Remember When - George Mayer and and Old friend

 Remember When Title

2009 marks the 100th Anniversary of Flight in Canada. It is an auspicious year for all of us dedicated to and in love with aviation and its history in Canada. It also happens to be a Half Century since Vintage Wings of Canada volunteer George Mayer first flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a sprog pilot at Primary Flight School. When a de Havilland Chipmunk with the serial number 18074 showed up to spend the winter under the Vintage Wings hangar roof, he checked his log books and made a very happy discovery... it was one he flew way back when. He not only found her serial in his log book like a name on his dance card, but he found an old photograph he had taken of her when she was still very young too. While George has changed somewhat (except of course his eternally youthful spirit and grin), his old flame had not changed one bit. In fact she was prettier than ever.

George would not only get to see this beauty again, he would get the chance to fly her too. So let's let George's words and Peter Handley's photos do the talking...

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Arriving at the Vintage Wings of Canada hangar, George (left) finds Bob Fassold and Kate Speer taking in a little un-seasonal sun outside - a good chance to discuss details of his anniversary flight. Photo: Peter Handley

My professional flying career started in 1959 at Primary Flying School, Centralia, Ontario on the De Havilland Chipmunk. I subsequently flew for 37 years, checked out on 26 types, logged 10,500 hours and never scratched or bent one! It's a legacy I am proud of and sharing my experience and knowledge with visitors to Vintage Wings of Canada has allowed me to stay active in the world of aviation long after my air force days were over - sort of like coaching hockey after hanging up the skates.

I met Vintage Wings pilot Kate Speer at a 742 Air Cadet squadron where she volunteers as an instructor. After a short chat, I  found out that we were both volunteers at Vintage Wings of Canada and that Kate was flying the Chipmunk owned by Bob Fassold that is part of the Vintage Wings of Canada fleet. I mentioned that I flew them during Initial Pilot Training, then again as a flying instructor at Primary Flying School, Camp Borden, Ontario. The subject of possibly going flying in that wonderful machine from my youth suddenly appeared on the agenda. Kate said she would look into it and get back to me.

In the meantime, another Chipmunk (No. 18074) magically appeared in the Vintage Wings hangar where it would spend the winter inside - warm, dry and watched over by Bob and Kate. There was something familiar about her -  I felt like we were old friends. In checking my log book, I found out that I had flown this very machine exactly 50 years earlier and I even had a faded Kodachrome of her on the ramp in Centralia in front of the tower. What happened next is an event that aviators can only dream about. With great trepidation, I mentioned this astonishing fact to Kate which she ran by Bob Fassold who might arrange for me to fly 074, and before you can say "Chocks Out" she had arranged an anniversary dance for me and my old gal.

The flight was scheduled for noon on February 16, 2009 and Kate, herself,  was confirmed as the command pilot (lucky me). As well, Bob Fassold, one of Canada's most experienced Chipmunk pilots would be there to oversee everything, offering advice and encouragement. Bob understands the importance of our aviation history and that allowing me to fly this exquisite aircraft once more would simply add to the already remarkable history she has already made. The whole deal would be covered by Vintage Wings photographer Peter Handley too - it was the perfect storm.

I arrived at the Gatineau hangar to find the gang sitting out in the sun, anxiously waiting to kick the tires, light the fire, and get some air under our butts. While strapping in the rear cockpit, I let slip that I was so excited, I was very happy that I had brought along an extra pair of shorts.   Kate carried out the start-up, taxi, run-up and take-off and set the performance bar very high. Her skills as both a pilot and an instructor were very evident and of course very good.  I was offered control just after take-off and replied in a very emotional, squeaky, excited voice" I have control".

I managed to fly three circuits and carry out four landings (the last one was a bouncer) without Kate threatening to bail out. Fortunately, the light mechanical turbulence and variable crosswind from the right gave me all the excuses I needed for my "acceptable with briefing" performance. Returning to the Vintage Wings hangar, I felt elated and so very thankful that Bob, Kate, and Peter would give up part of their National Family Day holiday to help an old aviator celebrate a day that he will remember forever. [Hey George - Vintage Wings is a family too - Ed].

As a matter of interest, I do hold the current altitude and speed record for the Chipmunk.  During one flight many moons ago, I reached 31,000 feet and 310 Knots sitting in a Chipmunk fuselage inside a C-130 Hercules ferrying the Chippies from Camp Borden to Portage La Prairie. 

Thank you all, George E. Mayer, Chipmunk Pilot

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Inside, George and Bob Fassold chat about the old days flying in the Royal Canadian Air Force over a coffee and the wing of 074. Photo: Peter Handley

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The Chipmunk was pushed outside and Kate got George comfortable and wired for sound. George, as anyone who knows him, is a piece of work, and no doubt the smile on Kate's face is the result of one of his repertoire of jokes, quips and insights told with a twinkle in the eye. Photo: Peter Handley

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George gives us the thumbs up. More likely he is thinking “Take the picture Peter, and let's get this prop spinning!” Photo: Peter Handley

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George looks every bit as trepid and excited as he was 50 years ago when he took 074 out onto the blue dance floor for their first date. Half a century later, she's even more beautiful than he remembered. Photo: Peter Handley

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 Kate Speer, taxies Chipmunk 074 through the high snow banks at the Gatineau airport - truly Canadian scene acted out many times in George's past. Photo: Peter Handley

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Kate lifts George and his date into the sky once again. Photo: Peter Handley

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“I have control”. Kate passes over control of the de Havilland Chipmunk to George as they climb into the blue skies of Quebec.  While George and the Yellow Lady did all the dancing from this point, Kate stood by as a chaperone only. Photo: Peter Handley

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George stands with 074 after the flight  (bottom) striking a similar pose to one he took long ago with Chipmunk 079 - a ramp-mate of 074 at Centralia back in the day. Since the first photo was taken, George has logged over 10,500 hours of flying time. Photo: Peter Handley

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