It’s the skies that bind

Aviation is younger than the land. It is younger than the Rocky Mountains or the Canadian Shield or the Prairies or the Niagara Escarpment. It is younger than the peoples who have lived here for millennia, younger than the forests and the railroads and the fisheries and the farming communities that rose out of the soil.

But aviation is not much younger than Confederation–the union of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and parts of present-day Ontario and Quebec in 1867 that laid a foundation for the Canada we know today.

Aerobatic pilot Jerzy Strzyz of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., is scheduled to fly his Sukhoi 26 in all stops on the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour. Aerophoto International Photo
Aerobatic pilot Jerzy Strzyz of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., is scheduled to fly his Sukhoi 26 in all stops on the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour. Aerophoto International Photo
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The Wright brothers’ first flight came just 36 years later, and as aircraft and pilots grew in sophistication a Canadian industry grew with them, playing a vital role in building, connecting and sustaining the second-largest nation in the world.

So it is fitting that as Canada prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation this year, its aviation community will be front and centre. Dozens of celebrations are being planned, channeling the same boldness and ambition that fuelled the industry’s evolution and the evolution of Canada as well.

Wings over the North

There are few bolder or more ambitious projects for Canada’s sesquicentennial than the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour, a series of airshows that aims to visit 97 communities across Northern Canada starting on June 2.

Forty-seven of the shows will be “wheels-on-the-ground,” meaning aircraft will be able to land and spend time in the communities where they perform. The remaining shows will feature aerobatic displays overhead and show personnel arriving via ground transportation.

A core group of 15 performers is expected to participate throughout the tour, including Harmon Rocket and F1 Rocket kit-built planes flown by Team Rocket, an aerobatic duo made up of Ken Fowler from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., and Eric Hansen from Cold Lake, Alta.

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds will fly over Parliament Hill on Canada Day and will play an essential role in the sesquicentennial celebrations. Mike Reyno Photo
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds will fly over Parliament Hill on Canada Day and will play an essential role in the sesquicentennial celebrations. Mike Reyno Photo

There will also be two other aerobatic planes flown by pilots from Rocky Mountain House: a Sukhoi 26 flown by Jerzy Strzyz and a Burt Rutan Long-EZ flown by Kyle Fowler.

Two Second World War-era Harvard aircraft from the Yellow Thunder Harvard Formation Team of Ponoka, Alta., are expected to perform in the tour’s Eastern Canada leg. The pilots will be brothers Drew and David Watson.

The remaining shows will feature performers that vary from community to community, along with educational programs that invite show attendees to think about how the North fits into the future of Canada.

“We are also working very closely with organizations with regard to promoting aviation careers,” said Nancy McClure, president of the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour.

“That is going to be a big focus for us: talking about the ability for communities in Northern Canada to be able to, I guess, grow their own.

“How can we make sure that pilots, AMEs [aircraft maintenance engineers], etc., are able to be enthused about not only taking on those careers, but being able to stay where they’re from in order to keep those jobs covered, as opposed to companies in the North having to bring in people who have no interest in staying there?”

A team of volunteers will travel to all 97 airshows, linking with local volunteers who will help make each show unique. Some local additions may be as simple as a community barbecue in conjunction with the airshow, while other communities will link their airshow with larger events, such as the Midnight Sun Fly-In, a float plane festival in Yellowknife, N.W.T.

“Each one is different,” said McClure. “Some of them are doing this as an opportunity to showcase some of their traditional art and traditional dance, etc.

“So [in] each community, it is a unique secondary event that is based on what they want it to be, and I would say that is all volunteer-driven.”

Team Rocket, an aerobatic duo made up of Ken Fowler from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., and Eric Hansen from Cold Lake, Alta., will participate in all stops on the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour. Ken Fowler Photo
Team Rocket, an aerobatic duo made up of Ken Fowler from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., and Eric Hansen from Cold Lake, Alta., will participate in all stops on the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour. Ken Fowler Photo

Five main shows are planned for Yellowknife, N.W.T.; Whitehorse, Yukon; Iqaluit and Baker Lake, Nunavut; and Churchill, Man. They will be similar to any airshow in Southern Canada, said McClure.

The tour is being funded with contributions from federal, territorial and municipal governments, as well as corporate sponsorships, and through online crowdfunding.

“In order to bring anything into these locations, you’re going to be bringing it in by air,” she said. “So if you’re going to be doing that, this is something that we can use to make aviation a celebration.”

Vimy Flight

Canada’s sesquicentennial falls in the same year as the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, arguably the nation’s most celebrated military victory and one seen as a defining moment in its history.

Aerial photographs informed the creation of new maps that guided members of the Canadian Corps who captured the ridge in northern France in April 1917. Men from all regions of Canada are said to have been represented at the battle, where 3,598 Canadians died and another 7,000 were wounded.

BGen A.E. Ross, who commanded the 28th (North-West) Battalion at Vimy, famously said: “In those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

To mark the 100th anniversary of the battle on April 9, four Nieuport XI replica Scout aircraft, two Sopwith Pup replica biplanes and one Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a replica biplane traveled to France. The Nieuports and S.E.5a  flew over the Vimy memorial as part of Canada’s contribution to the anniversary, while the Sopwith Pups were on static display.

The Nieuports belong to an organization of former Canadian military pilots known as Vimy Flight, which plans to tour them across Canada and participate in Canada 150 celebrations in Ottawa on July 1. The Sopwith Pups, which were built at the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, B.C., are also slated to join the nation-wide tour.

“Pride is more of an American word than a Canadian word, but [Vimy is] something to stand tall about,” said Allan Snowie, team lead for Vimy Flight. “You don’t celebrate war, but the achievements by our young men and quite a few young nursing sisters in those days were extraordinary.”

Vimy Flight grew out of a larger Canadian Heritage-supported project called A Nation Soars: Commemorating Canada’s Great War Flyers, which is anchored by a trilogy of one-hour documentaries from Ottawa-based Sound Venture Productions.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the battle on April 9, four Nieuport XI replica Scout aircraft, two Sopwith Pup replica biplanes and one Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a replica biplane traveled to France. Lyle Jansma Photo
To mark the 100th anniversary of the battle on April 9, four Nieuport XI replica Scout aircraft, two Sopwith Pup replica biplanes and one Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a replica biplane traveled to France. Lyle Jansma Photo

Vimy Flight Nieuports are featured in key flying sequences of the first two documentaries, Drawn to Victory and Wings of Courage.

The third documentary, Flight Path of Heroes, will focus on the Canadian Corps’ stunning victory at Vimy. A film crew was scheduled to follow Vimy Flight during its visit to France, and footage from the trip will be included in the documentary.

“If we want to understand the world today, we’ve really kind of got to get a good sense to know and remember what truly happened in the past,” said Tim Joyce, president and CEO of Sound Venture Productions.

“As we live through this centenary of 1914 [to] 1918, there’s a great opportunity and I think even an obligation for people who are willing to go for it, to make sure Canadians do not forget.”

Military

The Canadian Forces CF-18 Demonstration Team will make its usual tour of airshows across the country this summer, with a new paint scheme inspired by the official Canada 150 logo.

The creative concept features a stylized maple leaf that appears in several variations on the body of the aircraft, most prominently on the wings and tail. The cockpit, wings and tail are mostly red, with white accents on the nose, wingtips, tips of the tail, and the aircraft’s belly.

North American Harvard Mk IV aircraft, pictured here with the 2016 RCAF Demo Hornet, will take part in several sesquicentennial events this year. Mike Reyno Photo
North American Harvard Mk IV aircraft, pictured here with the 2016 RCAF Demo Hornet, will take part in several sesquicentennial events this year. Mike Reyno Photo

A Canadian Forces Snowbirds CT-114 Tutor aircraft will also be painted with the Canada 150 logo and used in static displays this year. Both the CF-18 Demo Team and the Snowbirds are slated to fly over Parliament Hill on Canada Day, and the CF-18 Demo Team is to take part in five stops on the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour.

“The RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] already has a special bond with so many Canadian communities, especially those that contributed so much to Canada’s air training program that helped lead the Allies to victory in the Second World War,” said Maj Holly-Anne Brown of RCAF Public Affairs.

“The 150th gives us a great opportunity to be a part of their celebrations, to further strengthen that connection, and we’re really looking forward to it.”

“I think it’s important to remember that Canada is still a very young country, and we have done amazing things in such a short period of time,” said Maj Scott Spurr, a fellow RCAF public affairs officer.

“And who knows what we’re going to be doing for the future, but whatever it’s going to be, you can guarantee the RCAF is going to play a major role, or certainly a big part in it, just because of the nature of what we do.”

Harvards

The Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team, based in Woodstock, Ont., is a tribute to Second World War veterans that plans to participate in several venues during Canada’s sesquicentennial.

They include the Norseman Festival in Red Lake, Ont., in July and plans to take part in the Canadian International Airshow in Toronto.

Team coordinator and wingman Dave Hewitt has been flying Harvards for 27 years and performing formation aerobatics in Harvards for 17 years. The aircraft’s significance to Canadian history, particularly as an advanced trainer during the Second World War, is not lost on him.

“It’s a huge, huge role,” he said. “Not only is its design an awesome trainer, it developed very good pilots, being nicknamed the ‘pilot-maker.'”

Porter Airlines

Porter Airlines is celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary with a special colour scheme on two of its Bombardier Q400 turboprops. Porter is the official Canadian airline for the celebrations and will provide flights for artists and promotions.

The aircraft will have custom designs on their tail sections featuring Porter’s fun and recognizable raccoon mascot, as well as the Ottawa 2017 logo. These planes will fly throughout Porter’s network of 23 destinations in Canada and the U.S.

All 29 Porter aircraft operating this year will also have Ottawa 2017 decals beside their boarding doors.

“As the nation’s capital, Ottawa will be at the centre of celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday,” said Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines. “Porter proudly embodies the modernity and founding spirit of Canada, so this partnership is a perfect fit for us.”

Canada 150 Global Odyssey

When Bob Dengler received the first Bell 429 helicopter delivered in Canada in September 2010, he began thinking about using it to circumnavigate the globe.

He faced a few setbacks, including chemotherapy, that affected his ability to plan the trip. But now, at the age of 76, he’s ready to go.

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“We’re still forging ahead,” said Dengler, who lives in Aurora, Ont., and is the founder of Dynatec Mining. “I’m back to normal, and we’re gangbusters on getting this whole thing put together for the first of July.”

Bob and Steve Dengler, along with Rob Dugal MacDuff, are celebrating Canada's 150th birthday by trying to become the first Canadians to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter. Hockey hall of famer Guy Lafleur is also scheduled to join them for part of the journey. Mike Reyno Photo
Bob and Steve Dengler, along with Rob Dugal MacDuff, are celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday by trying to become the first Canadians to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter. Hockey hall of famer Guy Lafleur is also scheduled to join them for part of the journey. Mike Reyno Photo

In conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Dengler and his son Steven, along with former Bell 429 test pilot Rob Dugal MacDuff, plan to fly more than 37,000 kilometres around the northern tip of the globe, visiting every Canadian capital city along the way.

If successful, it’s believed they will be the first Canadians to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter.

The journey is set to begin July 1 in Vaughan, Ont., before touching down in Ottawa and Montreal. Then they’ll visit all four Maritime provinces before moving on to northern Quebec, Nunavut, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, the North West Territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario before finishing up at the Bell helicopter plant in Mirabel, Que.

Canadian astronaut and physician Dr. Dave Williams and Hockey Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur are both scheduled to ride along for portions of the journey.

In total, the project is expected to last 35 to 40 days and will include several stops at locations important to Canadian history, including the Vimy memorial in France, where the pilots intend to place a wreath.

There will also be a stop in Baddeck, N.S., the site of the first airplane flight in Canada; and Signal Hill, N.L., where the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean was received in 1901.

“One of the big appeals is, there’s been no other Canadian ever do it, so why not?” said Dengler.

“But the other thing is to tie it in with Canada’s 150th birthday, and kind of bring Canada a little more presence in the world in terms of our aerospace achievements.”

The next 150

Many have noted the importance of the railroad in helping create the Canada we know today, linking East with West and making possible the efficient flow of food and other supplies.

Kyle Fowler of Rocky Mountain House, Alta.,, will fly his Burt Rutan Long-EZ aircraft across Northern Canada as part of the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour. David G. Shultz Photo
Kyle Fowler of Rocky Mountain House, Alta.,, will fly his Burt Rutan Long-EZ aircraft across Northern Canada as part of the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour. David G. Shultz Photo

Some would say aviation is just as important in linking North with South, a role that is not expected to diminish any time soon.

“If we talk about aviation building the North, the need for aviation has not decreased,” said Nancy McClure, president of the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour.

“It has now increased, and its profile in the North is going to become larger, not smaller.”

As Canada’s aviation community celebrates the first 150 years of Confederation, it has an opportunity to think about the role all citizens will play in the next 150 years.

“For some people in Canada, the last 150 years isn’t necessarily something they want to celebrate,” said McClure. “So we have to acknowledge that, but then we have to move forward.

“So let’s see, how will that look, moving forward?”

– With files from Andy Cline

Ben Forrest is assistant editor of Skies magazine. Before joining Skies in 2015, he spent the better part of 10 years in the newspaper industry, where he worked as an editor, sports editor and general assignment reporter.

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