Friday, July 9, 2010

Snowbirds, Gray Ghost honour navy centennial

Reprinted from Calgary Herald
By: Least Orry, Calgary Herald, July 9, 2010

Airplanes are helping mark 100 years of the Canadian navy.

The Snowbirds and a unique Second World War aircraft are scheduled to make an appearance over the Stampede parade this morning.

The FG-1D Corsair, nicknamed The Gray Ghost One, has a special connection with the navy.

The Gray Ghost, owned by Vintage Wings Of Canada out of Gatineau, Que., is named after Lt. Robert Hampton Gray. He was a recipient of the Victoria Cross in the Second World War.

"Hampton Gray joined the navy at Tecumseh," said Robert MacLeod, commanding officer at HMCS Tecumseh, the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve based in Calgary.

"He grew up in Nelson and signed up in Calgary."

There's another tie, too. Corsairs were used on aircraft carriers and designed to keep landings short and takeoffs quick.

The plane is making appearances across the country in celebration of the 2010 Canadian Navy Centennial.

MacLeod noted it's a challenge to have people recognize the navy in a landlocked city.

Francis Belanger, Gray Ghost pilot, said he gets goosebumps when he thinks of the people who flew these Corsairs into battle -- some with only 20 hours experience in the cockpit.

"When you think of the history and flying this airplane, you just marvel at the elements and imagine what the kids went though," he said.

He wants everyone to be proud of them and the history behind the Gray Ghost.

"It reinforces respect for the men and women who have served and who are serving," he said.

The Gray Ghost, Canadian Forces Snowbirds and a restored Beechcraft Staggerwing were on display Thursday at a WestJet hangar during a company event.

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