Veteran F-86 Sabre pilot Ron Iberg taxies the Canadian-built Canadair Sabre 5 belonging to Vintage Wings of Canada to its new home at Gatineau. Iberg made the flight from its previous owners in the United States on a special ferry permit, but the Sabre will undergo etensive overhaul and safety systems upgrades to ensure its safe operation throughout the centennial year. Photo: Michel Côté
The year was 1962. The month was June. The day was “Air Force Day” in the Nation’s Capital - a hot and muggy day with a thin layer of high gray cloud obscuring the shape of the sun but blocking none of its blistering heat. My parents had taken our whole family to RCAF Station Rockcliffe on the banks of the Ottawa River to witness the annual Air Force Day air show. Though I did not know it at the time, this was to be the day of my moment of ignition - the moment when I would, like many boys of my generation, become hopelessly and happily addicted to flying machines and the beauty of flight. Though it would be another 30 years before I would become a licensed pilot, I would, by the next day, recognize this particular Saturday and in particular the last act of the day, to be exact moment in time when I became an aero-geek.
The day presented many images that were to be forever seared into my memory – a thundering Canadair CP-107 Argus fly-by with bomb bay doors open showing day-glo practice bombs, followed by a CP-127 Lockheed Neptune dropping ordnance on a black plywood submarine set up at mid-field. There was a regal and smoky Royal Air Force Vulcan, Fairchild Flying Boxcars, square-dancing Search and Rescue helicopters, the Red Knight and his day-glo red T-33 and many more. All were enough to satisfy any boy's need for noise and speed, but one act and one act alone was left for the end of the day - the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Golden Hawks aerobatic team and their six “Pale Sheffield’s Gold” and scarlet Canadair Sabres (Canadian-built North American F-86 Sabre). Created just three years before for the fiftieth (golden) anniversary of powered flight in Canada, the Golden Hawks were the talk of the nation. Our Royal Canadian Air Force was one of the finest and largest in the world with scores of massive bases across Canada and in Europe and the poster boys for this zenith in Canada's military aviation growth were the sky blue-suited and gold-helmeted pilots of the Golden Hawks.
After the Red Knight pulled out of his last manoeuvre, the crowd was buzzing, the children straining to look up into the bright grey summer sky, eyes shielded. The heat shimmered from the runways and from the gleaming white and silver backs of the finest transport, bomber and fighter aircraft of the day. The announcer popped the PA system. A howl of feedback squawked and squealed across the crowded ramp. "Ladies and gentlemen, you are in for a treat today. In honour of Air Force Day in the Nation's Capital you will witness a display by the Golden Hawks, flying ambassadors of the jet age... ". And so it went for a few minutes as the show announcer introduced the main act of the show and handed over the microphone to the team announcer.
Then with a sweeping roar, six immaculately painted gold Sabre jet fighters swept across the sky heralding the arrival of the much anticipated Golden Hawks. For the next half hour or so, thousands of crew-cut or sun-dressed baby boom children and their parents witnessed a display of the finest aerobatic formation flying anywhere in the world. Four-plane formations followed by opposing solos and six plane bursts roared across the infield. Long before disasters at air shows curtailed aerobatic demonstrations directed at and over spectators, the Golden hawks seemed to be everywhere - behind me, over me and in front of me. The sound of six thundering Orenda engines lives with me still as does the sight of the cloud-filtered light gleaming from their gilt wings. Trailing wisps of red, white and blue smoke still swirl in my memory to this day.
Skip ahead 45 years to the summer of 2006. While relaxing with a beer at his home in Arnprior, Ontario, VWoC Manager of Flying Operations, Tim Leslie was toying with the idea of making a big contribution to the upcoming 100th anniversary of flight when he had an epiphany. Why not bring back the Golden Hawks!! Or at least one of them! He knew that they were created for the 50th anniversary, so it was a perfect fit that they should return after another fifty. In a nutshell, the original idea was to purchase a serviceable Canadian-built Sabre jet, refurbish it, update the safety systems, paint it in the colours of the Golden Hawks (created for the 50th anniversary) and operate it throughout 2009 as a flying tribute to Canadian aviation history.
Ever the aviation evangelist, Tim started to convert people around him to his idea which he called “Hawk One”. It wasn't long before it started to gain traction as a possibility. Once VWoC President Mike Potter got on board, the funds became available and the project moved forward to the purchase of a flyable airframe from the US.
So it was that, within a year from Tim's initial backyard brain wave, the sound of the “Sword” returned to the skies over over the Nation's Capital - It was the culmination of a year of hard work and yet just the beginning of a two year long project to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada in 2009.
As of this writing, the Sabre has undergone some simple engine run-ups and taxi tests at the hands of test pilot Paul Kissmann and things are looking and sounding good indeed. Before long it will be 2009 and Hawk One will be thrilling the grandchildren of the baby boomers who, like me, saw the original Golden Hawks. I look forward to the day when Hawk One will be flying not just in my memory but in the clear blue skies over her Canadian home.
By Dave O'Malley
For those who wish to read more about the Golden Hawks and this historic period in Canadian aviation history, I highly recommend Dan Dempsey's spectacular, thoroughly researched and wonderfully written book A Tradition of Excellence - Canada's Airshow Team Heritage. This nearly 770 page masterwork is the finest book extant on airshow teams anywhere let alone Canada. Dempsey has created a book so complete that no one need address the subject for the next quarter century, maybe more. For more information, go to canadasairshowheritage.com
Air show spectators stare slack-jawed as the Golden Hawks perform above them. Not one person looks anywhere but skyward - a tribute to the awesome sight of six blinged-out Sabre aircraft that appear to be welded together. Photo: MWO (Ret'd) Bill Briggs
Trailing their patented red, white and blue smoke, six members of the Golden Hawks streak in low over the back-up aircraft parked on the ramp. The sheer gorgeousness of the Golden Hawks paint scheme is clearly evident in this photo. (RCAF Photo via Terry Leversedge)
With the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia as their backdrop, four Golden Hawk Sabres seem welded together in this diamond formation. Photo: DND PCN 7035
Definitely not on the show program for the Vintage Wings Sabre in 2009. The 60s were all together a different era for the RCAF when hot dogging 20 feet off the deck between the flight line and the control tower might have got the pilot a few pats on the back and a free beer at the mess. Today, it would mean an abrupt end to a flying career. (DND Photo PMR 76-65
Veteran Sabre pilot Ron Iberg arrives in style shooting a high speed pass to announce his arrival and show Vintage Wings personnel the classic lines of this historic fighter. Many Canadian World War Two veterans flew the Sabre including Stocky Edwards, whose exploits in the P-40 will be honoured next year when we finish our Kittyhawk rebuild. However, there are many Canadian pilots who made their indelible mark on Canadian aviation history while flying the venerable "Sword" - men like Bob Middlemiss, Omer Levesque (from Gatineau-Aylmer), and of course, the well respected R.J. “Chick” Childerhose, father of Vintage Wings of Canada pilot Bob Childerhose.Photo: Peter Handley
Ferry pilot Ron Iberg chats with Vintage Wings founder Mike Potter shortly after shut down. Iberg is well known and respected on the warbird and air show circuits and was returning to the Ottawa area after a 15 year absence. Ron and his flying partner Dave Van Leer were featured aerobatic performers at the 1992 National Capital Air Show in their Spanish-built Saeta jets. Photo: Peter Handley
Getting to know you. Three members of the Vintage Wings maintenance crew inspect the air intake and tunnel of the Sabre after arrival. Left to right: Andrej Janik (Manager), John Brennan and Marty Periard. Photo: Peter Handley
Though presently painted in the markings of a Korean-war era USAF squadron, and destined for Golden Hawks colours, the airframe was originally a Canadair Sabre 5 in the markings and bare metal of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Above is an air force photo of our aircraft (RCAF s/n 23314) when she flew for the RCAF. It was an honour in 1959 for any airframe to be painted in the stunning Golden Hawks livery and now 50 years after her birth, this Sword will have that honour bestowed. DND Photo courtesy Steve MacKenzie
A new home. Back on Canadian soil, Hawk One is pushed into the immaculately kept Vintage Wings of Canada facilities where she will spend the winter. Photo: Peter Handley