Photos courtesy Tony Swain, unless noted otherwise
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This time of year my mind drifts back to how flying used to be. Our bedroom is shelved to the ceiling with cardboard cartons full of special file boxes crammed with 35mm slides.
Box 37 holds pics of Harvards buzzing around the Fraser Valley in the 1970’s. With the local EAA’ers they comprise the pseudo Delta Air Force. The famous Western Warbirds evolved later.
For a onetime teenage wannabee hero fighter pilot, the Delta Harvards were as exciting as all get-out. My new girlfriend Mary, said we should get one. They were fairly cheap those days, so, after a bit of the argy-bargy, we bought Bessy, a scruffy, but nice, Mark 4.
There were a lot around. Five at Delta, two at Pitt, one near Langley, one at Chilliwack, at least two at Victoria and two at Nanaimo. Even one up at Boston Bar!
Being ex Air force, I ‘knew’ it took 20 guys of various trades to keep a Harvard in the air, and here we were, scrattin around in a field with no power. The word was a 110 volt outlet thingy in your car.
My 66 Volvo tool kit proved inadequate for the job, so I bought a big box of Sears specials. It proved a never-ending purchase procedure. Thankfully, Bessy came with a couple of humungous homemade wing jacks, way too heavy to walk.
The guys had a voluntary tool borrowing system, dispensing with fancy card sign-out procedures so tedious at regular maintenance shops. Between us, we could rebuild the Spruce Goose, except for that one obscure special tool. Always that one obscure special tool. Sigh.
The annual inspection, or the then CCI, was really fraught, as cowlings, fairings and inspection plates littered the grass, and tough to keep track of, especially when the looki-loos gathered, brimming with advice.
But, if you had a system it was fun. Do a bit at a time, with that bit completed before dark. Disaster if it rained!
The regs were awkward then, requiring a flight test within a fixed time frame, or everything had to be re-done.
Those days most air engineers trained on Harvard airframes, and were familiar with the aircraft. So numerous AMEs were available to inspect and supervise the owner to assist.
Newly minted AME Wayne Swanson, an EAA Chapter 85 member, replaced Bessy’s corroded port stabilizer that my friend from CPA Repairs, John MacLeavy, noticed. John was thrilled to find his RCAF inspection stamp in the Tech Log!
FRASER VALLEY AIR FORCE
We Harvard owners were like family, and sat together in the Koffee Port, eagerly discussing mutual problems. Between us, we had a complete set of tech manuals.
The most respected Harvard guy then was Vic McMann, a veteran WW2 P-40 and Typhoon Pilot.
His Mark 4, CF-WLO sported a flash red and white show paint job. He soon recruited us to fly at Abbotsford. It was great fun.
He had three keen sons, and two, Keith and Vic junior, each now have their own Harvard, and race at Reno!
Bob Haslam gave me the demo ‘proving’ flight in Bessy. His MK 4, VFG, was usually parked to Bessy’s left. Bob coached me on ‘Starling Proofing’, and after much frustration, I greatly improved his method. Basically, it was a matter of 2 hours cleaning birds nests from Heat Muffs and wheel wells, versus two hours post flight stuffing rubber blanking mats and tarps, usually in pouring rain.
The fierce rubber owl soon became a convenient bird perch. Sigh. When Bob eventually moved away to Sechelt, Fred Durant moved in with his Mk 4, WLA, and sadly, later managed to ding a wing on final, and so eventually sold his plane for rebuild.
By the McMann’s, sat RZP, with rear panel and controls removed and the space modified to carry two people! Similar mods with a bench to seat three, plus a child seat in the baggage compartment were rumoured.
This spawned talk about all that horsepower for only two people. We even considered hard points for a Norton motorbike!
This owner showed only once a year, for CCI and test flight, as he didn’t want to use up the low time engine. Photographer Denny Boyd and I had plans to remove the aft canopy for fantastic air-to-air photo work. However, whilst we dithered, the aircraft sold to a guy in Toffino who needed an engine for his Norseman. It sat there for a while, till Calgary Harvard enthusiast Bob Wilkinson bought it. It showed up recently in the North American Trainer Association News, now based in California.
Les Abbey owned a grass strip near Langley and often brought SNOOPY to Delta for gas and a chat. His brightly painted Mark 2, CF NIA, mfrs no. 3832, was actually a 1940’s T-6.
Those were great days. In our Bessy we’d visit the guys at Chilliwack, Nanaimo and Victoria. Even in those pre Western Warbird days, the West Coast was full of Harvard action. Triple Sigh!
DELTA’S SPACE PROGRAM
We were thrilled with the national news story that Steve MacLean became president of the Canadian Space Agency. Steve was the second Canadian astronaut to walk in space.
His cousin Chris MacLean, was our fearless Harvard leader at many air shows in the 1980’s. After Steve applied, we all went to see ‘The Right Stuff.’ It was weird that Steve might actually do that. Looked pretty daunting, especially the medical stuff!
His specialty was motion sickness research, so Chris gave him an advance review with a full house acro ride from Delta. So Delta’s done its bit for the Canadian Space Race!
A surprising number flew in for the October Pancake Breakfast, where the RAA ‘B’ team, Bruce Prior, Joan Cox, and Shona Hirota served up 95 breakfasts. New pilot Joan shares the family RV7, Shona owns a mint Glasair and flies choppers for a living. Since his vintage C-190 went to Ottawa, Bruce flies his wife’s C-150.
As I write this, the RAA and local Warbird pilots are briefing and practicing for the traditional Remembrance Day fly pasts in the Vancouver Area.
November 11 is often a cold and blustery day, and the participants at Delta look forward to the shelter of the Old coffee shop afterward, and a slice of The Mary’s famous soup.
That soup has a long pedigree believe me, first prepared in 1948, in The Old Country for a mandatory ‘volunteer’ youth road gang near Zagreb!
Young people from over the world went to rebuild the then Yugoslavia after WW 2. When the Canadian group was trucked in, no one had eaten, and catering facilities were not ready. So The Teenage Mary negotiated with the lady food commissar for food. After some Balkan argy bargy, she was issued a huge cooking pot, a whole side of lamb, a passel of veggies, and told, "You go cook!" A rough cookhouse shack was quickly erected, and the rest is history. Hence, The Mary’s famous soup.
AND HEY HEY HEY
In other news, the Chapter 85 Roundhouse is back in service. The volunteers responsible deserve a hearty round of applause from everyone. It is the hub for meetings and film shows at the Air Park, and the speed with which it was dismantled, repaired, and re-erected was incredible.
And that’s it for December, so a Very Merry Christmas to all.
Tony & The Mary, Old COPA Guys.