In advance of its great annual convention and trade show (HELI-EXPO — Houston in February), the Helicopter Association International has announced its 2010 recipient of the HAI “Excellence in Communications Award” — Ken Swartz of Toronto. Ken is a long-time Canadian aviation history researcher and journalist who specializes in rotorcraft. In 1974 he began contributing news stories and photographs to “Rotary Review”, a column in the renowned UK monthly, Aviation News. His first stories were about Okanagan Helicopters and Soloy Conversions. Ken’s “Canadian Comments” became a regular feature in Helicopter International and in subsequent years his informative articles appeared regularly in such other publications as Calgary-based Wings and its sister publication Helicopters. Presently, he is a columnist for Helicopter International, HELiDATA News and Mike Reyno’s world-class journal Vertical.
Ken has been involved in many aspects of Canadian aviation history. In 1987, for example, he was the key researcher for CANAV Books during its project to produce the 60th anniversary history of P&WC. Published in 1989, Power: The Pratt & Whitney Canada covers such rotary history as early Sikorsky sales (S-51, S-55, etc.) in Canada, development of the Sea King for the RCN, and the evolution of the PT6 as a helicopter power plant. Ken unearthed much of this material, whether by interviewing P&WC pioneers, pounding the factory floor with his camera, or pouring through boxes of historic corporate documents. Over the years Power has been hailed as the model for any aviation corporate history, and Ken played a solid part in this end result.
Seeing how the helicopter industry was losing many of its pioneers, in his early years at his trade Ken recorded the voices of more than 150 of Canada’s pioneers. In such work he liaised with many like-minded history and photography buffs around the world, including fellow Canadians Robert S. Petite and Brent Wallace. The Swartz-Petite-Wallace trio has done remarkable work in recording the accomplishments of Canada’s rotary-wing “originals” (Petite presently is completing a history of the Bell 47 and is a columnist for Vertical).
In the wider view of things, Ken has always been on the front line supporting Canada’s aviation history organizations. In the early 1980s he was on the board of the Canadian Museum of Flight in Vancouver, helping it acquire rare Bell, Brantley, Piasecki and Sikorsky helicopters. He has served on the board of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, and since 2002 has worked diligently (vice-chairman, etc.) with the Canadian Air & Space Museum (formerly the Toronto Aerospace Museum).
I first met Ken in the mid-1980s. It was a bit dizzying, yet refreshing, seeing how he so enthusiastically photographed everything with wings, whether fixed or rotating. None of this pansy stuff for Ken of shooting only military or airliners or whatever else the narrow-minded “specialists” get off on. What a pleasant thing to see — a fan who enjoyed shooting a tiny homebuilt, a lumbering 747, a Bell 47 or a ear-splitting Voodoo. Besides photographing, Ken always had his pocket notebook on the go, filling pages with whatever the topic happened to be. It was, however, with some ambivalence, that I heard from Ken how it was my first book, Aviation in Canada, that had helped inspire him. I was somehow responsible for this fireball of an aviation nerd!
By nature Ken is always supportive and is the sort of fellow to share the good news if there’s something hot in the wind. Over the years we’ve spent many a pleasant trip together, whether on a swan to a NATO fighter meet, a gruelling winter tour down Quebec’s amazing Côte Nord, doing HELI-EXPO in Las Vegas, touring Bell at Mirabel or spending a weekend at the Curtiss Museum. Our latest effort was an overnight to Rome, New York, to see the grand restoration of what I call “the Bob Bogash Super Constellation” — CF-TGE.
Ken’s the man to hang with, since he seems to know everyone and can set up the best extras. On the NATO trip, somehow he and I ended on a great 444 Sqn Kiowa 2-ship tour of the Rhine. On the Quebec trip, he organized our airline schedule, plus a couple of choppers for air-to-air photography. One year he got me on an Antonov 124 delivering Puma helicopters from Toronto to Athens, then on another “124” swan hauling relief supplies to Rwanda.
In summarizing Ken’s great efforts over the decades, the HAI press release states: “By effectively publicizing the helicopter’s uniqueness, and through his selfless service to historical preservation, Ken Swartz embodies the fine qualities celebrated by the Excellence in Communications Award.” So … congratulations to Ken Swartz on finally being honoured officially by the aviation community.