The Hadfield Effect



By Dave O’Malley


I often shake my head today at the voyeuristic and Pavlovian attention certain, shall we say, “celebrities” get for doing so very little. In the worst case scenarios, you have those plasticized human products such as Paris Hilton, Snookie of Jersey Shore and Kim Kardashian, who have about as much humanity as a computer generated avatar. The phrase “Famous for being famous.” seems to be uttered by the very people who follow every titillating move of these humanoid confections and never once does it seem ironic to them.

Then you have the world celebrities who have actually achieved their renown for doing something in a particular sector of popular culture. Some of these celebrities such as your Twilight Saga denizens have devoted weeks, even months of their lives to portraying pop culture heroes in the silver screen, prancing on red carpets, posing and pouting for teen style “zines”. For this somewhat less than Herculean effort and accomplishment, they are magnets for celebrity chasers, autograph hounds, tabloids and out and out stalkers. There are rock stars, movie stars, sports stars, TV stars and political stars in a shining galaxy of single dimensionality, talent, chance, bad behaviour, cuteness and cynical marketing. One wonders if having a good slapshot, nice hair, swell dance moves or an ability to rhyme is all one needs to be, not just a financial success, but a role model for others to emulate. Sadly, it seems a good golf swing is all you need to be considered a great achiever and bad behaviour and poor choices seem to be all you need to keep you in the tabloids. These are lessons we don’t want our children to learn, except of course if you are a Kardashian.

During our recent air show, I was given the truly enviable task of being the “handler” for Commander Chris Hadfield, whose recent address, if you have been living in a cave for the past year, was “c/o the International Space Station in orbit over the planet Earth”. This duty gave me a close-up look at the difficult and taxing life now embraced by this exceptionally accomplished aviator and living symbol of all that is possible through choice, discipline, fitness, education and talent. Here is a man who represents excellence in multiple fields and on a global playing field. Aviator, fighter and test pilot, astronaut, speaker, motivator, linguist, songwriter, musician, but above all, family man and communicator, Chris Hadfield’s accomplishments, combined with an uncanny ability to make it all seem understandable, have vaulted him into the international public forum of late, and now I would have a first-hand look at how this man embraced and worked with his new fame.

So many people have compared Chris to a rock star or movie star, job descriptions which I think are far too simplistic and which fail to describe the remarkable effect he has on people. A movie star is a guy like Tom Hanks who plays an astronaut in a film and a rock star, like David Bowie, is one who sings about an astronaut in a video. Wherever these two go, adult people surge to get their autographs and line up to see them, which of course is the same on the surface as to what I witnessed at the air show.

The difference with Chris Hadfield is that the adoring adults are more concerned that their children see him and be inspired by him. There would be no children in a scrum with a movie star, only adult or teen fans. I saw families—fathers and mothers and grandparents with kids—pressing forward... with their children out in front, kids from 3 to 18, staring in wonder. I am no clairvoyant, but I could read the minds of these parents. They were yearning for their kids to see a man of accomplishment, one who set a goal, stayed the course and remained a human being the entire time. They were yearning for the best for their children. It was beautiful.

These parents were “presenting” their kids to Hadfield so that their children could feel the inspiration first-hand and have a memory to fuel the rest of their lives. There were kids in complete spacesuits with helmets, kids in fighter pilot suits, and you could see that Chris Hadfield had replaced even hockey players and dinosaurs as the object of their interests. He paid special attention to Air Cadets as he attributes his life of discipline and goal setting to this finest of all Canadian youth development programs.

So typical of every encounter I witnessed this day, the parents are pressing forward, eager for their children to meet their hero, hoping for the spark to be ignited in their sons and daughters to follow a dream to the end. It was beautiful to witness. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

The effect on me was powerful too. I now see that parents get it. They see Chris at every level—national icon, music icon, a man of great achievement, still with the humanity of an ordinary Canadian, but above all they were seeing him as the best public role model we have in this country. The engagement with Chris involved the entire family, but they were all there as a support system for the kids so that their children could have this experience, meet this man, see that he was real and human and kind. It shows that Canadians want their kids to dream, to have discipline, and in the end, achieve. It was beyond refreshing to learn that parents (French, English, Indo Canadian, Arabic, African, and Asian—it didn’t matter) saw Hadfield as a beacon of hope for their children’s future. Parents are the key. We must reach out to them with the message Chris was delivering—life is good, and working hard is worth all the effort when your goal is achieved.

For the entire seven hours he walked the air show ramps and sat at autograph tables, Chris was serene, direct, engaged fully with every child, adult and veteran he spoke with. He never had a sharp word, a harried look, a moment of weariness or a single indication that he was anything but delighted and honoured to be where he was. He walked at the same pace and with the same erect grace to each place he was needed. Though it was my job to keep him on schedule and to bring him from place to place, there was no way to break the direct eye to eye and emotional contact Chris gave so warmly to everyone who was lucky enough to speak to him. I could suggest moving to the next location only when he had fully provided the last child his undivided attention and concern.

He asked every child what they hoped to be or what they were doing. He shook the hand of one young tyke, and looked him straight in the eye, holding his hand firmly. He said, without any indication that he was preaching, recriminating or disappointed in the child’s grip, “When you shake hands with someone, young man, look him straight in the eye, keep a firm grip.” Then he asked what grade he was in and what his favourite subjects were. That’s a life lesson in 60 seconds from a man who packs a lot of credibility for every generation.

Every young person Hadfield spoke to, and there were hundreds, got the same experience—a direct eye to eye greeting, firm handshake and honest questions from Chris about their own dreams and aspirations. Some even got lessons about how to shake the hand of another human. Photo: Peter Handley

Chris flew a Cessna in and a Chipmunk out and he left memories to last a lifetime for several hundred young boys and girls. Hadfield has many achievements, but I am sure some of the finest are still to come.

I wrote to Chris to see if he would mind us doing this story about his visit, a courtesy I feel anyone in his position deserves. He agreed to the story, but with a clear message that he felt that the volunteers who worked so hard to make the show such a success deserved the same and even more respect. So typically Hadfield.

Air shows last for two days, inspiration lasts for generations.


A Day with Chris Hadfield—photo album.

Hadfield’s first duties upon arrival was to go to the boardroom to meet with a few lucky families who had won an air show promoting radio contest to have 15 minutes of private time with the global celebrity. Here he speaks about living in space for 5 months as the daughter of one family looks on with rapt attention. Chris shared his thoughts in both French and English on this day and even Russian to one young boy. Photo: Peter Handley

The winning family and Chris had an animated conversation about life above the planet and in their own family’s somewhat smaller sphere of experience. Raising two young girls was their commitment and, like Hadfield, they put everything into it. Being able to share a few minutes with this global role model was, I am sure, a formative experience for these young Canadians. Photo: Peter Handley

Meeting with a group of three English-speaking families, the adults held back and made sure that the children were closest to Hadfield and had a direct experience with him. This set the tone for the entire day. Here he explains the effect of zero gravity on bone development. Photo: Peter Handley

Hadfield, if anything, understands that the air show was the result of hard work, professional input and volunteerism and he would always take the time to share a word and a photo op for air show organizers. Here he poses with the Gatineau Flight Services Station staff in the cab of the tower. Photo: Peter Handley

After meeting with the radio contest winners, Commander Hadfield found his way to the control cab and then out onto the roof of the terminal where he accepted an award from the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association for his promotion of General aviation in Canada. He received this from president Kevin Psutka in front of the air show crowd. Here he watches as Kevin introduces him. Photo: Peter Handley

While being interviewed by air show announcers, Chris, the eternal kid, watches as a CC-150 Polaris refuelling aircraft roars down the show line trailing drogues and two apparently thirsty CF-18 Hornets. Photo: Peter Handley

As Chris speaks, the crowd begins to turn away from the show and approach his perch on the roof. Photo: Peter Handley

Later, in the VIP tent, Chris is introduced to two of Vintage Wings’ most generous supporters, Helen Salkeld (right) and Isobel Creelman. Photo: Peter Handley

Helen Salkeld (left) and Isobel Creelman talk to Hadfield of their own flying experiences, Helen being a pilot. To be able to connect folks like Salkeld and Creelman, who support our mission with fellow supporters like Hadfield, is a satisfying accomplishment. Photo: Peter Handley

Hadfield autographed many things this day—from a ukulele to shirts, posters, hats, notebooks, even airplanes. Here a young girl, assisted by Vintage Wings founder Mike Potter, has her jacket signed with lots of flare. Photo: Peter Handley

Being a Vintage Wings board member and one of our pilots, Hadfield was among family. Here he chats with Vintage Wings Chief pilot Paul Kissmann who, among other things shared with Hadfield, is a former CF-18 pilot, test pilot and Hawk One Sabre pilot. Photo: Peter Handley

Hadfield autographs Alf Beam’s beautiful Fairchild Cornell, The Spirit of Fort Erie. Photo: Peter Handley

Walking through the hot zone to avoid the inevitable scrum, Hadfield passes his brother Dave, heading to the P-40 Kittyhawk, and shares a few joyful words. Photo: Peter Handley



Hadfield never tired of shaking the hands of our hard-working air show volunteers. Photo: Peter Handley

In February 2009, Chris Hadfield flew the Hawk One Sabre over Baddeck, Nova Scotia, where 100 years previously, J.A.D. McCurdy had made the first powered flight in Canada. The Hawk One F-86 Sabre was created as a special tribute to the Centennial of Flight, but will fly on in the years to come as a flying tribute to our Cold War warriors, many of whom were killed in exercises and training for an eventuality which, thankfully, never happened. After landing, Hawk One show pilot Mike Woodfield asked Hadfield to “ride the brakes” as the “Blingjet” was towed to the crowd line to act as a backdrop for a photo op with the ISS Commander. Photo: Peter Handley

Fields of Dreams!!! At the air show crowd line, Hadfield and Woodfield have a quick chat about their beloved “Sword”, the Hawk One F-86 Sabre Jet. Photo: Peter Handley

Meanwhile, the crowd awaits. Some families, recognizing the budding passion in their children for space and space exploration, brought them fully decked out in spacesuits. In my day, young boys would have six-guns and fringed Davy Crockett jackets to meet Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy. The effort this young boy and his family went to, made them a shoo-in for a one-on-one with the astronaut. Photo: Peter Handley

The cameras were machine-gunning away when this photo op appeared—the ISS Commander meets an astronaut of the future. One wonders if we will be on Mars by the time this young fellow is old enough to be part of the enterprise. Photo: Peter Handley

The joy and respect on the faces of ordinary Canadians were incontrovertible proof that Hadfield is perhaps the most recognizable living Canadian. Photo: Peter Handley

You just have to scan the faces of these children to understand the influence Hadfield can have on their lives. Photo: Peter Handley

Photographs or autographs, Chris Hadfield was tireless. Photo: Peter Handley

Above all else, Chris Hadfield is a family man, engaging his own wife and children in his new found enterprise as a communicator. Hadfield comes from what we like to say is the First Family of Canadian Flight— father, brothers, nephews, in-laws, all involved in aviation. His mother, Eleanor, is no exception, attending the Vintage Wings air show to display the contraption known as the Hucks Starter. Photo: Peter Handley

Swept up in the moment, Chris’ mother Eleanor asked him for an autograph too. The message he wrote on her jacket sleeve is telling. Photo: Peter Handley

On this day and any other day, Chris Hadfield pays special attention to Royal Canadian Air Cadets. Having found his start in aviation as an air cadet, Chris attributes much of his early formative lessons to what he learned as a cadet. Besides the flying skills he took with him from his cadet’s days, he admits it was more the intangibles that formed his will to succeed—discipline, respect, patience, goal setting. Photo: Peter Handley

Admiring Canadians knew in advance of Chris’ appearance at the Sunday show, so brought with them all manner of objects to sign, from ukuleles to spacecraft models to flight helmets. Hadfield’s new weapon of choice... the Sharpie pen. Photo: Peter Handley

The bond Chris establishes with each young person is unbreakable for the short time they spend in conversation. Photo: Peter Handley

Chris also spent some time visiting with the veterans of the Second World War who were our guests at the Veterans hospitality tent. He pulled up a chair and the veteran airmen and soldiers gathered round for a long talk. The gentleman speaking to Chris in this photograph was part of an engineering/construction crew that built the now-famous RCAF advanced airfield at Normandy known as B-2 at a French village called Bény-sur-Mer. Bény-sur-Mer was completed on 15 June 1944 by Royal Engineers, only 10 days after D-Day. Soon after, the airfield began seeing use by the RCAF’s 401, 411 and 412 Sqn and RAF’s 35 Recce Wing (2 and 268 Sqn), 136 Wing (263 Sqn) and 146 Wing (193, 197, 257 and 266 Sqn), flying Typhoons and Spitfires.

Bény-sur-Mer Airfield was used until early August 1944, and afterwards the engineers moved in and dismantled all recoverable equipment. The land was then returned to the French farmers and, over the years, it has been used as agricultural fields. Today, nothing remains of the former airfield. Photo: Peter Handley

Everyone stood back to allow the veterans open contact with the modern Canadian hero. Photo: Peter Handley

After the veterans had had their powwow with Hadfield, a couple of young air cadets, right out of central casting, had a moment with the ISS Commander. The lad on the right wears a Hadfield ISS mission patch on his shirt inside his cadet uniform. Photo: Peter Handley

The air show set up an autograph table so that ordinary spectators could line up for a signature and a word with Hadfield. The look on this lad’s face says a million words. Photo: Peter Handley

This image pretty well says it all. The delight of this young boy in meeting his hero is contagious. Photo: Peter Handley


The lineup stretched for 50 metres for an hour. Sadly, we had to cut off folks who had waited for some time. We had volunteers keeping them posted as to when Chris would have to take his leave. Chris’ greatest concern was to ascertain that no one left disappointed. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

Some of the crowd around Hadfield and Kissmann as they signed autographs... people were photobombing rather than waiting in line. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

There were several children presented to Hadfield this day who wore miniature spacesuits, including this interpretation of a Russian-designed Sokol (Hawk) spacesuit, with Canadian flag on the sleeve. Clearly this was made for the young astro-boy by Mom to represent the one worn by Hadfield on his Soyuz flights to and from the ISS. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

The intent with which this young girl looks at Hadfield is typical of all his encounters and proof that the youth of today, who will be the great leaders of tomorrow, understand that Hadfield’s accomplishments make him a role model to be emulated. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

The line presented Hadfield with one family after another for an hour, and he could have stayed for 6 hours and that line would never have diminished. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

When Hadfield was presented with this ukulele to sign, he asked if it was in tune. The woman who presented it to him said she didn’t think so. He played a couple of chords, declared it in tune and plinked away a happy tune. The autographed uke was to be auctioned off for a charity, but as an authentic Hadfield-signed AND played instrument, we hope it made even more for the cause. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

Knowing all the players, key volunteers, sponsors and organizers, I was assigned the duty of “handling” Chris Hadfield this day. Given that the entire day would be one big photo opportunity, I asked that Vintage Wings photographer Peter Handley accompany me for the time Chris was with us. At the end, as Chris was leaving, the normally shy shooter couldn’t resist one last “selfie”. Photo: Peter Handley



Being a member of the Board of Directors and a Hawk One pilot, Hadfield knows the important part that volunteers play in making the air show a success, and he always took the time to pose with them if they asked. Here, as he leaves, he grabs a couple of the marshalling crew for a photo op. Photo Richard Mallory Allnutt

The last thing I asked Chris to do was to pose with the Flight Lieutenant Tim Timmins de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk. Tim Timmins is a steadfast volunteer who had to man a security post all day and never had the chance to see Hadfield. Photo: Peter Handley

Vintage Wings pilot Kathryn Buchan straps her fellow pilot into her father’s Chipmunk for the flight back to Ottawa. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

Typical of a Hadfield, once in the cockpit, it was all business. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

Don Buchan, himself an air cadet instructor, takes off into the grey sky, bound for Rockcliffe with the air cadet turned spaceship commander in the back. Hadfield flew the leg to Rockcliffe, handing the landing over to Buchan, the more experienced Chippie pilot. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt

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