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Magnificent Moments

 Magge Title

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Canadian Navy, the progenitor of the modern Canadian Navy. Throughout 2010, Vintage Wings of Canada will join our brothers-on-the-sea to bring the remarkable story of our Navy's sacrifice, honour and accomplishments to all corners of the country.

While the Navy is unable to bring a warship to small and large inland communities to help them celebrate this important milestone, Vintage Wings will force multiply the celebration by flying our historic naval aircraft to more remote (to a sailor) Canadian communities. Our Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and our Fairey Swordfish will bridge the distances between communities as Gray Ghost One and Gray Ghost Two respectively. The "Gray Ghosts" name finds its roots in two of the shining examples of Canadian Navy excellence - from Robert Hampton Gray a Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reservist who was the last Canadian Victoria Cross recipient and the short-lived, but much-loved Grey Ghosts naval jet air demonstration team of the 50s and 60s.

Throughout the year, we will be bringing you stories of Canada's naval aviators as a way of contributing to the year of celebrations, honouring their legacy and telling the world about our place in carrier aviation history. We may not have the length and depth of carrier history that our American and British comrades have, but we are their equals in professionalism and pride of service.

A couple of months ago Vintage Wings of Canada volunteer Cameron Fraser (His father's story can be found on our website) brought to me a collection of photos he had dusted off after cleaning house. It was a series of un-captioned and un-credited images of Canada's carrier navy at work. The images were so striking (many showing the hazards of the job) that I scanned them and collected others from around the web with the simple goal of compiling an album of sorts to share with those too young to remember and those readers who are not Canadian.  The result is more than 50 images of RCN air operations on HMCS Warrior, Magnificent and Bonaventure that span a time period from the 1940s to the 1960s, and from piston-engines to jets. This album does not pretend to be a history or even a retrospective of those incredible days aboard Canada's carriers, but merely a snapshot - a few family photos if you will. You may take what you want from them, but there is no denying that these were powerful days in the history of our Navy. These operations and those of the Second World War laid down the keel of the professionalism and pride that permeates the modern Canadian Navy to this day.

In preparing this photo album, we were assisted by many people. I would like to thank first and foremost Cameron Fraser for bringing us his long-lost photo album. As well we received help from Christine Dunphy and Rolly West of the Shearwater Aviation Museum, air demonstration team historian Dan Dempsey and John Emrick of the RCN Naval Air historic website "".  And of course, that old buccaneer Bill Ewing.

The Album:

Magnificent Moments 1

A Supermarine Seafire (a naval-ized Spitfire with arresting gear and strengthened undercarriage) snags a good wire landing aboard HMCS Warrior, Canada's first aircraft carrier. HMS Warrior (R31) was a Colossus-class light aircraft carrier which served in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1946 to 1948, the Royal Navy from 1948 to 1958, and the Argentine Navy from 1959 to 1969. In Canadian service, Warrior was not truly suitable for cold weather operations and she was traded back to the Royal Navy for a carrier of the Majestic Class which became the much-loved HMCS Magnificent. Photo via Cameron Fraser.

Magnificent Moments 2

Another Seafire, this one not so lucky, is attended to after a prang into the barrier (a heavy duty net across the carrier deck designed to catch any aircraft that does not snag a wire). Rescuers stand on the wing to help the pilot, while deck crew pull the barrier away and at bottom a fireman waits with a foam hose should he be required. The damage is limited to a crushed spinner and a damaged wing tip.  Photo via Cameron Fraser.

Magnificent Moments 3

Another of the navalized features of the Seafire was its folding wings for storage on and below decks. Here we see a Seafire being lowered to the maintenance hangar deck on the forward lift.  Here's a little Seafire ditty from the ranks of the RN's Fleet Air Arm and it goes like this: 

They gave me a Seafire
To beat up the fleet
I beat up
Nelson and Rodney a treat
Forgot the big mast that sticks up in "Formid"
And the seats in the "goofers" were worth 40 Quid
Whacking Show, I'm alive
But I still have to render my A-25*
"Bats" gives me lower, I always go higher
I float float off to Staboard and prang a Seafire
The boys in the "goofers" all think I am green
But I draw a commission from Supermarine

Whacking show etc. 


They say in the Air Force, a landing’s OK
If the pilot gets out and can still walk away
But in the Fleet Air Arm your chances are slim
If the landing’s piss-poor, and the pilot can’t swim

 *Accident report form

Magnificent Moments 59

The Royal Canadian Navy mustered a Seafire formation team in the late 1940s. Here we see three of the team's Seafire's warming up at de Havilland Canada's Downsview facility prior to a show there in September of 1949 - the first Canadian International Air Show. DeHavilland employees, in white coveralls, assist Navy ratings. Photo via Ron Beard Collection,

Magnificent Moments4

A Sea Fury, the world's fastest piston-engined aircraft at the time, taking off from HMCS Magnificent. The third ship of the Majestic class, Magnificent was built by Harland and Wolff, laid down 29 July 1943 and launched 16 November 1944. Purchased from the Royal Navy (RN) to replace HMCS Warrior, she served in a variety of roles, operating both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. She was generally referred to as the Maggie. Her aircraft complement included Fairey Fireflies and Hawker Sea Furies as well as Seafires and Avengers. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 6

Float, float, float, float, Barrier Prang! Despite the 695 foot deck of the Maggie, this Sea Fury has landed long and drifted off the centre line, is headed for an abrupt stop at Magnificent's  barrier. Aircraft landed with canopies back in case a quick exit was required on deck or in the water. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments7

“I was 40 feet up when “Bats:” gave me CUT”. A Sea Fury grinds to a loud and ignominious halt having collapsed its gear landing too hard. The photographer has captured the moment before even the crew can react to come to the aid of the pilot. Magnificent was given the ship code of CVL 21, hence the numerals at the round down. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 11

Seconds later, Maggie's crew rush to the aid of the Sea Fury's pilot. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 8

A textbook landing! A Sea Fury rounds out its final approach and cuts her engine to drop onto Magnificent's deck. Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 9

A nice tight formation of Canadian Sea Furies of 803 Squadron. A total of 74 Sea Furies (plus one evaluation aircraft) served in Canadian units. The Sea Furies were given various paint schemes - this early scheme was overall gloss Extra Dark Sea Grey, with underside and spinners in gloss Sky.  The farthest aircraft (BC-A) was lost at sea March 12, 1949, BC-J was struck from service August 1952, BC-H saw service only until March of 1949.  BC-G (in foreground) went missing during ferry flight on 30 June 1950.  Aircraft was returning to Shearwater from overhaul at Avro Canada in Toronto.  It left Quebec City, performed brief aerobatic display over airport, and headed east into worsening weather.  Wreckage was not found until 1968, near Millinocket, Maine.  The Sea Fury had struck trees on a ridge while in a descent.  The accident report theorizes pilot Lt. M.C. Hare was attempting a forced landing in a nearby creek, due to low fuel or engine problems, and was probably too low to bail out, because of the low ceilings and high terrain.  Wreckage was still there in 1979, when a memorial plaque was placed on the site. Information for this caption came from an invaluable resource: Canadian Military Aircraft Serials by R.W.R. Walker.

Magnificent Moments 10

Another "successful" Sea Fury barrier prang aboard Magnificent. Looking over R.W.R. Walker's detailed listing of the 75 Sea Furies that were operated by the RCN, 24 were destroyed in crashes, ditchings, and fires, while many more were damaged in incidents like this - sometimes more than once. This incredible toll speaks to the dangers faced by RCN pilots aswell as to their courage. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 5

An RCN Sea Fury comes to rest on the port sponson of HMCS Magnificent, probably giving the 40 mm Bofors gunners quite a fright. Given its later paint scheme this was probably Sea Fury TF 993 with 880 Squadron. It had a tough life having survived this prang, it later turned over on a night landing and was written off.  RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 12

871 Squadron Sea Furies in later Canadian Navy colors. Photo from the Naval Museum of Manitoba archives

Magnificent Moments 52

Crew chiefs, flight deck crew and a Sea Fury on Magnificent pose for a photo to send back home. Canadian sailors aboard RCN carriers were rightfully proud of their job and their ships. Though Canada can no longer float such costly equipment as a fleet carrier, the work these men did will ensure Canada's rightful place in the history of naval aviation. Photo via CPO Pat "Big Murph" Murphy at

Magnificent Moments 13

A Sea Fury has a sketchy moment during landing, perhaps trying to execute a wave-off by "Bats". You can just about hear the 18-cylinder scream of the Bristol Centaurus engine as the pilot tries to climb and stay in control at the same time.  Photo DND/RCN

Magnificent Moments 14

A Fairey Firefly captured in a very difficult moment with a negative outcome, just milliseconds from ditching to starboard on Magnificent. Photo DND

Magnificent Moments 15

A US Navy Skyraider (in background) from USS Wasp pays a visit to HMCS Magnificent in September of 1953. The Skyraider came aboard (out of gas) during the "Fog Incident" of Operation Mariner off Greenland, September of 1953. Three carriers, Magnificent, Bennington and Wasp were involved when returning aircraft had difficulties finding their home decks in severe fog.  The fast-forming fog caught 42 planes in the air with the nearest landing field (Bluie West One) 450 miles north on the southernmost tip of Greenland, beyond the fuel capacity of the aircraft. Photo DND/RCN

Magnificent Moments 17

The beefy Skyraider was the centre of attention during its stay with many crewmen coming topside for a squint at the blue monster. Photo DND/RCN

Magnificent Moments 18

After his short stay aboard Magnificent, the Skyraider pilot Lt. James Elster and his aircraft are provided with mementos by Commander RN (Air) Robin Abrams. The official dispatch from COMSTRIKFLANT for a public press release stated "Vice Admiral Combs sent a "well done" to all ships and pilots concerned in the recovery operation which probably can be classed as one of the most important experiences in training that the involved units will obtain in the current exercise. This release can be detached and mailed home. More copies are available from division officers. 

Magnificent Moments 16

James Elster, in his Skyraider, warms up, ready to lead a flight of 10 Royal Canadian Navy Avengers down Magnificent's flight deck into a much clearer North Atlantic sky. Photo DND/RCN

Magnificent Moments 19

A Grumman Avenger (85861) from HMCS Magnificent circa 1950-1952 with radar pod under the starboard wing. Photo DND/RCN

Magnificent Moments 20

Taken from a lifeguard helicopter, the 695 foot deck of Magnificent presents a tiny landing area to a fighter flying 120 knots with a big engine up front. "Bats" or "Paddles" as he is sometimes known, is the man in the port sponson next to the numeral 21. It was his job to judge the altitude, sink rate, alignment and speed of the landing aircraft and signal corrections by moving cloth covered paddles in his hands. RCN/DND Photo

Magnificent Moments 54

An American Navy blimp lands on HMCS Magnificent during a 1952 cruise in the Caribbean - perhaps the strangest of all aircraft to land on her deck. Note the turn out of crew to watch the landing.  It was doubtful that the captain ordered full speed into wind as they would for landing their fighters - the blimp would not be able to keep up. Photo via Commander E.A. Fallen,

Magnificent Moments 21

Four Grumman TBM-3E Avengers (possibly of RCN 826 Squadron) cruise line-abreast, resplendent in their all blue livery. Under each right wing hangs their ANAPS3 radar pods. 826 Squadron remained as part of the Royal Navy until it was disbanded in February 1946. It was then reformed as part of the RCN in May 1947 and later renumbered to 881 Squadron (RCN) in May 1951 whereupon the 826 designation returned to the Royal Navy. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 22

Another nice shot of a pair of Avengers, referred to (lovingly of course) by their crew chiefs as "turkeys". RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 23

A Fairey Firefly FR-1 (identified by the "beard" radiator inlet) gets a well earned “cut” from "Bats" (Right) coming aboard Maggie. There are three or four wires (sometimes called cross-deck pendants) on a modern American carrier, but aboard Maggie, there were eight - 6 aft of the elevator, 2 forward. There were 29 Firefly FR-Is on strength with the Royal Canadian Navy. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 25

A Fairey Firefly FR-1 snaps her right gear leg after a hard wire. You can just make out the puff of smoke on the deck where the propeller blade has struck the steel deck of Magnificent. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moment26

Firefly VX 414 snags a good wire on Maggie, but breaks her gear in the process. VX 414 was  one of the last two RCN Fairey Firefly AS 5s (VX 414, VX 415) to be struck off strength (1953), marking the official deletion of the type from the Canadian inventory. Replaced in active service by the Avengers in 880 Sqn during the latter half of 1951, the machines were among four Firefly Vs transferred to the Netherlands naval air arm following retirement from the RCN. Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 33

A view of the same Firefly incident as above, but from the "goofers" - the area at the back of Maggie's island where off-duty crew members gathered to critique and place bets (though always pulling for the pilot and his airplane) on landings and the odd take-off. Not only did VX 414 lose her starboard gear but she destroyed her ASW radar transmitter/receiver pod with the collapse. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 27

The boys in the "goofers" got a little extra show this day, as Firefly AB-K slams into the crane housing aft of Magnificent's island. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 35

Another view of the same incident shows us that the boys in the gun tubs got an up-close and personal look at Firefly AB-K landing aboard Magnificent. Note all the sailors lining the rail in the goofers. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 28

Another crowded day in the goofers. The crane housing takes another shot. Fairey Firefly PP462 had been embarked on HMCS Magnificent with 826 Squadron only three days when, on 19 November 1949, LCdr. T.J. Roberts caught No. 3 wire on landing but couldn't prevent PP462 from veering to starboard and striking the ship's crane aft of the island. PP462 returned to operation with 826 Squadron in February 1950. PP462 was placed in "Storage and Repair" from April 1950 until March 1954 when it was one of nine RCN Firefly FR 1's sold to the government of Ethiopia. In 1993, a Canadian air attaché to Egypt happened upon the derelict remains of PP462 and the others in Ethiopia. Through diplomatic agreement the Ethiopian government donated to Canada the two best preserved Fireflies, which were airlifted by Canadian Forces C-130 Hercules to Shearwater and Ottawa. Firefly PP462 was given to the Shearwater Aviation Museum since Shearwater was the Firefly's main base of operations and the Shearwater Aviation Museum has earned an excellent reputation for preserving Canada's maritime military aviation heritage. Today, the SAM is restoring PP462 to flying status. The second Firefly was given to the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 29

Firefly FR-IV (VH 141) snags a wire but drifts over the starboard side. The next Firefly to come off the Fairey Aviation assembly line was VH 142.  142 still flies today (actually a former Royal Australian Navy Firefly painted to pay tribute to VH142) as part of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum collection and sometimes visits Vintage Wings of Canada. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 30

The same incident as above (we hope!) but from the "goofers". This is clearly just seconds from the prang as crew members are rushing across the deck and from the island to offer assistance. RCN photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 32

The goofers on Magnificent are crowded with rubbernecking sailors as a Firefly is extracted from the tangle of the barrier. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 56

Fireflys aboard Magnificent are well chocked, but to be on the safe side, deck ratings are employed to sit the chocks to ensure they don't move during operations in a rougher sea state.  Photo via CPO Pat "Big Murph" Murphy at

Magnificent Moments 1

A Firefly is brought up on the aft lift while two others warm their engines ready for another operation on a beautiful day. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 24

A Firefly hooks a clean wire but balloons upwards aboard Magnificent. The runout length of the arresting gear is surely shorter than the distance required to bring the aircraft back down - resulting  in a full stop mid-air. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 34

Another very dramatic shot from a fearless photographer of an RCN Firefly taking the barrier very hard. Both gear legs are gone and the propeller blades are striking the deck - you can just make out the bent tip of the upper right blade. The RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 36

A real action shot of Firefly VH137 striking the deck hard on her port side after snagging a wire. The port oleo and wheel assembly continue on their merry way down the flight deck, and if you look very closely, you can see that the fully spinning prop tips have already started to distort after striking the deck on impact.  RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 37

Beautiful Bonaventure on a blustery and sunny day. Black and white photos don't show it, but the forward flight deck of Bonnie (except for the angled surface) was painted a gorgeous shade of astro-turf green. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 38

A bevy of Grumman Tracker ASW aircraft warm themselves in the sun on Bonaventure's deck while awaiting a turn at the cat. Being a large aircraft on a small carrier, the deck could become crowded pretty quick. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 39

A lovely shot of a Grumman Tracker set up perfectly for the trap and recovery aboard Bonnie. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 40

Caption Text to come. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 49

As big as she was, Bonaventure was small compared to American carriers of the day, and tiny by today's massive USN nuclear-powered supercarrier standard. Life on board could be quite uncomfortable even in moderate seas such as in this shot. It was rough, but not too rough to launch a helicopter to photograph a pair of Grumman Trackers riding the see-saw seas lashed to the forward deck. Photo via Gordon Edwards (RAdm Ret'd),

Magnificent Moments 50

A view forward from Bonaventure's island in heavy seas demonstrates the heavy pounding the carrier could take. The forward deck is cleared of aircraft and everything is battened down for the nasty weather. Not sure if this shot was taken during the now-famous "Big Storm" of 1959, but the next photo will show you, that it got a lot worse than this.  Photo via CPO Pat "Big Murph" Murphy at

Magnificent Moments 51

Homeward bound from Portsmouth in December of 1959, Bonaventure and her escorts were pounded for days by a massive hurricane-force storm with winds up to 90 knots. Of all the ships in the group, Bonnie suffered the most damage, as she offered the biggest target. The odd wave came from starboard and right across the flight deck which was some 39 feet above the water line. Hove-to for 24 hours, she joined others in trouble including ships in the English Channel and the liners RMS Queen Elizabeth and the SS United States.  The men in the "goofers" (left) would have no landings to critique this day.  Info via CAM (Prepared by Commander E.J. L’Heureux CD, RCN (Ret’d))  Photo via CPO Pat "Big Murph" Murphy at

Magnificent Moments 41

A very interesting picture indeed. When I asked around why Bonaventure had two Canadian Army spotter aircraft among its Trackers, I got many answers. But the paper prepared by Commander E.J. L’Heureux CD, RCN (Ret’d) for the Canada Aviation Museum makes mention of just this event in 1958 - " Off the coast of the UK, three British Army AUSTER AOP 9 (the UK equivalent of a Piper L 4 light observation aircraft) landed onboard and [their pilots] became became carrier qualified." RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 58

No story about Canada's naval aviators would be complete without the story of its helicopter operations. Canada was the first nation to deploy helicopters on smaller surface vessels such as destroyers and frigates aswell as carriers for air/sea rescue, supply delivery and ASW work. Here a Sikorsky HO4-3 "Horse" makes the first operational landing of a helo aboard Bonaventure on March 4th, 1957.   Photo via

Magnificent Moments 42

Transfer by launch in rough weather between Bonnie (or possibly Maggie) and her plane guard Tribal Class destroyer HMCS Haida. Haida still exists today as a floating museum on the Hamilton, Ontario waterfront of Lake Ontario. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 44

HMCS Bonaventure during listing-tests in St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 45

McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee s/n 126464 is attended to on the aft flight deck of HMCS Bonaventure. No doubt this Banshee was treated very well during her service (1957-1962), but she was donated to the Canada Aviation Museum in derelict condition in 1965. 126464 was restored for the Canada Aviation Museum by 400 Air Reserve Squadron from 1975 to 1986 and can now be seen in pristine condition. RCN photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 46

Banshee 126428 taxis to the cat on Bonaventure during trials.  The Banshee was the Royal Canadian Navy's first and, in the end, only jet fighter.  39 Banshees saw service with the RCN aboard Bonaventure from 1955 to 1958. Banshees operated from shore bases and from the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure after 1957. The Banshee was the RCN’s last fighter and was not replaced when retired in 1962. RCN pilots deserve much credit for being able to operate the Banshee successfully from such a small carrier as Bonaventure. RCN photo via Cameron Fraser.

Magnificent Moments 47

Two RCN McDonnell Banshees wail away as they line up for a cat shot on BonaventureRCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 57

The Royal Canadian Navy formed the first Banshee air demonstration team with VF 870 at RCNAS Shearwater in 1956 under the command of LCdr Robert Falls to showcase the exceptional flying skills of naval aviators. It was in 1958 that the team adopted the name "Grey Ghosts" under the command of LCdr Wally Walton after he had taken command of the squadron. They flew a five-plane show in 1958 but in 1959 a sixth Banshee joined the team for the Shearwater shows to add an opposing solo routine as Canada celebrated its Golden Anniversary of Flight. Here, the Grey Ghosts overfly HMCS Bonaventure. Number 4 (464) in the slot position is the same aircraft (126464) that we saw earlier and that now resides in the Canada Aviation Museum. Photo via

Magnificent Moments 48

McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee s/n 126464 awaits the launch signal from a flight deck officer aboard Bonaventure. This aircraft would end its days as a fully restored tribute to Canada's naval jet aviators at the Canada Aviation Museum. RCN Photo via Cameron Fraser

Magnificent Moments 60

The end of an era. RCN/DND Photo

The complete Warbird U Calendar for 2012
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