Photo by Frederick
Tim Leslie’s smiling because when he’s not flying warbirds for
Vintage Wings of Canada, he gets to be a test pilot. Behind him
are (left to right) a Corsair, Hurricane, and Spitfire from the
July 28, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - The
pride and enthusiasm for preserving and showing the aircraft of World War
II has a new supporter at AirVenture 2009, the Vintage Wings of Canada
Vintage Wings is celebrating 100 years of
Canadian flight by bringing three warbirds to Oshkosh – a Hawker
Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire XVI, and an FG-1D Corsair, all
representing Canadian fliers of World War II.
Tim Leslie, Vintage Wings’ chief of flying
operations, is a test pilot by trade. He tells a story on himself about
the time the organization’s founder, Michael Potter, asked him to fly a
rare Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bomber for evaluation before Potter
considered adding it to the collection.
Test pilot Leslie, applying modern warplane
expectations to the old-school biplane, told Potter not to buy it. Potter
bought it anyway, telling Leslie, “you have no sense of history,”
Leslie recalls with a smile.
Leslie came to understand Potter: “He’s
inspired as much by the history as the looks and performance,” Leslie
Leslie smiles as he gestures toward the trio
of fighters his group displays on AeroShell Square this year.
Investigating each aircraft for flying or restoration uncovers a wealth of
“You can either call it a Pandora ’s Box
or you can call it uncorking a good bottle of wine,” he observes.
The museum’s Curtiss P-40 handles well and
chugs along behind its Allison engine with reassuring authority, Leslie
says. Yet the higher-performing P-51 Mustang has demandingly difficult
stick forces that make coordinated maneuvering a task.
This has been part of Leslie’s warbird
journey, as he has come to appreciate Michael Potter’s love for them
all, despite any performance quirks.
“It’s still a thrill flying these
aircraft,” he says, “but it’s the people you meet, the history that
you learn, and the appreciation that freedom is earned,” that are really
important in Leslie’s work with Vintage Wings of Canada.
Almost wistfully, Leslie compliments his
American warbirds counterparts on their sense of history: “You guys don’t
take freedom for granted.”
Noting that Canadians have a lot to be proud
of, Leslie and the Vintage Wings of Canada are determined to showcase that
Their introductory brochure says it
succinctly: “…it is our mission to celebrate Canada’s aviation
heritage and to inspire Canadians with the powerful stories of the heroes,
aircraft, and events that make up this legacy… Only you can ‘keep ’em
flying’ for future generations of Canadians.”
Leslie, like so many participants at
AirVenture 2009, has another life away from here. He serves as supervisor
of flying operations and training for Canada’s Institute for Aerospace
A week from now, he’ll be flying micro-
gravity parabolic arcs in a stout Falcon 20 business jet to validate
Canadian experiments intended for a weightless space environment.
In addition to the trio of famous fighters the
group flew to Oshkosh, Vintage Wings of Canada preserves historic Canadian
civil aircraft. And its postwar F-86 Sabre, freshly refinished in
commemorative Royal Canadian Air Force gold show markings, is currently on
tour north of the border during this centennial year of Canadian flight
The group’s message at Oshkosh is
clear: pride in the accomplishments and sacrifices of the victorious
airmen of World War II knows no boundaries.