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Top Ten in 2012

By Dave O'Malley

From the bizarre appearance in the Egyptian desert in April of a Kittyhawk that looks an awful lot like ours, to Chris Hadfield's end-of-year rocket ride to the International Space Station (ISS), 2012 turned out to be the busiest and best year for Vintage Wings to date. We honoured more veterans, started more outreach programs and signed up more volunteers than ever before. It seemed as though every weekend brought us new friends, exciting firsts, proud dedications, and a stronger purpose.

You can't turn on the television in the last week of every year without being bombarded with the Top Ten Hockey Fights, the Top Ten Celebrity Meltdowns, the Top Ten Coach's Rants, the Top Ten Political Gaffes or the Top Ten Ice Road Trucker Rollovers. It gets to be a parody of itself – I am still waiting for the Top Ten Top Ten Lists of 2012, but haven't seen that yet.

Top-Ten-itis – it hits us every year over the holidays. I drank lots of fluids (mostly Single Malt), took a bottle full of ibuprofen, wore sweaters, stuck cloves and garlic up my nose, but I still came down with a bad case of this debilitating disease. Earlier this week, felled by delirium and wracked by nostalgia, I wrote our 2012 Top Ten list and, with the help of our Chairman of the Board Todd Lemieux and our President Rob Fleck, we want to tell you what it means to us and to Canada. These two men can offer a unique perspective on our accomplishments, not just because they have demonstrated astounding commitment to this enterprise, but because they have a rare combination of abilities – both are warbird pilots, warbird owners, high time aviators, successful businessmen and have military backgrounds. Oh, and both are exceedingly handsome.

You won't find wardrobe malfunctions, drunken burger-eating unravelling, moronic Bugatti Veyron crashes, Wiki-leaks, hockey goon sucker punches, babies that smoke cigarettes or recorded telephone racist rants – just proud moments and real accomplishments addressed by three of Canada's aviation leaders.

Here we go, counting down from ten.

Vintage Wings opens second Gear-Up store at Ottawa International Airport and rolls out Christmas kiosk at local shopping mall.

In February, we heated up the vintage warbird world here in Ottawa by opening our first-ever off-campus Vintage Wings Gear-Up store. The amazingly supportive folks at the Ottawa International Airport Authority, headed up by chief executive Paul Benoit, then a member of the Vintage Wings board, worked with us to open a small boutique at the baggage claim area at Ottawa's award-winning terminal.

Ottawa business press and local news people were on hand to see what Mike Potter, a local business icon, was doing in his “retirement”. The result was wide coverage in the local press and ribbon cutting press conference.

We knew we would be using this small sales spot to get our feet wet and to test out the market while getting accustomed to sales technologies and schedules. Our ultimate goal was to learn and then move to the secure side of the terminal where departing passengers have more time to shop and buy gifts for their families. Later in the year, under the retail leadership of our new Supervisor of Retails Sales, Agata Archangielska, we opened a kiosk at one of the region's largest retail shopping centres.

We look forward to more stores and getting the message of our veterans out... one t-shirt at a time.

Todd Lemieux comments: Vintage Wings is so much more than just a hangar of airplanes. Our talented staff is always innovating and pushing the limits with new ideas. The opening of our Gear-Up store at the Ottawa airport is just another natural expansion of our unique ability to tell the stories behind these wonderful heritage aircraft and make them relevant to today’s culture.

Rob Fleck comments: Though we are by no means Abercrombie and Fitch, the revenue from the Gear-Up store will be leveraged to help us invest in Canada's youth today for a stronger Canada tomorrow.

Paul Benoit (right), President and CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority and Michael Potter, Founder of Vintage Wings of Canada were both on hand to cut the ribbon that signalled the opening of the Gear-Up Shop. Paul Benoit and his airport staff have been huge supporters of Vintage Wings of Canada since day one. The airport earned the distinction of placing 1st among airports in North America, and 2nd in the world (for airports that serve between 2 and 5 million passengers) in customer satisfaction. Photo: Peter Handley

The Gear-Up store brand is one we hope to migrate across the country, not only accompanying our touring aircraft, but by opening boutiques in other cities and their airports.

The Gear-Up Christmas-time kiosk at the massive Place d'Orleans shopping complex in Ottawa. Small, easily stocked and in the flow of shoppers, the Gear-Up kiosk proved to be a winning idea. Photo: Agata Archangielska

In the weeks following New Year's Day 2013, Vintage Wings of Canada will be opening a larger retail kiosk on the secure side of the Ottawa International Airport, taking advantage of the captive shopping crowd awaiting their flights. By selling our gear, we get the opportunity to tell shoppers what it is we do and where we do it. Illustration: Dave O'Malley

Roger Hadfield, patriarch of Canada's First Family of Flight, builds rare Hucks Starter and donates it to Vintage Wings of Canada – and she starts like a charm baby!

There are two families of aviators that have had a huge impact on Vintage Wings of Canada. The Fleck family has given us Rob Fleck, our founder, Heather Fleck, our Assistant Chief Pilot and Yellow Wings Team Lead for 2012 and Doug Fleck, a Yellow Wings warbird pilot.

The other Vintage Wings family is the Flying Hadfields, the First Family of Canadian Flight. One of our key pilots is Dave Hadfield, who has done everything from writing stories and songs for us, to fly and manage our aircraft. Robin Hadfield, Dave's wife and a pilot too, steps in with typical “Hadfield Heart” to volunteer wherever she can, and is particularly adept at running our swag sales on the road. Chris Hadfield, when he is not commanding the International Space Station, flies our F-86 Sabre known as Hawk One and sits as a key member of our distinguished Board of Directors.

With Dave, Chris and Robin so fully engaged in our enterprise, it wasn't long before their father Roger began to take notice and learn what we are doing. Roger, a former Kenting B-17 pilot and Air Canada Captain, loves machines, especially flying machines. When he heard that we would be acquiring a vintage biplane called a Hawker Fury, he knew we would need a means to start it other than the arms and backs of our engineering staff.

Among the many automobiles, aircraft, and other purposeful machines that Roger has restored or built from scratch, one was a beautiful tomato red Model T Ford. Through this process, Roger learned everything there was to learn about Model As and Ts of the early Ford Motor Corporation. He knew that the RAF had chosen the Model T truck for its simple chassis and unique “worm drive differential” to be reconfigured for a high speed external start assist vehicle that could start an entire squadron of Hawker biplanes in a short time... all without putting the ground crew in the hospital with back problems. The original design of this new starting vehicle was the work of a man named Captain Bentfield Hucks. There was a time when these contraptions could be found anywhere the RAF and its progeny air forces could be found around the world.

Roger knew that likely his son Dave would be one of the Fury's future pilots and he decided to contribute ... in a huge way. He took on the task of researching the technology, purchasing the chassis and materials and building the only Hucks starter to be in functioning condition in North America for nearly 70 years. He enlisted the help of a long time friend and colleague, Reg Miller, the Rembrandt of fine metal machining and himself a pilot, to assist him with this ambitious task.

Thousands of hours later, Roger and Reg finished this monumental task... at their own cost. And then they simply gave it to us! That's right, they gave it to us. If it had keys they would have handed them to us too. Now, all we have to do is get that Fury finished! For the whole story on the building of this marvellous contraption, click here.

Todd Lemieux comments:
It would be hard to imagine a Vintage Wings without the collective influence and acumen of the Hadfield family. It’s clear that their passion and drive for excellence started with some very dedicated and smart parents, Roger and Eleanor Hadfield. I mean, honestly, who else, on the planet, can just “build” a Hucks starter, in their backyard... for fun... and have it actually work... the very first try?

Rob Fleck comments: The Hucks starter project shows our members, volunteers and sponsors that anything is possible with a little thought, hard work and dedication to seeing a project through to the end... Anything at all! This is the exact message we are hoping to deliver to young boys and girls of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets across Canada this coming summer with the Yellow Wings tour.

Phil Hadfield, himself an Air Canada senior Captain, reaches up from the Hucks starter's front deck to attach the shaft to a spiral-grooved receiver on the hub of the Hawker Hind. Photo: Peter Handley

The engine catches, and the propeller shaft spins faster than the Hucks shaft, thus spitting the Hucks free. If you look closely, photographer Handley has captured the Hucks at the millisecond it is released from the propeller hub. Photo: Peter Handley

Proud of what they have accomplished, the folks who built the Hucks pose at the end of the session. Left to Right: Roger Hadfield, Eleanor Hadfield, Laura Miller and Reg Miller. For a look at the really cool miniature machines and engines built by the Millers, visit Miller Workshop. Photo: Peter Handley

A seventy-year old mystery is solved when a time capsule–like P-40 Kittyhawk emerges from the sands of time in Egypt. It then becomes an internet sensation for Vintage Wings, which is the first to identify it as that of 260 Squadron and an aircraft once painted in the same markings as our own Wing Commander Stocky Edwards Kittyhawk.

An oil exploration crew, deep in the remotest and least inhabited region of the Egyptian Sahara Desert, came across an astonishing sight – a time capsule in the form of a crash-landed RAF P-40 Kittyhawk, undisturbed for the past 70 years. The story began to leak slowly to the most-connected of the warbird world. Richard Allnutt, Peter Handley and Dave O'Malley were among the first to pick up on the story as it emerged in the aviation forums.

Using his knowledge of Adobe Photoshop, Vintage Wings of Canada photographer Richard Mallory Allnutt was able to manipulate one of the oil exploration team's photos to reveal the aircraft's stunning identity. Of all the P-40s built during the Second World War, this nearly intact wreckage was marked with the same 260 Squadron markings and aircraft code letter as our own Wing Commander Stocky Edwards P-40 Kittyhawk – HS-B. This was an aircraft that went missing on a flight to a repair depot almost 70 years to the day. Flown by Flight Lieutenant Dennis Copping, it and Copping were never seen again until this year.

Though it was not our aircraft in the desert, nor our discovery, we led with the discovery of its identity on our Vintage News weekly story. That's how this story qualifies for the Top Ten list, for our website received over 200,000 visits over the next four weeks. Our site and the story were quoted on the Huffington Post, the British press, Yahoo news, several television networks and radio shows. We did interviews via phone from Israel to Vancouver. It was a perfect example of getting out ahead of a story, making it yours even if it isn't, and driving the world to our website. It follows as second to the 300,000 hits we got after running the Lower Than a Snake's Belly in a Wagon Rut low flying story. To read the full story from April, click here.

Todd Lemieux comments: It’s no surprise that, with the discovery of the P-40 Kittyhawk in the sands of Egypt, it is Vintage Wings' collective knowledge that first identifies it as being from 260 Squadron and one which Stocky Edwards flew. Vintage Wings is quickly becoming one of the “go to” organizations in the world for warbird knowledge.

Rob Fleck comments: Through our own Kittyhawk HS-B, we have been telling the story of true leadership, civic duty and perseverance for years. Men like Stocky Edwards and Dennis Copping gave up bright futures to push back the black tide of Nazism so long ago. The values that they embodied are ones we will share with the youth of today. Thanks to our outreach programs this summer, some worthy air cadets will get the chance to fly in the very same aircraft that Copping and Edwards flew in training and even in combat. How terribly satisfying to have the world say, through the 200,000 visits to our site, “Thank You Vintage Wings for reminding us – once again.”

Photographer and history enthusiast Richard Allnutt torqued the colour on a photo of the fuselage to better see the aircraft's markings. We can just make out the “HS” to the left of the roundel (with the tops of the verticals of the “H” and the top curve of the “S” faint as well as the horizontal stroke of the “H”. To the right of the roundel, the aircraft letter “B” has left a ghosted image after being scoured away over the years. Photo: Jakub Perka

The pilot of the lost P-40 Kittyhawk was Flight Lieutenant Dennis Copping. Copping, hundreds of miles from assistance, without water or food and in 40+ degrees Celsius heat, had no chance whatsoever. He attempted to get the radio working and to shelter from the searing sun, but in time found himself attempting a walk to safety. He made it only 8 kilometers before he died of thirst and exposure. An Italian recovery team was able to find his remains and have them repatriated... as well as the P-40, which at last look, was recovered and placed in a shipping container, ready for shipping to the RAF. Photo: RCAF

Vintage Wings of Canada has a program called “In His Name”, unique to the warbird world. Each of our 18 historic aircraft is dedicated to a great Canadian aviator with a strong operational or training connection to that particular aircraft. Our Kittyhawk was already dedicated to Stocky Edwards, but in honour of the sacrifice that Dennis Copping paid while flying another Kittyhawk HS-B, we have co-dedicated the aircraft to Stocky's squadron mate. Kittyhawk pilot and aircraft manager, Dave Hadfield, took two photos of Dennis Copping along with him on his journey this summer to southeastern Ontario's Camp Borden Air Show. Not only did he tell the story of Copping's service and mystery solved, he took photos of these people with Copping, keeping his memory alive. Photo: Dave Hadfield

Speaking of Stocky... we get the chance to honour him at our Annual Members' Gala in November.

At the start of November, Vintage Wings of Canada hosted the Third Annual Members Gala. It was the best yet, and Carolyn Leslie and her crew are to be commended for an exceptional soirée enjoyed by all 150 guests in attendance. As is our tradition, the climax of the evening's festivities and formalities is the raising of a commemorative banner to honour one of Canada's great aviators of the Second World War. The honour is always a surprise for the honoured guest attending.

This year, with Warbirds of the Med, a year-long focus on the major aerial battles of North Africa, Malta and the Mediterranean, we selected the much-loved and much-storied Wing Commander James Francis Edwards, known by the nickname “Eddie” during the war and as “Stocky” after the war. Stocky was planning to attend, but with one week to go, he had to cancel his trip for a small medical operation. Luckily, his daughter Dorothy and his granddaughter Jesse were still able to attend. RCAF Chief of the Air Staff Lt. General Yvan Blondin introduced Stocky's story and Dave O'Malley, Vintage Wings brand manager, had the honour of telling the audience of Stocky's career and meaning to Canadians.

Todd Lemieux comments: There is no higher honour at Vintage Wings than to have a banner in your honour raised in the hangar. To have this done places you in the company of Canadian heroes like Max Ward, Charley Fox and Bill McRae. It is truly a hall of fame for great Canadian aviators. It was a magical evening to be with Stocky Edwards' family and to see him honoured in this fashion. Stocky combines all the attributes that we need in a Canadian role model. His leadership, tenacity, compassion, Saskatchewan common sense, wisdom and inclusive personality are qualities that all Canadians could learn from. It’s men like Stocky that have woven our strong collective Canadian social fabric.

Rob Fleck comments: There is a saying that goes something like this: “At the time of greatest slaughter, the great avenger is being born.” In a crisis, natural leaders always have a habit of surfacing to save the world. Like Winston Churchill, Stocky was a leader the world needed at time of great global stress. His lesson is one we will teach to young Canadians this coming summer and for all the years to come.

The now famous photograph of then Squadron Leader James Francis “Eddie” Edwards in Italy in 1943 with the Vintage Wings of Canada Warbirds of the Med theme graphic for this year. Photo: RCAF

Though Stocky could not make the cross-Canada trip from Comox, British Columbia, his daughter, Dorothy (dressed as Rosie the Riveter) and his granddaughter Jesse (dressed as a WAC) were in attendance, making the evening especially poignant. As the banner travels to the ceiling, Jesse and her mother Dorothy look on with pride and some emotion – it was a beautiful moment. Photo: Peter Handley

After the tribute to their father, Dorothy and Jesse pose with two of Canada's outstanding leaders of today – Vintage Wings of Canada's founder, Michael Potter and Chief of the Air Staff, Lieutenant General Yvan Blondin. Photo: Peter Handley

Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

The 2012 Wings over Gatineau–Ottawa en vol Air Show was 2 days long and a huge success.

The single largest project taken on by Vintage Wings of Canada each year is our annual air show, known as Wings over Gatineau–Ottawa en vol. The second that the last bag of garbage was collected in 2011, and tossed into a dumpster, we washed our hands and got down to planning the 2012 version of the show. In 2011, we had nearly 20,000 spectators for the single day show. The only way we could get more people on site, would be to make the show a two-day event and try to spread the crowd out. This year, despite the fact that we doubled the price of admission in order to do better than break even, we attracted a record 30,000 people over two days.

The event took the collective effort of dozens of key volunteers over a year and the three-day transfusion of work from hundreds of other volunteers. The entire team was led by Carolyn Leslie who, year after year, delivers a superb combination of diligent work, promises kept, motherly kindness, inspiration, teamwork and organization.

Todd Lemieux comments: Air shows don’t just happen. A massive logistical and planning effort, Wings over Gatineau–Ottawa en vol, is the culmination of a year's worth of work by our staff and it is our largest volunteer effort of any single day of the year. From the pilots in the cockpit to the overworked people parking cars, it is the dedication of our staff and volunteers that makes this event come off flawlessly and without incident.

Rob Fleck comments: It takes huge organizational skills to put on an event for 30,000 people. From junior hockey teams to uniformed air cadets, hundreds of young Canadians in our region, both Francophone and Anglophone, were exposed to the grass roots concepts of how to be organized, of civic duty and, best of all, of leadership in the field.

One of the big thrills of the Wings over GatineauOttawa en vol Air Show this year was the aggressive flight demonstration put on by Captain Patrick “Paco” Gobeil. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

The Wings over Gatineau–Ottawa en vol Air Show received a huge shot in the arm over the last two years when we were selected for an appearance by the RCAF's Snowbirds. The Snowbirds in your air show line-up is like having the Rolling Stones at your music festival – a guarantee of a good crowd and a good show. Unfortunately, because we have had them two years in a row, they won't be back in 2013. We have our fingers crossed that we could entice Jerry Yagen's new Mosquito to come North. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

Weather played a big role in the 2012 air show, with rain coming through on each day. The rain drenched ramp was a photographer's dream, with reflective pools to mesmerize camera buffs. Despite the rain, the crowds were large each day Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

Canadian morning television icon Jeff Hutcheson spends a whole morning live from our ramp – and millions across Canada are treated to a rare opportunity to see us up close.

Our top assignment in 2012 for Vintage Wings Media Relations guru Carl Martin was to increase our penetration into the Ontario side of the Ottawa River and to drive more Ontarians to the gates of the Wings over Gatineau–Ottawa en vol Air Show. Traditionally, being based in Gatineau, our audience has been largely from the Québec side. In order to truly increase the attendance at the show, we needed to embrace the entire National Capital region and the massive catchment area on the Ottawa side. Being 25 kilometers out Autoroute 50, we are indeed geographically challenged. Carl's job was to reach deep into Ottawa, as well as the Outaouais (Gatineau) region, and inform a new audience about our family-friendly event... and to do so with very little budget.

Carl put together a remarkable plan, orchestrated the media like a maestro, leveraged a minimal advertising budget, smooth-talked politicians and businessmen and was largely responsible for the size of the turnout this year.

In the weeks leading up to the show, Carl organized some significant media events. He had Jim Watson, the Mayor of Ottawa and a man who hates to fly, sitting in the cockpit of the open cockpit Stearman with Mike Potter at the controls. He arranged for Mike Potter to make an emotional, impassioned benchmark presentation to the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. He built a hugely successful television, radio, print, web and social media campaign on a budget that wouldn't buy you a five year-old Hyundai Accent.

There were many highlights of Carl's campaign, but perhaps the brightest light that shone upon us was on the Wednesday morning prior to the air show... and before the sun came up. We made a pitch to Canada's most favourite morning show, CTV's Canada AM, to broadcast live from our hangar with Canadian media icon, Jeff Hutcheson. The pitch included a list of the things Jeff could do while he presented the sports and weather to a coast-to-coast audience: Start up a P-40 Kittyhawk; Hand Prop a Tiger Moth Biplane; Go for a flight in a Stearman; Talk about our In His Name Program; Hand buck a rivet on a Spitfire Wing; Interview Mike Potter; Interview our youngest member Zeke Ruddy; and Meet “Hawker” our Hangar cat. The CTV production team decided to execute all of these and even worked in an additional segment with Jeff folding-down a Corsair wing while giving the weather. The next day, we did it all again with the local CTV morning show.

It was hard on our maintenance, administrative and grooming staff, with a lot of alarm clocks employed to get folks up early, but the result was national coverage that took our message to millions of Canadians at one time.

Todd Lemieux comments: Vintage Wings has truly evolved to a national status as witnessed by the featured coverage on Canada AM, the nation's most-watched morning news program. This proved to be an excellent prelude to our Wings Over Gatineau–Ottawa en vol Air Show.

Rob Fleck comments:
Everyone always learns something when they come to see the Centre for Excellence that is Vintage Wings. From Jeff Hutcheson learning to rivet wings, to an entire nation listening to air cadet Zeke Ruddy telling Canadians about the Fairy Swordfish aircraft – everyone always learns on every visit.

CTV news camera crews, producers and Hutcheson arrived at 4 AM to get set for the morning's broadcast. Our staff was there when they arrived, with coffee on. Photo: Peter Handley

Jeff Hutcheson bucks a rivet on a Spitfire spar under the tutelage of metals and structures guru Ken Wood. Hutcheson enjoyed it so much that he bucked another after the cameras stopped rolling. Photo: Peter Handley

In addition to the national exposure we received by being on Canada AM, the CTV national morning news broadcast, we did it all over again the following morning, with many key individuals appearing on the local CTV Morning show, being interviewed by the lovely-gammed Sarah Freemark. There were several segments presented on the morning show. To view them on YouTube, click the following links: Heather and Rob Fleck talk about the air show. Click here to see our Hangar Dogs on CTV. Click here to see Ken Wood show Sarah how to buck herself a rivet. Click here to see Dan Dempsey explain the history of the Golden Hawks and Hawk One. Photo: Peter Handley

The Yellow Wings flying circus headed down east this summer, dropping in on small communities and were received with typical Maritime warmth and enthusiasm.

Lead by the charismatic dynamo, Heather Fleck, the 2012 Yellow Wings Down Home, Down East Tour set out in early June to complete the second half of a coast-to-coast educational campaign that began in the Spring of 2011. We combined experienced pilots from last year's Yellow Wings Western Swing with fresh Maritime pilots, and even some of our key central Canada pilots, to forge a team of incredible skills and passion.

They travelled to communities that have not seen warbirds since the end of the Second World War. They met veteran pilots who had not been near yellow training airplanes since the day they earned their wings. They met young Air Cadets who drank in the astonishing and inspiring stories of the heroes of that great period in Canadian aviation history. They took folks from both groups flying.

As the summer wound down, the Yellow Wings pilots, under the leadership of Heather Fleck and the tutelage of old hands like Ulrich Bollinger and Rob Fleck, had bonded into a true squadron, a cohesive cadre bent on the mission. But as the days grew shorter, and the sun weaker, a brave new purpose was emerging. These simple wire and wood aircraft from another age had a powerful ability to teach, to inspire and to sow dreams in the hearts and minds of young Canadians. We also put the youthful flame back in the eyes and hearts of some old warriors that had long ago resigned themselves to the fact they would never fly again.

Todd Lemieux comments: Having been lucky enough to fly the Flight Lieutenant Bill McRae Tiger Moth during this tour, I can tell you that it was an absolute ball to be so warmly welcomed and hosted and to have the honour and privilege of raising awareness of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program in the Maritimes. Being on the road, with intense schedules, unfamiliar airstrips, and constantly changing weather in 70 year-old airplanes is, to say the least, challenging. You build a strong bond with your “squadron mates” when you are on the road under those conditions and I admit that, when I left the tour, I felt a little empty inside and suffered “Yellow Wings withdrawal."

Rob Fleck comments: With overt passion, our volunteer pilots and ground crews take our proud Canadian aviation history to the people of Canada, wherever they may live.

Some of the pilots of the Yellow Wings Down Home, Down East tour pose together in front of the Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Harvard IV at Woodstock, New Brunswick. Left to right: Rob Fleck, George King, Todd Lemieux, Mike Ruddick and Team Leader Heather Fleck. Photo: Yellow Wings

Being able to tell ordinary Canadians about the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was a privilege for Chairman of the Vintage Wings Board, Todd Lemieux. Todd joined the tour for a month this summer, flying the Flight Lieutenant Bill McRae Tiger Moth. Photo: Yellow Wings

A beautiful summer's day in the Maritimes and a beautiful old gal to fly... Yellow Wings pilot John Sterchi enjoys a magical moment. Photo: Yellow Wings

High above the Maritimes, Chris Cormier in the Squadron Leader Hart Finley Fleet Finch, holds station on Todd Lemieux in the Flight Lieutenant Bill McRae Tiger Moth. Photo: Yellow Wings

Chris Hadfield delivers early Christmas gift to his fellow Vintage Wingers – a passionate message from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on the eve of his Soyuz launch to the ISS.

A couple of years back, members and volunteers at Vintage Wings of Canada were convening for a volunteer training day. Young people, old people, skilled people, greenhorns and veteran volunteers were smiling in admiration as superstar Chris Hadfield, one of our F-86 pilots and the reigning monarch of the Canadian Space program, donned a Spitfire Grill apron and served up burgers and chicken to a snaking line of hungry orange-shirted Vintage Wingers. He could have held court with his flying buddies at a separate table, but that wasn't the Hadfield Way, which is: Roll up your sleeves and get the job done.

We all would have understood how Chris' busy schedule, preparing for his last space flight, would have been an impediment to his full participation in Vintage Wings. What we did not understand at all, is how he never ever let that impede full and happy participation. Chris, like his entire family, is all about participation, experience, learning, sharing and welcoming. We've learned much from people like Chris, and we hope to share his lessons and those of other Canadian heroes that populate our rich aviation history. Chris is the perfect example to young Canadians of how hard work, discipline and keeping your eye on the prize results in achievement and success. As a young air cadet, Chris set his gunsight on going to space and he calculated and thoroughly enjoyed every step he would need to take along the way – air cadet, air force officer, RMC, fighter pilot, test pilot, astronaut. Along the route, he sang and rocked the house with music, play, hobbies and above all demonstrated love for his bride and family. What a lesson for us all.

So, just before his pre-Christmas launch into space, with the clock ticking down to the end of the year, Chris gave us all another gift. From the cold and windswept Kazakhstan steppe, Chris sent us a video-taped message that cemented our place in the pioneering and nurturing world and inspired us all to reach for the figurative stars if not for the actual ones he was going to. Chris, this was the best Christmas gift of all... see you down here among the mortals later this year.

To view the message from Chris and see him unveil our logo on Kazakhstan, click here and open the Vintage Wings of Canada.wmv link or download the mp4 file here.

Todd Lemieux comments: What could make us prouder this year than our own Chris Hadfield – Vintage Wings Board member, pilot, and veteran Canadian astronaut – riding a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station? Not only is Chris aboard the ISS for 5 months, but he will be the first-ever Canadian commander of the entire station – a spectacular honour and a testament to Chris’ dedication and professionalism... and, oh ya, he plays a mean six-string guitar too!

Rob Fleck comments: Chris, when you tire of commanding the International Space Station, your cockpit in our Hawk One F-86 Sabre will be waiting for your return, for what better way to reach out and inspire those who couldn't meet up with you on the space station?

Vintage Wings' Chris Hadfield (top) and his fellow Soyuz Mission 34 crew members, American Tom Marshburn (bottom) and Russian Roman Romanenko wave goodbye, as they prepare to ride the elevator to the Soyuz spacecraft. CSA Photo

A few seconds after the “candle is lit”, the Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying our beloved Vintage Wings volunteer. CSA Photo via Chris Hadfield

Down on the ground, Hadfield is a hard working volunteer, but on the ISS, it seems he has become a floater. CSA Photo via Chris Hadfield

Christmastime is a family time. This Christmas, we are happy to share one of our family with the world. Photo via Chris Hadfield

The In His Name Program pays tribute to Warrant Officer Harry Hannah, a warrior of great humility, warmth and style who paid a huge price during the Second World War.

In May of 2012, the beautiful Yellow Wings Boeing PT-27 Stearman was dedicated to this elegant, quiet, and understated gentleman, in a moving ceremony at our Gatineau, Québec hangar. Following the ceremony, Stearman pilots Harry Hannah and Todd Lemieux strapped in together and lifted off into a beautiful Ottawa Valley sky to spend an hour getting to know each other. Todd's mission that afternoon was to fly Harry on a flight of remembrance. Instead, the young pilot handed over control to the nonagenarian, allowing himself to be taken on his own journey back in time. By the time they had landed, there was a strong bond between the two aviators.

Our theme for next year's flying season is “On the Wings of History go the Leaders of Tomorrow.” The idea is to reach young people through contact with veterans, our aircraft and our pilots, and to instill in them a deeper and more emotional understanding of the powerful concepts of duty, honour and sacrifice. This central theme was conceived after flying the Stearman out West and our other Yellow Wings aircraft down East during the summer following Harry and Todd's flight. While we work to reach our youth and children with this message, we ourselves must understand, and be committed to, the power of the lessons of Harry and his generation.

Todd Lemieux comments: Of all the things we do at Vintage Wings, it is the chance to fly our beloved veterans and let them have the controls that matters the most to me and Vintage Wings. We never miss a chance to do this... never.

Rob Fleck Comments:
Just saying that we owe so much doesn't quite cut it. You have to take the time to reach out and say thank you in person. What better way than to dedicate our aircraft to our heroes and, when possible, take them back into the skies they once owned so long ago.

At 500 feet, Lemieux hands over control of the Stearman to Warrant Officer Harry Hannah, and for the next 30 minutes he banked and climbed and soared like he was 19 again. Todd would later add on his Facebook page “He took the controls and flew like it was yesterday. It was a great honour to fly with him.” Photo: Todd Lemieux

The elegant and humble Harry Hannah of Glasgow, Scotland and “his” Stearman. To learn more about Harry and His flight, click here. Photo: Peter Handley

Right from the outset, the Harry Hannah Stearman team began proselytizing across the country. In Swift Current, they allowed a bevy of beauties to use the Stearman as a wedding photo backdrop, but only if they took the time to hear the Harry Hannah story. By the time Todd Lemieux was finished, these young ladies had learned much about the generation of their grandparents and its sacrifice. They were so touched and impressed with the story that they wanted to thank Harry personally. Photo: Todd Lemieux

After many years of warbird operations, millions of spectators, thousands of flying hours and plenty of soul searching, we finally know what we are, who we are and what we need to do to make society a better place for the future.

When I was young, in my teens and early twenties, many of my friends quit school and travelled abroad, claiming to be out trying to find themselves. They were looking in some pretty strange places – Bali, Afghanistan, Machu Pichu, Peru, Goa, India, Columbia and Thailand. They never really found their inner selves, but they returned with some serious STDs, a sunburn, an empty bank account and a big bag of laundry for their mothers.

At Vintage Wings, we have been travelling too, and while we were not really looking, we found ourselves... in places like Fredericton, Moncton, Weyburn, Moose Jaw and Swift Current.

Our identity is now just beginning to form. It's been taking shape for years. Year after year since we opened our doors, our mission has evolved, transformed, and emerged from the mists of time. Our mission has always been there, we just needed time to fully understand it.

We maintain airplanes, but we are not maintainers – we are knowledge keepers. We fly airplanes, but we are not pilots – we are role models. We record history, but we are not historians – we are storytellers. We put on air shows, but we are not air show promoters – we are welcoming hosts. We acquire airplanes, but we are not warbird collectors – we are heritage repatriaters. We fly living, breathing, vintage flying machines, but we are not warbird operators – we are stewards of a visual and functioning legacy of excellence and courage. We spend every waking moment at this purpose, but we are not basement-dwelling aerogeeks – we are inspirers.

Starting immediately, our mission statement and motto will now be “On the Wings of History go the Leaders of Tomorrow”. And starting in just a few months, we will send our aircraft east and west across this huge country, with a singular mission to connect with our young people, delivering a powerful message of relevance, strength, and achievement. With the help of individuals like you and courageous corporate citizens like Raytheon Canada, we will put 500 or more young boys and girls into the cockpits of our Yellow Wings aircraft and take them on a time machine ride to a period of our history, when we really needed leaders... and found them.

Next summer, we will be knowledge keepers, storytellers, hosts, repatriaters, stewards, role models, and above all... we will be the inspirers of our children. Happy New Year

Todd Lemieux comments: The evolution of Vintage Wings has taken us well beyond simply operating historically significant airplanes. We are now in a position in Canadian society where we can truly give back to our youth and help them become better citizens. These airplanes carry the spirit of those bright minds that conceived them, those that maintained them, those who flew them bravely in combat and came home infused with a determination to make Canada a better place. What better attributes to pass onto our next generation – a true benchmark for achievement.

Rob Fleck comments: The investment in tomorrow's society happens today. It's time we stopped complaining about “the state of young people today” and do something positive about it. Let's take the best and the brightest and show them the benefits of discipline, determination, sacrifice and goal-setting. Along with partners like Raytheon Canada, let's put our money and our airplanes where our mouth is.

To make an immediate tax deductible donation to the Yellow Wings Program and help change the course of this country, click here

Dan Dempsey may be an air show legend and Sierra Hotel demonstration pilot, but what he is best at is sharing his knowledge, experience, passion and child-like exuberance with young people. Over the years, we have learned from Dan and Dan's personal experience, that we have a chance, and dare we say, a duty, to change young people's lives for the good, by providing a flight demonstration of breathtaking beauty, followed up by one-on-one role modelling. It is at moments like this one, at the Cold Lake Cadet Camp in 2012, that we began to realize the inspirational power of our aircraft and especially the men and women that fly them. This is the moment when our mission finally became clear in our minds – reach out to our youth and provide them with an example of the possible, combined with a message of discipline, sacrifice and honour. Photo: Yellow Wings

Dan Dempsey has set the standard for all of us in commitment, endurance and passion for reaching youth with the message of realizing their dreams. Dan knows personally the power of this message, for, in the early 1960s, he watched the Golden Hawks fly their show at RCAF Station Rockcliffe and met Fern Villeneuve, the team lead. It was while seeing their show and being inspired by their professionalism, that Dan decided to become a pilot in the RCAF. After years as a CF-104 fighter pilot, two tours with the Snowbirds including one as Snowbird One, a long career as a Cathay Pacific 747 Captain, a historian, author and book publisher, Hawk One Team Lead, and now Top Aces pilot, Dan has achieved much since Fern Villeneuve gave him that big boost. Photo: Peter Handley

Last summer, the Robillard Brothers Mustang and the Squadron Leader Fern Villeneuve Sabre made a powerful impression on hundreds of bright, high-achieving young Canadian boys and girls. Of all we do, this is where the rubber hits the road, where our mission takes shape and results in success. DND Photo by Cpl Ian Thompson

While Dan and Rob Fleck were seeing the results of setting a powerful example for air cadets at Cold Lake, George King and all the Yellow Wings team were experiencing the same thing throughout the East Coast when air cadets came out to see and learn from the stories of our heroes of the Second World War. Photo: Yellow Wings

If we are about anything at all, we are about firing the imaginations of Canada's finest young people. Next year, with the Raytheon Canada Yellow Wings Tour, we select the 500 deserving boys and girls from the Air Cadet program that show leadership potential, exhibit a willingness to work hard to achieve their dreams and give them a reward of great worth – a flight in a vintage aircraft to feel, smell, hear and see exactly what our heroes of the Greatest Generation experienced, a flight in a time machine. Photo: Yellow Wings

The complete Warbird U Calendar for 2012
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