Being there in the ’70s

Tony Swain


Back in the early 1970s our Harvard ‘Bessy’ sparkled in her new paint job, and Mary and I enthusiastically criss-crossed Canada and the States seeking like minded flying folk.

In 1974 we made our first pilgrimage to EAA Oshkosh, and saw wondrous things.

Rows and rows of Harvards, aka Texans, T-6s, SNJs, and the almost look-alike Vultee Vibrators.

Mr. EAA himself, the awesome Paul Poberezny, told us to pitch our miniscule Chapter 85 tent “Right there!” by Warbird Headquarters for us to keep an eye on Bessy.

At the ‘Big Iron’ gatherings, there was spirited debate whether these upstart Tee- Sixes were real Warbirds, or merely Trainers. But proof arrived that T-6s fought in Korea as ‘The Mosquitos’, and in Africa against the Mau-Mau.

My RCAF NATO Harvard experience got me invited to glory in the famous T-6 fly-bys! Wow! The owner of a replica WW I SE5, insisted I go do a some evaluation circuits. It was magic!

And over there, brooding in sinister anti-insurgent military camouflage, and cordoned off under military guard, were a half dozen ex-Bolivian P-51s, staging through Oshkosh en route to Alberta.

These had been swapped for surplus Tbirds out of Edmonton, to become popular Western Warbirds performers flown by the McClains, Bailey, Rasmussen, Oberholtzer, and Ross Grady and his ‘What’s Up Doc.’


After Oshkosh, we craved for more and flew off to any Warbird event within weekend reach.

In 1975 that proved to be the Red Baron’s big Warbird Show at Idaho Falls. Away over the dreaded Cascade Mountains to Spokane for customs, then high across the fabled ‘Sawtooth Range’ and ‘Craters of the Moon.’ The entire flight was diagonally across the American Rocky Mountains, with nail biting navigation via magnetic headings, and the homing needle on Bessy’s 22-year-old ARN-6 ADF, from iffy local radio station to station.

Identifying the desired station was tricky, most commercial jingles being, and with only about a 40 mile receiving range, it was nervy stuff!

We arrived a day early to an empty field with a big Red Baron Snoopy barn. We parked way off on the grass and felt rather lonely. However, the affable Red Baron, Ed Browning, arrived, whisked us off to a big steak house and set us up in a motel.

Next day the place filled like a Safeway lot, surrounding us with colourful ‘Sixes’ and masses of Pacific N.W. Big Iron around the Barn. We found ourselves celebrities of sorts, because we had been to Oshkosh, and few of these guys had.

Those days everything was quite casual, with a country fair folksy atmosphere. Famous guys wandered about amongst the crowd, Myra Slovac, the acro hero, Bob Hoover, the Rockwell P-51 icon, with Old Yeller, John Paul and Tom Camp with their shapely P-40’s and John Sanberg with his fantastic “Brummmm, Bruuummm, Bruuummm”, fire engine red King Cobra, Tipsy Miss.

The Air Classics Magazine’s full house B-25 Mitchell, Executive Sweet, was magnificent, its turrets sprouting guns and cannons all over the place. Superb!

For sale on the ramp was a Tora! Tora! Tora! Pseudo Japanese ‘Kate’, a most convincing movie fake-up by mating a BT- 13 with a T-6.

In the show, Executive Sweet wowed the crowd with a cracking high speed low pass at 50 feet, followed by a fabulous pull up and steeply curving climb away. Stumendous! Bob Hoover and Myra Slovac did their fantastic things, and the show closed with a nostalgic WWII quartet of the Red Baron Mustang, a mint Hellcat, and the P- 40s of John Paul and Tom Camp, beautiful. Sigh.

And as the sun set spectacularly in the west, a tremendous wave of contented nostalgia thrilled through our beings. We sat in the seat of history.


Time to go! The simple plan was, head west for Boise, skirting south of the mysterious Smokey Mountains, up past Yakima to Belleview by Seattle, and straight north to Abbotsford for customs, then a dinky 10 minute hop home to Delta - maybe five or six hours flight time tops! We still have the old marked up chart. But ah! The simple plans of mice and men.

After a bit, whilst admiring the amazing volcanic landscape of the Mountains of the Moon, Mary said, “We’re not moving!” Utter disbelief! What’s this bloody great roaring Pratt up front doing? Now all moonscapes tend to look alike, so it took some calculating with a marked off pencil and five minute standard thumb length to confirm this. Faithful old Bessy was swimming against a 50 knot tide. All bets were off, what to do?

So we stopped at Pendleton for Gas and food, then cut west across by Mount St. Helens to Olympia for the night, and an easy hop home in the morning.

Yeah, yeah!

Simple, straight north by Bremerton to Abbotsford, except it rained and rained. We drove on up Colvos Passage for Puget Sound with full carb heat, when suddenly, the ceiling slammed down, and we ran out of shoreline.

Appeared through the gloom, and I did an extremely sweaty semiinstrument pylon turn around it, (Thank you RCAF) whilst I called Seattle for help on 121.5 “Canadian T-6! You are abeam Boeing Field at 070 magnetic across the Sound, their Beacon is 281 Khz at the field, if able, contact Boeing Field on this frequency, over!” Thank you Seattle!

A few sweaty minutes on instruments and the docks appeared, and then the field beyond. Quick short circuit and down. “Please call the tower!” Those days I flew around the continent on about seven out of 10 useful frequencies, 118.7,

119. 1,120, 121.5, 121.9, 122.2,

122. 8, and 126.2 (Military), and

126. 7, conveniently designated A,B,C, D, etc. One of ‘em usually worked.

I had some spare oddball crystals in a box, but installing and tuning them was a chore.

Anyway, they all splashed over a freq either way, so in effect, I had 20 freqs available.


Being the current real breadwinner at the time, The Mary, fretting about opening her Royal Fish Emporium come the morn, grabbed a cab to SeaTac, and headed home via PWA, leaving me and Bessy praying for the weather to clear, which miraculously it did, a few hours later.

Boeing Tower refused to allow 121.5 or 126.2 for takeoff, “Please call the tower.” Sigh.

We finally agreed on 126.7 or something, and away I went direct to Victoria customs on

126. 2, no problem. Fifteen minutes later I touched down at Delta, and kissed the ground.

I learned something about flying from that, and bought Bessy a 360 channel EDO-Aire portable, which, a couple of years later, new Harvard enthusiast John Mrazek plumbed into the existing 1953 system.

Worked like a charm.


Mary and I made a point of attending the Quarter Century in Aviation Club dinner last week to hear Danielle Metcalfe- Chenail speak about her experiences when writing her book, For the Love of Flying, the story of Laurentian Airlines.

We were particularly interested because of course COPA’s senior member John Bogie ran the airline, and our local new BC COPA rep Tim Cole was his chief pilot.

We were so pleased to be seated with PWA founder Don Watson, his wife, and their friends. It was an enjoyable evening, enlivened by a technical digital projector glitch, and with rare skill, The Mary won a rare QCAC baseball cap, to the cheers of the distinguished assembly.


COPA Western VP and Airpark Chair Terry Wilshire is humming about on his wheelchair, and a fancy ramp has appeared to the back door of the Old Coffee Shop.

It was more complicated at home, and WWII Typhoon pilot friend Harry Hardy designed a lift, then brought in Tetra, a group of retired engineers etc., founded by Vancouver’s past mayor Sam Sullivan, which builds contraptions for disabled people. A recent Test Flight was a great success. Thanks Harry. Wheel her on, Terry!


Except I notice a bunch of Yahoo and Facebook contact hopefuls in my mail. We still use dial-up, and large picture files and video clips are a pain for us.

So if you need to be in touch, just send a regular e-mail.


Tony & The Mary, The Old Copaguys in Vancouver. Email: