Joined: Thu Feb 19, 2004 5:13 pm
Sky-high dreams for an old CF-100
Paul Wilson, The Hamilton Spectator
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
One day last week, the silver CF-100 fighter jet at Hamilton airport was all set to make its first journey in a long time.
It had sat on a stone pedestal for more than 25 years, in the parking lot of the RCAF 447 Wing clubhouse. After all that time, it's possible some took it for granted, didn't know that this was Canada's pioneer jet, the Cold War plane that left the pokey propeller era behind.
The CF-100 Canuck wasn't perfect. It got called the Clunk. Other nicknames, the Lead Sled, the Zilch, the Beat. Some thought it didn't handle too well.
But for years the CF-100 -- at a top speed 888 km/h -- scoured the Great White North for Soviet intruders.
Starting in the early 1950s, the Avro Canada plant in Malton built 692 CF-100s. They were used mostly by the Royal Canadian Air Force and retired in 1981.
It was not then just a matter of selling off a used fleet to the highest bidder. Canada didn't want these fighters in the hands of some rogue state. Besides, they weren't easy to manoeuvre or maintain. Crashes could mean lawsuits.
So they scrapped them all, turned them into beer cans.
Well, not all of them. There are more than 20 CF-100s on display. Yes, Hamilton has one. And Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax, Moncton, Toronto, Ottawa, Duxford in England, Brussels in Belgium, plus a few in the States.
Not one of these planes still flies. Canada castrated them. Cutting the wing bolts will do it.
Of course, anyone with the wallet and the will could work around that.
Markham's Al Rubin, 70, is such a man. He served with the RCAF, went on to run a successful advertising business. He owns about 20 planes.
He's a life member of Hamilton's Warplane Heritage Museum and knew all about the 447 Wing next door and its CF-100.
The fighter arrived in the early '80s, erected to remember those who passed through the Commonwealth air training program during the war.
The CF-100 stood out front for many of the 447's good years, when the club hosted balls, breakfasts, regular Battle of Britain nights.
But then the club struggled. Vets died off. And the clubhouse, while a charming throwback to the '40s, let the rain leak in, the heat leak out.
Besides, the 447 was just a tenant. The lease was up and Hamilton airport wanted the land.
So the club is about to move down the road into Mount Hope, into the old Lee's Chinese restaurant.
And Rubin said that in return for the CF-100, he would cover the 447's rent at the new place for the first year -- $27,000.
Rubin's mission is to make that plane the one CF-100 in the world that can fly.
The work would take place at the Warplane Heritage Museum and the plane could remain there on loan.
Rubin hopes to locate old CF-100 mechanics. And he thinks the plane could attract fresh recruits to the museum, more interested in the jet age.
But first, of course, he needs to get the plane over to the museum. He had a plan. Bring in a crane, strap a harness around the CF-100, cut that old jet loose from the pedestal, then tow it over.
The job began first thing last Wednesday morning. Everything was going right. When they lifted the plane into the air around noon, it did get tail-heavy. There was water in there, but it drained out.
The crane placed the plane gently on the road. It had been towed maybe half a kilometre, Rubin says, "when the light came on." Ahead, two telephone poles, about four metres too close together.
No way was the CF-100 going to squeeze between them. The jet retreated and is now back on that parking lot.
It may be that the wings have to come off, a big job. Rubin is still brainstorming, but one way or another, that jet's going next door.
Restoration could be slow and expensive. Rubin's view on that? "It doesn't matter."
* * *
On Sunday, Nov. 1, the 447 parades to its new home. There will be a blessing of the old quarters at 2 p.m., then a procession down Airport Road to Mount Hope, with pipes and drums, a team of Clydesdales, a vintage Packard and a Harvard flyby.
The ribbon cutting at the other end, 1 1/2 kilometres away, will have to be outside. A long delay in getting a building permit meant renovations are behind. The club hopes to get inside by mid-December.