The Big Dump - planning a family photo

 Big Dump title

Photo: Peter Handley

Looking back now, it was far easier said than done. At a manager's meeting in January, I casually suggested that perhaps we shoot this year's Vintage Wings Squadron Photograph with all of our available aircraft in the photograph too. The immediate reaction from Rob Fleck, our Chief Operating Officer was "Fantastic... love it. I can really use that in our maketing!". I smiled, but I could not quite look Andrej Janik, Manager of Maintenance in the eye, so I stared at my meeting agenda as if interested in my notes. It was Janik's team that would have to all the muscle work to make it happen. To use Janik's term, he would be "Dumping the Hangar" which meant getting his team there at O-Dark Thirty on that Saturday morning in May to make it happen in time.  From that day forward Peter Handley, who would be doing shooting the photograph and I would call the endeavour "The Big Dump"... a term that always brought a puerile smile for its unfortunate and scatalogical double entendre.

As the Big Day for the Big Dump approached, Big Dave started to panic. How the hell would I manage to tell the maintenance crew where I wanted each airplane? I could just see the chaos, envisage the eye-rolling, hear the "Maudits" and "Tabernacs", and I winced as I imagined two airplanes swapping paint in the process. How does one play chess with 20 million dollars worth of heritage?  We had to find a way to make this easier for the maintainers and avoid being looked at as though Peter and I were no less effete than two Toronto food stylists working on a Hooters "All you Can Eat Crab" advert. 

Then it dawned on me that setting up a model of the scenario would be just the ticket. I called my good friend and aviator Wayne Foy, whose constantly changing model displays at Vintage Wings have delighted old and young for years. Wayne met Peter and I in the boardroom and unpacked models in 1/48 scale of each type that would be in the shoot. In the case of the Fox Moth and Taperwing, similar-sized substitutes were found. We created a perfect scale model of the proposed arrangement of aircraft - putting the tallest and biggest at the back and putting our much-loved low-wing monoplane fighters at the front.

When we were finished, Peter photographed the model and the next day (the Thursday before the Big Dump) we sent copies of the images to the the maintenance team, so that they could plan the Dump as smoothly as possible.

By the time I arrived on Saturday (about 745) the hangar was empty and the historic aircraft she had covered were scattered haphazardly for a hundred metres - on the taxiway, the grass, and the ramp. The ones expected to go in last were the farthest from the doors. The maintenance crews were ready and anxious to get going. 

Climbing to the roof and armed with a photo of what the layout should look like, I began the task of directing the team. From above, it looked like it made sense, but from on the ground it looked more like a jumble of airplanes, but the guys trusted that I knew what I was doing... I think.

Once all their work was complete, and when every volunteer had had a wonderful meal prepared by the team headed by Cordon Bleu-trained volunteer Laura Rance, it waas time to get everyone out to the ramp for the big shot. This year required only a small bit of bellowing on my part... it helped that I was doing so from the elevated scissor lift - lending my booming entreaties a sort of God-like quality. After four years, the veteran volunteers were used to this and they assembled quickly... a good thing since the wind had picked up and the fully extended lift with Peter and I in it began to feel like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in a gale.

The result of all that work is a photo that truly describes the combination of people and machines that makes the Vintage Wings of Canada Family. Take a look at the process through the following photographs.

Dave O'Malley

Big Dump 1

In order to visualize how the aircraft would be laid out for the Squadron Photo, Handley and O'Malley called modeller Wayne Foy for help. Using models from his collection in 1/48 Scale, and a large piece of brown paper with the dimensions of the ramp also marked in 1/48 scale, the team was able to map out the ramp layout well in advance and provide prints to the team of Vintage Wings maintenance staff who were tasked with dumping the hangar and arranging the aircraft in the desired order. This technique no doubt saved much time and reduced the amount of eye-rolling from the mechanics.  Photo by Peter Handley

Big Dump 2

In order to be of use to me, a photo was taken to simulate the view from the hangar roof where much of the directing and positioning would be carried out. Despite having a house filled with over 800 scale models, modeller Wayne Foy did not have a model of the Taperwing and Fox Moth, so substituted a Gypsy Moth and a Boeing Biplane. Even the i-phone is in the shot for a reaon - to represent the big green shipping container that lives on our ramp. Photo by Peter Handley

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On the morning of the Volunteer Training Day, old and new members of the Vintage Wings family register. Photo by Peter Handley

Big dump 4

By the time the art director and the photographer had arrived, the hangar had for the most part, been entirely dumped and the maintenance staff had moved the aircraft out of the way, making a clean slate of the ramp. Time for the first positioning of aircraft. Maintainers and art directors alike (though I don't look like I am giving much effort), push the Fairey Swordfish into her spot. The "Stringbag" had been patiently and patiently and patiently awaiting her engine overhaul in Britain for nearly three years. She would have to pose engine-less for the family photo. Photo by Peter Handley

TaperwingFoxMoth 4

The maintainers swing the Swordfish's wings open, before fine-tuning her spot on the ramp. Photo by Peter Handley

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Handley and O'Malley directed the positioning from the roof - lying down because standing made us nervous. Photo by Peter Handley

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O'Malley and Handley marshall the team about the ramp from their high vantage point. Photo George Mayer, that weird guy who wanders the Ramp.

Big Dump 7

You want it where? @#%@#*! After man-handling the Corsair into position, O'Malley thinks it should go 12 inches to the right and angled 1 degree more to the north. Despite repeated fine-tuning of aircraft positions, the maintenance staff never once complained, making our job so much easier. Without their patience and skill, this would have been a nighmare.  Photo by Peter Handley

Big Dump 8

Chris Adams and Paul Tremblay in the mule push the Hawk One Sabre into position under the wing of the Beaver. Photo by Peter Handley

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This view between the floats of the Beaver give an indication of the close proximity of aircraft to each other. Photo by George Mayer, Clown Prince of Vintage Wings

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Once the aircraft on the sides were positioned,  the high-winged and recently completed Lysander was pulled out of the hangar on the centreline. Photo by Peter Handley

Members of the Lysander team watch closely to make sure nobody scratches their charge, while Steve MacKenzie entreats O'Malley and Handley to jump - but not on the Lizzie.  Photo by Peter Handley

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With the photo of the models in hand, O'Malley positions the Taperwing. Photo by Peter Handley

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It's lonely at the top. Looks like a jumble of aircraft on the ground, but from up on the roof, O'Malley is happy with the final result. Photo by Peter Handley

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Unfortunately the Spitfiure XVI was undergoing overhaul and plans to put her at the centre of the shot were changed. Instead the Kittyhawk would take her place, and to match colours,  the Hurricane IV was placed opposite to her. Photo by George Mayer, Argus-Man

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A fine shot of the beautiful 442 Squadron Mustang IV sitting out on the edge of the arrangement. Photo by George Mayer, Clown Prince of Vintage Wings

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Starting to look like an airforce! Photo by George Mayer, Clown Prince of Vintage Wings

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The larger and taller the aircraft, the farther back in the display it would sit. Photo by George Mayer, Clown Prince of Vintage Wings

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After everything was dumped from the hangar, there was a lot of clear space indeed. Photo by Peter Handley


Though from the air and from the vantage point of the scissor lift, there was an obvious order to the aircraft, from most places on the ground, it looked like a jumble. Photo by Peter Handley

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Just as the aircraft were in their final positions, the sun broke thorugh the clouds and the day held great promise for an excellent result. Photo by Peter Handley

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New and veteran volunteers listen up as Carolyn Leslie (aka The Hangar Queen) explains how the day will work. Photo by Peter Handley


Volunteers broke up into smaller groups dedicated to the variety of tasks required. here a small group trains at the BBQ deck at the back of the hangar. Photo by Peter Handley

BigDump 18

The Volunteer Training day is all about our huge family of volunteers and quite frankly, no one represents the selfless and joyful commitment of the true volunteer than Pierre Lapprand and his wife Joanne Martel. Pierre contributes in almost every area where a volunteer can contributre and he does it with Gallic charm and gentle good humour.  Photo by Peter Handley

BigDump 19

The volunteer cadre at Vintage Wings is truly a family. In fact there are people who's children and spouses also volunteer. And age is clearly no barrier. Here Christian Ouimet and his dad Richard help set up the food for the family luncheon, after which the family photo would take place Photo by Peter Handley

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Hey... where'd all the airplanes go? Young Christain Ouimet chats with volunteers BBQing out back.  Photo by Peter Handley

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Out on the ramp after lunch and attop the scissor lift, O'Malley requests that the new volunteers wait their turn behind the camera as veteran volunteers get their shot first.  Photo by J.P. Bonin

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Comfortable in the backseat of any aircraft in any situation, Handley looks and was decidedly uncomfortable on the scissor lift which teetered, bucked and swayed precariously in the wind. This only encouraged O'Malley to higher altitudes.  Photo by J.P. Bonin

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"Top floor.. Men's Wear and Children's Fashions, next floor photographic supplies".  If I had seen that we were this top heavy, I may not have been so cavalier about jerking the scissor lift around and even driving it in this full extension. The results, however, were more than satisfactory as you will see in the next photo.  Photo by J.P. Bonin

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Et voila... the Big Dump nets the Big Shot. The Vintage Wings of Canada family of volunteers including new members pose for the first time with a nearly complete grouping of our aircraft. Not in this photo: The Roseland Spitfire IX (still being built in Comox), The Hurricane XII (nearing completion in a jig in the hangar), The Fairchild Cornell (In pieces in the hangar), The Fleet Finch (not yet arrived at the time), Spitfire XIV (just chunks in a box in Britain right now).  The only change from the original modelled plan, was to angle the front row out instead of in. Peter Handley and Dave O'Malley would like to thank the members of the Vintage Wings maintenance team whose hard work and easy going nature made this complex shoot a reality. When everyone else was finished, it was the maintenance crew who stayed to put it all back... they must have been "cream-crackered" (To quote Pat Hall) after the long day. Photo by Peter Handley who is NEVER in any VWC family photo.

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