The Hangar Queen - Carolyn Leslie

 The Hangar Queen

It’s morning on the day of Vintage Wings of Canada’s open house. The early summer sun is now well up into the West Quebec sky, but the shadows are long, the light is sharp and yellow hued and the moisture is still on the ground and not in the air.  The duty mechanics are hard-starting their day with Double-Doubles from Tim Hortons, aero-paparazzi snoop and loiter and long-awake Red-winged Blackbirds trill from the bulrushes behind the hangar. The door klaxon sounds its Excedrin blare as someone begins to run the tall, massive metal panels to either side. A shaft of light breaks with the doors and cuts across the polished hangar floor, revealing the glossy black nose of a Spitfire, the cherry red tail of a Staggerwing and a tri-coloured roundel on a field of yellow. The doors open wide to welcome the day in and it obliges, spilling into every corner. First through the open doors, a swallow flashes in and out of the shadow line.

Striding across the floor with obvious purpose comes the Hangar Queen, winding in and around aircraft, ducking a wing or a cannon, bound for the now warming ramp. The Hangar Queen carries a roster clipboard, a bandolier of name tags, an armful of orange polo shirts, a cell phone and a wide, wide smile. She stops at the edge of the shadow and surveys her realm. The Hangar Queen loves her job.

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The Hangar Queen pauses at the edge of shadow to survey the early morning quiet of the Vintage Wings ramp.  Taking a deep breath, she “ramps” up the activity level setting in motion an army of volunteers to spread out the complex welcome mat for our visitors. Photo: Dave O’Malley

Only ten years ago, Ottawa-Gatineau was a bone-dry desert of warbird and vintage aircraft activity. Years would pass between the passage of winged visitors from another era. Now, as if by magic there exists a flying Camelot, a place, a group of people, a time of year, a delightful oasis of sunny day flying where once there was nothing.  As any visitor, flying or driving, will tell you, the Vintage Wings of Canada open house events are wonderful opportunities to see, hear, smell and feel the great aircraft of the golden age of Canadian aviation, to luxuriate in the nostalgic charm of sputtering engines, colourful wings and smell of oil.

But magic did not make this happen. It was the singular vision of one man and the dedicated work of many people. Though our three main goals are to Educate, Commemorate and Inspire, there is a subtext of doing so with a strong work ethic, humanity, good humour and wide open arms for veterans, youth and Canada at large. That underlying affability combined with the highest levels of job performance is no better personified by anyone than Carolyn Leslie, the Hangar Queen.

When talking to Canada’s flying veterans, working with newspaper and magazine reporters or chatting with visiting aviators and the just plane-curious, the name of founder Michael Potter is mentioned foremost for his breathtaking accomplishment that is Vintage Wings of Canada. But second only to Potter is mentioned the name of Carolyn Leslie, Vintage Wings of Canada’s Manager of Hangar Operations, or as I am wont to call her - The Manager of Everything.  When her name is spoken, it is always with a degree of reverence and the mere mention of it brings into the conversation a new level of civility and calm.

The Hangar Queen takes in the morning beneath the bill of her ball cap. She sees the first volunteers slamming their car doors out on Arthur Fecteau Boulevard, the fidgeting photographers, the ropes, stanchions, coolers and signs that need to find their places in the next two hours. She smiles as people look up and begin to gather round for instructions. Time to get the show on the road. The Hangar Queen is ready.

In two hours the rope will be dropped and open house visitors will stream through the gates, onto the ramp and into the hangar. They will marvel at the organization, the welcome, the tidiness, the professional touches, the orchestrated ease with which everything comes to pass. While it all looks so relaxed to our visitors, there is in fact a lot of effort expended to make it look effortless. The greatest part of this work happens in the days, weeks and even months before the open house when Carolyn Leslie is gathering up volunteers, teaming them together, finding the right person to lead them and setting them to the task of running their part of the Vintage Wings machine to the standards she has set. Hundreds of phone calls are fielded, pilots and managers informed, teams created, and the stuff of Open Houses bought, stored, divvied up and put in place - rope, stanchions, rosters, hamburger buns, name tags, signage, morning coffee, chairs, BBQs, tasks, welcomes, - this list is endless it seems, but Carolyn’s enthusiasm is just as boundless.


It takes months of planning and plenty of training to put on an event like the Vintage Wings of Canada open houses and make them look easy. Every year, Carolyn Leslie hosts a Volunteer Day in May for training in the various arts of running tours and events. Here Leslie conducts part of a seminar for a group of tour guides to discuss not only best practices but to find new and more engaging ways to teach visitors about the history behind the great aircraft of the collection such as the Fairey Swordfish beneath which they chat.  Photo Peter Handley

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It’s show time!  Carolyn Leslie, roster in hand, instructs the troops in the early morning. Volunteers must be connected with tasks for which they have trained including aircraft marshalling, security, aircraft guarding, manning information booths, giving tours, selling swag and flippin’ burgs (OK - there actually isn‘t a training seminar for flipping burgers but we always find the most cheerful to do the task). Everyone has caught the Hangar Queen’s early morning brightness and soon the well-oiled machine will be set in motion.  Photo Dave O’Malley

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Ladies in Red. Taking a break from the sun, Carolyn cracks a cold one while she checks in on the ladies who volunteer in the BBQ tent behind the hangar serving up dogs and ‘burgs for the other volunteers and visiting pilots.  Volunteers are the backbone of Vintage Wings of Canada and Carolyn knows it very well.  While the airplanes and the pilots enjoy the attention of the crowds, people like Laura Rance (left), Anthea MacNeil and Susan Kirkpatrick (right) cheerfully and efficiently serve ‘em up - literally behind the scenes.    Photo Dave O’Malley

By midday on any Open House event or an appearance commitment such as the Classic Air Rallye, even some Vintage Wings of Canada volunteers are losing concentration, choosing to wander over to the aircraft camera in hand or regaling friends with intimate knowledge. Focus can be lost for the less committed. The core volunteers, however, watch the Hangar Queen closely and emulate her work ethic. They take their cues from her example. Like an officer who leads from in front or a Wing Commander who insists on being at the pointy end of a mission, Carolyn Leslie inspires excellence - the true calling card of a leader. So there the Hangar Queen stands in the hot sun, back to the taxiing aircraft, watching the children, engaging the crowd.  A short time later you may find the Hangar Queen adjusting stanchions, bringing water to VWCers out on the line, welcoming a veteran or straightening out the marquis tent . You won't find her resting. She doesn't pick the easy jobs or the glory jobs or even the jobs she loves to do - she picks the jobs that need to be done. 

Now the day is coming to an unhurried close - for our spectators at least. The sun is dropping steadily, the ramp is in shadow outside the hangar doors. All the visiting aircraft that are able to leave, have left.  A lone Fairey Firefly sits unserviceable out on the airport ramp. Our aircraft are now being fed one at a time into the maw of the hangar. The few cold and shrivelled hotdogs on the grill are eaten up by the hungriest and least fussy of the crew, the ice in the coolers has turned to water, the visitors are getting the hint.

Carolyn says good bye to a few volunteers that have to go. She gathers around her the committed ones - her acolytes. Together they gather the trash, coil the ropes, stack the chairs, stash the stanchions, pack the swag, count the donations, clean the kitchen, dry the dishes and look for work that needs to be done. And there are always plenty of tasks most people pretend not to notice. Two hours later, it's all buttoned up tight. There's a padlock on the gate, aircraft in the hangar, covers on the aircraft, office ship shape, lights out, tasks for Monday arranged on her desk. Tim stands out by the car. He sees her through the office windows as she grabs a broom and starts to sweep, all the while talking to the kids on the phone. He smiles at his luck.

The term Hangar Queen is well known in aviation circles. A Hangar Queen is an aircraft that never makes it out of the hangar due to chronic maintenance setbacks. In the case of Carolyn Leslie, we are changing that definition substantively to be the "Woman who gives her Heart and Soul to the Smooth and Convivial Operation of the Vintage Wings Hangar and the Events We put on".

At Vintage Wings of Canada, we are about people. But people need to be led. All Hail the Queen.


A whirlwind in flip-flops, Carolyn Leslie never stops from the first light of day until the last aircraft has departed, the last bag of trash sealed up, the last visitor gently pushed out the gate and the last volunteer thanked and even then, Carolyn will often be found with a broom in hand sweeping up the debris of a flight ops room recently full of excited and perhaps not-so-careful pilots. To say that Carolyn Leslie is the hardest-working person in the Vintage Wings of Canada family is to state the obvious. Photo: Peter Handle


In one day, Carolyn Leslie will supply, direct, feed, and inspire volunteers and still find the time to help them out when needed. Here she stands at right on security detail along the taxiway as a Vintage Wings of Canada aircraft is started and moved out to the showline.  Carolyn multi-tasks as Vintage Wings ambassador at every opportunity, engaging spectators with lively banter and solid knowledge of our operation. Photo: Peter Handley


Along with her team of volunteers, Leslie pulls guard and ambassador duty along the rope line. Carolyn is a total team player lending a helping hand wherever needed. Photo: Peter Handley


Leslie goes over tasks with volunteers manning the Vintage Wings booth at one of our Open Houses. Katy Longair (front) and Natalie Quirt listen intently as Carolyn goes over details of the souvenir sales, information, volunteer recruitment and donations aspects of running the booth. Photo: Peter Handley


It doesn’t matter who you are or when you visit Vintage Wings of Canada, you will be welcomed warmly by Carolyn Leslie. Whether you arrive by CF-18 Hornet on a frigid February morning or a motorized sidewalk scooter in June, Carolyn puts out a welcome mat.  Photo: Mike Henniger


Carolyn Leslie is not only charged with the successful operation of our on-field presence at events like the Classic Air Rallye, she is also a dedicated mother with a powerful sense of family. Here, she takes some time to herself behind the Staggerwing to check in with her teenage son and daughter. Photo: Peter Handley


Carolyn takes a moment at Classic Air Rallye to share her knowledge of Vintage Wings with anyone with a question. Photo: Peter Handley


Ask Carolyn Leslie what she enjoys the most about her job at Vintage Wings of Canada and she will surely tell you it is meeting the veteran airmen and women of the Second World War. Ask any veteran what they enjoyed the most about his tour or relationship with Vintage Wings of Canada, and he will tell you that second to seeing his old aircraft again, it is meeting Carolyn. One of our best friends is former RAF Hurricane pilot Alan Griffin, a true gentleman if there ever was one. At the Battle of Britain Flypast Griffin plants a smooch on the cheek of a delighted Carolyn Leslie.  Photo: Peter Handley


Carolyn Leslie is the glue that links and holds together the diversity of our people. Her heart and warmth make it possible for our variety of skill sets, personalities and experiences to work in concert and harmony. As the 2008 Classic Air Rallye winds to a safe and successful close last Sunday, Carolyn links together our ground crew represented by Sean Martin (right) and pilots represented Rob Kostecka. Photo: Peter Handley


Carolyn Leslie was introduced to Vintage Wings through her husband and childhood sweetheart Tim Leslie, Pilot and Chief of Operations. Carolyn however, brings to the table deep experience in special events and organizational management. For Carolyn and Tim, it is family first and foremost. Then surely comes the new family which they have helped Mike Potter create - Vintage Wings of Canada. Photo: Peter Handley

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