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Pilots extol virtues of vintage aircraft Add to ...

The retired air force pilot stood on grass slick with rain, the object of his admiration a snub-nosed fighter jet.

It was painted in the spectacular livery of the Golden Hawks, the defunct Canadian aerobatic flying team.

The warbird looked like it had been designed by George Jetson for use by the Thunderbirds, a swept-wing, single-seat futuristic vision whose shortened nose makes it appear as much lawn dart as jet.

The air intake hole in the cone, like a giant nostril, gives it a slightly comical appearance. In its day, it was about as whimsical as the shark snout it resembles.

The Sabre was the cutting-edge of a technology designed to deliver sudden and spectacular death to the enemy.

Don McBride spent three years of his life flying a Sabre along our side of the Iron Curtain. He patrolled possible hot spots on the most dangerous front of the Cold War.

He was stationed in West Germany a half-century ago, a young man out of Goderich, Ont., a pretty port town on the shores of Lake Huron. Despite living on an inland sea, he wanted to take to the sky. The shooting had stopped in the Korean War by the time he entered Royal Military College in Kingston. By age 23, he was part of Canada's contribution in defending Western Europe from the Soviet Union, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization pilot facing down the Warsaw Pact.

"It was a wonderful thing to fly," said Mr. McBride, a 74-year-old retired air force colonel. "A pilot's aircraft. You could feel the controls. You felt part of the airplane."

The other side had Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17s and MiG-19s, "which were very good," he acknowledged, but he was always happy to be piloting a Canadian-built fighter.

This Sabre, known as Hawk One, took a roundabout route to get to the annual open-house held on Saturday by the B.C. Aviation Museum at Sidney.

Owned by Vintage Wings of Canada, it left its home at the Gatineau airport in Quebec with stops at an air show at Oshkosh, Wis., then on to Winnipeg, Calgary and Comox. Hawk One is scheduled to appear at the Abbotsford Airshow this weekend. and a Bolingbroke, an Anson and a Norseman, as well as biplanes, gliders and helicopters. The museum's volunteer restorers are at work on rebuilding a Harvard, known as a "Yellow Peril" by aircrew for its bright mustard colour, the terrible noise it made on takeoff and its many deadly training accidents.

Others are working on a Vickers Viscount 757, a postwar turboprop originally delivered to Trans-Canada Airlines in 1957. When its flying days ended 23 years later, vocational students in Vancouver received maintenance training on it. The museum bought it for $1 five years ago and had it barged across Georgia Strait.

Weekend visitors toured the interior, peeking into the cockpit, checking the four ovens in the galley at the rear, giggling at the garish pink toilet. Mostly, though, they admired the wide seats with spacious legroom, a reminder of the days when air travel was classy.

The museum has wonders beyond flying machines. Weapons, uniforms and medals are all on display, as are silk maps designed for use by pilots trying to escape after parachuting over enemy territory.

Propeller heads can make a pilgrimage to a wall of propellers, while the meteorologically inclined will admire a Dines anemometer, used to measure wind speed.

My favourite is an ejection seat from an Avro CF-100 Canuck interceptor. It comes with a survival pack - oxygen bottle, sleeping bag, food pack, first-aid kit, fish hooks, snare wire, a folding .22 Hornet rifle with ammunition and a supply of Dexedrine to stay awake.

Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Victoria with all that stuff.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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