Manager of Maintenance Andrej Janik and AME Angela Gagnon. Photo: Dave O'Malley
On a Saturday morning in late March I happened to be in the hangar to discuss details of an upcoming marking of our High Flight Harvard. It was going to be a leisurely couple of hours talking with Rob Kostecka, the Harvard manager, about what needed to be done. I arrived mid-morning to find I had to park half a kilometer from the hangar because there were no parking spots available close to the building - a long line of cars stretched down the road on both sides right up to the terminal building.
What the hell was going on I asked myself. Did I forget it was an open house? Did I miss something? When I got to the hangar and stepped inside, people were everywhere. Tour guides were initiating tours starting in the library, people milled about in the lobby, the hangar floor was swarming with bee-like activity. The gantry crane was in action and a Lysander wing swung lazily from the ceiling. Door-opening klaxons were blaring and light was streaming through the doors. Even the tow-mule was receiving attention. Maintainers seemed to be at every airplane. Access panels, parts on dollies and step ladders were everywhere. Restoration teams worked at the Hurricane and Lysander, cadets gathered around the Pietenpol for a fabric covering class. Slack-jawed tour groups drank it all in. Guides gesticulated and herded them around like cats. It seemed we were going to war.
It was, in fact, just an ordinary Saturday at Vintage Wings of Canada - nothing special. In the past three years, Vintage Wings has gone from damn exciting to downright supersonic in its activity, outreach and importance to Canadians. During the summer months, the aircraft and their pilots seem to occupy centre stage, but over the winter and in the spring, the maintainers become the focus of attention and adulation.
Their tall steel tool cabinets festooned with decals and stickers become altars to their gods of maintenance. Their grease-covered overalls and oil-smeared shirts become like robes are to priests - imbued with a spiritual power and significance. Visitors, who will dispose of a balky toaster for want of the knowledge to fix it, stare in awe at the men and women who can take apart a Wright Whirlwind engine, an ejection seat or an entire airplane and then put it all back together again - in better shape than when it came apart - all the while listening to Akon, Ludacris or Country and Western. And the maintainers walk around the hangar like Tibetan monks (grease-covered ones), unrushed, unfazed and smiling. They talk in low voices, share their knowledge and for all of us at Vintage Wings, walk on water.
We cannot say enough about these remarkable mechanics, restorers and technicians - without them, well... we are just a museum.
This spring has seen plenty of activity in, around, under and over the Vintage Wings of Canada Westland Lysander. With the arrival of Deryck Hickox, our new coordinator of Restorations, the work has accelerated and things were happening where the Lizzie had languished. Photo: John Tawn
Here Hickox (at left) supervises the temporary re-attachment of the Lysander's skinless wings. This would allow him and his team to properly measure and size control cables and other through-wing components. Photo: John Tawn
Photographer Tawn shoots through the box spar jig for the Hurricane XII in order to stay out of the way of the restoration team as they hoist the left wing to its attachment point. Photo: John Tawn
Inside the metalwork shop, a volunteer rivets new skin panels on the Lysander's stabilizer. Photo: Richard Allnutt
Later, when the wings were removed, a volunteer cleans and preps the Lysander's wing, getting it ready for re-skinning. Many of the volunteers on Hickox's team are learning these skills under his patient tutelage while others bring decades of experience - together they are making remarkable progress each Saturday. Photo: Richard Allnutt
One of the hardest working volunteers at Vintage Wings is Taff Williams. Volunteering his time throughout each week for years, Taff is now volunteering his aircraft. His Peitenpol parasol winged home-built, which has been stored in pieces at the back of the hangar, is now an instructional airframe, teaching volunteers and air cadets the fine art of fabric covering and doping. Under the guidance of Deryck Hickox, his aircraft teaches while it comes together. Here Taff prepares the newly covered wing. Photo: Richard Allnutt
Hawk One, the Vintage Wings of Canada F-86 Sabre tribute to 100 years of flight in Canada underwent a week of maintenance in her home hangar prior to Tim Leslie taking her across Canada for her work-ups with the Snowbirds. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Before her trip to Comox, Janik and the Hawk One mechanics like Kelvin Eastwood (above) conduct a long list of fixes - wing inspection, UHF installation, hydraulic leak repair, nitrogen leak repair, avionics repair, flight control rigging, control stick modification and installation and fuel sending unit replacement. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Our Hawker Hurricane IV awaits the return of its newly refurbished propeller from Italy. In the meantime Andrej Janik's team undertook a long list of mechanical work - 100 hour inspection, header tank repair, exhaust stacks repaired, panels in wheel wells repaired, transponder alt encoder re-certification, oil and air filters changed. Photo: Dave O'Malley
A heartless de Havilland Beaver awaits the arrival of her refurbished Pratt and Whitney engine - recently completed in Maniwaki, Quebec - a community about 120 miles north of Ottawa/Gatineau. The work was done to complete an airworthiness directive and to investigate and remedy a stubborn oil leak. Photo: Dave O'Malley
The tail of the de Havilland Fox Moth can be seen in the foreground. This day she was untouched, but work was progressing on her annual inspection. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Not going anywhere soon. The Spitfire awaits her propeller from Italy (along with the Hurricane). The irony of Italy and Germany being the only places for Spitfire propeller refurbishment was not lost on the maintainers. In the background, our Swordfish patiently awaits the arrival from Britain of her restored Bristol Pegasus engine. In the meantime plans are afoot to haul her outside for a wash, and discussions are underway for her new paint scheme. Photo: John Tawn
Volunteers surround the oil bleeding Corsair every time she lands to make sure no dirt and oil accumulate - every Saturday it seems, there are several enthusiastic volunteers wiping her down like a thoroughbred racehorse after a race. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Dang... it's... in... here... some... where. Angela Gagnon, one of Vintage Wings highly skilled AMEs, finds herself up to her shoulder in the Corsair's Twin Wasp engine. Photo: Richard Allnutt
Gagnon completes the Corsair's 30 hour inspection. Photo: Richard Allnutt
AME and aircraft refurbisher extraordinaire Harley Melnick (centre) chats with Hawk One mechanic Kelvin Eastwood and MGen (ret'd) Bob Fassold about Bob's beautiful de Havilland Chipmunk which nears completion of a year-long refurbishment. She will fly in the exact markings she once wore when she trained pilots for the RCAF back in the1950s. Bob and Dave O'Malley have been conducting detailed research into these markings and will be producing what will undoubtedly be the most authentic Chipmunk extant. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Project for this particular Saturday? - installation of control panel wiring and cockpit components. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Even the hangar mule needed some attention this particular day. Here Alan MacMillan (Right) and Jim Luffman, two of our most dedicated volunteers, take a break after repairing the engine. Photo: Dave O'Malley
The Tiger Moth sat idle this particular Saturday, but it was awaiting its Annual Inspection. Photo: Dave O'Malley
A rudderless Mustang awaits repair of its tail actuator. In addition, maintainers were conducting a 30 hour inspection, changing coolant, oil and filters. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Amidst all the maintenance activity several tours were being conducted throughout the day. Here Jay Hunt explains the history of the WACO Taperwing to a group. Photo: John Tawn
When all the birds are in the nest, it's pretty interesting to visitors, but it takes a few minutes to cross the floor zig-zagging around airplanes.Photo: John Tawn
Dirty work. AME Angela Gagnon pulls her arm out from deep in the Twin Wasp's guts. Seeing our maintainers working on the aircraft while getting a tour is what makes Vintage Wings so special on Saturdays. Photo: Richard Allnutt