The Harvard Graduates - A Warbird Class Report

 The Harvard Ground School Title

Photo: Richard Lawrence, Canada Aviation Museum

A week ago, Vintage Wings of Canada, in partnership with the Canada Aviation Museum, conducted the first of three ground schools, each dedicated to the history, operation and systems of one of the most important aircraft of the Second World War. The first of these three ground schools was about the Harvard training aircraft that most single-engine Allied pilots from the Second World War earned their wings in. The Harvard was lovingly called "The Pilot Maker" and she was the perfect combination of superb handling, easy maintenance and challenging systems and flight characteristics for Sevice Flight training at the advanced level of instruction for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

The course instructor was Vintage Wings of Canada's Harvard aircraft Manager Robert "Fox" Kostecka or as I like to call him... "The Polish Falcon". The initial idea for the Warbird U series of technical ground Schools was a product of Kostecka's fertile imagination. Combine this idea with a Catholic work ethic, a passion for education, a comprehensive (with a capital "A") understanding of the engineering and minutia of the Harvard, an understanding bride and a serious dose of terminal insomnia and you get the best damned ground school on the ubiquitous Harvard/Texan from Pensacola to Camp Borden.

How good was the Harvard Ground School? Rob Fleck, a career aviator, former CF-104 Starfighter Cowboy, Hornet jock, ultra-light enthusiast, corporate pilot and AirBus Driver said,

"I have taken more than fifty ground schools spanning 30 years of aviation, from Muskateer to CF-18 and I have never taken a ground school so comprehensive, informative and enjoyable." 

Tim Leslie, Vintage Wings of Canada's Chief Pilot and a high-time Harvard man and Test Pilot urged other Harvard operators to consider having Kostecka give the course saying,

"I just attended a refresher ground school for the Harvard that eclipses anything on this aircraft I have ever done before. The instructor’s presentation was phenomenal…the best I’ve seen not only in 14 years of flying Harvards, but 30 years in this business. When I think of all the flying courses I’ve attended; in the military, at Flight Safety, Simuflite, and other places, I only wish the instructors were half as good. It was two days long and I learned more about the Harvard during this time than I thought possible".

Harvard One

Rob "The Fox" Kostecka dressed the part of a Harvard Professor.. only thing missing was suede patches in his elbows. All kidding aside, Rob's passion in life is flight and above all teaching the art of flying. His skill as a communicator has to be experienced to be understood, but suffice it to say that his thousands of hours of work on the Harvard Ground School and his many thousands of hours of flying experience paid dividends to all who attended. Photo: Richard Lawrence, Canada Aviation Museum

Harvard 2

Course attendees received a copy of the Harvard Operating Manual plus a CD with tons of valuable reference documents and articles including  RCAF Documents such as : Aircraft Operating Manual, Pilot’s Manual for Basic Flying Training, Harvard Pilot Checklist and RCAF Safety Magazines from 1949 to 1964 with scores of stories on the many ways a Harvard can hurt you if not treated properly. The CD also contained historical Information such as a Copy of John Gillespie Magee’s log book pages – including his Harvard flights at No. 2 SFTS and the Spitfire flight that inspired the poem High Flight, Copy of the letter that Magee wrote to his parents – with the poem High Flight on the reverse side. Filling out this wonderful reference CD were Transport Canada and FAA documents including Type Certificate Data Sheets. Airworthiness Information, Training material and articles related to ground loop prevention, radial engine operation, stall/spin awareness training. Photo: Peter Handley

 Harvard 3

Plenty of coffee was on hand to fuel students as they learned. Starting at 830 AM with short breaks for lunch and coffee, students absorbed a steady stream of information until 4 PM each day. The two days were packed with valuable insight, fascinating detail and very creative visual effects.  Photo: Peter Handley

For me, one of the most powerful parts of Kostecka's presentation was his introduction to the history and significance of the Harvard and its family - the T-6 Texan, Yale, SNJ, Whirraway. Rob presented compelling visuals and historical facts that helped me understand why this particular aircraft is long considered the most important single engine trainer of all time.

His establishment of the historical context surrounding the Harvard was illustrated by the story of one Canadian boy and his journey through the system to ultimately fight and survive years on the Western front of the European Theatre of Operation. Rob took us through the induction, Initial Training, Elementary and Service Flying Training, Operational Training and eventual combat experience of Bill McRae, friend and veteran spitfire pilot. Through Bill's story, Rob was able to put all the pieces in place for us - the men, the process, the places and fields, the aircraft and the risks and above all its significance to our mission. One particular poignant moment came as Rob took us on McRae's journey in convoy aboard SS Nicoya across the Atlantic. We were able to see how 30 percent of the ships in his convoy were sunk during constant attacks by an unseen U-boat wolf pack. In hind sight... It could have been worse as this was the same week that Bismarck was loose in the North Atlantic. Seeing how the submarines had devastated the convoy, one could only imagine the total annihilation that could have been suffered if a major capital ship such as Bismarck was able to pick them off one by one standing 10 miles away!

The students were floored, when half way through the second day, Bill McRae himself, forever humble and boyish, was introduced to the students. You could have heard a pin drop as the sotto voce voice spoke of his experiences. Talk about bringing history to life!

Harvard 4

Many of the attendees were veteran pilots, some with plenty of Harvard time in their distant past. Here, Professor Kostecka demonstrates via Powerpoint Extreme (Avatar Edition), the procedure for coaxing a Pratt and Whitney to life. Rob's animations were spectacular (In a Grandma Moses sort of way) and were instrumental in bringing to life a very technical course. Photo: Peter Handley

Harvard 5

The Canada Aviation Museum's Bush Theatre was a superb venue - lots of leg room, comfortable seats, perfect sound, superb support from Museum staff and the latest in audio-visual technology. Photo: Richard Lawrence, Canada Aviation Museum


Gavin Lee, the Clown Prince of Search and Rescue, was on hand on day two at the VWC hangar to provide a fascinating and colourful demonstration of how to don and deploy a parachute in the event that a Harvard did not respond to the pilot's efforts to keep it flying. Photo: Peter Handley

Harvard 7

The big yellow stage with the big orange SAR Tech provided everyone with a truly enjoyable demonstration.  Here Gavin Lee shows the correct way to exit a Harvard that no longer wants to fly. Photo: Peter Handley


Simon says "Do this". The hands on demo from a man with hundreds of parachute jumps and a sense of humour as big as a nine-cell canopy was one of the highlights of a highlight-filled two days. Photo: Peter Handley


All those who completed the two day instruction were presented with a Certificate and a Hero Shot by Vintage Wings photographer Peter Handley suitable for framing and mounting upon their "I-Love-Me-Wall" - something that every pilot worth his ego has. Photo: Peter Handley

The success and positive feedback from our first Ground School had demonstrated to us that we are offering something very special to the vintage aviation public. At the end of the month (March 27-28,2010) we will be running our second ground school class - this time on the iconic, massively powerful, exotic looking, and historic FG-1D Corsair taught by veteran test pilots Tim Leslie and Paul Kissmann. After that, on April 17-18, comes the 2-day P-40 Kittyhawk with highly experienced vintage aircraft pilot Dave Hadfield.

These courses are already heavily subscribed, but there are still seats available. Take it from me, a dyed-in-the-wool aviation guy, these courses are exceptional in every way. So sign up, or gift the course to your father, brother or sister. If they are like me, they will thank you for years to come for the first hand knowledge, the comraderie and the membership in such an exclusive club. They will learn first hand from those men who maintain, fly and even made history in these remarkable machines. The Corsair Ground School will include Don Sheppard, Canada's Royal Navy Corsair ace from the Pacific theatre of war who will be on hand to share many of his experiences and a coffee with like-minded men and women.

You can sign up for these courses simply by clicking right here. See you on the flight deck!

Dave O'Malley

The complete Warbird U Calendar for 2012
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