Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Old Bird Goes Far

Back in WWII, Edmonton's Blatchford Field (the old City Centre Airport) saw 800 planes takeoff and land a day, many of them on their way to Russia to fight Nazi Germany. In all, over 8000 planes were shipped from Montana to Alberta, to Alaska and across the Bering Sea to Siberia under the U.S. Lend-Lease program.

Many of them were flown by young, inexperienced pilots in freezing and dangerous conditions, with 177 planes never completing the journey. It was also a chance to shine for many women in the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), as they shuttled the planes from factories across the U.S. to the base in Great Falls, Montana, but very few people are aware of this bit of aviation history.

An intrepid band of pilots and aviation buffs (Bravo 369 Flight Foundation) have refurbished some of the planes that were used, and are retracing the route as part of a documentary called Warplanes to Siberia. One of them overnighted in our neighbourhood yesterday at Villeneuve Airport west of St. Albert, so I went out to take a gander.
The plane is a T-6 Texan, known in Canada as the Harvard, and a familiar silhouette on the prairies thanks to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. I arrived well after it had landed and passed pilot Jeff Geer and the crew of the Navion escort plane as they were walking away.

Apparently they had to divert from the Springbank Airport outside Calgary due to weather, and were hoping that the forecasted storms would pass through the Edmonton region quickly. I thanked them for coming and wished them well on their next leg, to Dawson Creek.

The canopy was covered, as you can see, but you could see the rest of the Texan clearly, and it is a gorgeous restoration job, but I was still saddened to miss the landing. Without motion, without the noise, there is little to distinguish the living, breathing machine from a static prop or replica.

It's been far too long since I've heard an engine at full military and I think I will remedy this by perhaps going back to Villeneuve for the Edmonton Air Show late August; they have a static display of a P-51 Mustang, but perhaps I can be on hand when it takes off. Or maybe I will head down to Nanton to see one of the engine run-ups they do with their Lancaster bomber; there is apparently a night run scheduled on August 21st, and I think it would be a great thing for the girls to hear before the endangered sound of those Merlin engines are silenced forever.

Lima Echo One Two was scheduled to take off at 1000 today from Villeneuve airport, and I doubt the weather was bad enough to hold her up. I'm a bit blue that I couldn't escape work long enough to see her come or go on her long trek to Krasnoyarsk, but I look forward to seeing the documentary some day.

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