On July 23, 2009 a small group met at the Empire Aero Center on the former Griffiss AFB in Rome, New York. The first couple of hours were a bit like a tail gate party, as we waited in the EAC parking lot for folks to trickle in from distance points. So what was going on?
In the postwar years Trans-Canada Air Lines was planning for a busy future. At the time, TCA’s North Star’s were suitable for its domestic and USA/Caribbean services, but were outmoded on the North Atlantic. Something bigger and speedier was needed for services to London, Paris, etc. The best airliner on the market was the Lockheed Super Constellation, a stretched version of the well-proven wartime Constellation. First flown in October 1950, the “Super Connie” was ordered by TCA, which accepted its first example in February 1954. In time the company operated 14 of these beauties, the last of which served into 1961.
One of the 14 was CF-TGE, delivered in October 1954. Put out the pasture at Dorval, it languished for a couple of years. Then in June 1964 it began a new career with Don McVicar’s World-Wide Airways. It plied the North Atlantic on tourist charters until World-Wide folded.
CF-TGE now spent decades in the shadows — used for spares by Nordair, then dismantled and hauled away to decay in rural Quebec. Happily, it was resurrected by propliner enthusiast Phil Yull. Phil arranged to get ‘TGE to Ontario, refurbished and on display as a centre piece at the Constellation Hotel on Toronto’s airport strip. This era was short-lived, however, as new hotel management ordered ol’ CF-TGE removed. Next stop was a small lot along Derry Rd. on the airport’s northern edge. There sat the old workhorse, struggling along as a bar and restaurant for several years. But the writing was on the wall and that era also had to end.
Eventually, the Seattle-based Museum of Flight acquired CF-TGE and arrangements were made for it to be restored for museum display. At long last, its bones were gathered in 2007 from a dusty Mississauga storage yard and trucked to EAC. Under the watchful eye of the Museum of Flight’s Bob Bogash and EAC’s Kevin Lacey, ‘TGE emerged in the spring of 2009 wearing its fabulous Trans-Canada Air Lines colours.
So three guesses what people were doing in the EAC parking lot on July 23. First to pull into his parking spot was Bob Bogash, a long-time Boeing tech rep who had spent several years helping Nordair introduce Canada’s first 737s (see Bob’s write-up of the reunion here). While Bob was checking out Nordair pilots and tech staff, the shiny new 737s were working side-by-side Nordair’s fleet of Super Connies. Bob was a natural airplane fanatic and always had loved the great propliners, so who would be surprised that years later he was involved with ‘TGE. Next to arrive were aviation researcher and journalist Ken Swartz and I. We had hit the road at 0500 that day and, after the odd bit of panic about getting there, were only 5 minutes off our 1100 ETA.
This visit would be doubly interesting for me since, back in 1986, I had spent a week at Griffiss working on a story about SAC’s 416th Bomb Wing. This was no ordinary field trip, since it had ended on a dream high note — getting to ride along on a 7-hour mission in B-52G 59-2584. So … a glance around today’s Griffiss quickly brought back some memories. There were also memories of having photographed CF-TGE at Malton airport in the late 1950s, watched it sift beautifully in to land on Runway 23, enjoyed the roar as it did engine run-ups, and watched as it taxied around with its moaning brakes.
Gradually others began arriving at EAC. Third on scene was Clint Ward, who had started in the RCAF in the early 1950s, moved on to TCA and got to fly Super Connies. Homer Campbell pulled in from Brighton, Ontario; Jim Dawes from Montreal — two fellows who had been technical wizards on Super Connies in Nordair days. TCA Super Connie pilot Dave Robinson showed up with sidekick Jay Fancott, both of Montreal’s West Island. Don Cameron drove in from Ottawa — Don had flown Super Connies for World-Wide. Another who made the long-distance drive was Paddy Szrajer, a long-time MCA and Nordair pilot, who had flown Super Connies anywhere from the Arctic to Biafra. Ron Rhodes arrived from Waterloo. Having flown the Atlantic in a TCA Super Connie when he was a boy, Ron just had to have a look at what had been done to ‘TGE. Air Canada sent senior tech man Jack Deonaraine along as its historical rep. So we were an eclectic little bunch, and made to look a bit better by the presence of several sharp-looking and quick-witted wives/handlers.
It took a good two hours of “tail-gating” in the parking lot before everyone had drifted in. Time flew by as the stories poured out, autographs were collected and photos taken. Finally, Bob and Kevin got everyone briefed and into the EAC hangar. There — a sight to water the eyes — was a glorious-looking CF-TGE. Now it was time to kick a few tires, let the memories really get pouring out, and get up the stairs for a final visit to the cockpit.
None of the old-timers missed the chance to squeeze one last time into that coveted left seat. Even in their not-so-trim form, the fellows shoe-horned themselves into that magnificent captain’s throne. Each man eyed the instrument panel and fingered a few of the bells and whistles that used to be the cat’s meow.
Our tour over, the gang started to split up. Some had to hit the road for points afar. Others set up at The Beeches, a fine old Rome establishment. There the Sam Adams flowed very smoothly in the bar and the “war stories” began anew. A leisurely meal in the dining room topped it off, then the gang drifted off. Next morning Ken and I got away early, eager to see what we might find on the drive home. Two highlights were agreed upon. First came the George Eastman House in Rochester. Good choice, for this is a magnificent establishment that all should visit. We also enjoyed our drive around lovely downtown Rochester, a city where the “city fathers” seem to have forgotten to tear down their stunning 19th Century architectural gems. Stop No.2? Niagara Falls International Airport, where Ken wanted to show me the old Bell and Curtiss factories. Now pretty well overgrown with weeds, this is where P-39s, P-40s, P-59s, Bell 47 helicopters and Bell X-planes had been built. Then it was on to the QEW and home, the whole 600-mile Lake Ontario circuit being done in 38 hours.
As to CF-TGE, now comes its final tear-down and the trans-continental delivery to its new home in Seattle. It’s been a haul, but thanks to a few stalwarts, a great airplane that has travelled a most unlikely 55-year route, has been saved. Soon you’ll be able to see it in its glory in the Museum of Flight.
Happy landings as usual … Larry Milberry