Since being acquired by Vintage Wings of Canada from Pacific Fighters of Idaho Falls, Idaho back before Christmas of last year, our Vought F4U-4 Corsair has spent the winter months in more pleasant skies than available to her in Ottawa. Vintage Wings pilot Mike Potter along with Tim Leslie has travelled south on more than one occasion to spend time with her and get familiar with her during this period. Doug Matthews, a highly experienced naval and Corsair pilot gave instruction during the winter to both Mike and Tim on operating the Corsair’s complex systems.
During those long winter days, the Vintage Wings crew looked forward to the day that the big naval fighter would make the long journey north to join her hangar mates in Gatineau, Quebec. Throughout the winter, the Corsair was flown by Matthews at air shows in the south under the Vintage Wings banner. But when the weather improved in the Great White North, it was time to bring her into the fold.
On Tuesday, May 28th, Matthews turned over the big Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp engine one last time in sunny Florida, smoothed out the mixture, lowered and locked those lovely wings and then moved her out on to Palm Beach International’s 10,000 foot runway 9 Left and moved the throttle forward. Lifting heavily into the air with two massive external fuel tanks slung beneath her belly, the Corsair banked left and turned north towards Atlanta. It was a beautiful day for a ferry flight with sunny conditions accompanying Matthews all the way to his fuel stop in “Hotlanta”. Climbing to altitude, he settled down to enjoy the day.
A highly experienced fighter pilot with two combat tours in Vietnam – one as a gun-boat skipper and the other as an F-4 Phantom pilot operating from a Navy carrier off the coast of North Vietnam, Matthews is an affable, easy going man whose skills as a raconteur and polo player equal his considerable abilities in the air. After a distinguished naval career, Doug worked as a factory test pilot for the Cessna Citation business jet program in Wichita, Kansas. After that Doug continued to build hours with Delta Airlines and became a warbird pilot, flying his own F-86 Sabre and F-5 Freedom Fighter as well as a wide range of World War Two fighter and attack aircraft.
After refueling in Atlanta, Doug flew west toward Memphis International airport for a two day stop over to show the Corsair off at a warbird event and take a Hawker Sea Fury back to Florida at the same time. Returning once again to Memphis, Doug continued on his way heading north at 8:50 Thursday morning with fair weather and a favourable tail wind to accompany him along his route.
With “two bags full” Matthews had more than enough fuel to make it all the way to Ottawa in one leg, but his flight plan gave him two alternate fuel stops if his fuel did not transfer from the external tanks - Columbus, Ohio if both tanks went down and then Watertown, New York if the last tank refused to relinquish its fuel. But with the tailwind and cooperative fuel tanks, Doug pressed on through what would be his longest warbird mission ever. And the numbness in his backside attested to the length of time he drilled a hole in the sky. Fortunately the large cockpit of the Corsair allowed him to shift from one cheek to the other and to shift his feet far enough forward to simulate a form of exercise.
His route took him over Western Kentucky’s deep green hollows, coalfields and tobacco fields north through Cincinnati’s industrial haze, Ohio’s patchwork of rich farmland and then east nicking the Pennsylvania panhandle and into pastoral New York.
The farther north they ventured, the lower the ceiling got . The weather was not as good as the start of the day, but fine enough to press on. Matthews carried a portable Garmin weather radar that enabled him to detect two cells of thunderstorm activity along the way – the first over the outskirts of Cincinnati and another near Toronto, but with warning he skirted them and soon found himself on final for Ottawa with nearly two hours fuel still remaining in the tank.
The massive fighter touched down lightly on her home turf for the first time to meet the press and collect her Spitfire and Harvard stable mates for the last dash to the Gatineau hangar – the Spit eager to be with her new mate and anxious to show off her home. After a brief stop over at YOW where Matthews cleared customs with a flourish and good humour, he fired her up once more and taxied with Mike Potter in the Spitfire and Tim Leslie and Rob Erdos in the Harvard to the runway for the short hop to Gatineau.