“Hawk One,” a Royal Canadian Air Force F-86 Sabre 5 in the colours of the legendary Golden Hawks aerobatic team will be the first plane to arrive, followed by the “Gray Ghost,” which is a Goodyear FG-ID Corsair fighter. The Gray Ghost Centennial Tour is a tribute to Canada’s naval aviators during the ongoing celebration of the Canadian Navy Centennial.
“The appearance of both of these aircraft is a rare and significant event,” said Dan Dempsey, Hawk One team historian and event organizer. “Having these planes on display here provides a unique opportunity for Victorians to learn about Canada’s aviation heritage since many of the airmen who flew these and other similar aircraft in the RCAF and RCN are now retired in Victoria. This includes pilots who flew on each of the RCN’s aircraft carriers – HMC Ships Warrior, Magnificent and Bonaventure.” Both aircraft are the sole remaining flying examples of their type in Canada today.
After Vintage Wings purchased and restored the Sabre to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada last year, they searched the world for a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair that they could adorn in the markings of the aircraft flown by Lt Robert Hampton Gray of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. Gray lost his life during the war in the Pacific while serving aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Formidable and was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously, the last Canadian to be honoured with that medal. On Aug. 9, 1945 with his engine on fire, the 27-year-old native of Trail, B.C., dropped his one remaining bomb on a Japanese escort ship before his plane plunged into the ocean just a few days before the war ended.
“He is the only foreign serviceman to have a memorial in Japan,” said Dempsey. “We’d really like people to come and have a look at this plane. This may be the only time in history the Gray Ghost is on display in Victoria.”
An arrival date for Hawk One is still pending but it will be plainly evident when it flies over the city sporting a glimmer of gold and red in the sky before it touches down on the tarmac at Victoria International Airport. It will be flown in by Vintage Wings’ general manager Rob Fleck. The jet will go on display at the airport’s B.C. Aviation Museum (1910 Norseman Road in Sidney) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on August 7. Dempsey will be on site conducting the static display and showing people the cockpit and answering questions about the legendary jet. “The museum’s Open House is really a family affair and it will be great for kids,” he said. “Folks will be able to see many classic aircraft, including a replica of the Gibson Twin Plane which first flew in Victoria 100 years ago. There is also an Air Canada Viscount under restoration which is the pride and joy of former Air Canada staff and a new Snowbirds’ display that features local pilots and ground crew.” During last year’s celebration of 100 years of powered flight tour, which travelled across Canada, Dempsey, a former commander of the Snowbirds, had the opportunity to fly the aircraft across Western Canada, including Victoria.
“A pilot can only dream about flying a plane like this. It was really a special experience to be one of the five pilots who flew Hawk One during our centennial. I believe it has the most beautiful paint scheme to ever adorn an F-86 Sabre anywhere in the world,” he said. “People of my generation and older will remember being mesmerized by the beauty of the Golden Hawks and today the Snowbirds carry on that tradition. We estimate that over two million Canadians saw this plane on tour last year.”
On August 10 the Gray Ghost arrives from Comox. It will salute CFB Esquimalt’s Pacific Fleet at 4 p.m and fly over Victoria before it touches down at the airport for a private meet and greet with local veterans and invited guests. The next day it will be available for public viewing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Victoria Flying Club in Sidney (101-1852 Canso Road). Dempsey is encouraging retired naval aviators to come out to answer questions and talk about their flying experiences with the public. The Gray Ghost Centennial Tour began with the Battle of Atlantic ceremony in Ottawa on May 2 and will have visited Ottawa, Halifax, Lethbridge, Calgary, Wetaskiwin and Comox before it soars into Victoria and Abbotsford.
“I would like to thank all of the corporate sponsors who have assisted Vintage Wings of Canada in saluting our aviation heritage” adds Dempsey, “especially Discovery Air for Hawk One and Raytheon Canada for the Gray Ghost. It’s exciting to have them represented here and they made this tour possible, as have the BC Aviation Museum and Victoria Flying Club who are hosting the aircraft.”
Following the Victoria displays, both aircraft will perform aerobatic shows at the Abbotsford International Airshow from August 13 to 15. In the Gray Ghost’s cockpit will be LCol (Ret’d) Paul Kissmann, former commanding officer of 433 Tac (F) Squadron, and a test pilot with the National Research Council in Ottawa and Vintage Wings of Canada, while Hawk One will be flown by Maj Will Radiff of the Canadian Forces, a former CF-18 Hornet demonstration pilot.