Photo: Peter Handley
In Canada, the Victoria Day long weekend signals the beginning of summer play and the boundless joys of being outside. Gone are the crusted snow banks, the dirty buses, the layered grey skies and the layered grey clothing, replaced by new green foliage rustling in warm breezes, bed upon bed of tulips leaning into the sun, achingly blue skies and a new found need to find some fun.
Ever since I was a boy, this was the first true weekend where winter-pale Canadian boys and girls kicked the screen doors open and gathered excitedly outside in the fresh air to play. Of course, back in the 50s and 60s, this was for many of us the time to play with explosives. Among my friends, this weekend was simply known as “Firecracker Day”, and signaled a quick and destructive end for any airplane models that might have been made during the long, dark winter days. I still clearly remember placing my Revell Grumman Hellcat over a 4 inch “Block Buster” on a mound of sand, lighting the fuse and then just standing there with my pals as it sputtered and smoked. Back then, running to a “safe distance” meant not witnessing the explosion close enough. With an ear-splitting bang, the Hellcat met its end, and we were all blessed with little bits of dark blue plastic shrapnel stinging our legs, sand in our hair and eyes, a ringing in our ears, and the sweet, sweet smell of spent gunpowder. From the collective mouths of the startled huddle of kids came a half frightened-half joyous “Whoa!” Sheba, the free-range neighbourhood German shepherd was already half a block away.
Fast-forward half a century to this past Victoria Day, 2010. A group of “kids” have gathered outside in the perfect Ottawa sunshine under limitless blue skies to once again play with airplanes and make some noise. Today is finally the day. Two beautifully restored and authentically painted former RCAF Chipmunk training aircraft would fly together again as they once did a half century ago – around the time when I was shaking sand and burning paper from my hair.
The two former RCAF Station Centralia-based Chipmunks (CF-RRI, ex RCAF 18025 and CF-BXG, ex RCAF 18074) have similar histories and undergone recent tribulations that make the coming freedom of this day’s event even more delightful.
Major General (Retired) Bob Fassold’s beloved RRI has spent the past two and a half years undergoing a lengthy repaint and refit. Despite the difficulties for all concerned, the result was a Chipmunk of historic perfection – smartly turned out in markings so authentic, so researched, so detailed, so lovingly applied that no other Chipmunk or vintage aircraft (except perhaps those found in museums in their original markings) could claim to be more true to history. CF-RRI was taken down to her bare metal and re-skinned with new fabric, fresh yellow paint and decaled markings direct from the RCAF’s drawing boards.
The second Chipmunk, CF-BXG, has also been in the care of Bob Fassold for the past two years. It was previously owned and regularly flown by none other than Paul Soles, Canadian film and stage actor. Soles is a long time broadcaster and voice actor well known to a whole generation of North American children as the voice of Spiderman of the Saturday morning cartoon of the same name.
Chipmunk 18025 is photographed over snowy Downsview at the time of delivery to the Royal Canadian Air Force in February of 1956. She spent her operational life training pilots like Vintage Wings’ George Mayer at RCAF Station Centralia. She served with the RCAF until October 22, 1964 when she was struck from the lists and sold by Crown Assets Disposal Corporation. Her registration became CF-RRI and she has worn that identity since then. Photo via de Havilland Canada
In recent years, Soles' busy schedule meant he was flying BXG less and less and reluctantly, he put the beauty up for sale.
When John MacIntosh of California purchased BXG from Soles, he contacted Bob Fassold, an old RCAF flying buddy, to make the deal on his behalf. The Chipmunk fraternity, like all aircraft-type communities, is one where everyone knows everyone. In this brotherhood/sisterhood, a few individuals are even better known than others - Bob Fassold is that sort of gentleman. He is not the kind of owner/pilot who depends upon the knowledge and signature of an AME to make his flying possible. Bob steeps himself in the history, people and minutia of the Chipmunk type and in particular CF-RRI. Bob can expound and vividly describe to you every cable clamp, spline, bearing, attachment point, brake line, electrical device or post-manufacture modification from her chrome spinner to her tail feathers. His knowledge and passion for the Chipmunk has won him friends in the community from East Anglia to West LA. His expertise and well-earned peer respect would make him the perfect choice as a go-between for seller and buyer.
Still in white, as refinished for former owner the well known and much-loved Elvie Smith (Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame), and with the Canadian Soaring Association crest in gold leaf on the waistband, CF-RRI flies over the autumn leaves in the Gatineau Hills. RRI was operated from Pendleton airport (former WWII primary flying base just east of Ottawa), where it became a loved 'mascot' for 31 years before being acquired by MGen (Ret’d) Bob Fassold. Here she is being flown by Fassold who has operated this beautiful aircraft under his company – The Classic Aircraft Co. Ltd of Ottawa. For years she could be seen flying over Ottawa in this livery – giving rides to tourists and doing tail-dragger training and refresher courses. Photo: Classic Aircraft Co. Ltd
CF-RRI in her early white and teal markings drifts elegantly over Gatineau – just above her tail in this photograph one can see Rockcliffe Airport along the Ottawa River from which she operated nearly every day just a couple of years ago. Photo: Classic Aircraft Co. Ltd
With BXG’s new owner being in California, Soles and his son Jonathan flew the Chipmunk to Ottawa where Fassold took delivery on behalf of MacIntosh. The aircraft was to have upgrading of some systems as recommended by Fassold and requested by MacIntosh to be done here, winter over in Ottawa and then be ferried to California by Fassold and long-time flying partner Kate Speer. Unfortunately, due delayed acquisition of parts, serviceability, weather periods, and misalignments of availability of the two ferry pilots (Fassold and Speer), this hasn't occurred yet.
In the spring of 2010, both RRI and BXG were serviced, modified, signed off and rarin' to go. It was decided that when and if the weather and people aligned, a team would be put together to fly a photo mission to capture the two Centralia Chipmunks together for quite possibly the last time. Peter Handley was recruited as the photographer and Kevin Psutka (and his Cessna 182) as the photoship pilot.
Back in the late summer of 2008, following a flight from Toronto, de Havilland Canada Chipmunk 18074, now registered as CF-BXG taxies to a stop before the fabric hangar of Bob Fassold's Classic Air Craft Co. at the Ottawa Airport. At the controls was owner Paul Soles and his son Jonathan Soles - both experienced pilots. BXG, was ferried by the Soleses to Ottawa to be handed over to Bob Fassold who was acting as the representative of its new owner, John McIntosh of California. The aircraft was to have some upgrading work done on it over the winter and then would be ferried to California the following summer. As it turned out, BXG remained in the Ottawa area and is still here awaiting a combination of good weather, serviceability and a confluence of its two ferry pilots' busy schedules. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Chipmunk Royalty - 2008. After the paperwork was exchanged to transfer to take ownership of BXG, Bob Fassold (centre) takes a moment to pose for a photo with Jonathon and Paul Soles, the former owner of BXG. Bob is by all accounts one of the most prominent Chipmunk owners and historians in Canada and Paul Soles is (was) one of Canada's most storied Chipmunk operators. Many Canadians of my generation will remember Soles for his broadcasting work with Take 30 - a seminal news magazine program in Canada... but millions more grew up with Soles and never realized it - his was the voice of Spiderman in the 60s cartoon series. From Shakespeare to The Incredible Hulk, Soles has and continues to do it all. Photo: Dave O'Malley
After her lengthy refurbishment, CF-RRI sports her new markings (those that she wore when she was training pilots at RCAF Station Centralia) sitting outside the Classic Aircraft Co.'s hangar where she was wintered with CF-BXG. After much research and discussion, Bob Fassold and Dave O’Malley created the markings using RCAF marking and painting drawings from the period, cross referencing them with post disposal photographs made available by David Smith, Elvie Smith's son, and Eric Wimberley, the sole surviving member of Elvie's original small group of owner's. NO detail was left unsatisfied – official RCAF drawings and orders of the day indicated that she was to be painted with the Canadian Red Ensign of the day – which at the time of the orders should have been the post 1957 ensign with three RED maple leaves at the bottom of the coat of arms. HOWEVER, close inspection of a photo taken of CF-RRI immediately after her disposal shows us that she still wore her pre-1957 ensign with GREEN leaves. So clearly she was given her green-leafed ensign upon her arrival at Centralia and never did get an up-to-date red-leafed replacement. The markings at the time were applied using decals and perhaps they needed to use up all of the old flag decals first. Despite this detail being incorrect for official markings it’s what Fassold and O’Malley agreed to mark her with, as the oversight was part of her history. You might say they were thorough with a capital “A”. Photo: Bob Fassold
At the time of her purchase from Crown Assets Disposal, CF-RRI warms in the weak winter light of 1965 prior to a flight to get her new white paint scheme with Eric Wimberley at the controls. She still wears her original single coat of yellow paint and the markings that were applied at Centralia. We can see that her large fuselage numerals and roundels as well as her underwing numerals have been painted out with black. In addition, we can see that the placement of the "Last Three" digits (025) on the nose was done by hand. This was most likely done as an afterthought as the numbers on the nose were not part of the RCAF Chipmunk marking drawing which was acquired by Fassold. These nose numbers were likely put on to help students and instructors walking down the flight line to find the correct aircraft they had signed out that day. Many a pilot has made the mistake of getting into, starting and taking off in the wrong aircraft only to be recalled and chewed out. Replicating this crude treatment on RRI was something we could not bring ourselves to do, opting instead to do what we felt was intended. What you can't really see on this photo, but can in a higher resolution, is the green of the maple leaf cluster at the bottom of the coat of arms on the Canadian ensign. While this was "wrong" according to the date of the RCAF drawings, it was considered "right" by Fassold and O'Malley because that was what 18025 wore on her tail regardless of the regs. A trivial, insignificant detail you might say... but it's what makes these markings perfect! Photo via: Eric Wimberley
The Photoship driver. Kevin Psutka, the President of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), is always happy when he is in the air. He jumped at the chance to fly his Cessna 182 as the photo ship for the historic Chipmunk formation. Here he grins happily for the camera duing another formation flight - of Nanchangs in the United States Photo: Kevin Psutka
The photo ship. Kevin Psutka's beautifully painted Cessna 182 CF-FZQ in a photo quite obviously taken at another time. Photo via Kevin Psutka
The Shooter. Peter Handley is one of the best aviation shooters in the business and we are lucky to have him as our official lead photographer at Vintage Wings of Canada - Peter not only can shoot beautiful images of aircraft, but, unlike many aviation photographers, he is able to tell a complete story - the people, the friendships, the artistry, the colour, the emotion and the passion of aviation. Quite simply - he is a gift. Photo: Peter Handley
The Lead. Kate Speer poses with RRI late in the winter of 2009-2010. Speer is a highly experienced geophysical survey Captain with Fugro Photo: Bob Fassold
The Obiwan Kanobe of Chipmunks and No.2 for the flight. Bob is a retired Major General and former Surgeon General of the Air Force. Higly experienced on many types from de Havilland Comet to DC-3 to B-25 Mitchell, Bob's passion is his beautiful RRI. Photo: Kate Speer
For much of the winter, RRI and BXG huddled close together - so close that getting one out caused enough headaches that it was best to leave them there until the weather improved. Photo: Bob Fassold
The plan was for RRI (with Fassold as Pilot and Arlo Speer as co-pilot) and BXG (with Kate Speer as Pilot and Dave Maertens as co-pilot) to launch from CYOW (Ottawa) and for CF-EZQ (with Psutka as pilot and Handley as shooter) to launch from CYND (Gatineau). The pair of Chipmunks formed up and though they flew for an hour, Fassold would see nothing but his alignment points on BXG for the whole time - he never once even saw Psutka who flew around and around them for the entire time. Though the senior pilot in terms of hours and Chipmunk time, Bob's experience as a military flier and formation pilot made him the best choice for Chipmunk No.2.
Kate Speer lead the gaggle north to the Gatineau Hills and then west. From there she headed east again for a couple of passes of downtown Ottawa with flypasts of Parliament. Then it was off to CYOW to show the flag to the tower on a sunny and sleepy Victoria Day morning.
So, that Victoria Day morning, the kids (Little Bobby, Kate, Davey, Arlo, Kevin and Peter) did indeed kick open the screen doors and play in the sun with their little yellow airplanes. They did not, as we did back in the 50s explode them with firecrackers, but they did make a lot of noise and when it was done, they stood back to look at Peter's images and the did say in an exultant voice, "Whoa!" The results are a beautiful study of two classic Centralia stablemates who in the coming months will part for ever, likely to never fly in the same skies again.
Formation lead Kate Speer refuels CF-BXG at the Rockcliffe Flying Club for a post-annual inspection flight which also gave her and Fassold an opportunity to get both Chipmunks up together before the Victoria Day photo flight. CF-RRI awaits fuel in the background. Photo: David Maertens
Fassold holds perfect line astern formation as Psutka and Handley slide in behind. The Chipmunk is a lean little aircraft with a design very reminiscent of the Second World War fighter. Photo Peter Handley
The second Chipmunk in the formation, CF-BXG, is marked in those colours she wore when she too operated from RCAF Centralia. As Chipmunk 18074, she was taken on strength on July 18, 1956 and used by the Primary Flying Training School at Centralia for Course 5904 in the summer of 1959. This course included Canadian and Dutch pilots. After this she was with the Primary Flying Training School at nearby RCAF Camp Borden. She was still with the CAF at the beginning of the 1970s. For more on the history of this Chipmunk read the story of one of our volunteers, George Mayer, who flew this very airframe during his training days. At the controls of BXG was Kate Speer, veteran pilot and Captain for Fugro – the international geo-survey operator. In the back seat was Kate’s colleague David Maertens – also from Fugro. Photo: Peter Handley
The beautiful and born-to-fly lines of the deHavilland Canada Chipmunk (sometimes known as the “Poor Man's Spitfire” - an unfortunate sobriquet that belies the true costs of operating the type and that seems to suggest that is is second best - which it is not) are wonderfully portrayed by this wonderful Handley photograph. Photo: Peter Handley
Psutka slides back to allow Handley a wider shot as the two Chippies soar over the lush greenery along the edge of the Gatineau River - one glorious view on a glorious Victoria Day. Truth be told, Fassold never took his eyes off BXG the whole time or once saw the photo ship, such was his concentration. I guess what you learn in the RCAF sticks with you forever. Photo: Peter Handley
The pair drift lazily down the Gatineau River - too bad that Fassold saw none of it, such was his concentration in keeping perfect form. Photo Peter Handley
Canadian pilots of three generations, fly two Canadian-designed and built Chipmunk aircraft over Canada’s Parliament Buildings on a beautiful Canadian Monday morning on the Victoria Day long weekend. Below the lead aircraft flown by Kate Speer, lies the site of the Canadian Tulip Festival celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Liberation of Holland by Canadians at the end of the Second World War. On top of that, Kevin Psutka, the President of the Canadian Owners and Pilot’s Association (COPA) flies the photoship for Peter Handley. The scene doesn’t get more Canuck than that! Photo: Peter Handley
The two Chipmunks travel east over the historic Byward Market area of Ottawa. Below the second Chipmunk we can see the National Gallery of Canada. For those of you who do not know Ottawa, this area also houses the editorial offices of Vintage News where presently I am typing these words. Photo: Peter Handley
Kate Speer glides CF-BXG across the Byward Market blocking out your otherwise perfect view of our Vintage News office. Kevin Psutka did a perfect job of flying his Cessna 182 in and around the formation so that Handley could shoot from all angles. Photo: Peter Handley
Another beautiful view of the two Centralia Chippies as they glide across Parliament Hill with the Ottawa River in the background. Photo: Peter Handley
Getting permission from Ottawa Tower on a quiet Sunday morning, Speer leads Fassold and a trailing Psutka over the perimeter fence surrounding the North Field at the Macdonald Cartier Ottawa International Airport where both Speer (Fugro) and Fassold (Classic Aircraft Co.) are based. Photo: Peter Handley.
Sweeping across the YOW infield, the pair run down Runway 14 across the button of the North Field's Runway 04 where 83 years ago Charles Lindbergh landed on a grassy field just a few weeks after his historic crossing of the Atlantic. Photo: Peter Handley
Continuing on with their “sweep” down Runway 14, the two wingmen do a little showing off for the Navcan boys in the YOW tower. Photo: Peter Handley
Speer and Fassold set up for a final stop at YOW. Bob is not too happy with this photo as it shows the formation when they drifted apart a bit, but we love it because of the vast sweep of YOW and the little yellow airplanes. Photo: Peter Handley