This was to be the mellow, uneventful day of the long weekend. Both RPG games were off for the week, so it was go in to the museum, stop by Fabricland on the way home, plant some bulbs, finish the current sewing project.
Somehow I also ended up flying in a B-25 bomber.
When you volunteer as a tour guide at Canadian Warplane Heritage, there’s always a chance a seat might free up on one of the warbirds. It’s happened before–I got a free ride on the DC-3 that way a few years ago–but chances for the museum’s heavy hitters, like the Lanc, the Mitchell, and the Canso–are rare. But not unheard of.
Today was a gorgeous fall day. Driving in to the museum this morning, I took the back way through the countryside, noting that the trees were just starting to hit their peak colour, with the reds of the sugar maples and sumacs punctuating the brilliant oranges and yellows. The sun was out, as well, the blue sky bedecked with just enough fluffy clouds to be picture perfect. It turned out to be a busy day for flying, as well, although a little too windy for the open cockpit Tiger Moth. The B-25 wasn’t doing any member flights today, but it was out on the ramp awaiting a 1 pm scheduled flyover, along with the C-47 (which was doing member flights) of the Forge FC game. The vast majority of people there were either flying or accompanying someone who was. The cafe was closed–it’s been shortstaffed lately–but one of my fellow tour guides had brought in muffins, and I had known ahead of time to bring a sandwich. I had signed up to do the 10 am outside tour; I had just a single visitor, but he was in all the way from England for three flights, including two later in the day, so it was less a formal tour than a chat about the museum and the various aircraft. After I came back from the tour, I ate my lunch, and then proceeded to do the rounds of the floor. That’s when I ran across Dave Rohrer, the president and CEO of the museum. He mentions that the B-25 is going out later–and would I know of three tour guides that might want to come along?
Long story short, about half an hour later, I’m signing a waiver and then climbing aboard. Two of the four passengers can sit in the back of the plane and two up front, just behind the pilots and the flight engineer.
I ended up in the right front seat, right beside the engine. Before they fire up the engines, we put on headphones–which means we can listen along as the pilots and engineer go through their pre-flight checklist. This was one of the best parts of the whole experience–I’ve watched this process from the ground many times before, but to hear it and understand the steps taken to start each engine, for instance–it was just amazing. We got to hear the pilots chatting back and forth with the tower, taking the plane to a different point on the ramp than usual for the engine run-up to allow things to warm up a little. And then, we were off.
The fall colours were even more spectacular from the air, especially the escarpment. I’ve seen this area before from the air, of course, on my DC-3 flights, as well as flying out of Hamilton to Nova Scotia, but never in the fall, and certainly never in a WW2-era bomber.
The best part was because we were catching up with the C-47, which was coming back from a member flight to meet up with us for the fly-over, there was a series of tight-and-not-so-tight turns over Burlington as we pulled up with the other plane. We did three or four loops as we waited for the scheduled time for the fly-over. This is not an experience many people who fly on these planes get to experience.
I didn’t really get a view of the stadium we were flying over (because of where I was sitting); apparently the game wasn’t well attended. But this did give me a really good sense of what the pilots flying these bombers on missions might have done, such as lining up on landmarks and flying in formation–again, not things the average guest on one of these flights would get to see. Besides the gorgeous fall colours and Burlington Bay, I also got an aerial view of the industrial area of Hamilton, which I’ve seen hundreds of times from the Skyway but enever from this perspective. After about 45 minutes in the air, we flew over CWH before an incredibly smooth landing.
I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten this opportunity to ride along on this flight. I think it’s given me an incredible new level of understanding of this particular plane, one of the more iconic and ubiquitous aircraft of WW2.
I’d expected yesterday’s excursion to feature the most scenic views of the weekend. We went to the St. Catharines farmers’ market, and after an incredibly decadent grilled cheese sandwich, we decided to go to Niagara-on-the-Lake before stopping in at Betty’s to pick up a turkey dinner. We walked down to the lakeshore, where we got a great view of Ft. Niagara in New York State, Toronto across Lake Ontario, and a truly palatial bird house.
I also planted a whole lot of dollar store spring flower bulbs this afternoon–aliums, crocuses, narcissus, and more of the Dutch irises. After having almost given up on finding them this year, there they were in a Dollarama on the way to the Rogers store to upgrade my phone. After 5 1/2 years, the old one, which struggled mightily to find a 3G signal and mostly failed, had served honourably and was ready for retirement. I now have an iPhone 11 – definitely not the latest and greatest, but with twice the memory of the old one and with 5G capabilities.
Tomorrow: Thanksgiving with friends, and then off to Montreal on Tuesday.