Photos By Tony Swain unless otherwise noted
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As star and tracer shells explode over Kits Beach during the annual Al’Ooween offensive, snug in our bunker, The Mary and I sleepily monitor our flickering screens and review the day’s dispatches.
Suddenly a shriek shatters my torpor! "There’s our B!"
"Wha…?" "Right there in May!" "Wha…?" She impatiently stabs a finger at a page in HQ’s latest missive. "Right there behind 422! And here again, with a bunch a guys! Sob!"
The M wiped a tear and blew her nose. It’s a couple of years since our B left home, and we’d heard nowt in a while. You get anxious. "She’s OK," I soothed, "After all, she’s over 50."
"Well I worry," said The M. "At least, she hasn’t changed, still looks like our Bessy, that’s a relief." And it was exciting to see her on parade with her mates in active service.
The M flipped through the report. "Look! There’s old AJ! Remember her visit in the 70’s wearing her old ‘blue and whites?’ She was going with that Professor John guy then. She’s from Gimli y’know, and 65 if she’s a day! Sigh! Those were the days."
The said report was a 2008 CHAA Calendar, with fabulous photographs of Harvards in action then and now.
The Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association at Tillsonburg, Ont. has been preserving these magnificent aircraft for more than 22 years, striving to keep the legend of the Harvard alive. They do a magnificent job, and for your own CHAA dispatches, calendars, and support, see the CHAA website at www.harvards.com.
A Delta patio picnic table is an excellent place to plane watch, especially at a Second Sunday Breakfast. Hammy McClymont may drop in from Sechelt with his RV4, Steve Isherwood’s Folger S5 is very business like, and Chris Curtis’s beautiful Starduster Too is dreamy.
Other hunkier vintage types often drop by for coffee, Stearman, Waco, a Warner Fairchild 24 and even the odd Harvard. But a real treat is David Grey’s ‘new’ 1939 Vintage Howard ‘Damn Good Airplane’-15 in from Pender Island!
The guys drooled. What a satisfying pilot place. Fleece seats yet! No finicky nonsense here! Hefty column, proper gauges, lots of real flickable switches and wind down windows! Yeahhh! Why can’t we all have one. Or summink similar!
The Great Russ Popel came to see Big Jerry. Winner of both EAA Warbirds of America Gold Wrench Award, and the 1995 COPA Good Show Award. Russ’s Victoria Air Maintenance was Jerry’s fixin’n restorin’ shop of choice back in the Glory Days.
Big Jerr and Russ went through quite a fleet, Harvards, Chipmunk, three Beech 18’s, T-28, Mustang, Sea Fury, Firefly, Mitchell, A-26, Tracker, Albatross, and two Antinovs! They flew the B-25 down to Tahiti for a Disney gig that got them the Western Warbirds Sweaty Goggle Award.
Then, they scared the shoot out of us ferrying the old Albatross up via Cuba from Brazil, cos we thought they’d been shot down! But it was merely a prop governor problem.
Two tough guys appeared at Delta and had me break into his barn to retrieve a spare and ship it down ‘toot sweet.’ Sigh. We just ran out of awards.
Russ now has a quiet summer job back east with his Forde Lake Air Service, flying folk about the bush in Beavers, near Wawa, Ontario.
ACROSS THE POND
I first met Big Jerry when he was seeking a check-out in his new Harvard. I didn’t do that stuff, and referred him to my friend Mel Lee, a no-nonsense ex RCAF Instructor. "Hell," quoth Jerry, "He sent me ta yuh!" So I suggested a guy way off in Victoria.
Time passed, and he was back. "We had a li’ll ground loop, an’ ah need a prop, a set a’ gear, a right wing, an’ a center section."
Seemed a lot for a li’ll ole ground loop, but I plucked a number from my wallet and said, "Phone this guy."
On the Monday, he called and announced "Thuh ports are in thuh mail!" Thus started a long friendship.
The parts were for a Harvard he’d just bought from a ‘young guy’ in Victoria, Rick Cockburn.
Rick was something. The 25-year-old flight instructor at the Victoria Flying Club, entered his Mark 4 in the 1971 Great London to Victoria Air Race, an incredible event dreamed up by the B.C. and Federal Governments to commemorate British Columbia’s Centenary.
The concept was breath-taking, but typical pizzazz of the two flamboyant political leaders of the day, W.A.C. Bennett and Pierre Elliott Trudeau! Wouldn’t it be nice if there was such aviation enthusiasm at the political top today!
At 50 Grand, the top prize was not to be sniffed at. The race would start at RAF Abingdon, near Oxford, UK. So you had to get there! According to the official book on the race by Harry Traynor, 57 aircraft started the race, and 54 finished. Rick knew that with a daunting handicap speed of 192 mph, his Harvard didn’t stand a chance, so he simply went for the fun of it, and hoped the fall-out would help his career.
THIS PLUCKY ADVENTURE
It was 6,200 miles one way via Victoria, Ottawa, Goose Bay, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and London. That’s twelve thousand miles round trip.
The longest legs were approx 800 miles, over water. The HVD 4’s maximum range is approx 750 miles, so Rick stuck a 60 gallon tank in the back seat, and fed it through the fuel gauge.
This plucky adventure got him a huge ovation at the Awards ceremony, and shortly thereafter, smoothed his way into a PWA airline job. Anyway, last month, Rick and his wife Lenora arrived at Delta with Jerry to see a Compair 6 kitplane at Delta, similar to one he’s building with a 300 HP Polish Radial.
His trusty Harvard ‘Race 29’ became Jerry’s beautiful blue camouflage Honeysuckle, which shared The Barn with Bessy for a few years. CF-UZG eventually sold to the States, and is sadly lost in the mists of time.
BYE BYE TCY
For many years the Canadian Museum of Flight’s Lodestar at Delta has provided an appropriate venue for our Remembrance Day Ceremonies. Sadly for us, the Museum has arranged for Fraser Valley University College to restore the aircraft, providing valuable training for their structures students at Abbotsford. Thus TCY leaves us for a worthy cause. This ‘Big Move’ was filmed by Discovery Channel.
THE CHRISTMAS BONUS
In the 1970’s, The Mary and I took a deep breath and ‘Crossed the Rocks’ with Bessy for the first time. Poking around at Airdrie near Calgary, we found a tough little homebuilt called The Westwind. Basic rough though she was, the word was she was a very fast craft, and gleefully surprised some of the sleeker airplanes in town. Enjoy the pics! Where is she now, we wonder?
So I guess that’s it… Merry Christmas Fly safe! Tony Swain & The Mary …Retired COPA guys.