The Top Ten Vintage Wings Moments of 2010

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From April's Kick-off Dinner to November's Victory Gala, 2010 turned out to be the busiest and best year of Vintage Wings operations to date. We acquired more aircraft, started more outreach programs and signed up more volunteers than ever before. It seemed as though every weekend brought us new friends, exciting firsts, proud dedications, and a stronger purpose.

You can't turn on the television in the last week of every year without being bombarded with the Top Ten Hockey Fights, the Top Ten Celebrity Meltdowns, the Top Ten Coach's Rants, the Top Ten Political Gaffs or the Top Ten Ice Road Trucker Roll-Overs. It gets to be a parody of itself - I am still waiting for the Top Ten Top Ten Lists of 2010, but haven't seen that yet.

Top-Ten-itis - it hits us every year over the holidays.  I drank lots of fluids (mostly Single Malt), took a bottle full of ibuprophen, wore sweaters, stuck cloves and garlic up my nose, but I still came down with a bad case of TopTenitis. Earlier this weak, felled by delirium and wracked by nostalgia, I wrote our first Top Ten List. You won't find wardrobe malfunctions, drunken burger-eating unraveling, moronic Bugatti Veyron crashes, Wiki-leaks, hockey goon sucker punches, babies that smoke cigarettes or recorded telephone racist rants.

Just proud moments and real accomplishments. Here we go.

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The look of pride and delight on 90 year old Bill Morton's face alone guaranteed him a spot in our Top Ten list for 2010. The last time Morton flew in a de Havilland Tiger Moth, it was the 1940s and he was training to be a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. There is not a pilot alive who does not remember every single second of his first solo, so it was a great day indeed on July 31st when Morton took to the skies again in the sweet little yellow airplane in which he first soloed. Bill went on to qualify on Mosquitos, but the end of hostilities in 1945 ended any hope he may have had for combat time. Bill was one of the first to fly under our new Members Sponsored Rides program. Any member of Vintage Wings of Canada, can sponsor a flight in one of several aircraft available and put anyone in the second seat... including that member! For more on this remarkable way to put a smile on a veteran's face visit Member Ride Program. Photo by Peter Handley

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When we make a Veteran happy and proud, we have done our jobs, but when we make three busloads of veterans happy... well... we've got a  classic moment for the Top Ten in 2010. On August 14th, 2010, there was an invasion of Vintage Wings of Canada from veterans of the Burma theatre of operations during the Second World War. Three successive waves of dry land non-amphibious vehicles were launched from Ottawa - each timed to "hit the beach" in Gatineau one hour apart. These massive red and white troop carriers, disguised to resemble city buses, reached their "jumping off point" in perfect synchronicity with an airborne assault from behind the lines as a Canadian Warplane Heritage C-47 Dakota landed even more troops. Unlike Normandy, all the attackers were Canadians and all were seasoned combat veterans. For more on this visit from some oft-forgotten warriors, visit Burma Stars.  Composite photo by Graeme Goodlet and Pierre Lapprand

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I simply had a terrible time whittling down all the events of last year into a list of only ten. I ended up with 11 and was not ready to cut another... so sharing the Number 9 spot this year is Baby Jorja Lilly, Great Grand Niece of Alexander lilly, former Canadair Test Pilot and RCMP Dog Trainer. As far as Photo ops go, the Dedication of the Discovery Air Hawk One Sabre in the name of Lilly was fairly tame... lots of handshakes, group photos, speechifying and the like... but after an hour of formalities on a sweltering late Spring day, the kids were allowed to have a little fun and Jorja was placed on the wing of the newly dedicated Discovery Air Sabre and a photo-op of two ladies (one old and gold, one young and fair) brought out the shooters and saved the day.  For more on one of Canada's greatest aviators and the Dedication to Lilly visit Black Lux and the Golden Hawk. Photo: Peter Handley

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Over the past year, Vintage Wings Founder Mike Potter has put the reigns squarely in the hands of President Rob Fleck and taken a more hands-off role.  Mike's vision for our future continues to drive him, but he spends his days now as a warbird line pilot, flying and loving the Corsair, Mustang, Spitfire, Harvard and Hurricane. But it was his initial vision and drive to create Vintage Wings to honour Canada's avaitors that put him at the top of the list when the Canadian Forces Snowbirds were looking for a new Honorary Colonel to replace the retiring LGen (Ret'd) Fred Sutherland. In a colourful ceremony at their home base at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, the Snowbirds bestowed this honour upon him on October 22. From time to time he doffs the tan flightsuit of a Vintage Wings pilot for the snazzy red flightsuit of the Snowbirds... he brings honour to both. For more on Mike's Honorary Colonship visit Good News Day. Photo: Peter Handley

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Coming in at Number 7 is not a moment but a year of moments - The Gray Ghost Corsair 2010 Tour. Flying in the markings of the aircraft thought to have been flown by Victoria Cross recipient Robert Hampton Gray the day he died in an attack on a Japanese destroyer, Gray Ghost One flew from Halifax to Victoria, from May to October and was seen by countless thousands of spectators during the Centennial Year of the Canadian Navy. Able to bring a message of professionalism and valour and a tangible piece of Navy hardware to prairie towns that will never see a Frigate or Patrol vessel (until Global Warming hits its stride that is), the Gray Ghost team was perhaps the finest tout for the Canadian Navy during this year of celebrations. Gray Ghost pilots Paul Kissmann, Francis Bélanger, Mike Potter and John Aitken are to be commended for their efforts and the Vintage Wings mechanics who, along with some Westjet friends along the way, did their magic time and time again to keep Gray's warrior heart still beating 65 years on. Perhaps the greatest moment of the year for the Gray Ghost team happened at the Canadian Intenational Air Show in September when Paul Kissmann had the honour of flying an emotional aerobatic display before assembled members of the Gray family including his sister Phyllis Gaustchi. Gaustchi had never before seen a Corsair fly in her brother's markings (there have been two in Canada) and was overwhelmed with emotion - tears of pride, sadness and happiness. The Gray family were the guests of Toronto law firm Bennett Jones who made their VIP suite available to them. On hand was Vintage Wings Board member Fred Von Veh who told us "The wasn't a dry eye in the place".  For more on the story of Robert Hampton Gray visit The Last Canadian VC and to learn about and sign up for the Corsair 2-day Technical Ground School visit Warbird U. Photo: Peter Handley

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Family photos came in at Number 6 and Number 4. Three members (there are other family pilots - son Phil, Grand son Austin, Daughter-in-law Robin) of The Flying Hadfields, the first Family of Canadian Flight took to the air on Canada Day for a beautiful photo-op. Leading the Hadfield Flight was Dave Hadfield (a high-time Air Canada A330 Captain) in the P-40 Kittyhawk with family Patriarch Roger Hadfield (25,000 hour Air Canada Captain and former B-17 pilot) enjoying the moment with his boys from the back seat. Flying wing was Chris Hadfield (Test pilot, Astronaut and future Commander of the International Space Station) in the Discovery Air Hawk One Sabre. The weather was bright and warm and a tad gusty, but the flight was a thing of beauty as Peter Handley's photo demonstrates. For more on the event and to view some great family shots afterwards visit The Flying Hadfields. Photo: Peter Handley

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Coming in at number 5 was an event that was the talk of an entire province. Just as soon as our Westland Lysander was test flown and good to go, she set sail for Prince Edward Island -  with that "new car smell" and ashtrays empty. It was here at the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association annual general meeting and fly-in that she dropped in to pay homage to a real Canadian and Island hero - Cliff Stewart. During the war, Stewart was trained at the famous and secretive Camp X on the shores of Lake Ontario. Trained in clandestine radio operations and systems, Stewart was landed in Occupied France on a number of occasions during the Second World War. His "Taxi" for each extremely dangerous trip was an all black Special Operations Lysander.  Often sitting on a box of explosives, next to a long range tank of high octane gas and smoking cigarettes, Stewart's job was dangerous from the get go. It was an emotional reunion with an aircraft type that got him in and out of danger time and time again. Photo: Peter Handley

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The second family photo to make the Top ten was and elaborate one to set up - it was the first time ever that all the Vintage wings members and staff and all the aircraft in the collection (with and without engines) were brought together in one shot (a few are cropped out in this shot). Kudos to the cheerful maintenance staff for shuffling all the pieces around for Peter and me. For more on how the shot was created and to see a large view of the “Whole Fam Damily” visit The Big Dump. Not included in this shot are our new Cornell and Finch plus out in-the-jig Hurricane XII. Photo Peter Handley

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Roaring in at Number 3, was Wings Over Gatineau En Vol the final "really-big shew" to end the flying season at Vintage Wings. This year our partnerships with the Experimental Aircraft Association and the City of Gatineau were cemented - an important step for us in becoming an integral part of the local and the aviation communities. The crowning moment in a spectacular event was the heart-rending Victoria Cross Flypast - three aircraft, each in the fateful markings of an airman who was lost in combat and was awarded posthumously the Victoria Cross for gallantry. They are (Left to right): The Robert Hampton, Gray, VC, Corsair, the David Hornell, VC, PBY Canso and The Andrew Mynarski, VC, Lancaster . It was the first time that three Victoria Cross Recipient dedicated aircraft have flown together and perhaps the first time that the three types have flown togther since the war. The howling sound of the seven engines and the silence of the crowd came together for a powerful, poignant and holy flypast.  Photo: Peter Handley

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Taking off and landing at Number Two was the first flight of our newly restored National Steel Car Westland Lysander. It was a moment of joy and triumph for a team headed by Deryk "Waldorf" Hickox  - a team of inexperienced volunteer warbird restorers. It was the Triumph on the Ottawa. The first flight was delayed repeatedly by technical delays, so when it happened and there were no major hiccups, we were delighted and relieved. The day was captured on camera by Peter Handley, whose photos graced the pages of Flypast, Aeroplane, Aircraft and New Zealand's Flightpath. For more on the restoration work visit The Second Coming and Triumph on the Ottawa for the photos of the big day.  Photo: Peter Handley

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Fittingly, the Number One moment for Vintage Wings in 2010 came at the last moment of the last event of the entire year. At the First Annual Members Victory Gala we raised a banner in honour of and in the presence of Flight Lieutenant Bill McRea, a long time friend of Vintage Wings, an RCAF in the Second World War historian and raconteur and a most deserving recipient. The reason for the Number One placement was the pure emotion of the moment - the look on Bill's face (it was a surprise), the look on his daughter's face (she knew), the chilling drones of Piper Graham Batty's pipes playing the Air Force March Past, the beautiful banner spotlit against the rafters. In this moment we raised all three pillars of our mission - We Commemorated a great man, a great veteran; we Educated the assembled members about his remarkable experiences and we Inspired ourselves to reach even higher next year. For a great Vintage Wings moment... it was a doozie. A couple of hours later we were stood down for the year.   Then timeliness of this moment was not lost on us when, two months later,  Bill passed away. God speed Bill.  Photo: Peter Handley

by Dave O'Malley

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