Peter Takes to the Skies….

Last Saturday, Lois and I went to the Canadian National Exhibition and took in the Canadian International Air Show. This airshow has always been special to me, as it was the first airshow that I went to on my own, my “toe in the waters of adulthood”, so to speak. I remember the thrill of looking out of my bus on the Gardiner and seeing a real Spitfire flying over the waterfront pre show. One year I was even lucky enough to see the airshow in the afternoon and Chicago (the band)  that evening! Heady stuff indeed for an 18 year old from Orillia.

A number of memories come to mind, like the year an Avro Vulcan of the Royal Air Force got lost over a hazy Lake Ontario and never did find the display area. (Must have been some red faces over that.) The first time Concorde flew up from New York to display, the pilot followed procedure and requested clearance to transit the Buffalo Air Traffic Control Zone. Clearance was granted, but the controller added words to the effect of “.. but show us your pretty airplane first.” The Concorde duly made a pass over Buffalo airport.

The U.S.A.F. would often send an SR-71 Blackbird up to display. The first few years it did not land at Toronto, so one would take off from Beale Air Force Base in California, aerial refuel twice on the way, do the Toronto show, go on and fly in the Cleveland airshow and then return to Beale. On one occasion, the second refuelling was done a little later than normal, so the aircraft was a little heavier, thus less maneuverable, during its demonstration. ( Note that in those days, display aircraft were not routinely allowed to fly over the city. ) Setting up for its final pass, the SR-71 turned towards the shore, about 300 feet above the lake, head on to me, looking like “3 beads on a string”. It began to yaw. The guy beside me had a radio scanner, and I heard the pilot say “Control, you better clear me out over the city, or I might have to drop this thing in the lake.” Clearance was immediately given, and the Blackbird climbed out over Toronto, Cleveland bound. Literally staring death in the face, the pilot’s voice had had all the emotion of someone placing an order at a drive thru window! Sang froid indeed.

Eventually they did base the Blackbird at Pearson for the show. I remember watching one taxi in and shut down following its flight from California. Because the aircraft got so hot in normal operation,  they were built with spaces between the skin panels to allow for heat expansion. As the aircraft cooled down, fuel would leak out from between these panels, and yes, steps were taken to minimize any environmental impact. It should be noted that during the airshow, excessive heat buildup was never a problem because the aircraft was never displayed at Mach 3. As an aside, the crew would take off from Beale at 7:00 A.M. EDT, fly up, including two aerial refuellings, land at Pearson, do post flight checks and procedures, doff space suits, go to the hotel and check in and be back at Pearson for a 9:00 A.M. EDT briefing. It was a fast aircraft.

Because of its prestige, the C.N.E. airshow features various elite aerobatic teams like the Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds and the Frecce Tricolori from Italy.  Naturally our Snowbirds make their annual appearance. The show also attracts many interesting aircraft, from the F-117 all the way through to the Breezy Experimental. Sometimes an airliner would do a flypast as part of the show, and the announcer would announce “Everybody wave to the passengers!” Many people actually would, to my amusement. To be frank, many of the announcers are of the “H’iminlovewiththesoundofmyownvoice” genre, and displays are often accompanied by cheesy music. Watching the “Snowbirds” perform with “A Fifth Of Beethoven” as an aural backdrop is excruciating to say the least.

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I soon relocated to Toronto seeking my fortune. (Every time I got close, they moved it.) I began to encounter other plastic aircraft modellers who also liked military aviation. One told me, “Once you’ve been at an airshow where you can walk among the aircraft, no other airshow will ever do.” Thus came my introduction to the Hamilton Air Show.

The Hamilton Air Show is, not unreasonably, staged at the Hamilton Mount Hope Airport, (now renamed John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport), home base for the Canadian Warplane Heritage, a group established to preserve, maintain and fly superannuated Canadian military aircraft. Pride of their collection has to be their airworthy Avro Lancaster, one of only two in the world. Every June, they invite various “warbird” owners to their show. Note that a “warbird” is a retired military aircraft generally operated by a civilian or group of civilians. Active military aircraft also appear, although there were some restrictions until the runways were extended. My plastic modelling club began to attend as spectators.

This was great! The flight line was full of ‘warbirds’, there were helicopters and aircraft on display, some static and some flying. The afternoon was completed by a massive “warbird” takeoff and flyby. You could speak to the aircrews, buy hats, t shirts, patches etcetera, take photos and talk with other military aviation enthusiasts. In this line of interest, as in any human pursuit, there are some great folks and some not so great folks. It is pretty easy to differentiate between someone who has watched “Top Gun” 3 times and someone who really knows their stuff. Every so often, you’d cringe as you heard an attendee subject some poor aviator to an inane question, but to their credit, I can’t recall a single negative, incredulous or condescending response from any of the aircrew that I was around.

We were eventually able to display our models at the show. We brought the models, housed and fed ourselves and staffed our booth in exchange for tables and a couple of chairs and passes for everyone who was attending from the club. We did this for a couple of years, until they wanted us to pay our own way in, on top of everything else that we were providing for them.

Off the top of my head, I remember a pilot strutting out of the flight office and climbing into his Cessna 172. A group of us were standing there, so he put on his Ray Bans and fired up the engine. Quickly, thin smoke began streaming out of the engine cowling, and he shut down right smartish, as they say. In his haste to be a “steely-eyed aviator”, he had neglected to remove the intake covers. When in place they keep out dust and leaves and other debris out of the engine intakes. Sadly, they also keep out cooling air. He was much humbler slinking past us back into the office.

There was a glider pilot, Oscar Boesch, who flew to the theme music of the movie”Born Free”. The music would end and the announcer would say “Listen to the sound of silent flight!” The glider would hiss past us and land. Mr Boesch would walk along the crowd line speaking to as many as he could after his performance. As we in the club were fans of military jet fighters, we weren’t too impressed with his puny glider. I found out later that this kindly and unassuming man had served in a “Sturm Staffel”, flying heavily armed and armoured German fighters to conduct daylight head on attacks against massed Allied bomber and fighter formations in World War II. Courage truly has many faces.

Another time, there were about six of us in a motel room. The bathtub was full of ice. It was 2:00 A.M.. There was a knock at our door, heralding the unexpected arrival of our friends Horace and Gerry . Horace proudly announced that he had slides of almost all of the F-106 Delta Dart interceptors ever built. We used a bedsheet as a screen and had quite the slideshow. We were all on duty at the booth at 9:00 A.M., a little the worse for wear.

One year, no less than 4 four engine bombers were present at the show. I was in Toronto having my patience put to the test at yet another stupid work meeting. Meeting finally over, I stepped out onto the Danforth just in time to see a B-29, a B-24, a B-17 and the Lancaster fly right over my head as they did a tour of the area advertising the air show.

As a result of some changes in my personal life and circumstances, it was a long time before I went back to the Hamilton show. I went in 2013 with Lois’ nephew Joe. She bought the tickets, including, of her own volition, “Flightline Access”. Joe drove, and we had a great time, looking at such beauties as a De Havilland Mosquito, ( My favourite piston engined aircraft!) and a Hawker Hurricane. At one point I went in to buy a plastic model, and found one that I had been seeking. The checkout line was long, and I remember thinking that it wasn’t nice to leave Joe by himself, so I put the model back, went out and told him that I wanted to spend more time with him, so we continued looking around the displays, eating and watching the show itself. At the end of the day, we drove back to Toronto, tired, sunburnt and happy.

Two months later Joe died unexpectedly. That Hamilton air show has the sweetest memories for me. As an aside, I have never since seen an example of that particular model for sale.

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So returning to the air show last Saturday, I stood, while Lois sat in her wheelchair. I gave her my baseball cap to wear to shade her eyes. I took a picture of her wearing it, as she hates baseball caps. However, I dare not post it. Our view of the show was obscured by trees and we even left a little early, so we could get something to eat. When I first came to this show, I would never accept an obstructed view, nor would I ever leave early. I must be getting soft in my old age, or just maybe different things matter to me now.

When next I write of airshows, I will relate some of my experiences at Niagara Falls and Trenton. The London, Ontario airshow deserves a column of its own, as in its heyday, it was simply the best airshow in North America. Next week’s column will be a celebration of my little buddy, His Majestic Indifference, Reginald the Aloof, official Cat of Chez Montreuil.

See you next Thursday.

Heading picture by Pat Blythe The Picture Taker, caricature of your humble scribe courtesy of Peter Mossman, picture of Reg by Yours Truly

=PJM=

A confirmed cat person,  Peter dabbled with being a water boy , a paper boy and an altar boy before finally settling for a career with the Canadian government. Once, in his youth, he ate a dutch oven full of mashed potatoes to win a 5 cent bet with his sister Mary’s boyfriend. (Of course, he was much younger and a nickel went a lot farther.) He has retired to palatial “Chez Montreuil”, sharing it with his diabetic cat Reg. He’s very happy to have his dear Lois in his life.  Military aviation and live music are  among other interests of his, and he tries to get out to as many shows as he can. He will be here every Thursday for your enlightenment.

3 Responses to “Peter Takes to the Skies….”

  1. Such an interesting column Peter! Particularly enjoyed the ‘humble’ pilot story! 😉 It is beautiful how you include Lois in your writing & especially ‘his majestic indifference! You have a wealth of knowledge regarding Military Aviation & Live music. Thanks for imparting a portion of it to your columns for all to enjoy!!!

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