Newsletter Article November 2000 – Canadair Sabre V

Gate Guard To Display Aircraft: Canadair Sabre V
By Frank MacLoon

Museums, such as ACAM, rely on obtaining display aircraft from a number of sources. Sometimes these are relatively complete aircraft that require little beyond preservation measures to ensure their future. Others are recovered from crash sites such as our Canso and TBM Avenger. These require long-term reconstruction and restoration involving long searches for missing components.

ACAM’s first experience in recovering a Gate Guard was the Canadair Sabre V, which had been on external display at CFB Chatham, New Brunswick. While obviously in a reasonably good and complete condition. Our experience has shown that such aircraft require a long and, sometimes, difficult effort to bring them to a properly well restored and preserved display.

Sabre #23355 had been on strength with the Sabre Transition Unit (STU) at Chatham and is believed to have served for a period with the RCAF Air Division in Europe. Sabres were, of course, the mounts of the world famous Golden Hawks aerobatic team; which was formed at Chatham in 1959. The Golden Hawks operated from Chatham until moved to Trenton, in 1962. They were officially disbanded in 1964 after having thrilled millions with their dramatic displays.

September 17, 1967 was designated as Golden Hawks Day in honour of the team. On that day the Base unveiled Sabre #23355 painted in Golden Hawk colours, mounted on a pedestal. The aircraft had a direct connection to the Hawks having been used in the development of their display routines

ACAM had long sought a Sabre. Therefore, when it became known that CFB Chatham would close in 1996, and that the local community was unable to meet the costs of removal and preservation, efforts were launched to acquire the aircraft for our collection.

Museum member Dr. John Christie supported by Jim McCombe and Bill Stewart who were both Golden Hawk pilots in the years 1959, 1960, and 1961 carried out the negotiations with the DND. While there were concerns from the local community ACAM was able to demonstrate an ability and intent to properly preserve and maintain this historic aircraft and was given permission to acquire it.

The engine and landing gear had been removed before display the mounted aircraft still weighed in at some 7,500 lbs. Here the excellent co-operation of Base personnel came into play, as a large crane was made available to remove the Sabre from its mount and place it in an available hangar.

A crew of eight ACAM members, led by the late Doug Ordinal, arrived and began the process of disassembly. They were greatly aided by the direct efforts of MWO Romeo Goulet and were afforded every co-operation by the Base Commander Lt. Col Van Will.

While the Sabre had been well maintained there was early evidence of the effects of bird ingress and general corrosion from extended outside display. These effects would require much remedial work. Dismantling took two days of effort and once almost came to a complete halt, as a large sized Allen key essential for wing removal could not be located. Fortunately, one was located at a local auto parts store just moments before closing time on the weekend.

Once dismantled the Sabre was transported to Halifax and partially reassembled in the Air Canada hangar. From there it was moved to the Museum. It was initially displayed mounted on the modified wood forms used in it’s dismantling at Chatham. Early efforts included extensive cleaning of the aircraft interior of accumulated sand, bird nests, and other debris.

The immediate problem was to locate a complete landing gear to allow proper display and ability to move the aircraft. This proved to be an extremely difficult process and required a $4,000 (U.S.) investment, supported by member contributions, and transportation of components from Arizona where many Sabres had ended their days as target drones. A trip to Pennsylvania was also required to locate other gear components.

To present a complete listing of all the members, supporters, and companies involved in bringing the project to its current state would require an article in itself. Suffice it to say that few among our active members and supporters, and among our corporate friends, were not involved at some point.

At this point the restoration was under the leadership of John Christie and Doug Ordinal with the support of many. First priority was the installation of the landing gear; which lead to the happy day when Sabre #23355 once again sat on her own “feet”. Among the difficult operations was the fabrication of new flap trailing edges, made locally, and their replacement. The instrument panels, gun sights, and other cockpit equipment were removed and a huge effort was begun to restore the complete cockpit.

More parts, including a belly panel, which had been replaced by the pedestal mount, were acquired from Arizona. In accordance with the Museum’s policy of appointing a Crew Chief to lead each restoration effort the Sabre became the responsibility of Marcel Olsen. Marcel has given the project dedicated leadership and took the very unusual step of introducing a group of young Air Cadets to his team. They have become committed and enthusiastic partners in this lengthy restoration.

At this point a full program of corrosion repair and control began with the removal of the wing panels where paint was found peeling along with corrosion on the inside surfaces. Glass beading and brushing was employed along with proper priming. This was followed by many such efforts around the aircraft. Each crewmember has specialized in a different area as work has continued on the cockpit, control surfaces, and airframe in many areas.

Control surfaces are being made operational and the leading edges of the wings, stabilizers and drop tanks are being buffed to their original high lustre. Birds nests have been located in the wing tips. These were removed along with the considerable corrosion that resulted. The affected areas having been repaired and primed.

One badly corroded fuselage hatch has had to be remanufactured while another was repairable. The anti-glare panel has been repainted, landing gear panels have been stripped and repainted. Speed brake recesses and doors are being redone and consideration is now being given to the many other areas of repainting and component restoration still remaining.

There are still a number of items being sought in order to present the Sabre as a truly complete example of an historic aircraft and one that had a significant presence in our region. It’s display in Golden Hawk colours also honours those that served in that marvellous group that brought so much recognition to our Armed Forces and to Canada itself.

Our continued appreciation goes to all among our members, our supporters, and the many Companies whose efforts have combined to bring the Museum a fine example of a very unique aircraft – Sabre V #23355.

We believe we are meeting the commitments made to restore and preserve a truly significant artifact.


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