Photo: Andy Cline
If you are a pilot, and somehow, despite all the stupid, regrettable and bonehead pilot stuff you did over your career, you find yourself in heaven, God will check you out in the airplane of your dreams, brief you on the new Mark II bottomless fuel tank, go over the snag-less snag sheet and the projected CAVU weather expected for eternity and command you to “Filleth thy boots.” Heaven's pearly hangar doors will open without the blare of klaxons and the most perfect day you could ever imagine will spill like liquid sunlight into your heart.
That, my friends, was the kind of day it was when Paulie and I strapped into the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk on the ramp at Vintage Wings – a cool, sublime morning where the light was as golden as a Jehovah's Witness brochure, the air as still as a moment of silence for the fallen, the earth greener than sweet peppers, the shadows blue and sweeping, and the cerulean sky so empty of clouds that God ached for it and threw just a few in for decoration. The temperature was perfect, the tank was full, the Kittyhawk was polished, and the route was simple – Gatineau to Kitchener-Waterloo via Peterborough.
I had been looking forward to this adventure for a couple of weeks now, since Vintage Wings President Rob Fleck and Chief Pilot Paul Kissmann (Paulie) invited me to come down to the Kitchener Waterloo Air Show in the P-40 and witness our Hawk One and Yellow Wings teams in action. Paulie would fly and I would go along as baggage and let the adventure begin.
With more than 2,500 hours in the CF-18 Hornet alone, Paul "Rose" Kissmann's career highlights include three operational tours on the Hornet, command of 433 Squadron, six years of fixed-wing test flight at Cold Lake and “peace keeping” with the Balkan Rats
over Kosovo. After 24 years with the RCAF (man it feels good to be able to say that), Paulie left for civilian test flying at the National Research Council's Flight Research Laboratory where today he flies a spectrum of aircraft from the Harvard to the Twin Otter to the Convair 580. Though his resumé is too bright to look directly at with unshielded eyes, his career is simply typical of the pilots who fly Vintage Wings of Canada aircraft. The unmatched experience and quality of our maintainers and pilots are what puts us a cut above the rest and why we say “People first, airplanes second.” at Vintage Wings of Canada. Take all that experience and then put it just below his family on the list of important things in his life and you get a better picture of my friend Paulie.
To simply point out the highlights of Kissmann's resumé in no way describes the true qualities of the man. His omni-present, electro-teutonic grin and German-tinted slang, combined with his honest-to-goodness interest in people and contagious joy for life, will fill a room, any room. Whether you are a 400-pound, double fanny pack-toting, fresh-from-the-basement ice-cream licker with a penchant for esoteric aircraft minutia, a humble and shy Second World War veteran fighter pilot or hard working third-rung volunteer, Paulie has real time for you, and you feel it. Rather than floating through the hangar dispensing heroic nods to the approved, Paulie works the floor like Wayne Newton taking requests at the Stardust. Where ever he goes, he has somehow been there before and everyone knows him and he knows everyone.
We were packed light this morning, as luggage capacity is not a Second World War fighter's best selling feature. Paulie had recommended for the three day adventure: “The shoes you walk in, three t-shirts, 1 pair of shorts, 2 underwear, 2 pairs socks, 2 golf shirts, 1 pair jeans, “jammies” - and makeup”. Even with this limited fashion kit, mechanic André Laviolette could not manage to squish or pound it down into the starboard gun bay. Instead, I managed to squeeze my bag into the fuselage compartment - in a canvas bag autographed by none other than Kittyhawk ace Stocky Edwards.
At 0645, the warm light of a perfect new day floods the Vintage Wings hangar, lighting up two of Paulie's favourite mounts - the Stocky Edwards P-40 Kittyhawk and the Robert Hampton Gray Goodyear FG-1D Corsair. Behind the Corsair, is the new star of the collection, the Terry Goddard Fairey Swordfish. Photo: Dave O'Malley
The George Neal/Russ Bannock de Havilland Beaver is dragged from the hangar first. Mike Potter, Vintage Wings Founder, would fly her to the Kitchener/Waterloo Air Show bringing the team's support staff. Photo: Dave O'Malley
The sun was barely above the horizon when Kissmann, Chief Pilot at Vintage Wings of Canada, called “Clear!,” wound up the inertial starter to a banshee wail and cranked the Allison. Having been in the back of the Kittyhawk for starts in the past, I had learned to stuff my face into my chest and hold my breath as the Allison's twelve fish-mouth exhaust ports blow back 1,150 hp worth of consumed gas, residual oil smoke, and associated carcinogens - all as hot as a Guatemalan fire-eater's fart and ram-charged into the six cubic feet where I was stuffed. In a few seconds the prop wash cleansed the stench, life-limiting octanes and heat from the rear cockpit and a cool wash mixed with the scent of consumed fossils roused my senses. Who doesn't love the smell of avgas in the morning?
The sky yawned as the day awoke to the grumble of the big Allison V-1710. The entire airframe beneath my parachute vibrated with the promise of a perfect day. I had no idea how perfect it would be. Minutes after starting up, the chocks were pulled. With a blast of power, we wiggled free from the castering tail wheel's reversed position and sashayed left and right down the taxiway to the ramp to run that baby up and see if we were good to go. We were. Finding all temps and pressures where they should be, Paulie moved out to backtrack the runway to the threshold of 27.
Out on the main ramp, Paulie works through a run-up. Temps and pressures all good. Time to roll baby. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Consummate pilot an professional, Kissmann is still a wide-eyed kid around airplanes. Here he test flies the Hawk One Sabre for the first time in 2008. Photo: Peter Handley
Backtracking Runway 27 at sunrise and time for one photo before we launch. Photo: Dave O'Malley
At the button of Runway 27, Paulie tramped the left brake and pushed the throttle forward to pivot us 180° and into the general direction of Peterborough, Ontario. There was no traffic in the area save a Diamond Twin Star out of Montreal, seven miles out and about to shoot a practice missed approach. No hurry, but Paulie was keen to get into the sparkling air, that perfectly smooth and blue sea upon which our ship would soon sail. By my left knee, the throttle was moving smoothly forward around the curve of the throttle quadrant and with it came that thrilling pull, that sound of the Allison's explosive power barely contained inside her block, and then the headlong charge down the runway.
They say it is impossible to keep your eyes open when you sneeze. In the same vein, I suggest it is impossible to think of another thought, save the anticipation and concentration of flying, when the throttle of an airplane is opened at the beginning of a takeoff. The smooth increase of fossil-fueled power flushes the stresses and residual angst from your bloodstream, chases the last words of your lazy, moping Facebook-addicted employee, your ex-wife's stone-hearted divorce lawyer, or your creditor's future-threatening phone call from the place in your soul where they have festered all week, leaving a Bernoullian rush of adrenaline and an overriding childlike joy.
And so it was for Paulie and me, as the Kittyhawk accelerated excitedly with the sun at her back and the empty cornflower blue sky over her scarlet nose. Paul flicked the stick forward and her tail rose to greet the slipstream. Five seconds later the old gal shook off the earth, bit into the sky and climbed outwards like there was no tomorrow.
Rising out, past our hangar, in hot pursuit of Mike Potter in the Beaver, we could see the broad expanse and eastward flow of the Ottawa River shining like pewter in the morning sunlight. To the southwest, we saw the river as it curved upstream past Rockcliffe, zigging past Rideau Hall, turning blue as the sky, and then zagging at Parliament Hill west to the rugged country from whence it flowed. The city shone like a cluster of quartz crystals in the light of the newly opened morning. All this was made so much more meaningful when viewed across the elegant wing form of the P-40, over its caramel desert hues and its Type “B” roundel. We were, no doubt in my mind, the only Curtiss P-40, of the nearly 14,000 ever built, presently in the skies anywhere on the planet called Earth. It made my heart race even more.
I have lived in Ottawa for more than 56 years and I think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world - on the ground and in the air. This morning, she glowed in the nascent light of a new day and looked as pretty as ever. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Paulie came up on the intercom, “Can you believe this, man?.. It's perfect”. Reaching to the intercom switch, I flipped it and added about all I could... just “Yeah, Paulie, perfect.” We flew on in relative silence... if you think that sitting five feet behind a 1,200 hp liquid-cooled, un-muffled Allison V-12 at speed is a form of silence. Up front, Paulie talked a clipped and rehearsed babble to Ottawa tower and was told to watch out for our Beaver just to the southwest of us. The closing speed was such that we caught up to the Beaver still over the western reaches of the city even though it had left fifteen minutes before us. Paulie sighted them, closing at 80 mph plus and slid diagonally past beneath. See you in KW Mike!
Paul's first leg of the trip would take him over Stately Kissmann Manor on Duff Bay of Mississippi Lake at Carleton Place. He pointed out exactly where I should be looking, approached and then (So that I would not miss it, I'm sure), carved a big, tiger 360 overhead the estancia, no doubt waking all his neighbours who were not yet up. The sound of vintage freedom.
Paulie slides the P-40 toward the Beaver en route, slipping beneath and leaving her to work her way to Kitchener Waterloo at her own pace. Photo Dave O'Malley
Stately Kissmann Manor (second from right at top right) on the shores of Duff Bay, Mississippi Lake. Any of Paulie's neighbours that had harboured hopes of sleeping in are presently leaping from their beds and screaming “WTF!”. Photo Dave O'Malley
Ottawa Tower cleared us from their frequency as we proceeded VFR at 3,500 to Peterborough, some 120 miles to the west, and about two thirds of the distance to the community of Kitchener-Waterloo where tomorrow we would take part in their air show. Since the main fuselage gas tank had been removed in the rebuild to make room for the likes of me, the Kittyhawk's range would allow her to make Kitchener-Waterloo in one shot only with a favourable tailwind – something we did not have in this neutral wind. The small city if Peterborough would be our only fuel stop today.
At altitude, Paulie came up on the intercom, "You have control.” You don't have to tell me twice to take the stick of a Second World War warbird. I took the stick with my right hand, reached across my chest with my left hand and flipped the intercom on the right side wall, “I have control.” From that point on, Paulie worked his i-phone apps up front, chatted with me as we drilled west and led me through a series of course corrections, because, of course, I had no clue where I was going other than to say Kitchener Waterloo. With tomahawk chops of his hand in the direction he wanted and sometimes holding up five, ten, fifteen fingers, he would give me a course correction by hand signal rather than over the static-filled intercom.
Of course, you could hardly call this difficult... maintaining altitude, following a course, but I managed to slowly stray up a hundred and down 50 now and then and off a degree or two. Paulie patiently directed me using way points like lakes, water towers, clearings and chimney smoke. Paulie was a very patient and generous man to give me this time with my hand wrapped around the bakelite grip of history, and for that I will be forever grateful. I thought of men like Austalian Arch Simpson, who once had flown this very P-40 in combat over Papua New Guinea, RAF fighter pilot Frank Waywell who reluctantly left his Kittyhawk after crash landing in the Tunisian desert and Canadian uber-ace James “Stocky” Edwards whose name was marked in honour on the fuselage not 20 inches from my hand.
We flew on. Lit gold and buttery by the risen sun, the disc of the propeller arc shimmered before us like a cymbal. Far below, the Canadian Shield burst from the swampy soil, with lakes and bogs like deep dark pools of liquid onyx and glens green as guacamole. In the remotest glens and high meadows you could see the early onset of autumn. Paulie let me fly on. Overhead Spring Brook, south of Deloro and Marmora and the rail yard at Havelock, Indian River and onwards Paulie let me fly. And through it all, not a twitch, ripple or burble in the heavenly air.
Nearing Peterborough, Paulie took back control and brought her down parallel to the main runway on the downwind for a full-stop for fuel and fluid discharge. Given all the clipping, snapping, tugging and contortions required to don the parachute and strap in while seated in the confined space of the rear cockpit, I opted to not think about my two morning coffees and to stay locked down in place. After twenty minutes, we were climbing out for Kitchener-Waterloo with tanks topped and once again Paulie called "You have control”. Onwards, Paulie let me fly. Following highways and power cuts we slipped across the bottom of Lake Scugog, and overhead Markham, then put Highway 9 under our left wing root and followed it all the way to Orangeville, turning 30 degrees left at the water tower and on down to Kitchener-Waterloo. Only when we were ten miles form KW did he ask for control back.
Sitting strapped to the back seat pf the Kittyhawk while Paulie fueled, I grabbed a shot of Betty, the Kittyhawk's mascot and namesake. Though not a superstitious person, I have to admit that removing an airplane's good luck symbol is playing with fire. Since our Sabre's Hula Girl mascot was removed from her dash out west this summer, she has suffered one mechanical after another that kept her from some of our scheduled appearances. Just sayin'. Photo: Dave O'Malley
On Arrivals Day at any air show, volunteers on the field expect that arriving aircraft will not just arrive straight in for a full stop far out on the active. These volunteers will be working hard for the next two days, with barely a moment to look up and enjoy the show they have worked for nearly a year to mount. Arrivals Day represents the one day they can spare time to turn their gaze skyward and stoke the fires of passion for air shows. So, any arriving fighter jock, Pitts driver, warbird dude or Globemaster master worth his wings will shoot up the field, expend some American tax payers' money, and turn fossil fuels into permanent ear damage to thrill the volunteers.
As we settled down over Kitchener Waterloo, sinking smoothly through the soft and still air, Paulie requested a low pitch over the field in salute to the volunteers and organizers. Dropping lower and gaining speed, we came in from the east like a Desert Air Force Kittyhawk catching a convoy of Italian armour out in the open on the Tunisian plain. Ripping down the runway, Paulie pulled smoothly back on the stick and we leaped skyward in a showy, jowl-sagging, climbing turn to starboard. The turn set us up for the downwind, and in a few minutes, the Kittyhawk's tires chirped merrily on the tarmac followed shortly by the tail wheel's shimmy as Paulie settled the P-40 down.
After an hour and a half of cruise, the sound of the Kittyhawk went from an authoritative thunder to a Massey-Ferguson-like chugging as we rolled down the taxiway past a phalanx of photographers, gawkers and volunteers. I set my jaw in the best impression I could muster of Claire Chenault as we rolled majestically past the paparazzi, turned onto the ramp and shut down.
With the exhaust stacks clicking and pinging and heat shimmering off the cowl, I unstrapped and hauled my big frame out of the hole I had just spent two happy hours in. The knees were reluctant to unfold, the shoulders were begging for some cooling air, my ears had aged 30 years, and my bladder screamed yellow murder... but I really did not want to get out.
I thought this would be the end of flying for the day, but it was not to be. The best was yet to come. After a quick offload of fluids, an ill-advised upload of more fluids and an egg salad sandwich, I joined Paulie back on the ramp to strap in for the first ever Heritage Flight of the modern Royal Canadian Air Force. Though Vintage wings pilots have flown Heritage Flight-style formations before, this would be the first with the newly reconstituted Royal Canadian Air Force.
We would be flying in formation with the RCAF's 2011 Hornet Demo CF-18 piloted by Captain Eric O'Connor and Vintage Wings' own LCol. (Ret'd) Rob Mitchell on the pole of the Discovery Air Hawk One. I would essentially have a seat right on stage for the whole thing.
After start-up, we trundled along the taxiway paralleling Runway 08/26 while Eric began his routine. We held at the end of the taxiway with Mitchell in the Sabre right behind us while the CF-18 was wrung out during its show. With only a couple more passes left, Paul slotted us in and took off immediately. As we climbed past 500 feet on the right turn out, I looked back over my shoulder to see the Sabre rolling and lifting off behind us. I kept my gaze locked to the right and back as Rob accelerated up to meet us, like a shark to chum. In seconds he was with us - a Golden jet from another time floating and moving with us – like two dolphins riding a bow wave. The sight of a gold metal-flake jet, sparkling in the sun, with the luminous green crops and chocolate cake soil of Mennonite farmland as a backdrop has the ability to create a lasting image in one's memory.
We wait at the edge of the ramp as Captain Eric "Hom” O'Connor powers forward to the runway. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Paulie chugs down the taxi way just as Eric O'Connor in the Hornet in the background starts his take off to a dirty roll. I had the best seat in the house for much of "Hom's" superbly aggressive routine. Photo: Andy Cline
Twenty seconds after we lifted off, Rob Mitchell climbs hard in the Sabre to catch up to us in the P-40 Kittyhawk. Looking back over my shoulder, I watched as the golden jet climbed swiftly up to us as we headed for free space to await Hom O'Connor to finish his routine. Photo: Andy Cline
We headed off to a hold position northeast of the airport to await the arrival of the Hornet which was finishing up its show. Before long, as we made a sweeping turn to the left, the big jet crept up to our left wing and hung like laundry floating in the same breeze as us, moving in the same eddies and currents and sliding down as we banked steeply. Up to my right in the turn hung Mitchell in the Sabre turning to a dazzled-edged silhouette in the high bright sun. The two jets edged in tight so that we were all flying in the same air, riding flattened and invisible sine-curves together. The din was fantastic - our charging Allison thundering, our Kittyhawk vibrating in sync, outside the shriek of Rob's Orenda on one side and the deep yowl of the Hornet's turbofans could be heard like a tortured symphony. A magnificent cacophony.
For a while, I fussed blindly with my tiny camera, trying to figure out, without my glasses what the message was that flashed on the screen. Guessing that I was out of memory, I frantically stabbed at what I thought to be the delete button. Some room on the card became available after furious finger jabbing, and I snapped a few quick low res images. Just as my camera crapped out entirely, I decided I was wasting far too much of my precious time in the cockpit on the damn camera. I made the decision to stow it and sit back to enjoy and absorb this remarkable moment. And I am glad I did.
Paulie led the formation in three long sweeping and magnificent passes overhead the volunteers, each with a grand repositioning manoeuver that took us far over the city and its surrounding farmland. My head swiveled from side to side, from Hornet to Sabre and back again, trying to capture it all in my memory. It means a lot more when you know the faces behind the masks of the pilots in the formation, but one thing I knew was that they did not see me, only the spot on our aircraft that enabled them to stayed lined up - trusting that Paulie would keep them safe.
Captain Eric O'Connor pulls up after his show and parks the Demo Hornet off our left wing. Unfortunately, I am no photographer and had a camera I was not familiar with, so the results are far from Handley-esque.
O'Connor locks his eyes on a point on the Kittyhawk and trusts that Paulie won't fly him into the ground. Photo: Dave O'Malley
Meanwhile, Rob "Scratch” Mitchell held station on our right wing with speed brakes slowing him down to the max speed of the Kittyhawk. Photo: Dave O'Malley
During the three passes, I swivelled my head from left to right and back to left again not wanting to miss a single moment of the flight. Luckily, at this point, my camera crapped out entirely and I stowed it. This allowed me to really live the experience in the moment instead of being focused on taking photographs to remember it by later. Photo: Dave O"Malley
Paulie leads Rob “Scratch” Mitchell in the Discovery Air Hawk One Sabre and Captain Eric “Hom” O'Connor in the CF-18 Hornet from east to west in the first pass of the first-ever RCAF Heritage Flight. Photo: Andy Clinel
From the ground, it was a beautiful sight indeed as Paulie brings the RCAF Heritage Flight across the field for the second of three passes. Photo: Andy Cline
The Heritage Flight commemorates the rich heritage of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Photo: Andy Cline
As we set up to land after the last flypast, I realized that the flight had lasted about 20 minutes, though it seemed like 30 seconds. There are commercial flights when my 6'-4" frame is folded into the space one would normally allot to an apartment-sized dishwasher; when my forehead rests on the entertainment screen on the facing seat back; when the unwashed sumo-wrestler with the seat belt extender in the next seat plays Super Mario with the sound up, breathing like a beached whale. These excruciating flights seem to last for days if not weeks. But today's glorious, sunlit and happy flights were over before they started, or so it seemed. With the tires barking onto the tarmac came a joy mixed with that beautiful disappointment one feels when something wonderful comes to an end.
The next two days would be working days, with a full team of Vintage wings acolytes present, standing by their aircraft, answering questions and preaching the gospel to all who would listen. Having come down in the Kittyhawk, which, as a performing aircraft would remain in the Hot Zone for the weekend, I would need to find a place, a winged soapbox from which to preach. As the Yellow Wings crew had everything in hand, I chose to hang by the Vintage Wings Beaver and dispense some knowledge to the gawkers and pontoon-kickers.
Air shows bring out all kinds of people - visiting pilots, aircraft builders, aerogeeks, rivet counters, know-it-alls, basement dwellers, history buffs, veterans, families, cadets and immigrants. Sunday's show brought my favourite guy of the weekend to the Beaver. He was a diminutive gap-toothed man with greased back hair, close set eyes, big Ozark ears and a happy smile. He wore gray-on-gray camo pants and a camo t-shirt that read "Are You Always an Idiot, or Just When I 'm around?”. He walked up to me standing beside the Beaver with the dedication panel that read "Russ Bannock and George Neal, the Legendary Test Pilots of de Havilland Canada” and read it out loud. He then looked at me and then back to the panel and back to me and asked, ”You Russ or George?”. “George” I replied. What the hell.
For the next two days, I came to understand why the Beaver has become a Canadian icon. The Beaver is quite simply a symbol of all that is Canadian – simple, capable, easy to get along with, hard working, steadfast and attractive in a utilitarian sort of way. It is as iconic as a maple leaf, a Tim Horton’s double double, a Bobby Hull slapshot, a prairie grain elevator or a Mountie’s red serge. The Beaver’s place in the pantheon of Canadian icons is largely due to its spectacular capabilities and its breathtaking longevity, but also its ubiquity. It seemed that everyone who came froward out of the throng, did so because they wanted to relate a story, a personal story, about the Beaver - an uncle who flew them, a fishing or hunting trip aboard one, a desire to own one, a brother who worked on them. The stories were endless but passionate and I could feel the connection they all had to this aircraft, this winged patriotic emotion in aluminum. It was truly eye opening.
During both days of the show, Paulie led two perfect displays with the Hornet and Sabre. The three pilots brought the crowd to its feet with the patriotic and historic formation flypasts. The last day of the show also brought some seriously dangerous weather, and Paulie, as Chief Pilot, decided that all our aircraft would stay the night. Though we would have to stay an extra night, the good news was that bad weather makes for some good parties.
The line up of Vintage Wings of Canada aircraft on the static line at the Kitchener-Waterloo Air Show. Despite the heavy iron present in the form of a CF-18 and F-16 demo, people repeatedly told me that the Russ Bannock and George Neal Beaver was their favourite. Photo: Dave O'Malley
The Beaver on amphibs has an imposing presence. I am proud of the fact that I designed the “Arrowhead” paint scheme for this particular Beaver, a former Kenyan Air Force Beaver that never saw floats or skis before returning to the country of its birth. Photo: Reinhard Zinabold
The Archie Pennie Fairchild Cornell 10712 sits resting on the static line after crossing Canada from Ottawa to Vancouver and back to Kitchener as part of the Yellow Wings tribute to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Photo: Reinhard Zinabold
The newly acquired Boeing Stearman FJ875 wears the markings it once wore when flying for the RAF and the BCATP in Bowden, Alberta outside of Calgary. After this summer, the Stearman was dedicated to RAF Warrant Officer Harry Hannah of Oakville, Ontario who trained on the type in Arizona in 1941. Photo: Reinhard Zinabold
Multi-thousand hour airline pilot Hebb Russell (in yellow hat) talks with spectators next to Fleet Finch 4462, which his father actually flew while training at Windsor Mills, Quebec during the Second World War. Photo: Reinhard Zinabold
The John Glliespie Magee North American Harvard 4 in the markings of an earlier Harvard 2 know to have been flown by the poet who penned High Flight. The Yellow Wings aircraft all sported their new and informative prop-hanger banners. These banners outline the details of the Harvard and the accomplishments of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Photo: Reinhard Zinabold
As the Sunday show wound down, the weather wound up, as a line of massive thunderstorms shouldered it way into Southern Ontario from Lake Huron. With a couple of hours left in the day's show, the clouds darkened, carrying with them plenty of concern for pilots wishing to get home ahead of the front. Photo: Dave O'Malley
With a brewing storm threatening on the Sunday, Kissmann finished up and taxies back to the hot zone. Photo: Andy Cline
Before the Heritage Flight each day, the Hornet flew its show and then hooked up with the Sabre and the Kittyhawk. When the flypast were done, the Sabre remained in the sky for its own solo show. Mitchell just got his aircraft on the ground ahead of the storm, taxiing past the crowd as the skies opened up.
The attraction for me at Vintage Wings of Canada is not the airplanes. It is the people – the incredibly accomplished, hard working and friendly people. Here, Robin Hadfield, Honourary Colonel Gerald Haddon and Amanda Haddon pose for my camera. Robin manned the Vintage Wings swag tent both days, while the Haddons helped strike the tent when the weather went bad. Gerald is the grandson of Canada's first pilot, J.A.D. McCurdy. Photo: Dave O'Malley
On Monday morning, it was time to beat feet for home, and once again Saint Cavu of Stratocumulus, the patron saint of perfect flying days, bestowed upon Paulie and me a day as exquisite as the Friday we flew down, only in a different way. The wake of the previous evening's spectacularly vicious weather dragged a lacy wedding train across southern Ontario – a lovely, diaphanous layer of flak-sized white puffs and stringy horsetail wisps over which we flew steadily towards a warming sun. The air was not the smooth liquid sugar of Friday's flight, but rather an outgoing tide of gentle burbles and swells upon which we surfed homeward – in many ways more wonderful to fly in. Flicking wing tips, a periodic heave or grumble allowed us to sense the air around us. Of course, Paulie let me fly all the way back, while he played with his apps up front, snagged some photos and admired the yawning day. I'm sure he would have preferred to fly, but his gift to me was another hour and a half in heaven with the sun warming my bones and my hand resting on my knee with the just lightest of grips on the stick.
Homeward bound on this glorious morning, we headed due east over the Trent Hills, with Campbellford beneath our right wing, passed Stirling and Tyendenaga, crossed Napanee and headed for Kingston's Norman Rogers Airport, where 70 years ago, Robert Hampton Gray, VC, DSC won his Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm pilot's brevet. We were flying a piece of living history dedicated to Wing Commander Stocky Edwards, one of Canada's greatest aces and were now dropping into the base where one of our other great heroes began his career. Closing on Kingston, perhaps tired of my wandering away from track, Paulie took control and swung us in over the lake and dropped us sweetly on that historic runway.
Paulie grabs a photo of the old-man-turned-18 as we tool along on a beautiful Monday morning bound for Kingston, and the very same air field where many Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm pilots earned their wings in the Second World War. One of those pilots was Canada's last Victoria Cross recipient Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, VC of trail British Columbia. Photo: Paul Kissmann
Our route home took us on a more southerly track, past the P-40 Kittyhawk's first point of entry into Canada - CFB Trenton which can be seen here in the distance. Photo Paul Kissmann
Pilot Paul Kissmann called his brother-in-law, Chris Barr, once we arrived at Kingston, to invite him out to Norman Rogers Airport to view the Kittyhawk. Nephew Dawson Barr tagged along. For Kissmann, it is always family first, but when he can combine airplanes with family, it's a win-win situation. Photo: Dave O'Malley
We trundled up to the small terminal building for some gas, a fluid offload and a phone call to Paulie's brother-in-law Chris, who was visiting family in Kingston. Within twenty minutes Chris was there with his son Dawson and we showed off the Kittyhawk and posed for pictures.
Then, sadly, it was time for the last leg of the adventure – a thirty minute dash to our home field at Gatineau. This time we flew just under the flat thin layer of scattered cloud, bumping and running up the Rideau Lakes, over Ottawa International and Paulie's workplace - the hangar of the National Research Council's Flight Research Laboratory, over the eastern flank of the city, the Ottawa River, our own airfield and into the circuit. Home again.
We squeaked onto the runway, rolled straight, lowered the tail, felt the shimmy of the tailwheel buzz us a for a few seconds, and came to a stop. Paulie added throttle and we pivoted around our left main wheel, trundled back down the runway, onto the taxiway and to our sunny Vintage Wings ramp. One last pirouette to face the right way and Paulie shut her down. The propeller shuddered to a stop. The Kittyhawk was now silent but for the ticking of the cooling exhaust stacks, and the winding down of the gyro. The adventure was over. The memories began.
I spend 50 hours a week face down in aviation history, aviation design, aviation writing, aircraft marking, program planning, talking airplanes, messing with airplanes, working with Canada's top warbird professionals. Our goals are lofty here and the work is endless. I'm not complaining. This has been my passion for a long time and every moment working with Vintage Wings is a joy. But every once in a while, it's wise to down tools and smell the avgas. Thanks Paulie... for reminding me of that.