Paul Kissmann, test pilot for the Hawk One Sabre program took our baby into the skies this past weekend - one year after she landed back on Canadian soil. Read his own words as he reports back to the team with the details of this milestone event in our "Journey of Inspiration".
Flanked by Tim Leslie in the Mustang as Chase 1, Mike Potter in the Spitfire as Chase 2, Paul Hayes - a sharp Sabre veteran with over 1600 hrs F-86 - as ground safety / trouble-shooter, Dale "Snort" Snodgrass - a current warbird and Sabre demo pilot on phone callout, our dedicated maintenance team led by Andrej, and our fabulous team of volunteers on site or with us in spirit - we took C-GSBR up for her inaugural flight yesterday at 15:47 pm from Gatineau airport under a crystal clear northern blue sky and pleasantly cool temperatures. To be sure, the event was well covered by our media team led by Mary Lee - including Discovery Channel, CBC, and Combat Camera who filmed from 10 am right through to 8 pm last night getting the sense of pride, spirit, and teamwork of this ambitious endeavour on film. Included were two small cameras looking both forward and aft in the Sabre and a Discovery cameraman in the Mustang back seat for air-to-air shots as well as our ever enthusiastic and talented still-photography experts like Peter Handley who captured the emotion without the need for motion.
We started the serious part of the day with a fighter style brief - starting with "Time Hack!" and ending with a mission summary. We briefed an extensive list of "what ifs" and detailed out our action plans in the event that things should not go quite as planned - takeoff or landing accident, ejection, comm fail, pitot static problems, chase abort, Search and Rescue coordination etc..... You fighter guys in the crowd will be happy to know that I used a familiar white board for the briefing and three colours of dry erase marker - might as well feel at home right from the start.
The Sabre walkaround pre-flight inspection was a real treat as I had Paul Hayes lead me through what was still a completely familiar routine to him - only 40+ years later. What a sharp and professional pilot he is, and most likely was, in the heady days of the RCAF flying this beautiful bird en masse! His hands still knew which parts of the bird held hidden circuit breakers like the Aux Hyd pump and where all gear door and fuel boost / transfer pump switches were. Seeing the gleam in his eyes as he ran his hands over his "first love" was a secret pleasure for me as that is a big part of our program - commemorate our proud Canadian aviation heritage. We all know that the Sabre days, both operationally and with the Golden Hawks, formed one of THE great periods in Canadian military aviation.
Retired air force general and former Sabre pilot of the Air Divisions in Europe, Paul Hayes, flew up from Toronto for the day to assist with his deep knowledge of the starting, handling and landing characteristics of the Canadair Sabre. The two Pauls met at a conference over a year ago where Hayes offered up his experience. One of the tenets of flying a new single seat aircraft for the first time, one that is espoused by all professional test pilots like Kissmann, is "Find someone who has flown the aircraft and squeeze them for every drop of information, because they can tell you things not written in the manuals". Photo: Peter Handley
"The fast moving hot air... which we Sabre pilots call thrust comes out of this end". Paul Hayes shares his knowledge with test pilot Kissmann prior to the first flight. Photo: Peter Handley
The founder of Vintage Wings of Canada, Mike Potter stands watching the proceedings from the wing of his beloved Spitfire. Today he would be Chase 2, watching over Paul Kissmann with Tim Leslie in the Mustang. Photo: Peter Handley
After several ground runs and many preparatory hours spent in the cockpit of Hawk One - it was a familiar routine to run my hands over the switches and controls pre-start - and to be honest it was a relief to gain some distance from the cameras and press and climb into the bubble of solitude in the Sabre. Having entertained many distractions numerous times from walk around to strap-in, normally a no-no in my fighter test brain, it was nice to get settled in the cockpit early and have the team tow the aircraft to its start location next to the runway - free of the loose debris that is still scattered across the unfinished part of the taxiway at Gatineau. A moment to reflect on what we as a team were about to do - yes another big milestone in the project to be sure. It was only last week that we confirmed DND was fully on-board supporting the project including the Deputy Minister signing the paperwork (nice work Swill / BGen Cloutier!), Transport Canada finished their necessary review of our paperwork to allow a flight permit for flight test (yes, without fuel restrictions!), and Westjet came aboard enthusiastically with 150 flight passes to support transporting the team members in the next year with travel around Canada - wow do they have a great vision! So many hills and mountains to get here - but here we were indeed and at long last - some six months after we hoped, but only about a week or two before we had to.
While strapped-in and waiting for the start of the Sabre, the Mustang ran into trouble starting after having been cold-soaked outside and we were right into contingency plan A - the Spitfire with Mike at the helm taxied by and soon roared past with that marvelous sound only a Merlin can make to take up his position as Chase 1 with Tim stuck watching. But we all knew the team wouldn't leave it at that, they managed to get some more power to turn over the other Merlin we wanted airborne - and Tim was smiling broadly. I decided to wait out some more and got Tim to takeoff as well and get into position about 5nm north west with the Spitfire. No more excuses to wait and relax - it was time to bring the Sabre to life and move our project forward one huge leap - or find out we were in trouble!
Let's get the show on the road. Paul Kissmann and Hawk One are towed by ground crew out to the edge of the Gatineau runway where he can commence start-up without the distractions of photographers and friends. Photo: Peter Handley.
Mike Potter in the Supermarine Spitfire XVI taxies by Kissmann en route to the start of Runway 27. Photo: Peter Handley
Tim Leslie was able to get the Mustang into the air despite some problems with a cold-soaked Merlin. In the Mustang's rear seat sits a Discovery Channel cameraman to record the event aloft. Photo: Peter Handley
All the start sequence went as it should, the Orenda 14 roared to life with a familiar bat-mobile lick of flame torching out the exhaust - Paul Hayes and the maintenance team looking on keenly and anxiously. A quick troubled look from Andrej at the left wing area after my hydraulic checks showed a normal minor venting of hyd fluid - then the confident thumbs up and remove the chocks. An uncommon moment at Gatineau, there was nobody else around waiting to takeoff or land and the circuit was clear.
"Gatineau Radio - Research 10 - request airfield information" and then off we went on the backtrack for Rwy 27. A highly desirable takeoff direction as it offers a flat and clear overrun area when compared to Rwy 09. With the thirsty Orenda 14 gulping at my fuel reserves in the short-range clean Sabre, little time was wasted at the button to turn around after staggering my way down the runway with the sensitive nose wheel steering which I found is only useful below 5-10kts if you want to go straight. Into position - last chance checks of switches, hydraulics, ejection seat, flaps, controls and pour the power to the engine while holding the brakes - less than 12 secs to full military power and a familiar 98% / 640C of power coming on - ready. Nothing to do but call "Research 10 rolling Runway 27" - and roll she did.
The tires have been kicked and the fires lit. The Sabre barfs a flicker of flame and some superheated gas as Kissmann kicks the Orenda into life. Photo: Peter Handley
Fire and ice. Some residual snow from last week's early snowfall contrasts with the heat of Kissmann's exhaust. Photo: Peter Handley
Proud of her man, but worried none-the-less Laura Kissmann points out the Sabre to one of their children as Dad walks the throttle up the quadrant. Photo: Peter Handley
All eyes are glued to the Sabre off in the distance. The roar of the Orenda is barely audible at first until full Mil power is attained. Left to right: Paul Hayes, André Laviolette, Andrej Janik and Angela Gagnon. Photo: Peter Handley
One small step for Hawk One, one giant leap for the Centennial of Flight. Hawk One, with Paul Kissmann at the controls lifts from Canadian soil for the first time. Photo: Peter Handley
Easy to keep the Sword straight even with 8 kts crosswind using only minor rudder inputs - airspeed alive through 60 kts - coming up on 1500 ft with over 100 kts and all engine instruments in the green - ease back a bit on the stick which is already trimmed unusually close to my six pack abs (ok, a bit like a keg - note to self and our other pilots - lose the belly) - the aircraft waggles a wee bit right and left and jumps into the air. Keep her fairly low to gain speed - Gear up - Flaps up and then hold - here comes 175 kts - pitch the nose up to hold below 185 kts while the gear finishes its 8 second cycle up. Red lights out - back to a relaxed 93% - WE ARE OFF!
The Sabre just feels right - a jet pilots natural aircraft and the magic of the quiet push of the jet engine still brings a smile to my face and memories of my first Tutor flight. There is nothing like it if you have been used to having a loud engine and prop in your face when you fly..... Back to the task at hand - contact Ottawa terminal for clearance above 3,000 ft and a rejoin with the Spitfire and Mustang. They stand out beautifully against the stark blue sky of late afternoon - whip around through 225 degrees of turn, all the while pulling back on the power to near idle - still holding 220kts - but no speedbrakes just yet - ok speedbrakes now! Oops, they really don't do that much back here at 220 kts - Paul told me she wouldn't be eager to slow - and I slide gracefully by the inside route echelon position - unintended, but Tim acknowledges my wing waggle as I signal I have the lead - like I had a choice! A comforting clean and dry check to verify no fluids are leaking and everything else is as it should be - then a check of landing gear, flap and speedbrake extension - the landing configuration I will need later - better to find out now if it all works right than later when I have 1000s of lbs less fuel. Sure enough everything goes down and comes back up as it should. No time or fuel to waste - back to 93% and the Sabre leaps ahead in the climb - just finding its stride as the warbirds of "15 years ago" are fading quickly behind and below.
With stunning acceleration and Kissmann's reluctance to pull off the power, the only thing to do is let her climb hard to keep the speed down while the gear cycle up. Photo: Peter Handley
The relief, pride and joy are evident on Laura Kissmann's face as she and other family members watch the successful take off. Photo: Peter Handley
Over to terminal to get an IFR clearance up to 20,000 ft in a test area 35 nm north of the Ottawa VOR - I had planned a fancy climb fuel/ time/distance climb check - but terminal wanted to see how many times I could level off while in my climb! After a third climb clearance and third frequency change - finally cleared in a block of 5,000-22,000 ft in the NRC test area - whew! Some minor checks on the way up the hill of pressurization, cabin temp, oxygen, and hydraulics - everything is perfect. A few small control inputs to feel out the bird, then some more as I haven't paid her much attention so far - just flew ! A sign of a great design, I feel comfortable right away and she responds in kind to my control inputs - predictable - nice. Cabin pressure holds steady as we hoped right through 20,000 ft - excellent! Now into a slow acceleration to push the Sabre out to 500+ kts and confirm no control vibrations or aileron actuator issues - a casual descent - 10 to 15 degrees nose down - small control inputs all the way - and 520 kts /0.92 M come up quickly - good enough for flight #1 and more than we need with the external tanks mounted later. Into a 4-g pull up / g warm up and 20,000 feet comes back at me quickly - time for a slow roll to level off - a favourite manoeuvre of mine on the CF-18 to level off or start a descent. Beautiful responsive roll rate in this bird - a little adverse yaw - something to look into on the next flight when I add some more roll rate - this was only about 1/2 lateral stick. Level again - time for an idle descent to check the warning horn on the landing gear handle and the fuel flow and descent rate - she doesn't want to come down and just glides happily at 250 kts, idle power, sipping fuel. We'll use that again.
Time to get serious - below 15,000 ft and time to check the positive and negative g limits - wind up turn to 6 g positive in both turn directions at 350 kts or so - smooth and very controllable - boy she turns nice - into a short pause and then a negative 1 g inverted push for 2-3 sec - after double checking my lap belt is secured properly! Well there's last weeks lunch box - no that's my backup GPS - grab that and wave at the extra bits of dust and dirt that have been hiding for I don't know how long in the floor of the aircraft - need to bring a shop vac next time. Back right side up - now using a nice big lake below to keep me in the area - it's easier than working with radials and DME on a clear day. Well that went well - how about my planned negative 2g push on an outside 60 deg angle of bank turn - less junk this time - it must have relocated somewhere else after the first push - predictable, controllable, lots of control authority and precise. A delight!
Still on the fuel timeline - or a bit ahead - good. Next and very important - stalls in the cruise and landing configurations - expecting somewhere around 110-115kts with the aircraft clean and at idle power - a slow 1 kts/sec decel rate and the controls stay effective - down to about 125 kts and some distinct vibration developed warning me that I was pushing close to the stall - finally at 115 kts a small right wing drop and small nose down pitch break - nice - controllable - predictable - as expected. Next, gear, flaps, speedbrake and 63% power - the typical minimum power approach setting. Slowing nicely - stick is far aft - further aft - against the aft stop - 114 kts - and that's it for aft stick?! Coincident with the same stall characteristics as before - but about 10-14 kts earlier than expected - hmmm - let's do that again. Same result - HMMM - now it is a question of accuracy of the speed indications or something unique to our aircraft that is either causing an incorrect high airspeed reading at stall in the landing configuration or a higher stall speed. Well, that's why we plan to do a stall on flight #1 - all the approach and landing speeds are based off the stall speed - normally 1.3x stall speed for the approach - luckily I have my two chase aircraft ready to go with backup information on final and I plan to fly about 10 kts faster on the indicator for now.
Time to head back since I don't know how this will play out exactly and I am on the planned fuel line and the planned tests are complete - another quick rejoin with Tim and Mike - a better rejoin this time with a positive lead change AFTER I stop in loose echelon position. Clean and Dry and none of the decals have disappeared or ripped - Dave O'Malley will be justifiably proud of his work! Onto downwind with the Spitfire struggling to stay slow enough to hold route echelon left and the Mustang happily up sun and stacked high in route echelon right - Tim steps in on the radio to clear away a Cessna in the pattern that is going to be a distraction - nice work chase - thanks. Configure the Sabre for landing - everything is great except that approach speed question - around a loose final turn in an unbelievable formation of classic Canadian fighter aircraft - back to about 140 kts - speed checks with the Spit and Mustang confirm the indications are a bit high on my bird - hold 140 kts instead of 130 kts - line up with the runway - all clear - stable - 200ft and the two chase birds level off and let me slide down the chute to a landing - back to idle power and a gentle flare - stick way aft with trim - a bit of right wing down for the crosswind - settle - and touchdown about 1,200 ft down the runway. Let the nose come down - flaps up - hard on the brakes - I want to know what we have for brakes - and boy do they work!! Predictable - very effective - won't need to check those so aggressively again - future landings will be with a quick brake check on touchdown and then let the aircraft roll out the full runway length to save the brake and tire wear.
After a 40+ minute test regime, Paul Kissmann brings the Sabre in for a full stop on Runway 27 .
Kissmann is shoved hard against the straps and the Sabre kneels deep into her front oleo as she is brought to a full stop with the binders hard on seconds after touchdown. Photo: Peter Handley
As Kissmann rolls out with brakes smoking, photographer Handley manages to swing round and capture Mike Potter in Chase 2 thundering down the left side of Runway 27. Photo: Peter Handley.
Just about stopped - time check for landing - 4:33 !! What?! For those who don't know, my last Squadron in the CF was 433 Sqn and we held beer call at 4:33 whenever we could make it together as a gang - some were pretty spectacular events. There isn't a day that goes by where I see 4:33 on a digital clock or watch without thinking of the old squadron mates and the great time we all had. A perfect time to finish such a great flight - I didn't even notice the two Merlin's pouring on the power to pass above me as they headed for a two-ship rejoin and overhead break to land after I cleared the runway. Some smoke from the brakes as they have now been broken in and the coating the new pads have is properly worn off - but it subsides quicker than the smell of brakes that have been pushed near their limit - check! Mission accomplished !
After Hawk One's touchdown, Mike Potter pulls a big tiger break to position Chase 2 for the downwind, offering up a beautiful view of her finest feature - her beautiful elliptical wing form. Photo: Peter Handley
Hawk One is towed towards the hangar and the setting sun. A great day. Paul Kissmann is all smiles and thumbs up. When asked what speed he reached he offered up a huge grin and "520 knots, baby!" Photo: Peter Handley
Mike Potter brings his Spitfire home in the failing light of day - the end of the first day of a year of days of celebration of flight. Photo: Peter Handley
A few more delightful details to follow - getting soaked by my two boys with their squirt guns to celebrate Dad coming down off his first Sabre flight, a welcome hug from Laura, shaking Paul Hayes hand as I have joined the Sabre pilots cadre and celebrating with as many of the supporters and team members as possible - to say thank you on behalf of myself and more importantly the Canadian public who are only just starting to get a feel for what we have in store for them in the next year as we help celebrate 100 years of Canadian aviation heritage in a proud and spectacular fashion. It was perfect to have Tim and Mike along for this crucial flight - Tim had the idea of Hawk One over three years ago and Mike had the vision and means to get the project off the ground long before most knew what we were up to. A number of teammates were missing, but topping the list was Swill (former Snowbird Lead LCol Steve Will) our team lead - working out his 737 check out at Westjet in Calgary. He took up leading this project when we weren't sure who could carry the ball to the finish line - missed having you there - soon it's your turn.
Next, a couple more flights to verify external tank operations, more stalls, a robust check of the navigational aids in the aircraft for IFR flight, some more performance tests, and backup systems checks - then off to paint in Cold Lake!
My most sincere heartfelt thanks to all who have supported or been involved in our great project - it was my privilege to take our dreams airborne on "first flight" on your behalf - who would have thought even if dreaming.
Paul "Rose" Kissmann
D/Team Lead Hawk One
Mike Potter congratulates Paul Kissmann after the Sabre and her pilot have been pushed back into the hangar.
Every pilot at Vintage Wings making his first solo on type has to face a dousing of cold water. There's no avoiding it. There's no doubt that Kissmann was looking for where the water was going to come from, but he was totally surprised when his sons pulled a "Tony Montana" and whipped their super-soakers out from underneath their jackets - nailing him right in the bread basket. Photo: Peter Handley
No point using super-soakers unless you can super-soak. Only when their "clips" were empty, was dad spared. Photo: Peter Handley
The man who put it all together, the man who took it into the air and the man who dreamed it all up share their collective joy and experience. Photo: Peter Handley