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News - All - 18 Sep 2018

News Item 21 of 4447 

Miscellaneous: 18 Sep 2018
Waterloo Region has its own air force - meet the Warbirds

A view from the Canadair T-33 cockpit as it roars over Waterloo Region. - Supplied by Warbirds

If you see a Russian MIG-15 screaming through the sky above Waterloo Region don’t be alarmed – it’s just ‘Waterloo’s Air Force’ – minus the bombs.

Based out of the Region of Waterloo International Airport, The Waterloo Warbirds took flight as an organization in 2014, when a small group of volunteer aviation enthusiasts came together with a simple mandate – share with the public Canada’s Cold War jet aviation history.

With approximately 10 volunteers, the close-knit group set about restoring and maintaining four 1950s jet fighters from various nations.

“Our fleet is unique in the country and North America. All of our jets fly and the general public can fly in them,” said Ramona Ostrander, the Warbirds team co-ordinator.

To date, the Warbirds has four jet aircraft available for public flight, with a fifth undergoing restoration.

AVAILABLE JETS

* CANADAIR T-33 MAKO SHARK

The Silver Star is often called the T-33 or T-Bird. The CT-133 Silver Star has a long history with the Canadian Air Force. The world's first purpose-built jet trainer, the T-33 evolved from America's first successful jet fighter - the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star that briefly flew during The Second World War. Once in production, the aircraft were designated T-33 Silver Star Mk 3 by the RCAF. The RCAF ordered 576 aircraft and eventually 656 aircraft would be delivered to the RCAF between 1952 and 1959.

FLIGHT PRICE FOR 30 MINUTES $3,000.

The Aero L-29 Delfin (dolphin), NATO designation Maya, is Czechoslovakia's first designed jet aircraft. It made its first flight in 1959. Production started in 1963 and ceased in 1974. The jet had a successful design and became the standard jet trainer for Eastern Block countries, except Poland. The aircraft is no longer in military service, but is still popular among civilian operators.

FLIGHT PRICE FOR 30 MINUTES $2,000.

* MIKOYAN GUREVICH MIG-15 UTI

The MiG-15 entered service early in 1949 and that same year the improved MiG-15bis version appeared. Also, a two-seat trainer version, the MiG-15UTI, was also introduced. In 1950, NATO air forces were surprised at the combat capability of the new design in the skies over Korea. The MiG-15 could out-climb, out-turn, and fly higher than the U.S.-built F-86 Sabre. However, Allied pilots were better trained and had better technology in their aircraft, prevailing against the MiG.

FLIGHT PRICE FOR 30 MINUTES $6,400.

* VAMPIRE DEHAVILLAND DH-115

More than 3,300 Vampires were built worldwide, and while many survive, only a few still fly today. Waterloo's Mk 55 is a two-seat trainer that was developed to teach pilots how to fly first-generation jets. The single-seat Vampire was the first jet fighter to serve in the RCAF when 86 were delivered in 1946. Canadian Vampires were retired by 1958. The Canadian Vampire was flown by the Blue Devils, the aerobatic team of No. 410 ‘Cougar’ Squadron, performing across North America between 1949 and 1951.

FLIGHT PRICE FOR 30 MINUTES $2,800.

***

When speaking to Warbirds volunteers, it’s clear they have their favourite jets sitting in the hangar. Ask about the DeHavilland DH-115 and you’ll see their eyes light up.

“We are very proud to have Canada’s first fighter jet, the DeHavilland Vampire. (It was) the first to launch from a navy ship and the first to fly across the Atlantic,” said Ostrander.

The Warbirds receive no government funding and their operations are funded by sponsors and offering public flights.

The sponsors who keep the dream of flight alive are Hammond Aviation, Cardinal Couriers and Fliteline Services, and in some cases the planes themselves are owned by the companies’ owners.

“Each of those owners all have strong military connections in their backgrounds,” said Ostrander.

The Warbirds social media volunteer co-ordinator Steve Zago is more than just a weekend warrior pilot, earning a living in the skies as a pilot for AirTransat.

Entering the immaculately clean Fliteline hangar where the war jets sit nestled amongst private and corporate jets, the Vampire quickly steals the show.

“It was built in the same factory during the war as the DeHavilland Mosquito, because of that the forward fuselage is wood, the same as the Mosquito,” said Zago.

Just like a vintage car, finding replacement parts for 50-year-old jets is no easy task.

“Once we find it, we hoard it. Finding parts can be difficult, but once we find it, we store it. When other operators decide to take their planes offline, they’ll call us,” explains Ostrander.

Both Zago and Ostrander are quick to add the birds of war are kept in the air thanks to the skilled aviation mechanics and engineers employed by Fliteline Services.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority and we hold a very solid reputation within the industry for standards and procedures,” Ostrander added.

This stellar reputation pulls in tourists from all over the world eager to fly in one of the Warbirds’ jets.

According to Ostrander, more than 80 per cent of the Warbirds’ clientele is international – coming from England, New Zealand, Italy and the U.S.

“We make sure visitors are connected to the region. We don’t want them sitting in a hotel for seven days. We are ambassadors for the region,” Ostrander added.

Before taking to the wild blue yonder, guests must meet height and weight requirements, become a member of the Warbirds for a small fee, meet certain medical requirements, and pass a safety briefing.

“We want them (guests) to have the jet-fighter experience,” said Ostrander.

The Warbirds has a simple message for locals – we are here.

“We’re Kitchener’s air force,” concludes Zago with a smile.

For more information, visit www.waterloowarbirds.com.


Chris Vernon
by Chris Vernon

Chris Vernon is the Regional Editor for the Caledon Enterprise, Independent and Free Press, Erin Advocate and the Orangeville Banner. He can be reached at cvernon@metroland.com.
Email: cvernon@metroland.com

Chris Vernon Waterloo Chronicle/The Record/AA
 

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