Meet Derek!

Derek is our President, Director of Flight Operations, and pilot of our T-33, Vampire, and L29. The founder of our team, Derek has been involved in getting our historic aircraft in the air since day one. He sat down with us to share some background on how Waterloo Warbirds came to be, share some of his most memorable aviation experiences, and offer advice to aspiring aviators. 

As the founder of the team, tell us about that process and what goals you hoped to achieve with the group.

Our focus as a team is to restore, maintain, and fly historic aircraft. My main motivation for founding the team was to create an environment that allowed that to happen in a sustainable way so we can continue fulfilling that mission for years to come. Through my involvement in other aviation groups and organizations, I also met a number of aviation enthusiasts who offered a lot of value as volunteers, and I wanted to create an environment that maintained and expanded that close-knit group.

What is your role with the team day to day?

I’m the team’s President and Director of Flight Operations. I’m responsible for developing and maintaining manuals and regulatory paperwork, tracking pilot training, training the Flight Coordinator, liaising with authorities like Transport Canada and Nav Canada, and generally overseeing group operations. In addition to those roles, I’m also a pilot for the T-33, Vampire, and L29.

What is the coolest thing about flying a Cold War era jet and how does it differ from the other flying you do? 

The speed and maneuverability of the jets are what really stand out in flight compared to something like a Cessna 172. Getting to fly fast and upside down never gets old! In terms of actually preparing to fly from a pilot’s perspective, the jets are a lot more work to fly at every step. 20 minutes in the air takes around 3 hours of prep, which is a really different experience from a lot of other small aircraft. When you’re in the air, you also have to think 20 miles ahead with the jets - how high you’re going to have to be, what your speed is going to have to be, who you have to talk to for your flight to be a success, and so on. Those are all elements of every flight regardless of the airplane, but with everything happening so quickly in the jets, you have to be ready.

As someone who flies three of our jets, how do you find they differ from one another?

The T-33 is a Cadillac, the Vampire is a British MG, and the L29 is a Corvette. The T-33 is big and comfortable, the Vampire is British (if you know, you know!), and the L29 is a hot rod, especially with the Viper engine upgrade.

Do you have a favourite? We won’t tell the other jets!

It’s got to be the T-bird because it’s just so big and cool.

You also fly a Cessna 172. What’s it like going from that to one of the jets?

The jets look scary and complicated, but from the pilot’s seat it’s not that much more of a complicated airplane in my mind - it’s just a matter of training. As with anything in aviation, you just need to progressively train and get comfortable and checked out on the airplane, but the basic flying skills are the same.

When we train new pilots on our jets nowadays, we typically have another certified pilot on the team train them and check them out. Given that you were the first to fly the T-33 and Vampire after they were bought, how did you go about learning to fly them?

For both, I worked with outside pilots who were highly experienced in each jet. I learned to fly the T-33 from Bill “Turbo” Tarling, who has the highest number of hours in the T-33 in the world, with over 7,000 hours logged. For the Vampire, I learned from Matt Hampton from the Vampire Preservation Group. 

What first got you interested in aviation?

Aviation has always been part of my family. My grandfather was in the Air Force in World War 2 and my family currently owns an FBO [Flite Line Services], fuel company [Hammond Fuels], and pilot supply store [Hammond Aviation]. One of the biggest things that got me really interested in aviation personally, though, was flights I took with my grandfather and dad when I was a kid in their Piper Aztec and Cessna Cardinal. 

 What is your most memorable experience with the team?

Last year, a group of our team members all went down to Oshkosh [EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin]. I had been before, but this trip was the first time I had the opportunity to bring my kids. Oshkosh is such a unique experience and getting to share that with generations of aviation lovers (or budding aviation lovers) was really fun. 

What is your most memorable flight experience in one of our jets?

Something that’s always fun is doing longer transits to and from air shows that are farther away. Shows we’ve done in Bagotville [Quebec] and Scranton [Pennsylvania] come to mind. The longer flights are interesting because the distance makes the whole trip feel different. They give you a real opportunity to develop a partnership with the person in the back seat when they have a role to play in navigating or recording flight information. As these are older jets, there is no automation so you really have to rely on yourself or your passenger on those longer trips.

 What advice would you give someone interested in aviation?

If you’re young enough, join Air Cadets. You get exposure to a lot of aviation that way and you can also get your pilot’s license through that organization. Even if you’re not interested in the pilot track, you get a really good training and make great contacts for life.