An appearance for Waterloo Warbirds at any show or event often starts long before attendees are preparing to leave their homes. Our venture to Air Force Day, at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, this past weekend is a great opportunity to go behind-the-scenes for a look at what goes into an appearance, and how things don’t always go as planned!
We started prepping for this event the evening prior. When their work day ended, some of our crew headed to CYKF to begin prep of our support trailer. In here, we carry everything from merchandise and booth supplies, to tools, and any specialized hardware, consumables or spare parts we may need for a short trip away from home (tow bars, battery cart, and so on). Trailer loaded, locked and ready to roll, we arrived early Saturday morning and focused our attention on getting the aircraft ready to fly.
Saturday began with most of our alarms going off at 5am, and crew beginning to arrive at the airport as early as 5:30am. We were bringing four aircraft to Air Force Day; this is more than we’ve ever brought to an off-site event, so extra prep was needed! Our aircraft were spread between two hangars on the field, so we coordinated towing them all into a nice lineup on the ramp; in front of our sponsor FBO, Flite Line Services. The lineup was impressive, to say the least.
Now servicing began. Most of the aircraft required oxygen system top-ups and/or nitrogen system top-ups. As a result, our servicing-trained crew member worked his way down the line with the cart. Almost all required fuel as well, so the fuel truck rolled over shortly after. Following the Pilot Briefing, Pilots arrived at their jet to begin the fueling process. Some, like our T-33, have a very meticulous and slow-moving fueling process with multiple fill points across the wings and tip tanks; requiring tremendous patience, on an exciting day, while fuel trickles between bladders in the wings and requires additional top-ups before fueling is finished.
By this point, our ground crew were on the road to CWHM with the support trailer. We arrived in good time to greet our aircraft upon their arrival, and also to ensure we’d met with event officials to find out where they wanted us to stop and park the aircraft, after arrival. One ground crew member remained back at CYKF to see the aircraft off, and joined us at the event site, an hour after the jets’ departure.
As the clock ticked for the ground crew waiting at CWHM, something was up – the jets had missed their formation arrival mark. Communicating back to base, we found out that one of the jets went mechanical. The MiG-15 did not receive a check mark on one of the “go/no go” items of the checklist following start-up. Our AME was on site (on his birthday, no less!) to help troubleshoot, but the call was made to send the remaining three aircraft, while the MiG returned to the shop for further review, on Monday. In aviation, we never accept anything less than absolute, and the reality is sometimes that means we adapt very, last minute to changes in schedules; and even with jets running and burning fuel on the apron, made the call to keep an aircraft back home from an event.
With aircraft now in the air, the 9 minute flight from CYKF to the museum in Hamilton went without issue. The Harvard had actually departed long before the jets, and was already on the ground in Hamilton. The two jets arrived together and our crew, with the help from CWHM crew members, made quick efforts of parking and towing them into our display area to join the rest of the team.
The skies held for most of the day, allowing a lot of people to tour through the museum and see amazing aircraft out on the ramp, including a tour of the RCAF Polaris aircraft joining the event that day. In the afternoon, the skies turned quickly against us! In a matter of minutes, strong winds blew in (thank you so much to the attendees whom ran over to our booth, helped to hold the tent down, and even helped us pack up rapidly). Then, the the skies opened, hard. An hour of pouring rain gave everyone ample opportunity to see the massive indoor aircraft collection at CWHM. Luckily, their hangar is large enough to easily hold everyone while the outdoor space was being showered.
Rain over, it was time to prep to head back home. On a short trip like this, oxygen and nitrogen systems are generally within acceptable levels still, but are checked, regardless, by the crew chief and pilot. All the jets required was fuel. The aircraft are capable of holding fuel for hours of flying at a time. Since it was a short 9-minute hop between airports, we didn’t fuel them to their max. We needed to ensure that the aircraft remain within their landing weight tolerances when they arrived at Hamilton, so we carried enough fuel to get there, as well as our standard safe reserve in case we needed to divert anywhere or return home.
Fueling now over, the pilots and flight crew began to “build their nests” in the cockpit as we say, and worked with the crew chief for each airplane to go through start-up procedures and after-start system checks. All systems go, and the throttle came up for the taxi to the active runway, for departure!
Crew and trailer were back on the road at this point, but they didn’t need to worry about meeting the jets at CYKF because our sponsor FBO, Flite Line Services, has a line crew that are trained to help with the jets when our volunteer crew are unavailable. We wrapped up that day by buttoning up each jet and moving them back into the hangars.; followed by a debrief. The next afternoon, we returned to CYKF once again, to give the trailer a good clean-up before finally calling it a weekend!
There you have it! Even appearing at an event being hosted a mere, nine minute flight away from base has a lot of logistics that our volunteer crew need to focus on. Getting four (later three) aircraft through that journey successfully took a crew (including pilots) of about 12 people who all played critical roles in the different operational elements involved in this appearance.
Thank you to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum for inviting us this year to Air Force Day! It is always a pleasure to work with the CWHM team, and look forward to being back soon.