A Hawk Tale

The restoration of an aircraft, like any exciting story, has a beginning, middle, and an end.

The beginning is characterized by much anticipation of what can be.  This type of anticipation is what fuels our dreams and separates us from the primates.  It is why we climb the mountain…to seek, to strive.

We anticipated the 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight in Canada and how best to celebrate this event as far back as 2006.  This is when the idea of resurrecting a Sabre and putting it in Golden Hawk colours first sprang to mind.  I would not say it came to me in a flash of insight, though it might be appropriate to quote Alexander Graham Bell (one of the architects of that first flight):  “Watson come quick!” 

Luck is nothing more than preparedness meeting opportunity.  Inspiration is the result of hard work and study.  Few of us are lucky enough to go running down the street naked and yelling “Eureka!”

In reality I am a detail oriented person…a plodder and a planner. I am the type of guy who lines his pencils up in his desk drawer - a true believer in the law of straightness.  In 2006 I realized 2009 was only three years away (the bile of panic rising in the back of my throat) and something needed to be planned.  The actual idea came to mind after reading Canada’s Flying Heritage by Frank Ellis.

It turns out we really needed those three years.  In fact, as anyone in aviation will tell you, the longer the lead time the better.  Restoring an aircraft is a painstakingly meticulous business.  This is not something for last minute travelers. 

Having an idea is one thing - pulling it all together is another?  Canada is lucky to have the triumvirate of Michael Potter, Steve Will, and Paul Kissmann.  Of course, there are a myriad of others who are making this dream a reality.  However; Mike, Steve, and Paul jumped on this dream and helped pull this train out of the station when it was nothing more than a ludicrous notion.

Let me explain.

I had been toiling away at trying to pull this all together…all the while doing my job as a test pilot at the NRC’s Flight Research Laboratory and exercising my passion at the helm of Vintage Wings. 

Fate is a funny thing.  The military had arranged to fly Mike in a CF-18 (in appreciation for several flypasts VWoC has done for the Air Force) and Steve Will was the designated pilot.

While Steve and I were discussing the logistics of Mike’s Hornet flight I ran the idea of ‘Hawk One’ past him.  Without a second’s hesitation Steve was in.  Then, a few months after partnering up it became clear to me I did not have the horsepower (primarily time) to see this through.  Steve took hold of the baton and charged ahead.  I mean he really charged ahead.

Steve was able to activate the Snowbird network (I am still amazed what a tight group all of these former Snowbirds have) and guys started coming out of the woodwork putting together a team of thoroughbreds.  Holy macaroni! He finally pulled enough of the loose ends together to spark Mike’s confidence that this dream was actually achievable.


With only two weeks to go before her debut, there is still plenty of work to do. Here mechanics have taped notes, wiring diagrams and  to-do lists on the fuselage so that they can check off the tasks as they are done. In the background Vintage Wings crew ready the tail section for assembly to the main frame. Photo: Tim Leslie

Of course, like Vintage Wings of Canada, Hawk One would be nothing more than a bright idea without finances.  Canada is truly fortunate to have someone like Mike Potter who not only is passionate about aviation, but history as well.  Mike is a very proud Canadian looking to inspire young Canadians.   

So…now we have a well connected leader in Steve Will and we also have the funding courtesy of Mike Potter.

Then another fortunate coincidence occurred.  We needed to hire a test pilot at the Flight Research Laboratory to replace the retiring John Aitken.  NRC was able to convince Paul Kissmann to come on board.  Yet another military pilot on our team with not only a huge amount of connections at DND, but an extraordinarily capable engineer as well. 

During a deployment to Halifax in the NRC’s Convair 580, I outlined the Hawk One project to Paul (over a beer at the Alexander Keith’s brewery).  He could not come aboard fast enough.  Paul is now our technical leader who is pulling all the pieces together.  The Sabre would not be what it is without Paul’s technical and organizational abilities.   

So last fall, the aircraft arrived on site and the teardown began.  One must be very careful with teardowns. As a rule of thumb, if you still have parts left over after you put something back together you can be pretty sure it won’t ever work the same…if at all.

The middle of a project seems the most frustrating aspect of all.  This is the part of the process that just seems to go on and on and on.  The aircraft lingers in pieces splayed out all over the hangar floor…parts have been sent out for overhaul and the inevitable delays begin.  It is here where most projects flounder and fail.

To those who persevere comes the reward.  In this instance the stalwarts of Hawk One are the Vintage Wings of Canada as well as Canada’s Air Force maintenance teams.  Andrej Janik led the VWoC maintenance team while  Dave Scharf and his team of DND maintainers pulled us through the more challenging times.  Their efforts cannot be overstated.

Then came the whole ejection seat quagmire.  Paul Kissmann pulled his strings (the type of strings only a well loved former Commanding Officer of a fighter squadron can pull) and got his former AETE (Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment) team to work their magic and make lemonade out of lemons.  These guys saved the day.  If ever there was a 100th Anniversary Gold Medal to be presented for effort, this team should get it.  I hope Paul writes an article about this.  It is a story that must be told.

It is through this type of effort one eventually gets to witness the tail being put on the tiger. 

I have omitted far more names than I should.  I hope to one day spell out exactly who did what on this project…for it is the collective effort of many.  What seemed like an impossible dream is now turning into a reality.  I am convinced Hawk One will be the defining moment for Canada’s 100th.  Not only will we recognize this 100th Anniversary, we will also be paying homage to the Golden Hawks…a military formation team created to recognize the 50th Anniversary of Powered Flight in Canada…poetic. 

But the time is not right for accolades - there is still much work to do. Though we are beginning to see the end of the resurrection of this Sabre the story of Hawk One is only starting to unfold.

We are at a tipping point.  Soon enough Hawk One will be an “overnight” sensation.  I expect many Canadians will line up to see this amazing piece of history.  Politicians will take opportunities to get their pictures taken with a pilot.

Opportunists of all stripes be damned!  The purpose of this aircraft is to inspire all Canadians, young and old, to look back on the previous one hundred years and marvel at what we have achieved.

Perhaps, more importantly, it will inspire many to look to the next one hundred years with inspiration of what can be achieved.  Canada deserves to be proud of many things…inclusive of our aviation pioneering achievements.

Nimrod Deck

Andrej Janik, Manager of Maintenance at Vintage Wings completes the attachment of the Orenda engine's tail pipe which is suspended from the gantry. Photo: Tim Leslie

The tail

The working end of the Orenda engine awaits the installation of its tail pipe and the aft fuselage. Rebuilt flaps are tested for accuracy with the level-like gauge lying over the wing. Photo: Tim Leslie

Tail pipe

In the foreground, the tail of the North American Harvard sports a newly painted fin-flash showing the 100th Anniversary of Flight logo which was designed by Vintage Wings of Canada and which will be used throughout 2009. In the background, another North American classic - the Sabre - receives her tail pipe. The Sabre will fly throughout 2009 as part of our celebrations.


Crawling with mechanics, the Sabre's aft fuselage is now installed - the Hawk has her tail.  Photo: Tim Leslie

Nimrod flight

On September 20th, at the Vintage Wings of Canada Fall Open House, the Sabre will be unveiled in her temporary markings. She will be test flown by Paul Kissman and made ready for her journey to CFB Cold Lake where Jim Beliveau, Canada's premier fighter painter, will have a go at her to turn her into Hawk One. For the press conference, her USAF markings have been stripped and will be overlaid with Centennial of Flight colours and Canadian roundels.  Image: Vintage Wings of Canada

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