A life of adventure ends
Weldy Phipps was a pioneer of Northern aviation

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 06/96) - There was little in the way of adventure Welland "Weldy" Phipps did not experience during his 75 years.

Better known to radio operators across the North by his call sign, Whisky Whisky Papa, Phipps was a bush pilot at a time when small aircraft were just starting to make the vast North accessible.

A veteran of the Second World War, Phipps was shot down over enemy lines and spent the last two years of the war in a German prisoner of war camp. He was among a group of men who escaped in the final year of the war.

Immediately after returning from overseas, Phipps began his career as a bush pilot, a career that would last 24 years.

During that time he engineered modifications to stock aircraft that survive to this day. The most famous of those adaptations was the "Weldy Special" or tundra tire, balloon-style wheels that allowed planes to land on the tundra.

Phipps' exploits did not go unrecognized. He was a member of the Order of Canada, Canadian Order of Flight, Order of Polaris and Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame, and a two-time winner of the Trans Canada McKee Trophy, awarded each year for the outstanding achievement in aviation.

Behind the awards are countless stories of adventure. Yellowknife's Brock Parsons, a pilot during the same period, recalled one of those stories.

"Weldy was flying Mosquito, an all-wood plane, just south of Churchill. They had been doing high-altitude photography. He tried to get in that evening but the fog had flooded right in.

"So Weldy went just south, to Gillam. The fog and drifted off and he saw this 3,000-foot strip. Weldy told the crew because of his fuel situation they were going to have to try to land on it. The plane normally uses 5,000-foot runways. So with no lights other than moonlight, he tried to land it.

"They landed, slammed the brakes on and stopped with the nose up against the bush at the end of the strip.

"Weldy turned around and asked the photographer, `You OK back there?' There was no reply. They climbed out and went back to the photographer and found he wasn't there, but the hatch to his cabin was open.

"They walked back up the strip and found him picking himself up, cursing. He thought they were going to run into the bush and had bailed out right after they touched down."

In 1953 Phipps and his wife, Fran, founded Atlas Aviation. Based in Resolute Bay it was the most northern charter service in the country.

He retired in 1972, after serving a term as the High Arctic representative for the Council of the Northwest Territories.

Phipps was buried in Ottawa on Saturday.