There is a scene in the movie The Right Stuff where Sam Shepherd (playing Chuck Yeager) is out riding his horse and gallops up to the Bell X-1 rocket plane sitting on the ramp. The machine growls away on ground power... a definite menacing presence. The audience feels a wave of apprehension knowing our fearless hero is going to have to go and fight that demon out there (the sound barrier).
There was none of that today.
Rather, against the cold grey autumn sky, the Hawk One Sabre looked more lovely than menacing, a classic beauty with unmistakable lines. Nobody rode in on a horse either. No, the real world of engine test and test flying is (thankfully) a whole lot more boring than as portrayed in the movies. After a couple of hours of intensive briefings over the Sabre's wing in the Vintage Wings hangar, the crew towed this historic bird over to the main ramp at the Gatineau Airport. Ground power was hooked up and Paul Kissmann climbed in.
Test pilot Paul Kissmann goes over last minute checks and procedures with Tim Leslie (hidden) and Hawk One technicians. Photo: Peter Handley
Vintage Wings of Canada technician André Laviolette walks a wing as Hawk One is pushed out of the hangar prior to her first engine run. Access panels are wide open to allow ground crew instant access to critical components and systems during the test. Photo: Peter Handley
All possible situations were briefed again... for about the fifth time that day. As well, Paul wore only the lap belt and left the canopy open just in case things did not go as they should. It is a wonderful thing watching professional people doing professional things - taking all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of life and preservation of the aircraft.
Paul read through his pre-start checks as a hive of activity buzzed around the Sabre... the maintenance team getting their last chance checks complete (flashlights in hand checking to ensure none of the fluids under pressure were leaking) and the Combat Camera Crew positioning themselves to best record the event.
I stood there (a little chilly - once again forgetting to put on a jacket) and marvelled at the path this project has taken from abstract idea to reality. My eyes were drawn to the black silhouette on the side of the Silver Dart and the 1909-2009 dates in bold underneath this first powered aircraft to take flight in Canada. These decals were applied only two weeks ago in preparation for the press conference at her roll-out. As well, the freshly applied Canadian roundels only made the experience seem more patriotic - proud bunch of Canadians gathered around a proud Canadian aircraft on a typically chilly Canadian fall afternoon. In many ways it is fitting that the aircraft is in bare aluminum with roundels while all the messy preparations are done - especially with Andrej and Dan climbing up and over the wings and fuselage like kids on monkey bars! But this is no game... they are scrambling around looking in each and every opening to ensure there are no leaks prior to clearing Paul to hit the start button.
Anyone familiar with the old Batman series will recall the yellow flames shooting out of Chuck Barris's Batmobile. A two foot torch danced around the tailpipe of the Sabre right after ignition... certainly getting my attention. However, according to the aircraft operating manual, this is perfectly normal (Paul advised me after the fact). This initial bit of personal excitement subsided as the engine seemed to settle into a nice dull roar. It sounded really nice. No leaks.
Andrej Janik, Manager of aircraft maintenance at Vintage Wings confers with an Air Force counterpart prior to start-up. This shot reveals just how much of Hawk One is open for quick access. André Laviolette mans the power cart. Photo: Peter Handley
Hawk One test pilot Paul Kissmann goes over last minute details with Vintage Wings technician André Laviolette. Photo: Peter Handley
The Hawk takes a bite out of a technician. There is not quite enough left of the ingested mechanic to tell exactly who it is.. but perhaps it is Paul Tremblay sliding down her gullet to make a few adjustments. No doubt AMEs taste terrible, for she spit out the greasy morsel in short order. Photo: Peter Handley
Alright folks... let's kick the tires and light the fires. Paul Kissman signals for start-up. Photo: Peter Handley
With the Orenda engine shrieking like a banshee, Andrej Janik leans in with ear protection on to watch the dials with Paul Kissmann. Photo: Peter Handley
If you have never heard a turbo-jet howl, you know there is no way normal conversation can be carried out. Here Vintage Wings mechanic Angela Gagnon shouts into the unprotected ear of Andre Laviolette while the Sabre shrieks . Photo: Peter Handley
To demonstrate the sound of a runaway Orenda is nigh on impossible in a photograph, but perhaps the tormented shimmer of heated exhaust streaming behind Andrej will give a sense that the engine runs as advertised. Photo: Peter Handley
With the engine running, Paul Kissmann deploys the air brakes. Photo Peter Handley
After ten minutes or so of smooth idling Paul got to the various system checks. Again, no major surprises - the speedbrake on the port side of the aircraft seemed a little slower than the starboard - perhaps some air in the lines. A complete overview of the flight controls had everything going in the right directions...ailerons, flaps, rudder... even the nosewheel steering. Boring is nice when running a jet for the first time after a restoration.
The chocks were then removed and placed about three feet ahead of the main wheels. Paul eased off on the brakes and came back on them just before hitting the chocks. No real excitement there either. Paul did hint the left brake seemed a bit spongy.
A few more minutes at idle and it was time to shut it down.
All in all a very successful first run. Better than expected.
It is 1525 local on the 29th of September, 2008 and we are on track.
Tim Leslie, Chief of Operations at Vintage Wings of Canada and the man who first dreamed of Hawk One, listens with protected (preferring the more stylish and less visible soft ear plugs) and happy ears as his idea takes her first breath of superheated air. Photo Peter Handley