For the diehard aviation fan winter is as enjoyable as summer, whether flying or plane watching. Back in school days, we local Toronto photo hounds were undeterred by cold or snow, and would hitchhike through it all out to Malton airport. There we would “cold soak” for hours, hoping to catch some special static, taxying or landing shot. When desperate for a bit of warmth, we could go into the old passenger terminal, see if the latest Air Pictorial had come in, and maybe even splurge on a hot chocolate. Nipping into Genaire or the big TCA “Super Connie” hangar also was an option, although some TCA type usually would roust us fairly fast. One way or the other we’d soon be back outside, since we didn’t want to miss a thing.
In recent years I made a few Arctic winter trips, reliving those fun years of freezing our butts off at Malton, Dorval or Buffalo. All that must have gotten into the bones, somehow. This winter, however, I laid fairly low — probably a sign of old age. Even so, I did a bit of shooting, visits to Oshawa and Peterborough reminding me that this is what can get a Canadian cranked up. But it also reminded me that one needs to go prepared when it’s well below freezing. Warm winter boots, parka, etc. sure are a must if outside for more than 15-20 minutes. And keep the camera under your coat. We used to worry about film freezing, maybe even breaking. Now it’s all about keeping your batteries warm.
Oshawa airport (YOO) one day this January proved to be well worth the hour’s drive from east Toronto. When we got there early on a Sunday morning, the local operators were just getting their 172s and Diamonds ready for winter training. As usual, the Enterprise Airlines hangar was packed with interesting planes, everything from a new Basler DC-3 to the Durham police Jet Ranger and an Air Baffin Falcon 10. Lots of interesting stuff was sitting outside, from a DC-3 recently arrived from Gimli, to a Beech 18 in long-term retirement, and a show-stopping Antonov An-2 in which we were to go flying.
An-2 aficionado Lee Barker was waiting to put George Werniuk and I to work getting his lovely great biplane ready to go. Gust locks, tie downs, windscreen and engine covers all had to be attended, a warm battery was dropped into place under the cockpit floor, the GPS was set up, etc. Mostly, of course, George and I were in the way, but Lee did get us to pull the prop through the required number of blades. After about an hour and a half of this, we finally were ready to roll. The Antonov’s 1000-hp PZL radial coughed fairly quickly into life and off we went. The takeoff roll into a 30-knot headwind got us airborne fast enough to give a whole new meaning the STOL performance. Look up STOL in your pictionary and you just might see a photo of an An-2!
An enjoyable local flight ensued, mostly north around Port Perry, then over towards Peterborough. The An-2 (one of the world’s greatest bushplanes — some 23,000 built and in service everywhere on the planet) cruised happily along at about 90 knots, its PZL humming like a sewing machine. Once back at Oshawa, we reversed all the morning efforts in putting the An-2 back into cold storage. Then there was some time to take a few more photos. Lucky break for us, since the Basler DC-3 was going on a test flight, so most of the planes in the hangar had to be hauled outside. All in all it turned out to be a super day for we “aviation kooks”.
As to Oshawa, the place is totally rejuvenated, nearly all the action now being on the north side. Most of the wartime buildings on the old south side (originally the home of 20 Elementary Flying Training School with Tiger Moths) have been demolished, although the control tower remains in use over there. A new terminal and some modern hangars are scattered across the north side. With the recent announcement that Toronto Buttonville Airport is to close in about 5 years, Oshawa is sure to enjoy some growth. But … looking at the airport from above, one wonders a bit. When we used to attend Oshawa Flying Club fly-ins 50 years ago, the airport was “out in the boonies”. By now, however, the city has pressed in tightly, so how long can Oshawa airport hold its own?
Peterborough Municipal Airport (YPQ) has always been a good spot for “dropping in”. My first visit was back about 1970, when there sure wasn’t much there. TrentAir had a few Cherokee 140s, handy that day, for I had the idea of getting some aerial views of the drumlin fields in and around Lake Scugog. That worked out ideally. Later there were such interesting sights at Peterborough as a resident Piaggio Royal Gull and a DC-3 converted by AirTech to PZL engines.
On another visit my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I spotted a gleaming Universal Airlines DC-6 freighter loading auto parts. While I was shooting off a roll of Kodachrome, one of the rampies commented how they occasionally even got a Super Connie doing the same sort of work. In those times we used to hear those old tramp freighters coming and going to Oshawa and Peterborough deep into the night.
Something else that would keep we spotters interested were the Saunders ST-27s based at Peterborough. In the 1980s Air Atonabee owner Joe Czumrik, a former local mayor, had bought out everything to do with the ST-27 and set up a maintenance base for his sked services to Ottawa, Kingston, Syracuse and Toronto Island. The Saunders bashed around for a few years, then faded, mainly sold off for pots and pans. Air Atonabee itself disappeared, taken over by City Express at Toronto Island. In 1989 Flying Colours started an aircraft refurb operation at Peterborough specializing in “after market” Beech 99s. One of the first successful commuter planes from early deregulation days in the US, the 12,500-lb category “99” had by this time outlived its usefulness in the burgeoning commuter airline world, such types as the Dash 8, Saab 340 and Brasilia having taken over. Dozens of 99s now started phasing through Peterborough for refurbishment to be used in fringe markets as passenger and cargo planes. So the sight of Beech 99s in Bar Harbour and Allegheny colours was always a draw for any aviation history/photography buff passing by.
This winter’s scene at Peterborough did not disappoint. A couple of dozen light planes were freezing out along to tiedowns. Hardly a one looked as though it had moved since fall colours flights last autumn. The ancient PZL DC-3 still was sitting there minus engines, and things looked dead at AirTech. However, I didn’t check inside, where there often are S-76s and such helios being converted to EMS choppers. I looked for the old terminal, but it was missing, a handsome new Flying Colours hangar and FBO now is in its place. A new terminal was under construction mid-field, new hangars stood where the old tiedowns used to be, and the main tarmac was lined with other developments. A few Beech 99 carcasses still sat in a junky little patch and I heard that TrentAir was no more, a new flight school and charter company having sprung up. Three CRJ- 200s were parked side-by-side awaiting their turns at Flying Colours. Another interesting one-of-a-kind type was a Beech Duke, stranded in a snowbank with bent props following a wheels-up arrival.
Something else happening at YPQ this winter was that the finishing touches were being put on a 2000-foot extension to R09-27, lengthening it from 5000 to 7000 feet. Taxiways and tarmacs also had been strengthened so that 737-type airliners could be accommodated. So the City of Peterbourgh certainly is setting itself up for a healthy future. No doubt, when Buttonville folds, YPQ will boom. During my visit one of the operations staff was good enough to brief me about airport developments, while another took me around on a “drive-by” photo tour. She likely wondered what kind of a character she had along, but put up with my “Twenty Questions” routine, having solid answers all the way. A lunch break at YPQ’s “Runway 27” café completed this interesting visit. So any time you find yourself along Hwy.115, treat yourself. Peel off at the airport exit and have a look. A fun time will be had by all.