At the Going Down of the sun

On 15 September 1940, the future of Great Britain was unknown. The Luftwaffe’s Heinkel and Dornier bombers, accompanied by hordes of Messerschmitt fighters, had been hammering cities and airbases on an almost daily basis for more than two months. On this particular Sunday, the epic aerial conflict we now call the Battle of Britain reached its zenith. On 15 September of 1940, the Luftwaffe launched its largest and most concentrated series of attacks against London in the hopes of drawing the Royal Air Force Fighter Command into a final daylight battle of annihilation. It did not succeed.

By the time the sun set on that day, as many as 1,500 Luftwaffe and RAF aircraft and their crews had taken part in this, the greatest battle of the greatest battle. The day was most certainly the climax of the Battle of Britain, though there would be many still to die before it was over at the end of October. This tipping point day, 15 September, is still commemorated each year in Great Britain as Battle of Britain Day, while Canadians annually celebrate it on the third Sunday of September, which it was in 1940. Either way of calculating the day of remembrance is meaningful and has been celebrated throughout the Commonwealth now since the end of the war.

This year, the Royal Canadian Air Force, Vintage Wings of Canada and the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM) will be celebrating the day with a public flying cavalcade over the airfield at the Gatineau–Ottawa Executive Airport—featuring fighters from Vintage Wings and assets of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The event is being held Sunday, 17 September 2017, at 10:00 a.m. and is open to the public. For more information click here. To get ready for this event and to photograph fighters of the Michael U. Potter Collection together for the first time with the newly-completed Roseland Spitfire Mk IX, a special formation was launched at the end of the day, Tuesday, 12 September.

The temperatures were sublime, the skies clear, the air still and warm, the sun setting, the pilots ready, the aircraft polished and fuelled. There will likely never be another time like Tuesday when all the necessary ingredients were in place for a perfect photo shoot.

As the flight progressed, the imagery became more and more emotional. The beautiful late summer Canadian landscape was as it was on 15 September 1940 when Canadians like Ottawa’s “Skeets” Ogilvie were fighting for their lives in the skies across the ocean and over London. It was these hills and lakes and farms and cities that they were fighting for. To keep them safe from bullies. To keep them free from hate. To get home to them. To see another 20,000 more of these perfect sunsets. These thoughts were not lost on the pilots and photographer Peter Handley as they circled the city to the north.

The results from Handley’s camera and heart perfectly capture the commemorative flight and the meaning of the day. We invite you now to join him and Paul Kissmann in the cockpit of the Harvard for a flight back in time.

Dave O’Malley

First to depart, Paul Kissmann wheels the High Flight Harvard down the runway, with uber-excited Peter Handley in the back. While Kissmann will position the aircraft well, the visual outcome of the entire mission rests on the skills and experience of photographer Handley. If he fails to achieve excellence, there will never be another chance like this. The outcome, however, was never in doubt with this author. Photo: André Laviolette, Vintage Wings of Canada

The practice begins. Mike Potter, founder of Vintage Wings of Canada, in the Spitfire Mk IX, The Roseland Spitfire, takes off with the sun dropping. Photo: André Laviolette, Vintage Wings of Canada

John Aitken, Chief pilot at Vintage Wings, thunders from the Gatineau runway in The William Harper Spitfire Mk XVI. Photo: André Laviolette, Vintage Wings of Canada

Paul Kissmann in the Harvard closes in on the formation. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Flying under the formation we see a perfectly spaced group of British-designed fighter aircraft of the Second World War flying into the setting sun. In the lead is Mike Potter in the Spitfire Mk IX, followed by Aitken in the Spitfire Mk XVI and Erdos in the Hurricane IV. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Heading to the east, Aitken leads now, in echelon left. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

In echelon left formation, Aitken leads the group in a southerly turn over the green forested hills of the Ottawa Valley. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Swinging round to the west to complete the 360-degree turn, the formation tightens up and looks spectacular with the Ottawa River and the town of Rockland, Ontario in the distance. It was in this very area that Canadian Spitfire ace Irving “Hap” Kennedy, DFC and Bar was born and raised. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Stacked up in echelon with the setting sun directly off their noses. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Repositioning above the formation, Kissmann and Handley capture the fighters as they fly over the shaded depths of valleys and lakes in the Outaouais region. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

The formation, with Potter now in the lead, thunders in silhouette back to the east again with the hazy rolling hills of the Outaouais misting into the distance. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Using Adobe Lightroom technology, Handley is able to change the feeling of the previous photograph, coaxing detail and light from the silhouettes that one would think was not there. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

As the sun headed to the horizon, the lighting got better and better. Handley captures the formation at its absolute best—perfectly spaced. You could draw a straight line from Potter’s wingtip to Aitken’s and then to Erdos’. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Kissmann drops below the formation, while Handley twists round in the Harvard’s cockpit to look back. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Heading northwest, the sun flares from the fighters, while below the shadows begin to deepen. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Long shadows over Outaouais farmland and woodlands gives a soft and hazy backdrop as the formation turns toward the sun once againPhoto: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Enough saidPhoto: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

As the photo shoot progressed, the sun dipped lower until it began to light up the underside of the aircraft. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Now heading southeast, the formation flies over classic cottage country north of the Vintage Wings hangar. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

As they swung through turns the sun, the lighting provided constantly changing effects. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Potter, in the Roseland Spitfire Mk IX, leads a picture-perfect formation in an easterly direction. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

The sun’s last rays burst from a lake’s surface and flare from the wings. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Heading back west. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Heading back westPhoto: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

A pair of roses. A rare photo of the two Vintage Wings Spitfires together—in front, the Roseland Spitfire, dedicated to Canadian Spitfire pilot Arnold Roseland and in back Spitfire Mk XVI (SL721) once known as the Rose Garden Spitfire when it was on display for seven years in the 1960s at Lord Montagu’s Motor Museum at Beaulieu. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Kissmann positions the Harvard below. From this angle, the sky is startlingly blue and cloudless. In the lower left corner, an airliner at altitude leaves a contrail as it heads south. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Potter leads them to toward the sun, while the sun heads toward the horizon. Seeing this, one could imagine three fighters heading home after a sortie over France in 1943. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

A gorgeous shot of the formation, this time in dying light with the angled propeller blades picking up the sunlight. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

The sun now lights up the underside of the fighters as they head towards its setting orb. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

A lovely shot of Potter in The Roseland Spitfire lit from beneath by the dying sun. Here the elegance of the Spitfire wing and its filleted connection to the fuselage are highlighted in beautiful relief. Master structures man Ken Wood can look at this image and see five years of his life. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Enough said. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Handley takes a selfie… with the Harvard photoship in the picture for the first time. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

The Roseland Spitfire over a typical Canadian lake. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Returning to base, this time lead by Erdos. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Just seconds before Erdos breaks to the right, the formation overflies the ramp at Vintage WingsPhoto: André Laviolette, Vintage Wings of Canada

The overhead break begins with Erdos from an echelon left formation. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

First to land was Erdos, seen here rolling out. The large landing flaps of the Hurricane are evident in this image. Photo: André Laviolette, Vintage Wings of Canada

Mike Potter, in The Roseland Spitfire Mk IX, executes a picture-perfect curving approach to Runway 27 at the Gatineau–Ottawa Executive Airport in the last light of the day. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Mission accomplished, Potter backtracks to the taxiway. Photo: André Laviolette, Vintage Wings of Canada

Kissmann brings the Harvard close under Aitken in the William Harper Spitfire Mk XVI to inspect the undercarriage at Aitken’s request before landing. All good. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

And now it’s Miller Time! Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Aitken rolls out on landing. Photo: André Laviolette, Vintage Wings of Canada

First to take off, last to land, Kissmann is on base leg of his landing at Gatineau. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Kissmann touches down as the sun sets. Photo: Peter Handley, Vintage Wings of Canada

Chercher
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