The Royal Canadian Air Force Commemorates The “Few” In Style
The Battle of Britain occurred 75 years ago, and numerous events to commemorate that epic battle are taking place around the world in 2015. Winston Churchill described the airmen that fought their German Luftwaffe foes as the “Few” in a famous speech. No. 1 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, a fighter unit that operated Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires, participated in the Battle of Britain as a Commonwealth squadron. Slightly more than 100 Canadian pilots flew combat missions with No. 1 Squadron and other units, while several hundred more Canadians served on the ground keeping the aircraft repaired and serviceable during the months-long air campaign.
Today’s Royal Canadian Air Force chose to honor the “Few” by painting their 2015 CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Team aircraft in a scheme reminiscent of a Battle of Britain era Hurricane of 1 Squadron. The design was created by veteran designer Jim Beliveau of 4th Wing, at Cold Lake, Alberta. This was his 25th Demonstration Team design and painting project! The aircraft, serial number 188761, was sandblasted and painted by a team of 3 Wing technicians based at Bagotville Quebec. It captures the camouflage patterns on top of the aircraft, right down to the red guns patches along the leading edge of the wings. The vertical tails feature murals depicting Battle of Britain history, with Sir Winston Churchill, an unnamed Canadian fighter pilot, a Spitfire and the St. Paul’s Cathedral on one side. The other side depicts Battle of Britain ace F/L Gordon MacGregor, whose “YO H” (those of his regular mount during the Battle) letters are painted on the sides of the airplane, along with ME-109 and He-111 adversaries.
The airframe – 188761 – has a relatively low amount of flight hours on it when compared to the rest of the CF-18 fleet. There’s an interesting reason for that, as Captain Denis Beaulieu explained at this year’s Quonset Air Show. This airframe has had a pair of ejections from it, and has been repaired and flown again… that’s right, twice! The first ejection occurred in Germany in 1987, the result of an aborted take-off. The wreckage sat in a hangar for a number of years, until it was rebuilt with wings from an Australian F/A-18 and a nose section originally destined for a C.15 Hornet for the Spanish Air Force. Operational again for a number of years, a pilot of 188761 encountered black ice on the runway upon landing at Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Directional control was lost, regained, and lost again as a second patch of ice affected the CF-18. The pilot ejected before the aircraft left the runway, and the jet ended up just slightly damaged. With a new ejection seat fitted, the Hornet resumed service a while later. With a pair of lengthy “down times” for maintenance, today’s Demonstration jet has fewer hours than most, if not all active CF-18s.
This year’s demo Hornet pilot is Captain Denis “Cheech” Beaulieu, based at 3 Wing in Bagotville, Quebec. To be chosen for the yearly posting, there are a number of requirements that have to be met , even before the interview process begins. There is a minimum amount of flight hours needed; “Cheech” has more than 1,100 hours. Some pilots won’t apply for the position because it entails much contact with fans and media, or time away from family, he said. Obviously, he has what it takes, and talks enthusiastically about flying the CF-18. In press releases, he said that “This job gives me the opportunity to celebrate aviation with audiences all over, while flying the Hornet in way that few pilots get to fly. Best of all, I get to do this all with a team of highly talented professionals who work together to put on a great show.”
Captain Beaulieu not only has the honor of presenting the CF-18 demonstration, but to carry the Battle of Britain Commemorative colors into the air every time he flies in 2015.