Night and Day

Photo: Parr Yonemoto

This a visual story of two photo shoots of vintage warbirds that happened on the very same day - one in bright sunlight, the other in total darkness. Vintage Wings of Canada photo journalist Peter Handley participated in and helped organize both. The following photo essay is the result of hard work and passion for the perfect image to share with aviation enthusiasts like you.

For the first time this year, all the Vintage Wings of Canada fighter aircraft - Sabre, Spitfire, Mustang, Hurricane, Kittyhawk and Corsair would be present in the same place and would be serviceable, with qualified pilots present. It was time for a “mini-balbo”* in preparation for the next day's air show and the moment had to photographed.

Later that day, the Gatineau en vol festivities would include a members-only BBQ in the hangar followed by a sunset air show and finally a unique photo session for members only - Night Fighters - the night time start and run-up of two of our classic fighters. Exhaust flames, reflective pools, shimmering prop discs, waterspout vortices, avgas perfume and hellish noise were promised and delivered.

The prime directive and ultimate goal of most warbird or vintage aviation photographers is to capture that perfect moment that describes the very soul of an aircraft in one perfect image - the breathtakingly elegant wing shape of the Spitfire caught against a blue Battle of Britain cloudscape, the natural sweeping lines of a Sabre as she slices the air in knife-edge, the outline against the sun of a Corsair's cranked wings and the visualization of its nickname – Whispering Death. Vintage aircraft operations are carried out wholly in the light of day, yet these aircraft types also flew operationally in all types of weather and under the cover of darkness. Many, like the Spitfire and Corsair were adapted for night fighter duties. Many types flew in darkness, all were prepared for flight and started in the black of night - whether from carriers on the open ocean or from protective air bases surrounding a beleaguered London during the Blitz. Night Fighters, they were called and they were rarely photographed.

For all but a few pro aviation photographers, the opportunity to shoot a warbird in night conditions will never happen, unless of course they are members of Vintage Wings of Canada. Organized by Richard Mallory Allnutt and Peter Handley (VWC's official photographers), and supported by the Gatineau en vol team, Gatineau Fire Department and the pilots and mechanics of Vintage Wings, Night Fighters was a truly exciting 45 minute show and photo opportunity. This year's photo shoot was a trial run for subsequent years, and much was learned. Next year, prime photo spots will be sold to members who want the opportunity of a lifetime, while other members will still be able to view the spectacle from a safer distance.

Enough talk... let just look at the results of hard work and days of organization. As you will see, it was well worth it.

* The term "balbo” was a common term in the late 1930s and early 1940s to describe any large formation of aircraft. It was named after the Italian fascist flying ace Italo Balbo who led a series of large aircraft formations in record-breaking flights to promote Italian aviation in the 1930s. The term is still in common use today in warbird circles.


Balbo leader and Chief Pilot, Paul Kissmann, goes over plans with pilots before the historic flight. Photo: Peter Handley

Kissmann tells Doug Fleck, the photoship pilot, what the formation will be doing and how best to position the Van's RV-8 and photographer Handley for top results.  Photo: Peter Handley

The Vintage Wings Victory Flight balbo pilots pose with Snowbird 1, Team lead Major Chris "Homer" Hope at left. Left to right - Dan Dempsey (Hawk One Sabre); Dave Hadfield (Stocky Edwards P-40 Kittyhawk); Paul Kissmann (Robert Hampton Gray Corsair); Mike Potter (William Harper Spitfire XVI); Rob Erdos (Bunny McLarty Hurricane IV); and, John Aitken (Les Frères Robillard Mustang IV). Photo: Peter Handley

Kissmann, in the Corsair, leads the formation across the Ottawa Valley Photo: Peter Handley

Seconds later. Photo: Peter Handley

 Doug Fleck sweeps the RV-8 across and beneath the formation. Photo: Peter Handley

From below we see six of the most distinctive and famous shapes of the aerial battles of the second World War and Korean War. The curved canopy glass of the RV-8 created many problems for Handley with reflections as seen here with rainbow lines sweeping through the shot. Photo: Peter Handley

Anyone walking the streets of Ottawa this day had a spectacular view.. but not as good as that of Handley and Fleck. Photo: Peter Handley

To demonstrate the difficulties for photography through the blown canopy of the RV-8, witness the distorted reflection of pilot Doug Fleck in this shot.
Photo: Peter Handley

Sweeping in from Gatineau, Paul Kissmann leads the others over the National Gallery of Canada and the Byward Market. Photo: Peter Handley

Indeed, there are six vintage fighter aircraft hidden in the buildings, trees and streets of Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood. See if you can find them. Photo: Peter Handley


Firefighters of La Ville de Gatineau were essential in giving the photo shoot some depth. The city generously provided a pumper truck and crew to spread a thin reflective pool of water on the ramp surface. Organizer Allnutt had predicted that the pool would evaporate rapidly, so haste was made to start the shoot immediately after the dousing. However, the cool late-summer evening prevented the prediction form coming to pass and the pool of water stayed right where it was needed during the shooting. Photo: Peter Handley

The Gatineau boys hosing the ramp down... part of the show for sure. Photo: Peter Handley

Paul Kissmann in the Corsair sits while he is circled by the Gatineau pumper truck wetting down the ramp. Electric power is on and Paul completes his check - now someone has to run through the water and disconnect the power cart. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

With freshly laid water coursing down the barely perceptible slope of the ramp, Paul Kissmann, Chief Pilot of Vintage Wings of Canada, turns over the massively powered Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp radial with a quickly dissipated cloud of oil smoke. For maximum visual effect, all doors, flaps, and cowls are wide open. One now understands why the night photo shoot excited member photographers so much. The opportunity to see a full prop disc illuminated against the black sky was extremely exciting.  Photo: Parr Yonemoto

“Why water the ramp?” one might ask. Within seconds, the drama of reflection was obvious. Note the vortex of water leaping from the tarmac at the very bottom of the prop's arc. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt.

Half way through the Corsair shoot, Kissmann pushes the throttle all the way to the wall and the Corsair bucked and shook in her chocks. Blue flame can be seen torching from the stacks and the tornado/vortex of ramp water leaps to its death in the prop's arc. Behind, the ramp has become bone dry due to the hurricane of heated “Cors”-air. Photo: Peter Handley

The crowd was very pleased when Kissmann folded the wings to give yet another rare view of the Corsair at night. The Vintage Wings Corsair wears the Gray Ghost One badge on her cowling. Photo: Parr Yonemoto

The stunning effect of a wet ramp is evident in this shot, with a perfect reflection of the 442 Squadron Mustang just minutes before start-up. In a similar fashion, often model aircraft builders will arrange their scale aircraft on a mirror so that viewers can see the work they have done on the underside of the model. Thanks again go to the firefighters of the City of Gatineau. Photo: Richard Allnutt

The Vintage Wings of Canada Mustang is painted in the markings of 442 Squadron. As part of the “In His Name” dedication program, it will soon to be dedicated to Les Frères Robillard - Larry and Rocky. Actually born Laurent et Rolland, these two natiive-of-Ottawa brothers would make their mark on RCAF history. Larry was a Spitfire pilot and ace, while Rocky was a Mustang pilot who often flew Mustang Y2-C (KH66 - the same markngs as the VWC Mustang). Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt.

Depending on the exposure, one gets different results. Here, a shorter exposure still gets a prop blur, less contrast and a more natural effect. Photo Peter Handley

A close up of the same. Despite the Mustang shaking under the power of a Merlin at full-pin, the image is tack-sharp.  Photo Peter Handley

Again, we see the formation of a vortex near the base of the prop's arc.The stunning liquid reflection of the underside of the Mustang is perfect. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

Pilot John Aitken, closes the gear doors and retracts the flaps. Photo: Parr Yonemoto

The organizers of the photo shoot, Richard Allnutt and Peter Handley, owe much to the cooperation of the City of Gatineau and its fire department, and the VWC maintenance crews and pilots  for making the shoot the success that it was. Here we see pilot John Aitken and his Mustang posing with VWC maintainers (left) and Gatineau fire fighters... and the  one, the only Heather Fleck (in orange). Photo Peter Handley

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