A Celebration of Life: Ronald W. Wylie

wylie ron 300By Gord McNulty, CAHS Vice President

Canada’s aviation community lost an exceptional and widely respected contributor on November 22 with the death of Ron Wylie, a Life Member of CAHS National and the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, at the Carpenter Hospice in Burlington at age 77.

A large gathering of colleagues and friends joined Ron’s family to celebrate his remarkable life at Appleby United Church on November 30. It was fitting that a ceremonial guard from Ron’s beloved 400 (City of Toronto) Squadron served as ushers and paid tribute as the service concluded with the hymn Amazing Grace.

Ron’s extensive career in aviation had many dimensions. He will always be remembered for his warm personality, wonderful sense of humour, keen interest in aircraft restoration, preservation of history and a sense of duty. He continued to engage in lively conversation, sharing countless stories and memories with visitors at the hospice, throughout his long illness.

The CWHM honoured Ron’s service to the Museum by giving him a last flight in the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster as his health failed. On Remembrance Day, a flypast in his honour at the hospice was flown by the Lancaster, the B-25 Mitchell and an RCAF Hercules.

Ron was especially known for his 37-year career in the RCAF Reserve, where he achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer. He joined the RCAF (Auxiliary) in 1959, starting as an Airframe Tech trainee. He was posted to 400 Squadron in 1961, and steadily advanced as he qualified as a Float Crewman, Cargo Para Dispatcher and Aerial Photographer.

In 1977 Ron was posted to 411 Squadron, where he was promoted to CWO. In 1984 he was posted to 2 Reserve Wing Headquarters at CFB Toronto, where he served until the disbandment of the Wing in 1996. That year, he wrote On Watch to Strike: History of 400 Squadron. He then assumed leadership roles with 715 Mohawk Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets in Burlington, and ultimately became Commanding Officer until “retirement.”

Ron impressed everyone with his enthusiasm and talent for restoring vintage aircraft. While in the air force, he was involved in restoring a Fleet Finch and a McDonnell Banshee, both for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.

Ron accelerated his activities at the CWHM after retiring from the air force, helping to meticulously restore the Lancaster among other aircraft. In recent years, he was a dedicated volunteer on the Bristol Bolingbroke. A colour and markings specialist, he was also a member of the Jet Aircraft Museum in London.

For decades, Ron led a civilian air show team, The International Blue Crew, that runs the ramp at numerous air shows around Ontario and upper New York state. He was very prominent on the flight line at the warbird air shows staged by the CWH at Mount Hope beginning in 1975. Condolences on Ron’s passing were sent by the North East Council of Air Shows, which mentioned his work at the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto.

Ron was also a good friend of my father, Jack. The Great Burlington Centennial Seaplane Race of 1973 was among the fine memories we shared. Ron was a crewman on 400 Squadron DHC-3 Otter tail number 3671, ‘big number 24’ in the race, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Burlington in 1973.
Ron later wrote about the five days of excitement he enjoyed during the event. Forty-nine competitors from across Canada and the U.S. flew in a 1,973-mile endurance test starting with a flight to Kenora, on to Ottawa, and then returning to Burlington.

DHC 3 Otter of 400 Squadron crosses the finish line of the Great Burlington Centennial Seaplane Race Sept 15 1973 Gord McNulty photo

I was fortunate to take a photograph of the Otter as it crossed the finish line at Spencer Smith Park on the Burlington waterfront September 15, 1973. Ron had many favourite photos, but as wife, Sally, mentioned at the reception, that one-time-only photo was certainly one of them.

In his resume of the race, Ron wrote that the prize money wasn’t what counted. “The competition, the laughs --- the common interest --- flying, and the friendships made are the things we’ll all remember.” He described everyone in the event, from the organizers to the contestants, as a great group of people who were a pleasure to work with.

As much as he “never had a day off in retirement,” as the saying goes, Ron always had time for family --- and cooking too! “I didn’t get this big by missing many meals,” he wrote in an overview of his career in the 400 Squadron History Hangar.

The CAHS extends sincere condolences to Sally and the family on the loss of Ron, a friend and mentor to many whose legacy will long be remembered.