The Amazing Nonstop Cross-Canada Flight of Red Morris

By Mike Davenport, EAA 89102

I recently
gave in to the pressure to review the contents of some boxes in the basement.
What she actually said was, “Get rid of that junk down there.” For the record,
I don’t have junk, I have neat stuff; she’s the one with junk.

In one of
those boxes I came across a file with a copy of Canadian Homebuilt Aircraft — a 1978 magazine that had a feature
story on Red Morris. Included in the file were letters from EAA Canada, the Royal
Canadian Flying Clubs Association (RCFCA), and my notes from Red’s record-establishing
flight on July 1, 1978.

Robin (Red)
Morris was born in England in 1930 and immigrated to Canada with his family at
the age of 3. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at age 19 and did his
training on Harvards at RCAF Station Centralia in Ontario that spring. He then
moved on to Chatham, New Brunswick, flying Vampires and Sabres.

He was
later posted to England and, while based at North Luffenham, continued to fly
the Sabre. He was selected in 1953 to fly in the mass fly-past of 640 aircraft
to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

As the
story goes, all went well during practices until shortly before the event when
a new commanding officer, who had not been involved in the lead-up practices,
decided to fly lead. During a turn with this very large formation of 60 planes,
the CO cut it too short with the result that Flying Officer Morris, flying on
the inside of that turn and attempting to stay in position, stalled his Sabre
and spun down through another formation. At one point, he found himself canopy
to canopy with another Sabre, and he narrowly missed several other aircraft.
Military protocol required an investigation, and Red ultimately received a
rebuke for loss of control and failing to hold his position in the formation.
On the actual day, however, all went well.

moment of excitement occurred when Red got into a furball with a couple of
British Vampires when one of them clipped the other and broke up, resulting in the
pilot ejecting and no harm — other than to the airplane.

He carried
on with his career with no other significant dramas and subsequently retired
after 25 years of service with more than 6,000 hours in 50 different aircraft.
He was active in the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association and EAA, and served
as a director of Aerobatics Canada. He owned a variety of aircraft ranging from
a J-3 Cub to a Fieseler Storch. Somehow, though, all of this was not quite
enough. There were still some things he needed to do.

On Canada
Day 1978, Red undertook a challenge that few but he clearly understood.

I met Red
in 1978 when he arrived in Vancouver for the attempt to fly 3,000 miles nonstop
across Canada — something that had never been done. Period. Not even by the
airlines or the military. Red was planning to do this in a homebuilt aircraft:
a Zenair CH 300. This early kitbuilt aircraft was the largest of Chris Heinz’s
designs at that time and with Chris’ approval was extensively modified for the
trip with a 180-hp engine and four additional fuel tanks in the wings and two
in the fuselage. This increased the total fuel capacity from 32 to 170 gallons.
Significant sponsorship was obtained from Leggat Aviation, Edo–Aire, and from
the Canadian Pepsi-Cola bottlers, which explains the red, white, and blue paint
job and the Pepsi decals.

The Zenith design
had a gross weight of 1,850 pounds, but Red’s aircraft came off the scales at 2,718
pounds, which meant it would require a waiver for the overweight condition at
takeoff. It was also equipped for IFR flight as Red considered that to be
necessary as the chances of getting VFR conditions over 3,000 miles of Canada
were somewhere between slim and nil. IFR flight was also something that was not
done in a homebuilt in Canada at the time so this would also require a special
waiver from the DOT. Both things were not easily obtained, but eventually
permission was received. These were requested in October with the overweight
permit received in January and the IFR permit on March 15. The overweight
permit came with some rather onerous requirements but was eventually granted.

I was a
member of the local EAA chapter at the time and, along with other members,
volunteered to help where needed. I was drafted as the western Fédération
Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) observer on behalf of the RCFCA and as such
was required to certify the aircraft’s weight and to seal the fuel tanks and
barograph. My signatures on the seals would verify that nothing had been added
during the flight.

problems and fuel leaks persisted throughout the day prior to the takeoff and
again when the alternator packed it in over Hope, British Columbia, and that
necessitated a return to Vancouver for replacement. While this sounds like
little more than a time-consuming problem, the volunteers had to be contacted
as they were needed back at the airport with tools. Red had to use his not
inconsiderable piloting skill to land the significantly overweight aircraft
back at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). A new alternator was obtained
and installed, refueling was completed, and the tanks and barograph resealed. After
all of that, he was away again in just over an hour. To add to the excitement,
his chase plane also had a problem with a significant oil leak. Seems someone
had left the oil cap off the right engine requiring a stop at Abbotsford.
Troubles, like grapes, seem to come in bunches.

The flight
proceeded without further incident until near North Bay when the alternator
again became an issue forcing him to shut down as many electrical devices as
possible including radios, strobes, and his wing leveler. The lack of radios
caused a great deal of concern for the escort plane as it no longer had any way
to contact Red. Once east of Montreal, it became apparent that fuel concerns
ruled out any thoughts of continuing on to Newfoundland, and the flight would
be ended in Halifax.* Red also had some doubts that he would even make Halifax
and was considering St. John as an alternate. In the end, all went well and a
very tired and nicotine-deprived Red landed in Halifax 22 hours and 45 minutes
after takeoff from Vancouver. He later advised me that the FAI had confirmed three
nonstop world records including Vancouver to Winnipeg,
Vancouver to North Bay, and Vancouver to Halifax.

He later
flew the Pepsi Special (C-GVOK) back
to Vancouver and Delta Airpark where he gave thank-you rides to all of those
volunteers who helped make the trip a success.

The record
flight CH 300 airplane can be seen at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in
the Ottawa area having been delivered there by Red in 1984.

later Red obtained a chart of the portion of the flight over northern Ontario
from NORAD, which had been tracking the flight in its entirety. This chart
showed a large and approximately one-hour, 360-degree turn in one segment. Red
does recall that at about that point in the flight he was off heading and
realized that he must have dozed off for a time resulting in the circuit and
unplanned fuel usage.

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