Tim Timmins



Every Tuesday and Thursday morning around 11:30 a.m., rain or shine, winter or summer, former fighter pilot Tim Timmins wheels his car into the parking lot at Vintage Wings of Canada. As the wind sweeps hard across the pavement, often carrying drifting snow or sleet, he retrieves a document bag from the passenger seat, tucks it under one arm, locks the car door, walks up the sidewalk into the wind and enters the front door of the Vintage Wings hangar. Waiting at the door for him is Wallace, the front office dog.

Tim stops by the reception counter, chats up the young ladies in the administration office, as fighter pilots are wont to do. He fishes a sandwich bag out of his pocket containing dog treats and turns to Wallace, who is waiting not so patiently and offers him “just one.” A minute later he offers him another. Then Tim Timmins makes his way to the library, taking time to stop in at the front office where everyone smiles widely, offering him a warm greeting. He stands at the door briefly, and in his low and gentle voice, throws out a few quips and a couple of well prepared friendly barbs for myself. Wallace stands by his side, like a Polynesian cargo cultist, awaiting yet another treat.

Then, fighter pilot Tim Timmins makes his way down the corridor to the library and takes his seat at the computer table, opens his document bag, retrieves a few magazines and begins again a seemingly Sisyphean task. Back in the office Rob Fleck, President of Vintage Wings of Canada, turns to me and says: “I love that guy.”

Tim's task is to read every magazine, periodical, newsletter and journal in our massive collection, and record in the library's computer the author, title, subject and basic content of every article in every one of them so that future research can be facilitated. To anyone else this would be daunting but, if anything, Patrick Joseph “Tim” Timmins is dauntless. Looking in the doorway of our library, visitors would simply see a man who appears to be a librarian but, in fact, he is anything but. Tim Timmins is a former all-weather interceptor fighter pilot, long-time Trans World Airlines Captain and highly regarded protocol officer. By virtue of his consumption of all the periodical literature in our library, he is also one of the best read volunteers at Vintage Wings.

This much-loved and unassuming man, with the fighter pilot's heart, was recently selected to be honoured along with other great Canadian aviators as part of the Vintage Wings of Canada In His Name Aircraft Dedication Program. There remained one last aircraft in the collection which was still not paired with the name of a Canadian aviator – the de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk, owned by Don Buchan and operated under the Vintage Wings program. While most of our aircraft are of the Second World War vintage, the Chipmunk was a Canadian-designed and -built primary flying trainer of the immediate postwar period. This means that any pilots which may be considered for the honour of the In His Name program would be 15 to 20 years younger that their Second World War compatriots. The opportunity to honour a close friend of Vintage Wings, even one of its most important volunteers, was staring us in the face. It was decided immediately that Timmins would be the recipient.

Ottawa born and bred Joseph Patrick Timmins joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the absolute zenith of its power in 1951. Five years after the end of the Second World War, the RCAF manned scores of bases from newly confederated Newfoundland to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Canadian Sabre jets were the stars of NATO's fighter deterrent in Europe with operations in England (Luffenham), Germany and France. Bases were huge, aircraft numbered in the thousands and the RCAF was the preeminent service in the land. Timmins joined as a non-commissioned officer, becoming an aircraft communications technician. Soon, being around aircraft on a daily basis, Timmins decided to seek a pilot's seat in the RCAF. In 1956, he began training as a pilot. He did his initial training on Chipmunks at RCAF Station Centralia, Ontario, followed by Harvard advanced training at RCAF Station Penhold, Alberta, and finally getting his wings on the T-33 Silver Star at RCAF Station Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. He would spend the remaining seven years of his RCAF service as a NORAD interceptor pilot with 409 “Nighthawk” Squadron out of RCAF Station Comox, as well as some light transport duties. He became 409's squadron training pilot, responsible for combat readiness and simulator training... though back in the late 1950s, simulator training was a cardboard box, a broom handle and hand-drawn sketch of Comox from the air.

A young Flying Officer Tim Timmins (left) poses with three other CF-100 crew members on the rainy RCAF Station Comox flight line in the fall of 1959. This image appeared in a 1960 article in Aviation Quarterly magazine about CF-100 operation across Canada. Left to right: Tim Timmins, John Eggenberger, Dick Bentham, and Jerry Frewen – Flying Officers all. Photo: Aviation Quarterly

One particular event during his service with 409 is worthy of note. During an annual West Coast training exercise with NORAD, known as Exercise Cocked Pistol, he managed to shoot down a Hollywood icon. The Cocked Pistol exercises were to simulate a Defence Condition One (DEFCON One – Condition White) situation, the highest readiness state for NORAD. This meant that nuclear war was imminent and forces were at maximum readiness. To put this in perspective, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest we ever came to Armageddon, was only DEFCON Two (Condition Red) at Strategic Air Command, and only DEFCON 3 for all other forces including the Navy units that went toe to toe with the incoming missile carrying freighters. The Cocked Pistol exercises involved B-47 Stratojet, B-52 Stratofortress and B-58 Hustler bombers making feints to simulate attacks by Soviet forces.

On one such exercise, Tim Timmins led two sections against an attacking B-47 Stratojet, making two successful “shoot downs” as the B-47 attempted to penetrate the 25th NORAD Area, the responsibility of NORAD units of the West Coast. The passes were made in broad daylight deep over the mountainous interior of British Columbia.

After the successful training mission, Tim led his two sections home to Comox, and when he touched down on the runway, the tower called him up and told him that the pilot of the Stratojet he had just “shacked” had called in a position check while passing overhead Comox en route to McChord AFB and wanted to offer his compliments to the pilot of that attacking CF-100 for some fine shooting. That SAC pilot was none other than Brigadier General Jimmy Stewart, a bona fide USAF Reserve bomber pilot and a legend of the silver screen.

A 409 Nighthawk Squadron Avro CF-100 “Canuck” holds steady for the RCAF cameraman over Georgia Strait. The CF-100, affectionately known as the “Clunk,” was a Canadian-built jet interceptor/fighter serving during the Cold War both in NATO bases in Europe and as part of NORAD. The CF-100 was the only Canadian-designed fighter to enter mass production, serving primarily with the RCAF/CAF and in small numbers in Belgium. For its day, the CF-100 featured a short takeoff run and high climb rate, making it well suited to its role as an interceptor.

The Big E. During a visit to RCAF Station Comox, British Columbia by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a formation of ten 409 Squadron Nighthawk CF-100s form up into a giant letter “E” in the sky in her honour. Flying Officer Tim Timmins pilots the aircraft at the lead of the cross member in the middle of the “E.” RCAF photo

In 1964, Timmins left the RCAF and took an aircrew position with Trans World Airlines, one of the world's most experienced and highly regarded airlines at the time. As with all newbies, despite their flying experience, Tim would have to do a two-year stint as a Flight Engineer, before taking the right seat of an airliner. When he signed up, TWA was still operating the Lockheed Constellation piston-engined airliner and he dutifully took the third seat on one of the world's greatest aircraft. Since TWA was phasing out service with the “Connie” in favour of their new Boeing 707 jets, Tim's Constellation career was short-lived at only 6 months. Because he was required to do a full two years as a Flight Engineer, he was trained to do the same job on the mighty Boeing 707. From there it was a steady climb up the TWA ladder.

From the Flight Engineer's seat of the 707, Timmins advanced to the right seat, then to 727s and finally to a Captain' seat on the tri-jet Boeing. He spent many thousands of hours captaining the Two-Seven and then went on to the 747 Jumbo Jet. Unfortunately for Tim, his career as an airline pilot was cut short after 20 years due to a medical issue.

Between flying jobs, Tim managed to wrangle a couple of major appointments in the protocol and media arenas including working as an Assistant Press Chief at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta.

The tenacious and flight-loving pilot would work his way back to flying status as an air carrier Inspector with Transport Canada. Among his myriad duties at TC, he performed pilot-in-command duties of departmental aircraft engaged in transportation, training, maintaining pilot competency, and executed his check pilot duties for airlines. He was happy to be back in the saddle and in the aviation business again.

Tim's story has yet to be fully written but, like 409 Squadron, TWA and the IOC before us, we are proud to call him one of us. From this writer's perspective, you will not find a more elegant and charming person to bestow this honour on. Each aircraft in our collection is paired with a person who has had a flying connection with that aircraft. In the case of Tim Timmins, his lengthy career started in the student's seat of a de Havilland Chipmunk and ended up on the pilot's seat of a Boeing 747, from a 1,500 lb aircraft to a nearly 800,000 lb aircraft, from 120 knots to 520 knots, from 34 feet to 195 feet in wingspan.

Tim was honoured with a surprise dedication ceremony during one of his volunteer Tuesdays a couple of months ago. Tim Timmins joins great Canadian aviators like Stocky Edwards, Willie McKnight and Robert Gray in helping us to tell the story of our great aviation heritage. He exudes the same qualities as all of our dedicated airmen – humility, good humour, kindness, bigheartedness and a willingness to pitch in and get the job done.

We award this honour to him, not just for his years as a fighter pilot in the Cold War, for which we owe him much; not just for his lengthy career as a TWA Captain, for which he was well suited; but also for his elegance, kindness, decency and ability to make our hangar a place we long to go to every day. Through the animation of the Chipmunk with Timmins' history, we can tell the story of how Canadian Cold War aircrew trained and eventually won the war against the communists. Many died in the execution of this duty. Tim Timmins' dedication and service will be told by all who fly the Chipmunk. His story stands for all his comrades. They could not have a better man to carry their banner.

Dave O'Malley

Tim Timmins had the good fortune and the chops to have flown with two of the world's most respected aircraft operators – the Royal Canadian Air Force and Trans World Airlines. Left: the young, faintly pugilistic-looking, Patrick Joseph Timmins of Ottawa, shortly after getting his wings, and then the elegantly gold-braided Captain Tim Timmins of Trans World Airlines, exuding the strength and confidence that comes with many thousands of hours of air force and airline flying. Photos via Timmins Collection

When Tim Timmins was first hired by Trans World Airlines in 1964, he was taken on, as many experienced pilots were, as a Flight Engineer on the Lockheed Super Constellation. In 1964 the Constellation was near the end of its service life with TWA. Tim served for about only 4–6 months on the third seat of the Connie, before the Connie was taken out of service. His contracted time as Flight Engineer was for two years, so after his Connie service, he was still required to stay on as an FE, but this time on the Boeing 707. On 7 April 1967, TWA became one of the USA's first all-jet airlines with the retirement of their last Lockheed L-749A Constellation and L-1649 Starliner cargo aircraft. That morning, throughout the TWA system, aircraft ground service personnel placed a booklet on every passenger seat titled "Props Are For Boats." TWA archive photo



This was the aircraft with which TWA inaugurated international jet services on 23 November 1959, when Tim Timmins was still kicking NORAD ass at Comox. The series -300 was the so-called Boeing 707 International. Tim would fly three of the TWA Boeing types – 707, 727 and 747. Photo: Ed Coates Collection

Tim would spend the bulk of his TWA flight time on the Boeing 727, occupying in turn the Flight Engineer's First Officer's and Captain's seats.

Already a Captain on the Boeing 747, Timmins takes a right seat position as a First Officer on the mighty 747, but could still be called Captain, a moniker and rank he had already earned. Photo via Tim Timmins Collection

Tim Timmins finished up his airline flying career as a Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet” pilot with Trans World Airlines. An unforeseen medical issue took him off line before he wanted to stop airline flying, but he would battle back to the skies years later.

For a period after his TWA career, and before his reinstated flight status, Tim employed his considerable Irish charm, fighter pilot get-er-done attitude, and diplomacy as Supervisor of Ceremonies for Vancouver's Expo 86, which also included the Abbotsford Airshow. This in turn made him the logical choice to become Coordinator of Media Support Services and Assistant Press Chief to the Main Press centre at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Here, we see Tim (front left) striding confidently, as fighter pilots do, with then President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Avionics guru Graham Smith (left) looks on as Dave O'Malley makes a short speech about the person who will be commemorated on the side of the “Chippie” – a challenge if you can't mention Timmins' name until the moment of the unveiling. Standing next to him are Chipmunk owners and Vintage Wings pilots Don and Kathryn Buchan.

Vintage Wings of Canada volunteers, staff maintainers, squadron dog Wallace and even one in utero baby boy were happy and proud to down tools for an impromptu and surprise ceremony to “unveil” the dedication panel on the de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk. Everyone had seen the Tim Timmins panel on the aircraft so were delighted to keep the dedication a secret.

Just a millisecond before Tim Timmins realizes he is the subject of the just unveiled dedication panel, Chipmunk owner/pilot Don Buchan looks to him for a reaction. Of course, Tim, being both Irish and an Ottawan as well as being a pilot, was slow to understand he was being honoured. Photo: Angela Gagnon

It takes a while, but Irish pilots do catch on. Tim Timmins finally understands that it is his name on the side of the Chipmunk, an aircraft he first flew at RCAF Station Centralia when he joined the RCAF.

The moment in which Captain Tim Timmins fully grasps the fact that the de Havilland Chipmunk is dedicated to himself is captured on film. Shortly after this, tears could be seen in his Irish eyes. Mission accomplished! Photo: Buchan

Three Chipmunk pilots – Kathryn Buchan, Don Buchan (who has provided his beloved aircraft for the Yellow Wings program and who was proud to support the Timmins selection) and a teary-eyed Captain Timmins – pose with the freshly dedicated Chipmunk.

A more deserving pilot there never was. The elegant, cheerful and hard-working Captain Tim Timmins and “his” Chipmunk joins other great Canadian aviators and “their” aircraft immortalized with the In His Name Aircraft Dedication Program – Stocky Edwards, Hammie Gray, Les Frères Robillard, Hart Finley, William Harper, Willie McKnight, Rosey Roseland, Bunny McLarty, Bill McRae, Harry Hannah, Fern Villeneuve, John Magee, Archie Pennie, Terry Goddard, Cliff Stewart, George Neal and Russ Bannock.

So long as Don Buchan's beautiful Chipmunk remains part of the Vintage Wings of Canada family, she will, as all of our aircraft do, bear a dedication panel on her flanks trumpeting the name and career of one of Canada's top flying ambassadors, Flight Lieutenant Patrick Joseph “Tim” Timmins, RCAF, TWA, of Ottawa. Photo: Dave O'Malley

The Flight Lieutenant Patrick Joseph “Tim” Timmins de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk. Long may she fly in his honour. Photo: Dave O'Malley

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