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Sixty years later...


We old, boldish pilots cruise on through life as our memories bubble quietly, like the rumble of a grumpy old Pratt and Whitney Wasp.

We laugh and joke with the guys and gals in the Old Coffee shop, and once in a while tell some young comer what it’s really all about. As I said last month, it’s hard to believe sometimes.

I was stopped in my tracks last week when a big envelope arrived from Western Warbird old-timer Blain Fowler, who announced that as it was mild, only -3C, he’d rolled out his Harvard for an hour and a bit, enjoying three circuits and a cruise round the Camrose patch in Alberta. Sigh! Those were the days. However, says he does miss formation flying with the old group, the fellowship and all. For sure, Blain!

Was a time he did that in a big hairy Corsair. In white shoes yet, back in 1983. But I digress. The big envelope contained yet another aviation calendar.

But Whoa! The front cover showed four Harvards in a pass over an RCAF Parade on the ramp by Penhold Tower, way back in the 1950s. Slammed me back 60 years! The tower didn’t look that good when we were there?

Inside is lots of neat nostalgic stuff from the ’50s and before, but the theme is NATO training at 4 FTS, and I was there in 1953 at the off! That got me scrabbling through my infamous cardboard boxes yet again, for something educational.

Anyway, way back then I was coming up 18, and working as an apprentice ‘Clicker’ in a Dickensian shoe factory. I lived in a rambling haunted house with my mom, sister, her new bloke, his kids, the dog, and a cheerful budgie.

The job had perks, lots of girls toiling away on the sewing machines, but my spare time was taken up flat tracking an ancient 1928 motorbike. In 1951, my estranged dad had generously forked up for six hours dual on Austers at Speeton Flying Club, but that dried up and my prospects were bleak.

To fly for the Navy Those days, Britain had the dreaded National Service, known famously here as ‘The Draft’, where like as not, you’d be assigned to the army to polish boots, whatever. At 18 you turned up, or went to jail.

A shoe clicker friend and I, schemed to volunteer to ‘Fly for the Navy’ and thus avoid the random arbitrariness of the intake system.

So full of enthusiastic Hero Pilot plans we went to see the Royal Navy folks at their nice recruiting office, and had a pleasant chat. They were thrilled we just walked in off the street.

Well, it transpired that first, we’d be taught all about ships... “Can you dock a vessel?” They asked. “Sure!” we said, “We rent row boats in Pearson Park.”

“No, no, no.” says he, “We mean a destroyer.” Well we could learn. Seemed we had to know all this stuff before we transferred to Hero Navy Pilot. Maybe a couple of months, we enquired?

“Bit more than that.” He chuckled… “Just seven years below the mast, then you apply for transfer to flying training. It’s just another trade you know.”

A few moments of polite silence as this sunk in, versus two years possibly polishing boots. We enthusiastically said we’d think about it.

Fortunately for me, when the Draft came, my scholarship time at Hull’s fancy Hymers College, and my six hours in an Auster, made me “Just the sort of chap we need!” and I was hustled into the RAF, through Tiger Moths at Officer School, and flown off to Canada for NATO Training at Calgary’s Currie Field, where Expeditors and Mitchells shared our circuit.

Dear George

My letter to my ‘grown-up’ motor biking friend, on Grand Palliser Hotel stationery, catches some of the wonder.

“Dear George, just a line or two to let you know how things are out here. No motorcycle racing! Unbelievable! A 1958 V-8 Ford in good condition 300 dollars – amazing. Just buy a driver’s licence for a dollar. No test!

I’m having a lovely time out here. Flying these birds is quite a job. Your left hand has so much work to do, there’s no time to fly the thing, i.e. Harness locked, select tank, flaps, undercart lever, fuel pump, tail trim, elevator, manifold drain, etc., etc., etc.

And that’s just the left hand! Not counting the instruments to watch. Your old pal Tony P.S. We have quite a time at weekends, as you may see by this writing paper! And I now say, ‘Holy cow!’, ‘Jees!’ and ‘It is so!’

And so to Penhold, where we were visited by then Prime Minister St. Laurent and his highly polished Dak. Our instructors put up a great formation to escort him to Claresholm’s # 3 FTS. Such excitement!

Thus was the start of my Great Canadian Adventure, and here I am, 60 years on, puttering around with our flying friends at Delta. Amazing!

Never heard from my clicker friend again. Sigh. And oh yes, the nostalgic QF Penhold calendar that started all this reminiscing, is published by the Harvard Historical Aviation Society, of the #4 Flying Training School Museum, at the now Red Deer Industrial Airport, for more info go to… www.penholdbase. ca …right now!

I’m lucky to have a few evocative pics from those days. I was no photographer, but friends with Brownie ‘Hawk-Eye’ plastic box cameras took some amazing photos, at a fixed 50th of a second at f-8!

Boundary Bay - Flight 5 news

The AGM in late January was held in the new Old Delta Coffee Shop cum BBFC Clubhouse.

The east wall has been reformatted with BBFC & COPA Flight 5 framed certificates and pictures.

A real propeller has replaced the Kiddy Plane prop that was over the door. The P-51 Mustang, and Lindbergh Ryan models, now hang from the ceiling.

There’s been much discussion about how to reduce the noise level during a full house by a sound insulated ceiling. However, the various commercial options offered were too expensive, and would probably not work anyway.

The Mary reiterated her idea of sticking up used egg cartons to absorb the racket. She’s seen similar stuff on the Knowledge Network.

Members Kathy and Dave Turnbull organized the scrumptious pre-AGM lunch in the clubhouse, after which everyone moved to the rented RAA Round House, ideal for proper meetings.

President Jim Niessen reminded all that dues must be paid up to vote. He called for a vote of thanks to all of members for their welcome assistance, mentioning Don Brown working on our finances, Dave Turnbull for being the DAPCOM rep, Robyn Niessen and Lesley Peare for running the Clubhouse social committee, and Mark Garner and Roberta Williams for taking it over.

Special thanks to Gary Peare and Henry Ilg for their work on COPA for Kids, and to all the members who participated.

Harry Pride has worked hard on the archives, with Gordon Hindle as photographer.

Gordon and John McGregor kept us posted on fly-outs. Bruce Prior and Gary Peare kept the website going, and Erik Klassen helped to arrange safety seminars.

Highlights, challenges to come

The COPA for Kids program flew 220 kids over the past year, so many BBFC members volunteered at the COPA Fly-in Convention, and we had an outstanding Christmas party.

Special thanks to Mike Moffat and his crew for the pancake breakfasts, Neil McCrae has revived Prop Talk and Gordon Hindle created a new logo and stickers.

Like all clubs, more people need to volunteer for committees. When you fly someplace, describe your destination on the website.

Airpark committee DAPCOM, has asked us to help with maintenance and clean-up, so we’ll hold an occasional work day and barbecue. We’ll create distinctive clothing, jackets, Tshirts, or caps to better identify our club at events like COPA for Kids, etc.

And that’s it. That’s all folks! — Tony Swain and The Mary. Contact them by email: copaguy@vcn.bc.ca