Tommy Siers – The Man Who Solved the Cold
Thomas (Tommy) Siers was born on May 13, 1896 in Yorkshire, England. He started his career overhauling and servicing aircraft with the Canadian Air Force in January 1922. After a brief stint with Huff-Daland Aero Corporation in Ogdensburg, NY, he returned to Canada to work for the Ontario Provincial Air Service in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. In March 1928, he joined Western Canada Airways in Winnipeg and a year later, he was appointed Superintendent of Maintenance.
While Tommy was with Western Canada Airways, commercial air transportation emerged from its purely experimental phase and became a critical factor in the development of northern Canada.
No Runways. No Airstrips.
During this period, most commercial aircraft had to be modified to suit Canadian conditions, let alone those that were heading to the north where there were runways , no airstrips and no tooled facilities. Tommy Siers worked quietly behind the scenes to solve the problems the company’s pilots faced on a regular basis. The logbooks of the Company’s pilots bear witness to his skill.
He contributed to the development of skis, ski-pedestals, ski-harnesses, carburetor hot spots, cabin heaters and methods of warming motors in extreme cold. He presented the idea of ‘Oil Dilution’ as a method of cold-starting engines to Canadian Airways president James Richardson in the late 1930s and was authorized to implement it on an aircraft as a trial.
For example, Junkers JU-52 CF-ARM (restored and on display at the Western Canada Aviation Museum) was experiencing reduction gear failure in the bush. Tommy’s crew manufactured a new reduction gear for the BMW 111A motor which allowed the aircraft to be flown to Winnipeg for permanent repairs. Without this, the aircraft would have had to stay in the north for many months with possible serious damage or deterioration.
A Critical Element in the MacAlpine Rescue
Siers was in charge of the mechanics that were responsible for servicing the 25 aircraft from various companies that searched for the MacAlpine Party in 1929. (See related blog LOST! The MacAlpine Expedition). Baker Lake was the base for the changeover from floats to skis. The team overcame snags such as punctured floats and the sinking of aircraft G-CASL. They also salvaged Fokker Super Universal G-CASQ after it broke through the ice at Bathurst Inlet -20ºC. The plane sank nose first until the leading edge of the wing touched the ice. Fortunately, the water was shallow and the skis touched bottom. In spite of the extreme cold, and working in the open, Tommy salvaged this aircraft, completely overhauled the motor and had it in operation within ten days.
No other Superintendent of Maintenance in Canada had such a large fleet of commercial aircraft under his supervision for such an extended period and under such varying conditions. In November 1941, Tommy Siers was presented with the Trans-Canada Trophy for “meritorious service in the advancement of aviation in Canada” for his development of the Worth principle of oil dilution for aircraft engines – he solved the problem of starting aero engines in winter, saving thousands of dollars for northern transport operators and reducing hazards.
He was inducted to the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974. Tommy died on May 20, 1979.