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When we old codgers are confined to barracks by unfair snowfall here in Lotus Land, we leaf through tatty logbooks to magic fond memories of glories past. What do these young bloods know? Pah!
After cracking about in T-Birds and Vampires in 1954, it took about 20 years of roaring around with motorbikes, cars and sailboats before getting back into the air to do proper pilot stuff. Took a couple of years to get up to speed on sport aviation, and it was fortunate indeed that Mary and I found our Harvard Bessy at Delta Air Park, where the flying there was totally for personal enjoyment.
The farmer owning the field, Darmel Diston, had a beautiful Gull Wing Stinson and understood what fun flying was all about. EAA Chapter 85 welcomed us with open arms, and dumped us into the shifting political sands of General Aviation.
Seemed there was a never-ending debating game with the government guys, politicians and non-flying busybodies, to preserve reasonable freedom to fly in the way we prefer.
Many specialist clubs and associations competed for access to the appropriate bureaucrat’s ear, and frustratingly, it was never clear which ear one needed to catch. We all have particular interests, and need to assiduously avoid ‘turf wars’.
These days, by necessity, we personal flying folk are somewhat better organized, and your COPA reps do a magnificent job. They deserve our unstinting support.
By 1972 we’d visited my old Training Base at Penhold, Alberta, run rides at Arlington, flown the Abbotsford Air Show, taken all The RAF Vulcan crew for Harvard ‘famil’ flights, had a brake failure, and formatted with the Canadian Reds in their Pitts S1’s. They were heady days.
We were thrilled at Nanaimo when Ormond Haydon-Baillie arrived with his magnificent Sea Fury, CF-CHB, fresh from a new camouflage paint job courtesy of facilities at CPA, and their master painter Walt Lannon. Walt had a maintenance shop at Delta, and flew a beautiful vintage Fairchild Cornell, CF FLY.
Ormond visited Delta, and took Walt’s FLY for an interesting acrobatic flight. He told us all about it later whilst enjoying Mary’s delicious Salmon Supper.
Mary soloed fleet Canuck, HHE, at Pitt Meadows in June 1973, and it was wonderful to see how thrilled she was. Strangely enough, I found the Fleet very similar to the Harvard to land, but with numbers in MPH instead of Knots. Both are very honest airplanes.
Bessy needed paint, and we agonized over strict RCAF or a custom scheme. Our eventual decision was that 20321 was now retired from the military, like me, and we wanted her part of our family for a long time.
I felt lemon yellow far more cheerful than Air Force mustard yellow. At the time, the local ‘Delta Air Force’ used the Greek letter D as insignia, a triangle. So we went with that on the sides. The speed flash sleekens the fuselage, and the red wing tips and nose flash are nostalgic reminders of RCAF flight school in 1953, specifically ‘F’ flight, at NATO’s 4 FTS Penhold.
The result was very attractive, and helped make BESSY a minor celebrity across Canada and the USA. It was fun!
THE SOCIAL WHIRL
That Christmas we got VIP treatment in Hawaii by the EAA and Aerobatic Clubs, where we gave our slide show, ‘Sport Flying Around Vancouver,’ and they held a fabulous fly-in Lu-au for us at Dillingham field.
Back in Canada, my Delta friends sent me off to the EAA Canada Winter meet in Toronto, where I met EAAC President Herb Cunningham, later to be COPA Chair. And boy was it winter - Ice fog and blowing snow.
Herb had me present some awards and say a few words which I promptly disrupted with a huge nose bleed. Sigh. Herb gave me a top notch EAA movie to show the folks in B.C.
However, in Ontario, such weather is flying weather, and a guy named Young Pelton took me from Markham to Greenbank and back, in a Citabria, with 15 minutes aerobatics en route!
I rode back to Vancouver in the jump seat of Air Canada’s new L 1011 on its inaugural flight, and got a fabulous steak crew lunch. When I asked our position, they said 267 DME Winnipeg. I said no, no. Where on the chart? Problem, they had only Radio Facility Charts! So the co-pilot pulled out a National Geographic Atlas, compared it with the river out the window and said, "There!"
Next month, Bessy and I flew to Victoria for a COPA dinner, and met the enthusiastic B.C. director Betty Wadsworth, a truly great lady. Next morning it was off to Campbell River to show the EAA movie to EAAC Chapter 490 Black Creek.
It was a 16 mm sound, and they borrowed a projector from the school. The showing was in the small community center.
I gave a short political pep talk, and went to set up the movie. No take up reel! Panic. The school was locked. What to do?
We fretted and the crowd grew restless. Then, I remembered a ‘useful hint’ in my Kodak book ‘How to Make Good Movies!’ In such a case, simply let the film run out into a large clean garbage can. Do not try to sort. It will rewind cleanly from the can, and it did! Such expert knowledge is not much in demand these DVD days. Sigh!
That summer we went to Airdrie near Calgary for the start of the Western Warbirds and our wonderful years of show flying with that fantastic group. It was more fun than the Air Force! More exciting than I ever imagined. We were possibly the largest private Air force in the world! But sigh… time goes by. Now it’s your turn!
RAY’S MAGIC CARPET
Last week our good friend Ray Roussey asked if I’d like an airplane ride. Ray is a Delta regular, with a fantastically organized hangar, just by the coffee shop. He flies a very competent Navion, and is a member of the Fraser Blues formation team.
To my chagrin I found it very difficult to get up on the wing despite the convenient step. Ray had to haul me up. I’m getting creaky y’know, specially in the knee joints!
What a great airplane. After WW 2 and the Mustang, the Navion was North American Aviation’s peacetime design. In 1940, the T-6 Harvard’s success gave them the credibility that fostered the Mustang, Mitchell and the Sabre.
Ray took me on my favourite sightsee ride, over Fort Langley, climb north to the Golden Ears at 5,000 feet, circle the peaks and view the incredible snow pack trees like Christmas ornaments, then down the center valley to pop out over Pitt Lake, where I would flip Old Bessy inverted and fall 5,000 feet to just above the lake before heading south over the Port Mann Bridge, take a brief look at the News Tech recycling plant, that I helped design, then back along Scott Road to Delta. Thanks so much Ray.
And I guess that’s all for now. Fly safe everybody.
Tony and The Mary Swain - Old COPA Guys in Vancouver