Kenley Veteran and Helicopter Pioneer, Robert McLean Cooke

The grave marker of Robert McLean Cooke, who served at Kenley with 416 squadron in 1943.
Patricia Jackson (findagrave)
Photo shows pilots from Dal Russel's Canadian Spitfire Wing in France, Summer of 1944 (I think). Top row: BOB COOKE, Sandy Halcrow, Harvey Crawford (centre, white scarf), Bob ,Hyndman, George Mercer, Ken Robb, Gordon Lapp. Bottom: Max Portz, George Johnson, Charlie Trainor, Art Tooley, Barney Eskow.
Aces of WW2 website

On 19th April, 1943, a serious accident befell Pilot Officer Cooke (J21231) of No.416 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, during take-off from Kenley…

“P/O R. M. Cook on take off on scramble failed to become airborne and skidded into butts at edge of aerodrome. Pilot seriously injured and taken to hospital. Aircraft category E.”

The Operations Record Book confirms that the aircraft in question was Spitfire IX, BR635, coded DN-K. It seems the cause of the accident was a “premature wheels up take-off”.

Robert McLean Cooke was born on 11th February, 1919, in Milton, Ontario, Canada. He joined the RCAF in September 1941 and was posted to No.416 Squadron in February, 1943, while the Squadron was stationed at Kenley. It appears that Cooke made a full recovery from his accident on 19th April, 1943, and was sent to No.53 Operational Training Unit in June 1944, before joining No.411 Squadron RCAF, who were part of the Second Tactical Air Force, by that time. “Bob” was certainly flying operationally by early July 1944, and shared at least one victory during this period.

He returned to Canada in March 1945, and served as an instructor at No.10 Elementary Flying Training School, Pendleton, for a couple of months.

Cooke’s next venture seems to have been as a civil helicopter pilot.
This article comes from the “Canadian Champion” newspaper 3rd January, 1952.

“MILTON MAN PILOTS NEW MAIL SERVICE”

“Canada’s first regualr helicopter airmail service was started this week in Newfoundland with Pilot Bob Cooke, son of Mr. And Mrs. P. W. Cooke, Milton, and engineer Bob Rutherford, both R.C.A.F. veterans, to handle the helicopter. They plan to use a garage at Lewisporte as a hangar and keep the mail windmilling across the icy bays as often as sea fog and winter gales will permit. Time magazine reports that “Cooke hopes to hit each of his 20 mail drops twice a week.” If the four-month experiment proves successful, other helicopter services will be inaugurated to break the isolation of winterbound inhabitants of the north.”

Cooke took a contract flying for Kenting Aviation Ltd. in a Hiller Model 360/UH-12A serial # 138 CF-FKO (N8138H). Flying helicopters during the bitter Canadian winter, was always going to be a risky endeavour and sadly, “Bob” Cooke was killed just after take-off near Forestville, Quebec, on 7th August, 1952. The helicopter hit telephone lines and crashed into the  Bersimis River. 

The incident was reported in the “Canadian Champion” newspaper, 14th August, 1952:

“PIONEER HELICOPTER MAIL DELIVERY BOB COOKE DIES IN QUEBEC CRASH”

“The man who initiated Canada’s first regular mail delivery by helicopter, 33 year old Robert McLean Cooke of Oshawa, son of Mr. and Mrs. P. W. Cooke of Milton, died Thursday in a crash 100 miles north of Bale Comeau, Quebec.

Cooke was employed by Kenting Aviation Ltd. of Oshawa, which operates aircraft for Photographic Survey Corps. of Toronto. He was piloting a helicopter over rugged Northern Quebec woodland when it struck a wire and pitched into the Bersimis river near the site of a proposed hydro dam.

From last January 7 to April 30, he had flown from Lewisporte in the Gander Bay Arm area of Newfoundland to deliver mail and freight to 18 isolated mission communities on islands along the coast. Altogether 15,000 pounds of mail was carried.

The helicopter mail service was operated by the Canada post office to areas where regular winter delivery was made virtually impossible due to snow. Before Cooke arrived with his helicopter, two-month delivery on mail was not unusual.

Despite exceptional fog, snow, wind and cold – locals said it was the worst winter in 20 years – Cooke got the mail through, making regular deliveries every 10 days.

A veteran of the RCAF service during the Second World War, the pilot had flown helicopters for 18 months. His wife and two children live in Oshawa.”

Robert McLean Cooke was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, Halton Regional Municipality, Ontario, Canada.

Rest in peace P/O Cooke and thank you for your service in war and in peace.

 

Many thanks to Peter Allam, Bob Petite and Francois Oxeant for their help with research and Aces of WW2 website for permission to reproduce the photograph of Bob Cooke.
https://acesofww2.com/can/aces/lapp.htm
Sources:
416 and 411 squadrons RCAF Operations Record Books.
From “Progress report to 2359 hours 26.4.43.” From OC No.416 squadron RAF Station, Kenley. To: AOC i/c O/S Headquarters.

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