Vance Larson was a pilot and captain who pioneered Air Canada’s DC-9 and Lockheed 1011 flights. He was a flight instructor for the Royal Canadian Air Force before joining Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA) in 1946. During his 34-year career with the company, he accumulated over 26,000 flight hours.
Doug Morris: What was the first aircraft you flew that had autoland and full autopilot?
Vance Larson: The first aircraft capable of autolanding and handling crosswinds at the same time was the Lockheed 1011. When I saw the autoland on the Lockheed on the first circuit I flew, I said, “Wow! I’m sticking to this.” The North Star had the first autopilot. It was pretty basic and was used mostly for turns. I hand-flew the airplane until about 27,000 feet, at which point I engaged the autopilot.
DM: Which aircraft did you fly that had a navigator on board?
VL: Navigators joined us on all equipment until the later version of the DC-8. They took care of celestial navigation, which kept the aircraft on track while it flew over the ocean. Their job was different from that of air traffic controllers, who manage the position of aircraft in relation to each other. All aircraft, including the DC-8, had a dome at the top where the navigator could take star shots. When inertial systems were introduced, navigators were no longer needed because the computerized system used sensitive gyros to orient the aircraft.
DM: How loud were your earlier flights with TCA?
VL: The North Star, the Vanguard and the Super Constellation were noisy airplanes. The Vickers Vanguard put the first-class section at the back of the airplane to keep passengers as far away from the engines as possible. Combined, the engines had about 7000 horsepower. That’s not only hugely powerful but also quite loud. But it was the propellers that were actually much louder; each one measured 11 or 14 feet in diameter!
Doug Morris is an Air Canada pilot.