CANTEEN HOURS - The canteen will be open for 15 minutes twice a day. We don't know which 15 minutes, but the word will get around, so jump to it when you hear.
SPORTS - Same as yesterday, snow-ploughing and snow shovelling.
DRESS - It has been noticed that some of the personnel have got into the habit of going around unshaven and improperly dressed. This practice should cease. It is not likely that it will, however.
LOST - Flying suit complete with helmet and boots. Last seen bobbing up and down among snow-drifts near the garage.
|The Grass Roots Squadron at Pendleton. (Author's Collection)|
Looking out across the airfield, one realizes the scenery hasn't really changed in more than 75 years. I could have easily, just moments ago, unfolded myself from a Fleet Finch than the relatively modern Smith.
We walk across the old tarmac towards the Boudreault hangar. The war time building is named for club member "Shorty" Boudreault who, in August 1948, flew a German-designed Grunau Baby glider for five and a half hours. For this feat, balancing his open-air craft atop waves of turbulent air along the Eardley Escarpment, Boudreault became the first Canadian to be recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) with the Silver C Soaring Badge.
We push through the southernmost door and into what would have served as the ready room - where pilots lounged before embarking on a flight. I recognized it immediately as I'd spent a fair amount of time in its Mountain View counterpart. Here, however, the drywall had been removed to expose the studs and the open space of the hangar floor beyond.
|While this shot was not taken at Pendleton, it gives you an idea of the standard construction and interior of the world war two hangars in Canada. This is Tiger Moth 8958 - which tells us this was most likely taken in a hangar at Arnprior. This Moth was taken on strength on 26 June 1942 and then used by No. 3 Flying Instructors School at Arnprior beginning 1 August 1942. It was sent to No. 9 Repair Depot for scrapping on 20 December 1943 following a crash and struck off strength 13 April 1944 for spare parts. (Photo Courtesy: Library and Archives Canada)|
|This is a Fleet Finch I on skis in one of the hangars at Rockcliffe, 17 December 1942. (Photo Courtesy: Library and Archives Canada)|
|Bojan inside the Boudreault hangar. (Author's Collection)|
"No," comes the drawn out sigh of a reply, cut short by a sharp drag on a half-finished cigarette. "They sent the poor bugger out to fill in the holes the undercart left in the field. That's bad enough, already."
A roar of laughter.
"Besides, there's no damage, nothing wrong with her," another drag and a wry smile. "Johnson, on the other hand..."
Another roar of laughter. A claxon sounds.
"Alright, lads," bellows another. "Back to work!"
Cigarettes fall to the ground and fizzle under the toes of scuffed leather boots. The clatter of their steps fades as they return to their respective tasks.
We leave the hangar through the main door and amble back to the airplanes. There's a tall, older gentleman standing by the Smith - blue jeans, ball cap, green windbreaker flapping in the breeze.
"A Smith?" he asks as I walk up and with a cheery hello, drop my knee board onto the seat.
"My dad built one years ago," he says. "Early 60s."
|Chris (top) and Bojan (bottom) with Champ C-FILL at Pendleton. (Author's Collection)|
The Puchacz, however, flies as if on a string. There are no wasted movements. The turn from base to final is deliberate, calculated and paradoxically beautiful. The right wing of the Puchacz sweeps soundlessly overhead - casting a momentary shadow as I look up to watch, squinting. There is no noticeable flare. Rather, the pilot flies his craft onto the grass and keeps it balanced there. As it slows, he adds a boot of right rudder and the glider turns gracefully onto the asphalt. Stopped now, the pilot ground flies it for a moment, using the breeze to keep the wings level. Then, he allows the left outrigger to fall gently into the grass - kindly leaving most of the runway clear for my departure.
Moments later, we're galloping across the turf - a fantail of trembling grass and decapitated dandelions in our wake. Pendleton is by no means a manicured golf green. It's a bumpy ride and so I've taken care to keep the tail low throughout the roll. We're still hopping along comically as we pass the glider. Both the pilot and instructor are leaning against the nose of the Puchacz, arms crossed, smiling wistfully. One casually flips his hand up to his brow in salute and best wishes for a safe trip home.
We hit another furrow in the field and are catapulted into the soft cushion of ground effect. We linger here for a few moments while the airspeed builds before climbing into the wind spilling over the pine trees at the end of the field.
As we climb away and leave Pendleton behind, a sense of loneliness sweeps over me. My squadron mates have flown away, melting into the blue sky to the south-east. In a little more than half an hour, they'll touch down in the fly-in community near Lancaster, Ontario - a small town on the edge of the St. Lawrence between Cornwall and Les Cedres where I learned to fly fifteen years ago. A cup of coffee and enthusiastic conversation surely await them there as Lancaster is famous for its hospitality. Instead of sitting on a cedar deck overlooking the airfield, my feet up on the bannister, I'm heading home early. The sense of missing out leaves me feeling empty.
I lower my goggles to shut out the wind and quiet some but not quite all of the noise. I roll my shoulders back and relax into the seat. In light of the starter issue, I have a strong feeling this will be our last flight of the season and I'm determined to relish it.
I imagine I'm leading a three-ship formation. There's a Moth bobbing about off my left wing and a Finch plowing along on my right - Kinner radial engine pop-pop-popping away merrily, gleefully belching grease at her pilot. He tries to wipe his goggles with the back of a gloved hand and only succeeds in making it worse. Pushing his goggles up, he flashes me a jovial grin topped by a handlebar moustache ensnaring several globs of grease. The Moth pilot is more reserved, very business like. His eyes, cold and hard even behind the shelter of his goggles, don't leave my ship. He offers only a curt nod.
We crawl westward at 1500'. I make only minor heading changes which my ethereal escorts match with fluid precision. We make quite the group, flying only feet apart but separated by 75 years. I wonder about their names and hometowns, whether they have sweethearts and what spurred them to take up the fight.
|The Rockcliffe site in 1965. 15/33 has been closed. (Photo Courtesy: GeoOttawa)|
When I arrive overhead Rockcliffe, I see there is a strong wind blowing across the field from the north - precisely as forecasted. While not a howl, it can be characterized as a robust shout. 75 years ago, I would have approached from the south and taken runway 33 almost directly into the wind. Today, however, I am forced to weather the wind's broadside if I'm to bring this flight to a safe conclusion.The Smith's small cross-section and high wing-loading make handling a crosswind a little easier. The control feedback and roll authority is terrific and so the approach is steady and beautifully controlled. With a fair amount of into wind aileron, we sweep over the fence and into the flare - rounding out to balance ourselves mere inches above the asphalt. I ease the right main down and it touches almost exactly at the same time as the tailwheel. For a moment, we ride along on only two wheels. The little biplane leaning heavily into the wind but rolling faithfully straight ahead. I let the left main drop onto the runway and, as we slow, progressively add more right aileron. The Smith slows to a brisk jog and then a walking pace. My feet are aching and I realize they've been working the rudder automatically - small movements but at a furious pace. My legs are trembling. Adrenaline. I've 900 hours aloft and now more than 100 in this slick little ship but it still gets my blood pumping.
|FAM in 1985 at Rockcliffe. The 1939 hangar is in the background, marked for demolition. (Family Collection)|
My squadron mates return two hours later as I'm elbow deep in the Smith's engine compartment - trying to clear a gummed-up starter bendix. It's of little use as I'm sure we'll need a new one and less confident that it'll arrive and be installed before the end of the season.
I can hear the excitement in their voices as they spill out of their airplanes and walk across the tarmac. It was a good trip but they're glad to be home. Bojan walks over, full of concern for me, the Smith and the maintenance issue that forced us back early and (not quite) alone. He tells me about the trip. I tell him about the Moth and the Finch and sheepishly admit that I know I'm silly for having imagined it.
There's no ridicule, however - just a smile. Somehow, in him too, this trip has stirred whispers and echoes of a time long ago.
|The Smith waiting for a new starter. (Author's Collection)|
The insights from early in the piece come from a special edition of the "Pendletonic" - a No. 10 yearbook of sorts produced for the occasion of the base's complete handover to the air force. It includes amazing scenes of life on the base, including photographs of Pendleton before and after the station's construction. I highly recommend having a look. It has been posted by the BCATP Air Museum in Brandon, MB and can be viewed at the following link: