Wings under the bridge



July 1992… The Swain Harvard
‘Bessy’ and Brian Beard’s Mk 2
at the Concrete, Wash., Fly-in, en
route to Fairchild AFB’s
Annual Military Air Show.


Mike Langford and crew Steve Rule
spiff up Mike’s Harvard 4 at the
1992 Fairchild SAC Base Air Show.

Future COPAguy remains calm
through the frenetic show activity!
What did they put in my milk?
Photos courtesy Tony Swain Archives



Local Warbird Patriarch, Big Jerry
Janes, supervises as Walter
Davidson (L), Don Souter (R)
and friends, attempt to squeeze
Dan Zagorsek’s STOL Dornier 27
into Bessy’s old spot in
The Barn at Delta.


Tom Skillen and son, well bundled in
sheepskin, visit Delta last month in
their beautiful Stearman.

On behalf of Jon’s friends at the
Abbotsford Flying Club, Member
Ton Du Crocq, presents
a delighted Jon Spronk with
a poster to commemorate his first
solo 60 years ago.

Click pictures to view larger images

They scattered Cap'n Joe’s ashes last week near Edmonton. Good ole Joe Mc’Oldtrick’. His Western Warbirds pals did the honours in style from their Harvards, a fitting tribute to a grand guy, and a gentle farewell for his wife Lynne and daughter Erin.

Capt. Joe McGoldrick served with the RCAF, PWA, and the wonderful Western Warbirds.

In the ‘90’s, air show people started cherry picking bits of the Western Warbirds Big Show, claiming it was too expensive. So ‘Poof’ went the group’s spectacular WW 2 show.

A full show included more than 25 magnificent old Warbirds, two B-25’s, a Sabre, a Vampire, four Mustangs, two Sea Furies, four Beech 18s, four T-28s, 12 Harvards and others. It was a social event, and all for gas, grub and a bed. Sigh! Now it’s all wings under the bridge.



After big shows ended, keen Harvard guys formed small teams to continue the Air Show Razzmatazz. Not an early riser, I agreed to be a reserve. We practiced for fun, and flew on Remembrance Day.

One day an invite popped up from the SAC Base at Fairchild AFB, near Spokane. You know, loaded B-52’s to order, 24/7, anywhere in the world. What a prestigious gig. The 250 nautical was quite a ways. For a better show, we went along. Great, we’d meet steely-eyed pilot’s who could spoil your day, right in their den. Wow!



Six of us Harvard guys went, John Mrazek, Walt Lannon, Keith McMann, Mike Langford, Brian Beard, and Bessy.

Bellingham for customs, an EAA fly-in at Concrete for lunch, then a fantastic flight over Washington State’s North Cascades, the Columbia River, the spectacular Grand Coulee Dam, to Fairchild AFB, and our landing break to a great welcome from the USAF folks.

Impressive military flying machinery lined the ramp, and we were placed near show centre! We got the Grand Tour in a genuine SAC bus. The driver was very serious.

He stopped behind a large black building with no windows. Some kind of security place?

“Now listen up!” says he. “My orders are to show you all something in here, then shoot yah! Don’t touch nothin’! The guys here are serious. And no cameras.” We meekly filed through the door.

The large warehouse was curtained off with heavy drapes, with grim armed guards spaced around. They didn’t smile. And, surprise! There, inside a white picket fence was an absolutely secret, invisible Stealth Bomber!

The sharply smart Crew Chief advised how this was the first such aircraft to return from the Gulf War. He explained how the clever angular shape and matt finish, which Mary described as ‘rich black velvet,’ did not reflect radar and so, was ‘invisible’ on a scope. However, if it was touched, the sweat from your finger destroyed that property, and these serious guys would shoot you.

He further explained that thrust in cruise bled out through the trailing edge, to avoid attracting heat-seeking missiles. But, if the pilot really needed to go, big doors opened, and full jet thrust blasted him outa there.

Being VIP visitors, we could enter the circle for a closer look, “Hands in pockets!” Being all in aviation of one sort or another, design, maintenance or piloting, a lot of scrutinizing was done, with itchy fingers trying to leap from pockets!

A VIP red-carpeted stair led to the cockpit.

“Would you care to see the cockpit Ma’am?” he asked. “Oh yes!” thrilled Mary. And up she went into the left seat! She said later he 'splained how, everything was basic from the left, much like our T-6’s, and got more sophisticated as you scanned right to the weapon systems. It flew like a regular airplane.

The grim watchers watched as we excitedly jockeyed for position at the foot of the stair. That darned guy kept ‘splaining for 15 minutes. Finally, amid much laughter and “Thank-yous” they stepped out. We crowded forward, and he said, “Sorry! No one else allowed in.” And, “This lady is the only civilian lady ever to sit in this aircraft!” Mary just floated down the stairs.



Back in the bus, Mary glowed about what a handsome young man he was, how simple it was to fly, and so on. The guys were a bit grumpy.

After dinner, we found that an Idaho Potato farmer, Doug Driscoll, had arrived up in a P-51 and would fly with us in the show. We decided the best arrangement was a Double Vic formation, P-51 leading, with 15 degrees of flap, and us pretty well balls to the wall.

Next day was hot, and a slow flying Mustang with flaps created fierce vortices, which flipped Brian over with his canopy open, and his headset streamed out behind. He hauled it in like a fish on a line! A hairy moment.

Later in the show, the announcer directed us to look left at the B-52 inbound. What B-52? No one could spot it and began peering about. Then people pointed, and there, slicing through the hills below the crests, a huge black shark’s fin! The B-52, right on the deck and going like stink! Then BOOM, at show centre it pulled straight up, up, and up to an incredible SLOW push-over, visibly flexing the wings, and fuel streaming out all along the entire trailing edge. Spectacular! That’s one big airplane to do that with!

Beside us the Chief Maintenance Officer winced and remarked how all the integral tank seals had just split, and the B-52 would be in the shop for a year! But, the pilot, being the Commanding Officer, would have to account for it!



What a spectacular finale, so hot and thirsty, we headed to the Officers Club for a cool drink and some hangar flying. Imagine! A bunch of Canadian amateur pilots off for a drink in America’s Top Strategic Air Command bar! Some bar!

Square jawed, flight-suited legitimate Top Gun guys with classy women crowded the bar looking for a tall cool one. Unreal.

Mary and I were hot and sticky, and she craved a light beer. A renowned non-drinker, I pondered my druthers at the bar beside all these macho guys. The bar staff were rushed off their feet.

“Yes Sir… what’ll it be?” the barman yelled over the hubbub. I felt a sudden intense craving. Yes! Just the thing.

“A large cold milk, two per cent please” I yelled back. An instant hush! All eyes turned on me.

“Er? We don’t usually serve milk sir! Only have enough for some cocktails. But, hey, I’ll see what I can do.” And he scurried off, searching under counters and in the fridge.

The hero pilots at the bar were aghast! I smiled weakly, “It’s quite refreshing” I muttered. “Yeah, I guess!” said the nearest Square-Jaw.

Mary went off with her beer, and joined the C.O.’s group discussing his spectacular Bunt.

“A guy’s drinkin’ milk at thuh bar!” they were saying. Sigh. But I got my big milk with a smile. “No charge Sir. Enjoy your evening.”

And that was the Great Fairchild SAC trip.



It’s been an interesting month. Dornier Dan Zagorsek arrived to put his exotic Warbird in Bessy’s old hangar spot. The RAAC Chapter 85 held it’s annual Awards Banquet. Highlights were Dan McGowan received the Member of the Year Award for his unstinting help to club kit builders, and Ron Zeleschuck took both the Safe Flying and the Broken Prop Award for a skillful forced landing in his C-185 on floats in a clearing by the Coquahalla Highway north-east of Hope, saving his passengers and with little real damage to the plane.

The Mary and I attended Jon Spronk’s Celebration of 60 years of Flight at Abbotsford, where COPA Director Terry Wilshire presented him with the COPA Award of Merit, among other honours. And it was an honour for me to propose the toast to the grand old guy! So that’s all for now…

Fly Safe. Tony Swain & The Mary retired COPAguys.