A landmark day - June 15-16, 2013

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A landmark day - June 15-16, 2013

Postby meteorite » Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:34 am

The man who approached me in the supermarket was tall, solid and ruggedly built, looking to be in his upper 40s. Without preamble, he asked me if I had been in the Air Force.I explained that The War had ended a month before I would have been eligible to enlist. I inquired into why he was asking. Obviously bubbling over with triumph and excitement, he told me a Mosquito would be coming to the Hamilton Air Show this year.

Instantly I felt like Coleridge's wedding guest - "he held me with his glittering eye", and while no loud bassoon was heard, my wife was waiting at the checkout. But suddenly I had to hear his tale.

The deHavilland Mosquito was an integral and inseparable part of my youth. A unique aircraft with airframe built entirely of wood, it had two big Merlin engines so strong it could outrun the legendary Spitfire fighter. It could be used for almost anything, and was. High-speed, high-altitude photo-reconnaissance aircraft? Obvious and natural. Unarmed light bomber, defended solely by its speed? See the raid on the Gestapo headquarters in Amiens, and a number of similar attacks. Sling a cannon under its nose and it was a prime trainbusting attack aircraft. Give it a bigger cannon and it was the terror of submarines crossing the Bay of Biscay, or night-running supply convoys hugging the coasts of Occupied Europe. Put a good radar in the nose and send it up as a dynamite night fighter. In fact it was no slouch as a daylight fighter, either. Want to keep the enemy up and amused all night? Send it out with a two-ton bomb in the bay, to drop in his lap. There was no seeming end to the things the Mosquito could be rigged to do, and was.

This is the aircraft that will be coming to Hamilton in June - the only airworthy Mosquito left in the world.

De_Havilland_Mosquito_11.JPG (59.85 KiB) Viewed 4436 times

One aircraft, Mosquito FB.26 KA114, built in Canada in 1945, has recently completed restoration by Avspecs Ltd, Ardmore New Zealand and flew for the first time on Thursday 27 September 2012. The restored Mosquito is owned by Jerry Yagen and is heading to its new home at the Virginia Military Aviation Museum, in Virginia Beach, USA,. A complete set of forms, jigs and moulds will allow for new Mosquitos to be built.

Yes, this one, in the fighter-bomber configuration, is a sister to the one my older cousin served in during the War, before being transferred to Lancasters. I live perhaps a little over a mile from the plant where this aircraft was built, on the flight path it likely used on its first test flight. The buildings are still there, but the name on them now is Bombardier, who bought deHavilland, and unique, sophisticated aircraft are still built there, and still flown over my home pretty well daily - sometimes several times a day.

When this aircraft was built, I was a kid starting high school. I lived in a world of wartime shortages and restrictions, but in a young country proud of its military tradition of extraordinary efficiency based on planning, ingenuity, and outstanding courage and bravery. The busy aircraft factories, where Downsview Park now stands, produced the mighty Lancaster heavy bomber, the Mosquito, the Tiger Moth primary trainer, and various others. Each plane was test flown, mostly over the city which was far smaller then. Our skies were almost permanently full and noisy, since there were training fields on Toronto Island (Little Norway, where young men who escaped the Nazis came to learn the weapons that would carry them back to help liberate their country), Leavens Air Service on Dufferin Street, a gentle summer's walk from my present home, Downsview itself (only recently de-commissioned as a Canadian Forces Base) and others around the periphery. There were the bright yellow trainers - the Tiger Moth primary trainer, the intermediate Princeton, the noisy and challenging Harvard, and the endless parade of Avro Ansons with their distinctive diamond-shaped tailplanes, training multi-engine pilots, navigators, bomb-aimers and gunners. And of course from time to time a new previously unseen aircraft would come by, perhaps carrying VIPs, or for research purposes.

Our skies were always busy and, by we young boys filled with nationalistic pride, closely watched. We had family or friends or neighbours out fighting for us in aircraft like that. Is it any wonder we cannot speak of them without choking up a little?

And the Mosquito was special even among these aircraft. It was built in our plants, right in our city. It was one of the most outstanding, useful, flexible and efficient aircraft ever introduced into anyone's armed forces, and we knew it.

And now, one of our own is coming home, the last surviving veteran, after close on 70 years. It will join in a flypast at the airshow with the Lancaster owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum based in Hamilton, and the two iconic fighter planes of the Battle of Britain, the Hawker Hurricane and Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire, the three types that do the annual Battle of Britain flypast over London every year.

The Mosquito is in many ways the most symbolic of the aircraft flown by the RCAF. It belongs to our history, to our tradition, is so somehow definitively Canadian. We built it, we flew it, we fought in it.

I'll be planning and hoping to be at the Hamilton Air Show in mid-June, and maybe I'll even get a photo of the aircraft that mean so much to so many Canadian families. And if you see me wiping away a tear, remember - there's a reason.
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