400 SQUADRON DOES WHEELS AND WINGS
DOWNSVIEW – SAT. & SUN. 28 & 29 MAY 2011
By Carl Mills
Sometime during the first week of May, I got an urgent e-mail from the Canadian Air and Space Museum (CASM) (aka Toronto air museum) indicating that they needed volunteers for their annual ‘Wheels and Wings’ aviation event at Downsview. I had no idea what I was volunteering for, however, I also volunteered my long-suffering (due to my aviation stuff) wife, Sonia, for two-days of duty. It turned out that they needed over-night guard duty, for me, and Sonia got to supervise the kid’s air-filled bouncy castle.
The CF-18 Hornet and 400 Squadron’s Griffon arrived later on Saturday morning due to weather but were a great hit along with the many other aircraft on display. There were also over a hundred exhibitors in the hangar with all manner of interest and excitement. It was great to see old friends including Col. Chris Colten (Executive Director of our National Air Force Museum in Trenton), Col. Dan Dempsey (of Snowbird and author fame),Gen. Paul Hayes (Past Honourary Colonel of 400), and the folks from the Canadian Aviation Historical Society – Toronto Chapter.
For guard duty on Saturday night, I parked my car between the Griffon and the Hornet in full view of an open fence area about 100 yards away. You have to understand that the old 400/411 hangars are now a sportsplex with vast spaces for floor hockey, soccer, and basketball etc. Hundreds of young males patronize these facilities until midnight, every night. They depart all pumped up and ready for more action. The first thing that they saw on Saturday night was the two aircraft on the ramp.
I had several interesting challenges up to about 0100 but managed to keep these guys clear with my car horn and by flashing my lights. I did have the Downsview Park (that’s what they call the base now) security as back up and was on the verge of calling them a few times. That part of the evening gave a whole new meaning to our motto “On Watch To Strike”.
During the night it was dead quiet and I could hear the red ‘remove before flight’ tails hitting the airframes in the light breeze - kind of spooky. At 0700, my relief showed. It was raining and the ramp was inundated with squawking sea gulls – the finale to a nostalgic (sort of) night on the old 400 ramp with the 400 Griffon.
Sunday, I arranged a photo op. with the four-man crew from Borden. Gen. Hayes was there and then I found Peter Mossman and Terry Cleland. Terry has been our exceptional 400 Squadron Pipe Major forever and Peter, the well-known Canadian aviation artist, has created six of the 21 known pieces of 400 Squadron artwork.
After nearly two days of endless and inquisitive spectators who wanted to know all about the machines and who wanted to get inside and touch everything, both the Griffon and Hornet crews prepared for departure at about 1500. The 400 guys, after a detailed check of the helicopter, fired up and did a neat exit. They hovered and then moving backwards toward the runway – the crowd applauded. They then rotated away, came around for a great flypast, and a wave to the crowd. Bravo Zulu (well done in navy speak) 400 Squadron – northern branch!!!
L to R: Gen. Paul Hayes, Cpl. Arthur Pidgeon, Capt. Courtney Hunt, Peter Mossman, WO “JP” LesParance, Capt. Geoff Baker, WO Terry Cleland, Terry’s son, Carl Mills
WO “JP“ LesParance waves farewell to the crowd during the departure flypast.
Photos by Terry Mossman