Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vintage warplanes headed to Calgary for Stampede

Reprinted from Calgary Herald by Lea Storry,  June 30, 2011

History is in the air as four vintage aircraft head to Calgary for special homecomings during Stampede.

From 1950 to 1956, Calgarians could often see P-51D Mustang fighter planes over the city as part of the 403 "City of Calgary" Squadron.

On July 9, a charitable organization dedicated to aviation history, Vintage Wings of Canada, will land a P-51D at Springbank Airport and connect the past with the present.

"A couple of pilots who used to fly these planes will be there to talk about the P-51D," said Todd Lemieux, Vintage Wings of Canada pilot and volunteer."It's interesting to talk to the guys who actually flew these airplanes and can talk about it operationally -what it was like to fly them."

The P-51D is a low-wing monoplane that was primarily designed as a long-range escort fighter to accompany bombers during the Second World War.

In Calgary, the planes were used in other functions, including army support, training, transport and rescue operations until the Calgary squadron was disbanded in 1964.

"What's really unique about Calgary is part of their (pilot's) gear is a white cowboy hat," described Lemieux. "In the air they flew with their headsets, but as soon as they landed they put their hats on."

The warbird will be at Springbank Airport for four days.

While the 30 spots for the "War Bird U" ground school are full, there's still room for signing up for a $2,000 20-minute ride on July 11 or 12.
"It's an expensive airplane to operate because of all the gas it goes through," noted Lemieux. "We have two rides sold so far, including a veteran who wants his last flight to be in a P-51D."

Besides the P-51D Mustang, there are three other historical aircraft en route to the Calgary area.

The Vintage Wings "Yellow Wings" program is touring the country with a High Flight Harvard, VWC Fairchild Cornell MK II and VWC Stearman (Boeing) PT-27 Kaydet to pay tribute to the thousands of people trained on these planes in Canada during the Second World War.

Pilots from the Commonwealth and other allied countries came to airfields across Canada to hone their skills under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The $2.2-billion endeavour prompted then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to call Canada an "aerodrome of democracy."

Many of these wartime airfields evolved into present-day airports like the Calgary International. The Airdrie Airpark was the site of a relief landing field and it's here the Harvard, Cornell and Stearman will set their wheels down.

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