Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Three Flying Men in a Stringbag

One morning, when flying my Seafire XV and approaching the airfield, I saw a Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber chugging upwind towards the circuit at a ground-speed all of seventy knots. As I passed them by, I saw that the Stringbag, as the old biplane was affectionately called, had bicycles strapped on either side of the fuselage and its three occupants, waving casually to me, were grouped together in very close and matey proximity as if they were holidaymakers sharing a dodge-'em car at the Southend-on-Mud fun fair.

By the time they had landed and taxied up to our flight line, I was standing outside the flight room with everyone else to see who were these people with so much time on their hands that they could meander about the sky at will in an elderly Stringbag. Maybe a trio of ancient admirals. Perhaps a clique of unemployed commodores. Possibly a cluster of senior captains.

Instead they appeared as one venerable chief and two grizzled three-badge, long-service, petty officers. Unhitching their bicycles with the aid of some ground crew, they mounted up and rode over to the hangars where they were greeted warmly by some of our older petty officers. Later in the mess, they were having rum sippers with some old pals from prewar years. And some time even later that afternoon, we saw them weave back to their aeroplane and get their bikes made fast. Then they climbed aboard and went zig-zagging off, as is proper in a tail-wheel-equipped single-engined aircraft, down the perimeter strip. Then instead of turning onto the runway, no doubt deep in conversation, they went straight ahead and actually slowly traversed the whole circumference of the airfield before arriving once again at the duty runway. This time they waited for their green light from the control truck, then opened up their engine to roar along the runway and wobble up into the air. With heads bobbing animatedly together, they disappeared into the blue to only they knew where.

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