Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rare warbird arrives in region

- Pilot Rob Fleck, right, president of Vintage Wings of Canada and Barry Aylward, president of Kitchener Aero Avionics Ltd., stand with an F-86 Sabre after it arrived at the Region of Waterloo International Airport on Wednesday for maintenance.

Reprinted from The Record, Kitchener by Brent Davis

BRESLAU — A rare bird was spotted in the skies over Waterloo Region Wednesday.

A warbird, actually. A Canadair F-86 Sabre 5 jet fighter, to be precise.

The Cold War-era plane touched down at the Region of Waterloo International Airport, but not before pilot Rob Fleck put the jet through its paces with a handful of high-speed flypasts.

It’s here to undergo a cockpit upgrade — a complete overhaul of its avionics systems — which will likely be completed in four to six weeks by Kitchener Aero Avionics Ltd.

“This will give this aircraft probably another 15-year lease on life,” said company president Barry Aylward. With over 30 years’ experience, Kitchener Aero has worked on unique planes in the past, including the Avro Lancaster based at Hamilton’s Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

“We get into the kinds of projects that are just outside the domain of other companies,” Aylward said. “My technicians are thrilled to work on something like this.”

The Sabre is owned by Gatineau, Quebec-based Vintage Wings of Canada, a charitable organization which acquires, restores and flies classic aircraft. Purchased in 2007, it was restored and repainted in the colours of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Golden Hawks aerobatic demonstration team, one of the forerunners to the Snowbirds.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this plane, nicknamed Hawk One, if you’ve been to a Canadian air show in the past couple of years. Following its restoration, Hawk One took to the skies in 2009 in celebration of the Canadian centennial of flight.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield is one of the pilots who have flown Hawk One before crowds totalling about two million people each year. The plane was featured here last summer at the Aviation Expo & Airshow, and it’s expected to return for the show this August.

“It’s an honour and a privilege to fly this aircraft,” said Fleck, president of Vintage Wings. “It’s absolutely a dream to fly. It has 1950s technology and it flies like a year-2000 fighter.”

Now a commercial pilot, Fleck served for 10 years in the Canadian Forces where he flew CF-104 Starfighters, T-33 Silver Stars and CF-18 Hornets. Fleck was the first winner of the Canadian Forces’ CF-18 Top Gun award.

The Canadair Sabres’ cousins, the North American F-86 Sabres, first made a name for themselves in the Korean War, where dogfights against Soviet-made MiG-15s became the stuff of legend.

Built in 1954, Hawk One was based at a Canadian base in France for much of its military career. Although it never actually flew as a Golden Hawk, it was seconded to the team in 1962-63, and was retired from military service in 1968.

With a top speed of 600 knots, Fleck’s Sabre could have made the trip here from Gatineau in about 23 minutes. But Fleck kept the plane down to normal jet aircraft speeds on Wednesday.

“I’m trying to save gas,” he laughed. “We’re a charity.”

1 comment:

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