"In the Company of Eagles" is the title of a book written by Ernest K. Gann, and which I read at least thirty years ago. It still sits on my shelf and I may read it again after the last Saturday night that I spent "in the company of eagles".
Gann wrote of two mortal enemies in World War I, a French fighter pilot named Paul Chamay and a German fighter pilot named Sebastian Kupper. Chamay and Kupper were fictional gladiators in the early days of aviation. The "eagles" that I spent time with Saturday were (and are) gladiators in peace and war. All of them have made significant contributions to Canada as aviators or aviation pioneers.
The occasion was the annual ceremony inducting deserving members into the Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame.The Hall is physically located in Wetaskiwin, Alberta along with the Reynolds Alberta Museum. The Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame and the Reynolds Alberta Museum are two jewels that, if you haven't visited, you should. They are modern, relevant and spectacular.
One couldn't begin to add up the years of experience in the room of about 250 men and women who have forged Canada's history through the use of the aircraft and aviation.
4 Wing Cold Lake's Aerospace Engineering and Test Establishment (AETE) was recognized with the Belt of Orion Award for outstanding contributions to Canada's aviation development by providing world class flight test and experimental services. The folks at AETE have led the way in the flight test business. That granted, as an old friend said later in the evening: "It's nice to see that AETE has finally finished the Harvard (Mk I) flight notes".
It was a thrill to be in the room with the spirit of people like the late Alexander Beaufort Fraser Fraser-Harris. Way too many names, but a man who was called the "Father of Canadian Naval Aviation". His wife, Jean, gave an eloquent thank you for the honour bestowed on one of the few men who had the personal integrity to just say "no" to Paul Hellyer and the folly of departmental integration of the Canadian Forces in 1964.
Kenneth Cecil Maclure's spirit (1914 - 1988) was also celebrated and recognized as a pioneer in the field of polar navigation and safer worldwide air transport operations. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't stop Martin Hartwell from getting hopelessly lost in the North and in need of rescue by the CF Search and Rescue folks three times, but that's another story.
Live and in person was Eric McConachie who spent fifty-two years as an innovator with Canadian Pacific Airlines, Canadair, Bombardier and in private consulting. He was largely responsible for the international success of Bombardier's Regional Jet program.
Also live and in person was one of the most accomplished, yet modest, Canadian aviators with whom I have had the pleasure to work. Colonel (ret) Chris Hadfield is one of the few Canadians to truly "slip the surly bonds of earth" as an astronaut aboard Shuttle Missions STS-74 and STS-100. Chris tells a great story of loitering at low level in a two-ship formation of CF-18s going about as slow as they could and Chris's aviator father, Roger, doing a split-S to join on their wing with his tail-dragger aerobat. Flight safety weenies should note that the statute of limitations has expired.
Many, many pioneers of Canadian military and civilian aviation enjoyed the evening with the Guest of Honour, Lieutenant Governor Normie Kwong, who offered a slightly cheeky, but situationally appropriate toast to "my new buddy, the Queen".
The point of this positive blog (two in a row; I think I'm becoming a wimp) is that Canada has a rich heritage in aviation that must be preserved and promoted. I'm told that the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame has some financial challenges. This is probably not a surprise, but it is something that needs to be addressed.
In large part, Canada was built by air within our borders and our national mettle was forged on the world stage by our aviation heroes in peace and war over the past century. It is a legacy that we have a sacred duty to protect.
When I spend time like last Saturday with people like Hall of Famer Joe Schultz (night fighter ace flying Bristol Beaufighters and DeHavilland Mosquitos with 410 Cougar Squadron), it makes me appreciate what some Canadians has been through to give us what we so take for granted today.
Some years back, I made representation to Heritage Minister Sheila Copps about how the Canadian Forces Snowbirds should be funded as a national program and not just as part of the CF budget. I was thanked, patted on the head, and told to leave such weighty decisions to the grownups.
I don't know what the annual budget for the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame is, but it's money well spent with respect to preserving Canada's heritage. I'm sure that Heritage Minister, the Honourable Liza Frulla would love to hear from you at Frulla.L@parl.gc.ca about how much you value and want to preserve Canada's aviation heritage and the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame. The Conservative Party of Canada Heritage Critic would also like to hear from you at Oda.B@parl.gc.ca. She didn't tell me that, but I'm sure she won't mind.
It was somehow appropriate that, while about twenty aviation folks were enjoying the fruits of vintners' and distillers' labours in the front bar of the Westin later in the evening, former Minister of National Defence Perrin Beatty should come through the front door to say hi. He thought he was just there to check in.