Exhilarating & A Trifle Breath-takingTuesday, August 16, 2011
On Sunday I went to the 49th version of the Abbotsford Air Show with my friends Sean Rossiter and Graham Walker. Rossiter has always been most interested in airplanes and he has written books on test pilots, the De Havilland Beaver and the De Havilland Twin Otter. And when not writing Rossiter can be busy assembling plastic model airplanes. Walker is a graphic designer and (rare in this day and age) an excellent typographer. My guess is that his interest in airplanes has more to do with their shapes and their logos as studies in design.
As for me, I am from that diminishing generation that cannot take for granted the miracle of seeing a heavy piece of metal flying and will look up into the sky whenever the sound of an airplane drowns out that of automobile traffic on nearby Granville Street.
I have a relatively vast collection of books on aviation and there is one that I have a special fondness for. It is called Flying the World’s Great Aircraft with an introduction by Jeffrey Quill OBE, AFC and edited by Anthony Robinson (1979 Orbis Publishing, London).
This book magically puts me in the pilot’s seat and I am able to fly these wondrous planes without feeling the results of my terrible motion sickness which since I can remember made me eschew even the school swings.
At the Abbotsford Air Show (I plan to write perhaps one or more blogs on it) I took some snaps of an airplane that many would not find interesting. It is not ugly and brutal like an A-10 or huge like one of the battle gray air transports on the tarmac. The plane does not have the cachet of a Merlin Rolls Royce-powered WWII-vintage Supermarine Spitfire or the beauty of a P-51 Mustang that in being able to accompany all the way, the heavy bombers that bombed industrial (and not so industrial) cities of Germany spelled the end of Hitler’s regime.
The North American F-86 Sabre jet (RCAF F-86 Sabre 5 (Canadair Serial Number 23314) in the show was parked almost ignominiously on one end of the tarmac. I approached it and found it difficult to photograph without stray persons hovering around it. I tried and in the end the picture here has someone’s blowing hair on the top left (and I rather like it!).
When it flew it was without the noise of a CF-18. It seemed unmanly and graceful and one could almost forget that this was the only airplane that matched the MiG-15 during the Korean War.
Watching it fly, so gracefully I remembered what I had read in my Flying the World’s Great Aircraft in a section of the first British jet, the Gloster Meteor:
To a pilot, accustomed to the noise and clatter of a Spitfire, Tempest or Mustang, the dawn of silent, vibration-free flight was exhilarating, not to say a trifle breath-taking. However, to offset the speed with which cockpit checks had now to be performed, particularly in the circuit prior to landing, the simplification of engine controls reduced the work of the pilot considerably. Gone were the aggravating propeller pitch controls and the torque-induced swing on the take-off and landing. Landing was no longer the delicate balancing between flare-out and stall and it was no longer necessary to take care to avoid nose-over through too-harsh braking. It was little wonder that during the twilight period between 1945 and 1952, when jet aircraft were replacing the old propeller aircraft, Mosquito and Tempest pilots looked disdainfully upon the new generation and talked despairingly of the older aircraft still ‘sorting the men from the boys’.
Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, commander of the 336th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, was the first F-86 pilot to score a MiG-15 kill. On Dec. 17, 1950, Hinton led a flight of four F-86s over northwestern North Korea. To trick the communists, the Sabre pilots flew at the same altitude and speed as F-80s typically did on missions, and they used F-80 call signs.
Hinton spotted four MiGs at a lower altitude, and he led his flight in an attack. After pouring a burst of machine gun fire into one of the MiGs, it went down in flames. In April 1951, Hinton shot down a second MiG.
From Flying the World’s Greatest Aircraft here is Lt. Col Bruce Hinton's account of that first MiG kill:
“I decided to watch the MiG leader but work on No 2, who suddenly popped his speed brakes then retracted them immediately. That momentary drag increased my closure rate and I put my pipper on his tailpipe. My airplane abruptly began a violent twisting and bouncing in his jet wash, so I slid off to the inside slightly, clearing the turbulence. Rangedown to about 800 feet. I pressed my trigger for a good long burst into his engine. Pieces flew out, smoke filled the tailpie, and the flame lengthened out the opening. He lost airspeed at once and I put my speed brakes, throttled to idle and moved in closer to him. We hung there in the sky, turning left, with my airplane tight against his underside in a show formation. We were about 5 feet apart and I got a good close view of his MiG. It was a beautiful, sports car of a fighter. The silver aluminum of pure metal was clean and gleaming…He rolled on his back and dived, trailing smoke and flame, crashing into the snow covered earth below. There was no parachute.”
Hawk One Sabre