Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Alexander 'Al' J. Lilly OC 1910-2008

Alexander John Lilly was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1910.He was a son to Harold Lilly, owner of an automotive and farm equipment dealership that specialized in Ford automobiles. Through his dad’s business, Al came in contact with the RCMP who used the dealership to service their vehicles. It must have been an indelible impression, for Al eventually enlisted in 1932. It was with the RCMP that Lilly’s early affection for aviation, first ignited as a boy when he had encountered ace pilots of the First World War, could finally be realized as a career path rather than just a passion or a hobby. It wasn’t until 1937 that Lilly requested permission to take flying lessons and petitioned to join the Aviation Section the following year. He was a strong advocate for advancing aviation in policing having seen first hand the limitations of dog-sled teams and the canoe and recognized that planes could better serve the North. Although flying during his brief career with the RCMP was the catalyst to greater accomplishments in aviation, Al Lilly’s tenure was best acclaimed for encouraging canine services in policing. As the story goes, Al’s dog, Prince, joined him on a search for a missing trapper and, in the course of the rescue effort, Prince was able to find shelter from the encroaching poor weather for both Al and the found trapper. Al instinctively knew there was value in K-9 skills and shared this insight with the RCMP. By 1935, the police dog-handling services were officially formed and Al was one of the first to be assigned his own dog, a German shepherd named Black Lux. The two formed a fond friendship.

It seems apparent that when your dreams to fly are as strong as Al’s, leaving the RCMP behind for Great Britain was the only course of action. And so, Lilly purchased his discharge in July 1939 and set forth to fly with Imperial Airways.The jump to Imperial Airways proved to be that crucial stepping stone to a long and varied four-decade-long career in aviation. With the outbreak of war in 1939, the RCAF drafted Al Lilly as a Squadron Leader bringing him back to Moncton, New Brunswick, home of the active Moncton Flying Club, where he taught new pilots under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. He would go on to fly throughout the war period including, in 1940, with Atlantic Ferry Organization (ATFERO) out of Montreal, transporting equipment and planes across the Atlantic. It was in this role that he received a commendation from the King of England for delivering the first six Hudson twin-engine bombers to Britain. By the end of the war, Al had been appointed as Chief Test Pilot by the Atlantic Ferry Organization which became RAF Ferry Command in 1941.Following the war, Al Lilly joined Canadair and was instrumental in positioning the aircraft manufacturer as one of the largest producers of aircraft in the world - a distinction that gave Canada much notoriety during the Cold War era. There, he would command the initial flights of a wide variety if aircraft from the 4-engined North Star aircraft airliner to the various models of Sabre (F-86).During his 30 years with Canadair, he rose to the position of Vice President before retiring in 1970.