Our first training flights occurred on November 14th, 1955 flying two-plane formations in looping and rolling manoeuvres. After a short indoctrination period, we switched to four-plane formation practicing basic diamond, line-astern, line-abreast and wedge formations. Formation maneouvres included loops, rolls, 360 degree silhouette passes, chandelles and lazy eights. My solo routine was being worked up at the same time with manoeuvres between formation passes. My routine included close-up loops, rolls, a Cuban-eight, cloverleaf, low-level 360 degree max rate turn and a coordinated end of show bomb burst where I went straight up the middle behind the four-ship.
We had flown close to 50 missions by the end of 1955 and were gelling quite nicely as a cohesive unit. We flew another 23 missions as a team in January 1956, battling the usual Rhine Valley weather which was notorious for low cloud and fog during the nidwinter time frame. Thus, a lot of our flying was in marginal weather. The team placed limits of 3,500 feet ceiling and two miles visibility and mandatory for looping manoeuvres (the top third of the loop would be in cloud) and something slightly less for rolling manoeuvres.
February was a terrible month for weather and we flew only six or seven missions together that month. Our aircraft did not turn a wheel from February 13th to March 1st. Needless to say, we were chomping at the bit to get on with the job.Finally, March 1st opened with a break in the weather. I was able to get in two solo practices and the fomation team flew four missions in celar weather that day. Two of the missions were photo opportunities where official pictures were taken of the team by the Air Divisions's senior photographer, F/O Louis Le Compte, from a T-33 piloted by myself. We had just had our six Sabres painted and this was our first chance to show them off in their new paint scheme which had been designed by F/O Jerry Davidson of 414 Squadron. These aircraft had been carefully serviced over the past three months by a very talented and dedicated group of technicians assigned to the team as our groundcrew. Through their efforts, each of the team's Sabres had been carefully "tweaked" to suit the desires of its particular pilot depending on which position he flew.
Marginal weather again dogged the team on the morning of March 2nd and thus the formation team did not get a chance to take off on their first mission until approximately 1:45 pm that afternoon. The mission was to be a rather routine practice flight with nothing new involved. Regrettably, at approximately 2:20 pm the team crashed in close formation while recovering from what was likely a looping manoeuvre.
Weather reports revealed a ragged ceiling close to 3,500 feet with one-and-a-half to two miles visibility in the area of the accident, which was just southwest of the airfield. The accident investigation board did a thorough investigation of all aspects of the team's operation to that time and the actual accident itself, but were unable to pinpoint exactly what went wrong that day. Needless to say, there was a lot of conjecture from the armchair experts.
Our team had had a good record up to the time of the accident with only one incident to report - which was my fault. I was flying the No. 3 position on a practice flight in mid-January when I stuck the pitot tube on my right wing through Dale's left aileron. Weather was margingal with heavy cumulus embedded in a ragged stratus layer of cloud. We entered cloud going straight up and at the top of the loop flew into the bottom of a heavy CU. It got very dark, very scary and very exciting all at once. Everybody was moving and the cloud was so dense that we kept loosing sight of each other. It was at this point that I hot Dale and left my pitot tube in his aileron. We finished our practice and returned to base without further incident, landing in formation.
The formation team genuinely enjoyed aerobatic flying and with over 70 practice missions behind them had become quite proficient at their routine. Dale was a particularly smooth and capable leader and we all had a lot of confidence in him. The mebers worked well together and like most teams spent a lot of their off-duty time together, forming fast friendships in the process.
It was indeed tragic that four fine young men of the calibre of Dale, Jake, Ed and Fred should lose their lives flying for the 4 (F) Wing Sky Lancers aerobatic team. They were all respected, admired and capable pilots and all had a great capacity for life. I can still remember clearly the easy confidence with which they went about their work and the fine sense of humour which was so much a way of life with them. Standing by their grave sites at the Canadian Cemetery at Choloy, France, I am many others felt a great personal loss as they were laid to rest.
Reprinted from "A Tradition of Excellence - Canada's Airshow Team Heritage" courtesy Dan Dempsey. - Web Site -
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Updated: April 20, 2003