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Russ Norman

A dedicated Canadian proponent of homebuilt aircraft

By Gord McNulty

This article is reprinted from the CAHS Journal, Volume 41, Number 1, Spring 2003.

Like many members of the CAHS, Russell G.Norman of Hamilton "caught the aeroplane bug early" and has never been cured. Best known for his lifelong accomplishments and keen interest in homebuilt aircraft, Russ has enjoyed a remarkable career in aviation, spanning more than 50 years. To describe Russ as a versatile aircraft owner, pilot and skilled Mr Fix-It around aeroplanes is an understatement.

russ norman

Russ Norman brings his EAA Biplane, CF-RFG, in tight for the capable camera of the author's late father, J. McNULTY. 

Russ has flown more than 40 different types of aircraft, including six gliders in the 50s. He has owned different types, including his latest pride and joy, a beautiful all-metal Bushby Mustang II homebuilt. Russ, CAHS member 608, played a prominent role in the growth of homebuilt aviation with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) after the Second World War. In fact, he made history. Flying his EAA Biplane CF-RFG, Russ made the cover of EAA's May 1965 Sport Aviation magazine in a Jack McNulty air-to-air photograph. It was the first time a Canadian pilot and aircraft had been given this prestigious recognition. Russ also has the distinction of having attended every EAA annual fly-in convention since 1958.

If there is a secret to his natural affinity for aviation, it lies in his exceptional mechanical aptitude and a facility for working with his hands. Russ has a confidence and a knack for adapting to changing circumstances that have carried him through many challenges, including the loss of his job in the cancellation of the Arrow at A.V. Roe Canada, and the occasional dicey moment in the air when things didn't follow the script.

Born in Burlington in 1928, Russ was raised in Hamilton. He recalled that he "always wanted to be a flyer." His first recollection of aeroplanes was at the old Hamilton Municipal Airport in east-end Hamilton, officially opened on 6 June 1929. Russ became involved in Junior Air Cadets, which operated out of a church. They met once a week, and built model aeroplanes. Cadet Norman won an award. It turned out to be his first flight, a ride in a J-3, CF-BUG, flown by a chap named Ernie Guzzo. The date was 11 February 1943.

Russ subsequently took the sheet-metal course at Hamilton Technical Institute. A school friend, Roy Byrne, had been flying out of the Cub Flying School at the airport. In 1946, he took Russ to the airport to get acquainted with the school. On 1 December 1946, Russ enjoyed his first instructional flight in a J-3, CF-EFO, flown by Frank Hawkridge. Russ had four hours and 45 minutes of dual instruction before his first solo flight, in a J-3, CF-EEO, on 29 March 1947. He acquired his licence on 11 December 1948, on a Cub L4B (Observer) CF-EGO, then began to check out on various aircraft including a Fleet Canuck, CF-DPX, and a PA-11 Cub Special CF-FTE. In May 1949, after the Cub Flying School folded, Russ went to Peninsula Air Services, also based at the airport. Peninsula had various Piper aircraft, from the J-3 to the PA-12 Super Cruiser, Cessnas, Cornells and other aircraft. Russ checked out on a J-3 on floats, (out of the Hamilton Sky Harbour Air Services seaplane base) two PA-12s, CF-EUX and FIB; and a Tiger Moth.