In our Aug/Sept issue, Rob Erdos muses on float flying and we discuss night aerial firefighting. Plus: Air Canada in the pandemic, KF Aerospace at 50 and Canadians in the Battle of Britain.
Nearly 45 years after retired Col George Miller led the famed Canadian Forces Snowbirds aerobatic team, he is still flying in formation.
In 1973, Miller was appointed as Snowbirds commander, following Col Owen Bartley “O.B” Philp, who formed the aerobatic team in 1968.
He later followed Philp as base commander of CFB Moose Jaw, Sask., and retired from the Air Force in that position in 1988. [In 2016, both Miller and the late O.B. Philp were inducted as members of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.]
After moving to British Columbia in 1991, and serving as manager of the airport in Langley, B.C., Miller established a formation team of Navion aircraft, named the Fraser Blues.
On Nov. 11 each year, the Fraser Blues perform a formation flypast over Remembrance Day ceremonies in the area. Flying four aircraft, they make a pass with streaming smoke trails over each event. This November, cenotaphs at eight locations were treated to a flypast at Legions, cemeteries, community and veterans’ organizations.
While working on the story and video about George Miller for the Aviation Hall of Fame’s 2015 induction ceremony, I learned about the Fraser Blues and his Navion aircraft. Miller and his wife, Christel, have flown it across Canada, but I would never have guessed that one day I would be flying in a formation with him.
With great delight, I accepted an invitation to fly with Miller on Remembrance Day 2017. Each aircraft carried two passengers. With us was Tristan Dyke, a second-year university student who was an award-winning Warrant Officer first class in Air Cadets, who holds both his glider and private pilot licences.
Miller was in the lead, with his son, Guy, flying on the starboard side in his own Navion. [Guy has succeeded his father as manager of the Langley Airport, after serving as an RCAF pilot, followed by 13 years as a commercial airline pilot.]
The other two very experienced pilots on the team are Ray Roussy and Clive Barratt.
Low clouds were not low enough to prevent flying, and tower instructions were not to exceed 1,500 feet. Thus, the aircraft were close enough for all spectators on the ground to have a good look at the Fraser Blues and their Remembrance Day aerial tradition.
In some 40 minutes in the air, we passed over the eight locations where ceremonies were underway, as we approached 11 a.m. Upon landing, the day’s events continued with hangar flying over coffee. Then, a lively afternoon of camaraderie followed at the nearby Cloverdale Legion, where pipe and drum music and choral singing of Second World War tunes contributed to the social gathering of remembrance.
The Fraser Blues hosted a concluding dinner at the airport’s Adrian’s Restaurant, which was attended by pilots, spouses and passengers, capping off my most memorable Remembrance Day ever.
For more information, visit the Fraser Blues website.
To see a video of the Remembrance Day flight, click here.
John Chalmers is the historian for Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.