Harvard 4’s on RCAF Currie Field, Calgary,
spring 1953. This ramp is now
Richardson Way, by Mount
Royal College, with Glamorgan
residential beyond!
Photo courtesy Roger Henshaw
Tony’s $300 big American car - a 1939 Dodge,
with radio, by the RCAF Currie Guard House.
Beyond was a swamp, now North Glenmore.
Photo courtesy Roger Henshaw
St. Andrews, Wpg, 1974, a serious Copaguy
to be, preps long retired instructor George
Clark for an emotional nostalgic
flight in Bessy.
Photo courtesy Rena Clark of Winnipeg


In echelon left, first of four Harvard flights dives for a ear
rattling low and over at Abbotsford in 1976.
Photo courtesy Mary Swain


The fabulous RAF Vulcan V-Bomber touches down at
Abbotsford for Airshow 1976.
Photo courtesy Tony Swain



VIP Calgary visitor Marjorie Conn looks
right at home in the Mark
Hoskins Ryan Special.
Photo courtesy Tony Swain

Fast rewind

Long time since Her Majesty sent my lot to learn real flying from the fine chaps at RCAF Currie field, aka Lincoln Park, Calgary. It was 1953, and a wondrous thing.

Before shipping us west, we’d first been softened up at Air Force Crumlin, the RCAF intake base, in London, Ontario.

There, we’d been taught important stuff like suspenders hold your pants up, not socks, …braces go on teeth, not pants, …it’s our Commonwealth, not your Empire, the Queen doesn’t have to live in Britain, and, most importantly, you don’t knock girls up in a morning, you use the blanketty blank telephone.

At the tender age of 18, this was heady stuff! For many from Britland, phones were Star Wars stuff!

We newly anointed RAF Acting Pilot Officers, if you please, were ‘bumped down’ to Flight Cadet to match our RCAF colleagues, and the similarly ‘bumped up’ French Air Force Corporals. Cue’d by our new Canadian friends, we rushed off down to Macklin Motors where-ever, and bought ourselves hairy big new/used ‘American ‘cars for $300 a crack… complete with radios and luxury velour upholstery to preserve the dust. Drive to City Hall to get a driver’s license for a dollar. … “What test?,” asked the lady at the desk.

The residents of the YWCA put on a weekly Can-Can Show,’ ‘Follies Be There,’ to make us welcome. What more could a guy want?

Bit different to roller skating at Scunthorpe on a Sat’day night. Flying? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.


Delta’s Gentleman of the Sky, Vic McMann, takes off for the Warbird
show in his 1952 Harvard 4, CF-WLO, built by
Canada Car, #CCF4-55, RCAF 20264. Now Reno Race 64!
Photo courtesy Mary Swain



The ramp was a wondrous place, with bright yellow Harvards lined up to the horizon. We clambered over them after hours of memorizing the check-lists. There was no rush to solo us, so we champed a bit when the ex bush-pilot cadets were sent off. You had to be competent at spins, basic aerobatics, and forced landings, before going solo.

I was seventh away, and average at 22 hours …and that’s after 12 hrs in RAF Tiger Moths, plus six on Austers, at the Bridlington Flying Club when I was a ‘kid.’ Those were halcyon days. We flew, studied, canoed at Bowness Park, took car-loads of girls to Banff, and drank rather a lot. My instructor was genial Flying Officer Clark. A kind gentle man, who even forgave my throwing up in his face one hot day… “Oh! For God’s sake Swain! Next time barf out the starboard side and the prop wash’ll suck it away!”

Twenty-one years later, on our first trip to Oshkosh, we stopped off at Winnipeg St. Andrews, and took him for a ride. It was surprisingly emotional. After some loops and rolls he said, “Oh Tony, thank you so much… I haven’t lost my touch. Have I?” After landing we ended with big hugs and tears streaming down our cheeks. It was a wonderful thing!

We met his wife Rena, and they were proud their son Daryl was in law on the West Coast. He was later astonished to hear of the huge aircraft turnout at Oshkosh, especially so many Harvards. He wrote… “You would have made a good fighter pilot. Too stupid to be afraid! Not the solid serious type you are now. Takes marriage to find one’s real self. Eh Mary?” Sigh! Praise indeed. Sleep well old friend. 


Flight Cadet Swain’s flying
instructor F/O George
Clark , RCAF, 1953.
Photo courtesy Roger Henshaw


Impressive arrival! The massive Canadian ‘Herc’ arrives at Abbotsford
International Air Show, 1976.
Photo courtesy Tony Swain


When I immigrated to Winnipeg in Christmas 1956, I found a ‘G.R. Clark’ among the hundreds in the phone book, and bingo! It was George, rep for Bols’ Liqueurs. He picked me up and dropped me at Bristol Aero to ask for a job.

I did, and a Larry Stopforth hired me right there! I was a junior aeronautical designer, off the secret RN Blackburn Buccaneer. Bristols were doing retrofits etc., on the B-25 and CF-100. Great job! I worked on float drawings for the Beech 18.

Many of my old flight school mates were at the RCAF Navigation School in Winnipeg, and it was incredible to see them all again. All grown up! 


The Mary and Tony arrive at EAA Oshkosh with
Bessy, July 1974.
Photo courtesy Rita Stevens, WI, U.S.A.


The Mary and Tami Buehn celebrate husband Dennis
winning the T-6 gold race at Reno 2006.
Race 43 Midnight Miss P/W Wasp was
Bessy’s spare engine, stored on our hangar
floor for over 30 years.
Photo courtesy Tony Swain



Our Oshkosh trip in 1974 came shortly after we’d formed the Western Warbirds at Airdrie, so Bessy, Mary and I got to fly in the grand T-6 fly-byes.

We were expected to start at a signal… Which was fraught, because all the Americans had direct starters, and Bessy had a ‘wind-up’ inertia. Yikes. But I managed to fake it.

Oshkosh was a much more intimate event those days, and we chummed around with Paul Poberezny, Bert Rutan, and other greats. Back home we were asked to lead a Harvard flyby at Abbotsford, and again at the EAA Arlington fly-in.

In 1976 we had a big Western Warbird Harvard turnout at Abbotsford, but the Show Boss appointed recent U.S. Texan owner Barrie Simonson as lead, which bent a few local feathers. However, overall Warbird lead was Howie Keefe, with his gorgeous P-51 Miss America. These were pre-Bud Granley days!

Ex Typhoon pilot Vic McMann was our local hero those days, his Mk 4 Harvard very spiffy in bright red show paint scheme. This aircraft was to become son Keith’s Reno Race 64 in recent years.

The low passes by the crowd were exciting, with numerous formation configurations, line abreast, astern, box, echelons and fingers. Lots of work for the boys!



There were a couple of popular ‘Big Irons’ there, a beautiful classic CAF Hercules from Namao, an Argus and an iconic delta wing V-bomber, the RAF Vulcan. What a show it put on! And what a roar! Imagine, a group of enthusiastic guys in the UK are operating one privately. Well trying to, anyway.

My logbook says that at Abbotsford in 1972, I took the entire Vulcan crew for a couple of circuits in old Bessy. RAF chaps Weston, Roberts and Wood, plus an exchange officer on the Argus, F/L Scott Anderson, who got in touch recently from his retirement place in Galway, Ireland.

Our VIP guest from Calgary, Marj Conn, tried out Mark Hoskins’ Ryan Special for size and looked right at home! She almost bought one. They’re cute, she said.



Proudly wore my ‘Midnight Miss’ red Reno golf shirt downtown to show the folks that the Olympics aren’t the only place to win a gold! Well, my old engine did, in 2006. Tough to find flying events at the Ollies, but the Mars water bomber put on a great show on the Fraser River by Steveston, loudly promoted by Jodie Shebib, Manager of Parks Programs, Richmond.

Downtown Vancouver, I came across a hairy flying display on Granville street where a guy balancing on a board, on a pipe, on a tall stool, had a tethered jet doing steep turns around his head, and another doing loops around his outstretched hand. Their flight paths crossed but contrived to miss. Go figure!




The Oly Airshow Man performs on Vancouver’s
Granville Street during the 2010 Olympics.
A ‘jet-plane,’ lower left, loops around his
right hand, whilst another does pylon
turns around his helmet spike!
Photo courtesy Tony Swain


As you read this, the Special Olympic Airspace Regulations should be ended, and we ordinary folk can get back in the air. It’s ironic that ‘winter’ flying conditions around Vancouver have been superb! Flight 5 pilot Harry Pride says he made five flights the last week and a half and had no problem with the screening situation. The security staffs were courteous, and open to a bit of joking.

His questions re flight routes, and possible problems, were answered pleasantly by the ISU, FIC, Vancouver Monitor, etc. So there you go. …Sigh!


Tony & The Mary, The Old Copaguys in Vancouver. Email: copaguy@vcn.bc.ca



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