Lizzie's First Flight

 Lizzie Title

Photo: Peter Handley

June 18th, 2010. A small airport along the wide and mighty Ottawa River. The weather was clear and sunny. The aircraft was rare and quirky. The pilot was skilled and ready (and a bit quirky too). The team was gathered and anxious.

After many technical and administrative flaming hoops were jumped through and after a prodigious amount of last minute assistance from the Vintage Wings maintenance team, it was finally time to light the fire in the heart of the Bristol Mercury and get this baby known as Lizzie into the air where she belonged.

This first flight would show the world that a small and dedicated team of volunteers with skill sets ranging from none to a lifetime of experience could indeed work together to restore a vintage piece of sophisticated and complex technology and make it whole again. The test aircraft for this audacious and restoration would be our Westland Lysander III which was acquired from legendary aircraft restorer Harry Whereatt of Assiniboia, Saskatchewan. Whereatt had initially rebuilt the Lysander to flying standard from two ex-RCAF airframes. The fuselage came from Lysander c/n 1206 and RCAF 2365, built by National Steel Car in Malton and the wings came from another as of yet unconfirmed airframe. 

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Vintage Wings of Canada had originally planned to conduct the Lysander first flight earlier, but by the time all the snags were rectified, paper work filled out properly and the stars and planets were aligned it did not happen until last week. Here, in mid April during our 2010 Flying Season kick-off gala, Mike Potter shows off the now complete, but not yet ready to fly Lysander to the Honourable Peter MacKay, Canadian Minister of National Defense. Minister MacKay spent considerable time out of his busy schedule to get a complete tour of the national treasure that is Vintage Wings of Canada.  Photo Peter Handley

When it was acquired, its engine was removed and sent to England where it languished for quite some time and the rest was dismantled and stripped of fabric. The project entailed taking her down to components to get a good look at what we had, then rebuild her, recover her, repaint her and bring her back to flying standard. To do this we would first build a team of volunteers, some of whom had never turned a wrench within a thousand feet of an aircraft, some of whom were just teenagers, and some of whom had lifetime skills in tool and die making or aircraft maintenance. All would have to learn things they had never done before.  All would learn the varied skills required to make an airplane - under the tutelage of Deryck Hickox, the much loved Curmudgeon of Restoration, known as Waldorf to the team for his uncanny resemblance to the balcony-based heckler of Muppet fame. The team members would meet each and every Saturday for a year and a half and duing this time, the group grew closer, becoming a true band of brothers, sharing their ideas and fixes around the lunch table.  

Finally after many delays and setbacks, the team was ready, the Lysander was made ready by the maintenance staff, the weather was perfect, the planets were aligned, candles were lit, the photoship pilot and photographer were briefed, Waldorf's blood pressure was redlining, the pilot had peed... there were no excuses left.

The following photographs by Peter Handley and a few others will take you aloft with Erdos as he makes a bit of history. Enjoy your flight and thank you for choosing Vintage Wings.

Dave O'Malley

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Rob Erdos, Vintage Wings' "poet-scientist" test pilot from the National Research Council's Flight Research Laboratory was to make the first flight having been the pilot entrusted by Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum to fly the first flight in their Lysander last year.  Here Rob bones up on his flying knowledge and the basics of aerodynamics.... you can never be TOO prepared. Photo: Debbie Wall

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Study behind him, it was now time to take Lizzie for a dance. Photo: Mary Lee

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Before Erdos cranks over the Bristol Mercury engine, he does a thorough walkaround and communes with the strange beast. Clearly, everyone who had turned out to watch the historic event gave him the space to do so as he gets in the zone. Photo: Peter Handley

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Erdos and the Lysander move out from the Vintage Wings Ramp. Photo: Peter Handley

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Steering the Lysander on the ground is extremely difficult due to the poor capabilities of the weak pneumatic braking system. There is an old saying in warbird circles that applies here... "It's not broken, it's British". Photo: Peter Handley

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Erdos runs up the Bristol Mercury one last time prior to the Lizzie's first flight... all systems were a go. Photo: Peter Handley

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The Lysander, normally a dominant mass in our hangar, looked small indeed as Erdos taxies away to the foot of the single Gatineau runway. Photo: Peter Handley

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We have lift-off!!!!!!   The Vintage wings of Canada Lysander with Erdos at the controls, lifts off the runway in not much more than a few airplane lengths. Later Erdos said that it was not so much of a climb out as a release of an imaginary bungee that was holding her to the runway and preventing her from taking off vertically.  Photo: Mary Lee

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Mike Potter in the Vintage Wings Harvard, pulls up beneath the Lysander's starboard quarter and photographer Peter Handley begins one of the happiest tasks he has ever had to perform. Photo: Peter Handley

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Potter slides beneath and comes up on Erdos' port side. Photo: Peter Handley

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A first look at the Lizzie from the side. Photo: Peter Handley

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Potter and Erdos move a little closer for Handley - revealing all the details of the complex aircraft in the bright light at altitude. Photo: Peter Handley

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With the sun above and behind the Lizzie, we start to get the feel of what the type might have looked like on a full moon night heading into France Photo: Peter Handley 


Another nice backlit shot.  Photo: Peter Handley

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Potter moves up the right side of the Lysander allowing Handley to capture every aspect of her beauty Photo: Peter Handley

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The Money Shot!!  Now it's time for Erdos to slide in close and smile for the camera.  Prior to the photoshoot, Erdos had spent forty minutes aloft getting to know his dance partner. Photo Peter Handley

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I'm out of here! Erdos banks gently away from Potter to set up for the approach to Gatineau. Photo: Peter Handley


The strange design of the Lysander's wings always creates an optical illusion when in a bank - that the upside wing in the bank always seems much longer than the downside wing when viewed from below. Photo: Peter Handley 

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Erdos turns base with the Ottawa River below. Photo: Peter Handley

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Erdos settles nicely on the Gatineau runway for a three point landing. Mission accomplished. Photo: Peter Handley

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A delighted Deryck Hickox, Coordinator of Restorations, shakes hands with the pilot that brought her safely home after her first flight. In the background stand two of Vintage Wings key staff and also members of the Lysander team Steve McKenzie (left) and André Laviolette  - Photo: Peter Handley.

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It's not like they don't know this tradition is coming, so Erdos and Hickox take five gallons of icy water like the men they are.  Photo: Peter Handley

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Some of the key members of the team pose with the Lysander (some damper than others) . Left to right: Rob Fleck, COO; Mike Potter Founder and Photoship pilot; Rob Erdos, test pilot; John Aitken, Lysander build team and test pilot (John would fly the Lysander later that day) and Deryck Hickox, Coordinator of Restorations.   Photo : Peter Handley

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Later in the evening, after both Erdos and Aitken's flights, the full Lysander team was honoured with a gourmet dinner in the hangar and plenty of heart felt speechifying.  Here, Chief Operating Officer, Rob Fleck, tells the team about the importance of their accomplishment on the world stage while Lizzie, the girl of the hour, cools off behind the podium.  Photo : Peter Handley

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Mike Potter addresses the team and the importance of their work could not be overstated. In the background sits the new VWC Fleet Finch, and Harvard - two key aircraft in next year's tribute to the BCATP. Many members of the team expressed their delight and eagerness to get at the next big restoration challenge - the complete rebuild of our Fairchild Cornell trainer which also needs to be ready and flyable for 2011's celebration of the BCATP. Photo : Peter Handley

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Who could forget that old saying: The Family the Restores Airplanes together, stays together.  Jacques Brunelle (second from right) and his two sons Casey (second from Left) and Christan (right) pose with Hickox and Potter after receiving their commemorative plaques. All team members were honoured with this memento of their work with the team.  Photo : Peter Handley

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They built it and he flew it. Rob Erdos, perhaps one of the best presenters on the planet on the subject of flight and aerodynamics, takes the team through every phase of the flight - from start up to shut down. His exquisite and highly intelligible explanations allowed the build team to experience almost first hand the flight characteristics of their airplane. The team was delighted to learn that she flew just as she should.  Photo: Peter Handley

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Two Lysander pilots, Bernie Lapointe (right - over 100 hours) and John Aitken (1 hour) hoist a commemorative banner to the rafters - a gift to Mike Potter from the members of the Lysander build team. The banner carried the names of all 28 people who made this triumph a reality.    Photo : Peter Handley

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Mike Potter thanks the team for the banner tribute.  Photo : Peter Handley

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Relief, emotion, pride, camaraderie, gratitude, three glasses of wine - you can read it all on Deryck Hickox's face as he receives a standing ovation from all present.  Bravo Waldorf!   Photo : Peter Handley

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