the Oxford sank to the ground. Dan said you’ve never seen people disappear so fast. They never found the guilty culprit and there was little damage.

There was an incident with a Bolingbroke where there was a failure to lockwire a gascolator properly resulting in a fire where he witnessed the crew burn to death. Dan also had an engine failure with an Anson on take-off at night and landed straight ahead, just running off the end of the runway with no damage. Dan’s favourite version of the Anson was the Mark 1 with the Cheetah engines which he said were very reliable, more so than the Jacobs.

Dan always wanted to go overseas but they never let him. You don’t necessarily have a choice in the military, but there was another factor. He was an excellent pilot there’s no doubt, and that would have been reason enough to send him on active service after a training tour, but biology was against Dan as he had a growth spurt with all that good air force food ending up being 6’6” tall. Military airplanes are designed for average height bodies and most fighter aircraft for smaller than average, so he would not have fit in many, if any, operational types being that tall.

Dan consequently had a relatively safe war on prairie RCAF stations doing an important but unglamorous job. He grew so tall that the cuffs of his original issue battle dress jacket were inches above his wrists and trouser bottoms inches above his ankles causing an awkward flood pant look when not wearing flying boots. The quartermaster refused to exchange his uniform for a proper fitting one, even after he had patched the worn out knees and ankles. They of course were always wearing perfectly new kit. When the war ended Dan was a Warrant Officer 2nd Class (the 2nd highest non-commissioned rank attainable) and I think fed up and bored. In retrospect, he knew he had a safe war because so many of his friends didn’t make it back. In a group photo one day he pointed out at all the faces he knew that didn’t return.

After the war Dan spent time farming and working in Ocean Falls, but eventually came back to aircraft working for Canadian Aircraft Products building floats. Dan became a skilled sheet metal worker and machinist and spent much of his career building tooling and prototyping. A couple of his achievements were helping with the installation of the Twin Otter on floats when none of the high priced engineers could get it right. He also installed water scooping floats on a Rockwell Thrush agricultural aircraft, turning it into a water bomber years before anyone else thought of the concept.

Dan eventually got involved in RAA Chapter 85 building a Stits Playboy which he put 1200 hours on before selling it. He was involved in restoration projects and was co-designer of the scale SE5 replica with ‘Gogi’ Goguillot with the plans drawn up by Tony Swain. They each built one and flew them to Oshkosh and made the cover of the EAA magazine. One had an engine failure on the way and made a forced landing. Later Dan was fooling around over Mud Bay in his SE5 and did a falling leaf maneuver that he couldn’t recover from and crashed in the mud above the tide line. This resulted in back problems that plagued him for the rest of his life. His Doctor late in life declared that Dan had a high mileage back as Dan was complaining about chronic back pain. He was losing inches and the Doctor couldn’t believe that he had been 6’6” as he ended up losing at least 7” in height.

Dan’s Playboy is still flying apparently, and the SE5 in the Canadian Museum of Flight is Dan’s even though it has “Gogi” painted on the side. Gogi was a director of the museum and that’s why they did that. Tony Swain related an anecdote to me about his first flight in the SE5 where Dan, always a laconic man of few words, was pre-flighting the airplane with him and Tony was firing questions at Dan regarding the important speeds and procedures. Dan didn’t really answer them and eventually looked Tony up and down replying impatiently, ‘It’s just a f…ing airplane!’

Dan was involved with Chapter 85 of the Recreational Aircraft Association at the Delta Airpark and assisted others with solutions to technical problems. He had two machine lathes in his basement and he could make anything. He made a beautiful propeller balancing device, he made an incredible hands-free air gun riveting machine, and made his own hand rivet squeezer and on and on.

He was always flying his Aeronca Champ with his dog. Some related the story where he was flying it from the back seat with the dog in the front and he would overtake other airplanes and hide by leaning back. It would then appear that the dog was flying the Champ from the front seat with no visible human. Dan kept his Champ outside for many years but the crows were pecking holes in the wing fabric and it was time for him to rebuild it for the 2nd time. At the age of 88 he rebuilt it with a little help from a friend.

(Thanks to Alex Routh and Kevin Maher for the writeup and photo)