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You know it’s a quantum shift in the universe when you find your wife cleaning house in your precious Western Warbirds monogrammed golf shirt! A vintage collectable from hero pilot glory days.
“Makes me feel good.” She retorted. “Better than sitting in your drawer.”
“It’ll get dirty!” I whined.
She continued vacuuming, “It’ll wash.”
What’s a guy to do? I wear that shirt on my Pacific Perspective column photo! Is nothing sacred? How far has the mighty fallen. We Flying Circus guys were so proud of those shirts, so I went scrabbling through my cardboard archives for pictorial proof that all this hangar flying stuff was real.
Many years ago Delta regulars were famous for building wood and fabric airplanes from actual plans. These plans often left much to interpretation by amateur builders, planes built to the same plans could look different depending on the skill, and finicky level of the builder. This made for lively aeronautical social gatherings at the RAA Roundhouse and the Old Coffee Shop. And monster Delta Cheeseburger’s were available those days. Sigh.
Eventually I found an old tin box full of slides gathered for a special show at Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association in Tillsonburg, Ont. And shazam!
This mislaid collection contained the desired hero pilot proof. The images just bubble with beautiful ‘Big Iron’ parked casually at numerous weekend rendezvous, fly-ins and air shows, or bombing about in wonderful demonstration WW-2 displays.
At the time, the Western Warbirds of Alberta and B.C. were the second largest civilian Air Force in the world next to Warbirds of America, and these magnificent machines were flown for fun by private owners. Other large groups like the Canadian Warplane Heritage and the then Confederate Air Force were government supported co-operative flying museums, with approved maintenance facilities and all. Our guys were simply a club.
Recently on Discovery Channel, The Myth-Buster guy got a full house ride in an F-18 in an attempt to break glass with a sonic boom. They didn’t have much luck, unlike the Canadian Forces pilot who allegedly shattered his way across North Van some years ago saying “Hi!” to his Mom.
However, the video of Adam’s Hornet acro ride was fantastic, and replayed for us the adrenalin pumped excitement of displaying good old Bessy. Double Sigh!
Sadly, for many of us, those wonderful days have faded into mist, and we sit on the sidelines, and cheer on the crisp display of the Fraser Blues Navions, Yak, and Harvard teams who continue the show.
THOSE OLD GRASS ROOTS
There was an amazing mix of vintage and homebuilt aircraft at Diston’s field in the early 70’s. Piper Cubs, Bowers Flybabies, Ryan PT-22, Canadian Tiger Moth, Fairchild Cornell, Stinson Gullwing, Voyager and a brace of rather scruffy Harvards.
New UK immigrant Dr. Jeremy Johnson arrived at Dave Ellison’s hangar with his ‘settlers effects’ of a Brit Tiger Moth and vintage Lagonda grand touring car.
Jeremy was somewhat of a celebrity, having done the bale out scenes for the movie, Battle of Britain, the blockbuster show of the day. He dove out of a B-17 bomb bay!
AME Walt Lannon was the established Warbird Guy, lovingly caring for his classic Fairchild Cornel, installing plexi windows in wing root stubs, better to inspect inside the centre section during the annual ‘CCI’, or Continuing Certification Inspection of the day.
Walt eventually became Lannon Aviation, making Delta the focal point for Harvard maintenance for many years. He and his beautiful Harvard, Eva, were popular performers at air shows in the Pacific North West.
The Pacific Command of the Western Warbirds travelled far and wide to fly-ins and air shows. Other local Harvard drivers those days were our Fearless Leader, Jerry Janes, myself, Vic McMann Senior, Bud Granley, Rolf Yri, Chris McLean, Walt Davidson, John Mrazek, Ed McPherson and occasional others. Amazing to recall, but the Western Warbirds had 43 Harvard members!
Our regular WBD Circus could consist of six Harvards, four P-51’s, a B-25, a Sea Fury, three or four Beech18’s, a few T-28’s, Chipmunks and a Tiger Moth. On the coast we flew at Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Victoria, Comox, and Nanaimo. We crossed The Rocks to join our Prairie Command at Vanderhoof, Penticton, Oliver, Lethbridge, Namao, and Cold Lake. Then, over the border and far away, to Bellingham, Spokane, Arlington, and even to the early day’s EAA Oshkosh fly-in. Here, at the exclusive Warbirds Campground, in the next tent, we first met Norm Beckham and his10 year old son Kent, of the fledgling Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, in Ontario.
AND THE BAND PLAYED ON
Later, bunch of us ‘borrowed’ Big Jerry’s B-25 and flew it across the USA to the CAF Show at Harlingen, Texas, in formation with four Mustangs, a TBM, and Dennis Bradley’s Corsair. We wowed all them Colonels around the B-24 at their sunset Happy Hour!
As the Top Colonel announced at the banquet, “Colonels! Now listen up! You-all know yah gotta qualifaah foh thuh show temorrah. So I guess you-all agree; Them Canucks… They… Ker-wally-faah!”
A proper Big Band played swing real ‘Swing’ and a much lither Mary and I got up to jive… and cleared the floor! So we were well pumped next day when we ‘Crazy Canucks’ flew in their fantastic ‘Tora! Tora! Tora! Airshow. What an exciting adventure.
Around this time Prof John Cowan, an Ottawa University V.P., arrived at Vancouver in his nice blue and white Harvard 2. This aircraft became the ‘starter’ plane of the CHAA collection at Woodstock, which operates a sort of pretend 1950’s RCAF Flight School at Tillsonburg.
An absolute must see for nostalgic ‘Air Force’ dreamers when in that part of the world. So go experience a ‘50’s basic Flight Cadet’s ‘Famil’ flight!
It’s been a slice. A really big slice! Ah, those were the days my friends.
DELTA’S NEW YEAR TO-DO
The Delta Ladies hosted a great New Year Open House at the Pilot’s Briefing Room, on Jan. 2nd, cos they figured ‘The Guys’ all watch the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day.
And hey, speaking of that, did you see the float with the full size Stearman doing rolls over ‘The Old Red Barn’. That old PT-17 was on a humungous barbie spit! A shoe-in for first prize, but they chose a pseudo pirate ship firing cannons instead. …Pshaw! Wadda they know?
The Mary figures over 140 airplane folks turned up at the Airpark’s old ‘diner’ which jumped with hoary hangar stories, over tasty pickins. The conviviality of airplane enthusiasts en mass is a wondrous thing, laughter and hallo’ing everywhere. All this bon-homie bewilders non-flying guests, who often expect pilots to be stern and serious.
Many of our old gang turned up. Great Warbird Leader, The Janes, Walt Davidson, ex- Fort Langley’s riverside airport. Air Canada’s Tom Rogers, recent T-Bird owner, who awaits paperwork clarifying ejection seat status in civil ex military jets.
The military needed bang seats in case you got shot down. I recall the confusion in the ‘50’s when AFHQ mandated such seats in all military combat flying machines, and our Calgary O/H base was instructed to install same in RCAF choppers. But heli pilots got upset at being shot through a meat slicer! Our COPA Kevin might know how that tricky problem was resolved?
Retired United Captain Bill Lamberton, and wife Carol were up from Seattle. Bill Warbirded with us in his SNJ and Vampire. A one-time RCAF pilot, he now proudly flies a retired Snowbird Tutor.
There’s so much to tell, and so little space. Retiring Airpark Secretary introduced his successor, Ray Colley, and the new Hangar Rentals Chair is C-140 owner, Cy Henderson.
Our favourite aviation artist Ginny Ivanicki soloed at Boundary Bay in October, and both Joan Cox and Jean Prior are flying around in their personal C-152’s. So it’s been a good year.
Here’s to 2010, the Olympics, and all that…
Tony & The Mary, The Old Copaguys in Vancouver. firstname.lastname@example.org