Thursday, September 9, 2010

Flypast to honour Metro aviation legend

Reprinted from the Times & Transcript by Brent Mazerolle

This Sunday, Al Lilly will fly over the runways of Lakeburn again.

Moncton's most famous aviator died at age 98 back in 2008, but a beautiful vintage aircraft that now bears his name will perform a flypast during the City of Dieppe's Battle of Britain ceremony Sunday afternoon.

Lilly was the first Canadian to break the sound barrier by putting his Canadair CF-86 Sabre into a steep dive over RCAF Station Dorval on Aug. 9, 1950 before thousands of Montrealers who came out of their homes and offices to see the test pilot's historic flight.

Now the City of Dieppe and the Dieppe Military Veterans' Association will pay tribute to the Canadian Air Force by having a Canadair CF-86 Sabre recently named for Lilly pay a brief visit.

The event will take place at 3 p.m. in the J. Laurie Cormier POW Park located on Champlain Street opposite the former entrance of the Greater Moncton International Airport.

"We will pay tribute to the numerous men and women who fought courageously in the Battle of Britain," Dieppe Mayor Jean LeBlanc said. "We will also mark this event with a special and unique flypast."

Purchased from a private collector by Vintage Wings in 2007, the Sabre, also known as Hawk One, was fully restored and repainted in partnership with Canada's Air Force to celebrate the Canadian Centennial of Flight.

The Hawk One CF-86 is the first jet aircraft in Vintage Wing's fleet of rare aviation masterpieces that help commemorate Canada's rich aviation heritage.

The Vintage Wings plane was the 1,104th Sabre to come off the Canadair assembly line in 1954. This particular model, serial number 23314, served at 441 Squadron at Marville, France. Although it was never part of the Golden Hawk fleet, the plane served at RCAF Station Trenton for the team tryouts in the fall of 1962 through to spring of 1963. It retired from service at CFB Chatham in 1968.

Art Cuthbertson, past-president of the Dieppe Military Veterans' Association, which invited the aircraft and will pay a share of its operating costs, said the plane will make three passes, one to honour the late Al Lilly and another to honour the late Don McClure. Both men are members of the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.

A third pass will honour Mike Doiron, who recently retired as the CEO of the acclaimed Moncton Flight College.

Al Lilly was Canadair's chief test pilot when he broke the sound barrier. He also ferried aircraft overseas for RAF Ferry Command and briefly taught flying in Moncton. Don McClure, one of Lilly's students, was a pilot with the Moncton Flying Club who trained pilots at Chatham and Neepawa, Manitoba under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. He was later the CEO and principal of the Moncton Flying Club from 1959 to 1989.

The F-86 was named the "Al Lilly" at the suggestion of Cuthbertson.

It was christened in May at a ceremony in Ottawa with one of its pilots, astronaut Chris Hadfield, presiding over the ceremony, along with RCMP Superintendant Greg Peters, Director of Strategic Partnerships Heritage Branch. Lilly's first career was the RCMP, where he was the founder of the police dog services program and then one of the force's early pilots.

When the Second World War broke out, Lilly gave up his second career with a British airline to return to Canada and join the Royal Canadian Air Force, teaching new pilots in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program (BCATP).

He then flew with Ferry Command, transporting equipment and many types of planes across the Atlantic. He received a commendation from King George VI for delivering the first six Hudson twin-engine bombers to England during the Battle of Britain, making a series of what at the time were perilous flights between Gander and Scotland to get the planes into the war effort.

He continued ferrying planes throughout the rest of the war.

Following the war, he joined Canadair and was instrumental in positioning the aircraft manufacturer as one of the largest producers of aircraft in the world - a distinction that brought recognition to Canada during the Cold War era.

There he captained the inaugural flight of the F-86 Sabre, then a cutting edge aircraft that would form the backbone of the US Air Force's fighter fleet during the Korean War.

He retired as a vice-president of the company in 1970 and he and his wife Genevieve, a Moncton native he met while posted here in 1937, settled here permanently after decades of summering in Shediac.

Fortunately, Dieppe's annual battle of Britain ceremony coincides this year with the Halifax International Airshow, where the Al Lilly will be flown by pilot Mike Woodfield. Woodfield will leave the airshow Sunday to make the short trip to Dieppe.

Art Cuthbertson said yesterday the Dieppe Military Veterans' Association will happily accept donations at the ceremony to offset the cost of bringing in the aircraft, but there is no admission fee for those who want to revisit our aviation history.

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