Photo: Ernie Szelepscenyi
Last week, on November 24th, 2011, I was sitting at my desk in my office just a short seven iron from Parliament Hill, slogging through some work for Vintage Wings. I leaned back from my constant myopic squint at my computer screen, stretched my arms, cracked a couple of knuckles and glanced at my watch. 9:45 in the morning... For a few long seconds I stared at my watch, blinking... thinking... “Why does that time sound important to me?” And then it came to me in an electric rush of blood to the head.
I dropped my work like a sack of junk mail, thundered down the stairs two at a time (not a good idea for a guy with two new knees), grabbed one of my employees on the way to the door, shouting “Hurry hurry... you have to see this.” We crossed the ByWard Market courtyard where my building stands, he asking “What the hell is going on?", with me answering "You'll see.” as we ran out onto York Street and up the broad and snow-wet staircase beside the US Embassy to historic MacKenzie Avenue. Just in time.
I heard it, rather than saw it, first. The sound grew from a hunch to the undeniable heavy grind and clatter of a CH-124 Sikorsky Sea King helicopter. The Sea King soon appeared out of the cold-as-steel November sky shrouding the Parliament Buildings – massive, covered in appendages and antennae, grey metal against grey sky, and steady as a locomotive. With solid purpose, it lead what would be the most spectacular Air Force flypast I have seen since I was a child.
The week before, the indomitable and always cheerful aviator and aviation enthusiast, Ernie Szelepcsenyi, had sent me a heads-up about the flypast and its time over target - 0945. I explained to Alex, as we awaited the next aircraft, that what he was watching was a grand commemorative flypast in honour of returning Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Army personnel and units that had participated in Operation Mobile, the Canadian contribution to the NATO-led Operation Unified Protector. With enforcement of an embargo and supportive air strikes, these operations assisted the citizens of Libya during their revolution to introduce democracy, which ended with the ouster of the insane tyrant Muammar Gaddafi.
Before I could explain more to Alex, a CP-140 Aurora swept by under the cloud, in hot pursuit of its churning Allison engines. Cars began to stop on MacKenzie Avenue. One minute later, a J-Model CC-130 “Super” Hercules ripped down the line with those crazy six-bladed Dowty fans making a fine sound that still had the "Herc" in it. Now people were getting out of their cars. Cyclists wobbled and bounced off curbs as they rode with eyes to the sky. A minute later, the spooky alien form of a CC-117 emerged from behind the Parliamentary Library and howled overhead, it speed belied by it size. People were really gawking now!
With traffic at a near standstill on MacKenzie, the well choreographed and dramatic flypast reached its climax. People stood by their cars and pointed. Cyclists got off their bikes. In from the west came something no one had ever seen before... at least not in these here parts. A sleek grey CC-150T (Airbus A310) aerial refueller, which the RCAF calls a Polaris, shrieked in from Lebreton Flats trailing three CF-18 Hornets off each wing and a seventh seemingly stuck to the underside of her tail like a remora on a bull shark's belly. Alex was speechless, I was dumbstruck, the slack-jawed citizens of Ottawa who happened to be out on the streets of downtown were wondering, “What the...”
I have seen many a formation display in my air show producing life, but I have never seen one, especially one by line pilots, that was so absolutely perfect. At Vintage Wings of Canada we have a more than a few ex-Hornet drivers, and three former Snowbird leads on our pilot roster, and I assure you, they would not find fault with that formation.
The whole sequence and the astonishing climax made me proud to be a Canadian. Up on Parliament Hill, where they were honouring the RCAF with a special ceremony beneath the flypast, Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walt Natynczyk called it a “fantastic, fantastic flypast”.
It was a moment of heart-pounding patriotic creativity on the part of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Prime Minister's Office. The whole thing took just 4 minutes, and maybe it burned enough gas to run a city bus for year, but it showed us, in an undeniable manner, that our government cares about our military men and women and their families. It took a lot of planning and PowerPoint time, a snowbank of e-mails and the co-operation of units from four bases. Who ever thought up this idea needs his or her own flypast!
Vintage Wings of Canada would like to join the RCAF in thanking our returning airmen and women, and especially their families for their sacrifices, accomplishments and for making us proud.
Here are some photographs from the flypast.
Governor General David Johnston addresses the assembly of Canadian Forces personnel in the Senate on Parliament hill. To his left sit Prime Minsiter Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, both of whom deserve much praise for the days events. To his right sits Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walt Natynczyk
. Photo: Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
The Red Chamber is normally populated by Senators. But on this day, they were sent to their offices and replaced by Canadian heroes - air force, army and navy personnel. Photo: Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
Canadian Lieutenant General Bouchard led the NATO air operations over Libya. The RCAF website states, “For his dedication and planning during the Libya campaign, LGen Bouchard was presented with the Meritorious Service Cross by Governor General Johnston. The Cross acknowledges a military deed performed in an outstandingly professional manner, according to a rare high standard that brings considerable benefit or great honour to the Canadian Forces. During his own thank you address, LGen Bouchard turned the spotlight onto to his fellow CF members. “While I appreciate the honour bestowed on me today, in front of you today are the true Canadian heroes,” he said, addressing the Senate Chambers filled with CF personnel who were deployed alongside him.” Photo: Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
The first over Parliament was the CH-124 Sea King flying out of the Ottawa International Airport. Though much maligned by bad-news hungry reporters, the Sikorsky is in fact still a formidable weapon, still relevant and still in service nearly a half century after the type first went into service with the RCAF. Only the venerable Hercules has been in service longer with our air force. The Sea King operated in the Mediterranean from the aft helo-deck of HMCS Charlottetown, a Halifax-class frigate. Photo: Ernie Szelepcsenyi
When I look at this photo of the Greenwood-based CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft churning with purpose into the target, I can't help seeing and thinking about that magnificent trail of consumed fossils. I think of some stressed and exhausted crew aboard a foundering cargo vessel out on the Grand Banks and how they would see that smoke streaming like salvation up over the horizon, over a terrifying sea and to their rescue
. Photo: Ernie Szelepcsenyi
The J-Model Herc, based out of Trenton, lines up on Parliament while the CC-177 Globemaster III, also based at Trenton, slides into its place 60 seconds behind. The observant will still recognize the faint remainder of the Aurora's smokey wake. Photo: Ernie Szelepcsenyi
The new Super Herc roars overhead Szelepcsenyi as he waits in the perfect spot. Photo: Ernie Szelepcsenyi
With engines howling and landing lights blazing, the Globemaster continues to the target. Photo: Ernie Szelepcsenyi
The incredible lifting power of the CC-117 Globemaster III practically oozes from its broad shoulders and beefy body as it passes over the recently restored and elegant Parliamentary Library. If the CF-18 was a wide receiver, this baby would be a fullback. Photo: MCpl Julie Bélisle
An excellent view of the futuristic and grim Globemaster and it yowls and floats down Wellington. The contrast of this behemoth from the 21st century with the Neo-Gothic Victorian spires of the Parliament Buildings was stark indeed. Photo Dean Hoisak, CdnAvSpotterFlickr
On its way to Ottawa, a CC-150T Polaris (Airbus A310) from Trenton forms up with and leads a pack of seven Bagotville-based CF-18 Hornets above the overcast. Photo: DND Cpl Pierre Habib.
The CF-18 photo ship from the previous image slides into place, snug under the belly of the big CC-150 Polaris as the formation heads into the centre of Ottawa with the Ottawa River below and the Champlain Bridge sliding into view. A closer look reveals the Polaris, its huge elevator, port engine and refueling equipment out at the wing tip. DND Photo: Cpl Pierre Habib.
The perfect formation is framed beautifully by the towers and copper-clad roofs of Canada's magnificent Parliament Buildings. At the staff atop the Peace Tower, the Canadian flag has been struck and replaced by the gold lion and red leaf of the flag of the Governor General of Canada. Photo: MCpl Julie Bélisle Canadian Forces Combat Camera © 2011 DND-MDN Canada
Ernie captures the final formation heading straight for him. Photo: Ernie Szelepcsenyi
Another angle on the final pass shows the perfection of the formation. Photo: Combat Camera, DND
The RCAF on Op Mobile, through the eyes of air force photographers
Captain Barrie Ransome, a CP 140 Pilot from 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 14 Wing, Greenwood, N.S., flies over the Libyan coast during the first intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission over Libyan soil. Photo by Coporal Mathieu St-Amour, Image Tech Task Force Libeccio
The crew of a CC-130J fly their HUD-equipped state-of-the-art Herc during Operation MOBILE. DND Photo
Canadian and foreign nationals, evacuated from the chaos in Libya, deplane a Canadian Forces CC-117 aircraft in Malta on Saturday, February 26th, 2011. Forty-six people were evacuated on this flight. DND Photo