The Tribute

Number 12

Winter 2015

The Chairman's Message

Contributed by our Chairman of the Board of Directors - Don Matthews


Exciting news to start the New Year!  Read about our most recent aircraft acquisition and further plans for the Ken and Roma Lett Cold War Exhibit in Gerry's report from the exhibit committee.  This time last year the whole project was up in the air and yet a few short months later here we are with three aircraft in place, a fourth one on the way, the shelters built and planning well under way to build the exhibits that will surround the aircraft and tell the stories of the Cold War.  It's been quite a ride and it's not over yet.

Even as our work on the Cold War exhibit continues, we take pause to be thankful for what has been accomplished so far.  We dreamed big and set lofty goals. But it is only through the extraordinary commitment and efforts of so many people that this exhibit has become a reality.   Whether the support was financial, administrative, logistical, personnel, curatorial or operational, all brought their passion and enthusiasm to be part of the museum team.  And what keeps us going?

Firstly - to acknowledge the accomplishments of the RCAF

          - to remember the contributions the Air Force has made to                world peace and

         - to pay respect to the serving and retired women and men              of the air force who made the great victory of the Cold War             possible.

 Pride in our military history and paying respect to the men and women who made it happen is a core element of being a Canadian. Being a member of a team that is telling that story is gratifying for everyone.

Secondly - At a very strategic level, it is obvious to me that all of the individuals and organizations participating with us also want to contribute.  They see that they are helping Canadians grow as they come to a better understanding of what has been accomplished in the past.  Although this knowledge and motivation is focussed on the RCAF in this case, the lessons are applicable to Canadian society in general. Knowing what has been accomplished motivates us to keep Canada a country worth protecting. Everyone has a role to play today in keeping Canada strong and free.

And you have to admit that the planes are pretty awesome and fun to be around!!

Pride in our past and hope for the future.  That's what motivates us as a team to give something back to our country. And it is clear that everyone is enjoying their role, takes pride in their contribution and is finding it so rewarding to be on the Museum team. 

You can be a member of this motivated team in many different ways.  Give us a try - we think you'll be very glad you did. Just email to get started.

After burner, After burner GO!

Curator's Corner

Contributed by our curator Alison Mercer

2014 has been a big year down in the Collections Room. We saw a total of forty five separate donations, comprising close to a thousand separate artefacts. Most recently, we acquired the papers, flying gear, and photograph collection of W.F. Young, RAF. Young started as a fitter at 16, joined the RAF in 1936, and was posted to France shortly before the German invasion. He came to Canada in 1942 under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and received his pilot's wings in Medicine Hat. Young stayed in Canada as an instructor before returning to England to fly for the Berlin Airlift from Dishforth, North Yorkshire. After the War, he was posted to East Africa, where he flew VIPs during the Mau Mau Uprising of 1952. Young was discharged in 1959 and moved to Canada where he started a small construction company. Our thanks to Andrew Young for this donation!

W.F. Young

Work is progressing well with the Cold War Exhibit. The Exhibit Committee has now decided the scope of the exhibit and the next months will be spent writing storyboards and gathering images. If you have any stories or artefacts you would like to see included in the exhibit, please contact Alison Mercer at or 403-410-2340 Ext 2661.

All the best for the new year! 


THE LIGHTER SIDE                             

TALES OF A GUN PLUMBER                            

Air Force Museum Exhibit Update  

Contributed by Gerry Morrison

I hope all our readers had a very Merry Christmas and that 2015 is one of good health and prosperity to you all. This past year has been one of growth and excitement at the Air Force Museum of Alberta with the acquisition of the CF-104 Starfighter and the CF-18 Hornet and the completion of the two Sprung Shelters to house them. We are referring to these new structures as “Hardened Aircraft Shelters” (HAS) as they simulate the hardened structures the CF104 and CF-18 operated out of during the RCAF mission in NATO Europe.

We have been searching for the third aircraft to occupy a HAS with the CF-104. To complete the exhibit, we have planned from the beginning to acquire an F-86 Sabre but until early January we have been unsuccessful. Then on January 6th we were able to purchase a former RCAF Mark 5 Sabre in Reno Nevada. It will be prepared for shipment and will arrive in Calgary in early March The aircraft will be restored to museum display status before being moved to TMM and installed in the HAS with the CF-104. The CF-5 Freedom fighter along with our three new aircraft will mean we will have four of the important jet fighters of the Cold War.

The HAS will house the Cold War Exhibit which will describe the role Canada’s Air Force played between 1949 and 1989 to preserve peace as part of the Western World’s military forces ready to counter any aggressive actions  of Russia and the Warsaw Pact. Currently the exhibit committee is working to develop the supporting story lines which will highlight the three aircraft as well the many other aspects of the Cold War. We expect to add artefacts and audio visual screens over a period of time which will explain to our visitors what the Cold War was and the significant effort it took to train and maintain the Air Force at a high level of readiness to conduct combat operations  if called on to do so.

With all the recent effort being directed toward the Cold War exhibit, we have had little time to enhance the other areas of the Air Force Museum. Despite this planning is continuing for upgrading the Bomb Bay display and for completing changes to the BCATP display area. Hopefully we will soon be able to make time to commence these improvements.

Now that the Cold War Exhibit is going to become a reality we will need volunteer hosts to help us tell the story. If you are interested in taking flight with us call 403-410-2340 Extension 2661 and we will get you started.

The Directors & Staff

Matthews, Don - Chairman of the Board of Directors

Gerwing, Michelle - Secretary

Morrison, Gerry - Past Chairman & Exhibit Chairman

Nixon, Kenn - Casino and website

Powell, Jim - Treasurer

McGillivray, Ed - Vice Chairman & Fund Raising 

Mercer, Alison - Curator
Tel: 403-410-2340 Ext 2661

Watson, Gary - Video Displays & Project 846

Todd, Gordon - Membership & Newsletter Editor  

Ricketts, Michael - Director at large

Norrie, Gordon - Director at large

Norrie, Don - Researcher

The Lighter Side

Dead Penguins
Did you ever wonder why there are no dead penguins on the ice in Antarctica ?  Where do they go? 
Wonder no more!!!!!!!  It is a known fact that the penguin is a very ritualistic bird which lives an extremely ordered and complex life.  The penguin is very committed to its family and will mate for life, as well as maintain a form of compassionate contact with its offspring throughout its life.
If a penguin is found dead on the ice surface, other members of the family and social circle have been known to dig holes in the ice, using their vestigial wings and beaks, until the hole is deep enough for the dead bird to be rolled into, and buried.The male penguins then gather in a circle around the fresh grave and sing:

"Freeze a jolly good fellow!"
"Freeze a jolly good fellow!"

Tales of a Gun Plumber - Whats in a Name; Eh?

Contributed by Don Norrie

Back in the years when I was growing-up, nick-names for people were as common as apple pie. The nick-name could be derived from a persons physical stature (Shorty or Slim), racial origin (Scotty or Paddy), hair color (Red or Blondie), or surname such as Bell (Dinger) and Martin (Mink) and many other correlations that had to do with the personal make-up of an individual.  Names were always of interest to me, and so it came about that when I enlisted in the RCAF as a Munitions & Weapons Technician, I soon discovered that nick-names were more prevalent in the military than in the civil sector.

 My first posting after completing my Munitions & Weapons course, was to 402 (FB), “City of Winnipeg” Squadron. That was in 1954, and the unit was flying Mustang fighters, and Harvard trainer aircraft.

A young Don Norrie loading ammo into an F-86 - Circa 1956

Not long after my arrival, I heard the term “wrench benders” applied to airframe and aero engine technicians; “dot chasers” or “scope dopes” for the electronics trades, and “metal bashers” for aircraft structural technicians. These names could be  easily equated to the respective trade. But when I heard the name “gun plumbers” in  reference to us M & W Techs I was perplexed as there seemed to be no correlation between guns and plumbing. Initially, I paid little attention to the term, as I was more interested in the Winnipeg belles and partying than air force terminology.

 Finally my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked my Sergeant if he knew how this reference to us came about. Absolutely he did! Sgt. “Tommy” Thompson was an Air Gunner during World War 2, and told me it was during that time the nick-name seemed to come into vogue. Fighter aircraft such as the Spitfire, Mustang and Hurricane, for example, required all rigidly installed machine guns to be calibrated so that the bullets converged at a specific distance in front of the aircraft. This distance depended on the type of gun being harmonized, and sometimes the pilot‘s preference. This could be done by two methods. One was to live fire the guns at a target on a range built specifically for this purpose and if no range was available, then a special chart was used and calibration carried out in the hangar or shelter. These procedures were called “harmonization”.

 Following WW2 the preferred method of harmonizing Mustang aircraft was in the hangar using a harmonization chart. The first process in gun harmonization of a Mustang fighter aircraft was to place the aircraft on jacks and ensure it was in straight and level flight configuration both laterally and longitudinally. For longitudinal accuracy a plumb-bob was suspended from near the tail wheel, another under the fuselage and in line with the leading edge of the wing. Sighting from the rear of the aircraft, these two plumb-bob lines were then aligned, - by eyeball - with another line painted on the harmonization chart which was placed approximately 50 feet in front of the aircraft. The next step was to “bore site” each gun by placing a special sighting device into the breach/barrel and aligning the gun with the respective point on the harmonization chart which was especially designated for that particular weapon. The chart had six aiming points, one for each weapon. Once all the guns were bore-sited, the pilot’s gun sight was then calibrated to its special icon on the harmonization chart. The a/c was now ready for action.

 During the Cold War years at the 1 Air Division Wings in France and Germany, we bore-sighted the six .50 calibre, M3 machine guns of the F-86 Sabre at a target 1000 feet in front of the aircraft. To preclude having to align each aircraft using the “plumb-bob” method, an initial alignment was carried out on a Sabre, than three positioning rectangles for the wheels of all subsequent aircraft were painted on the range apron. This sped up the harmonization process considerably for now the aircraft had only to be positioned on the wheel marks. It was however, necessary to place the Sabre on three jacks for longitudinal and lateral levelling and stability during the firing-in process. Each of the six guns were then individually bore-sighted and “fired-in“. First, five rounds were fired to warm up the barrel, followed by a 10 round burst to ascertain accuracy. This calibration was always carried out after a major inspection and before the squadron went on air-to-air firing exercises at Rabat, French Morocco, and later Decimomannu, Sardinia.

Harmonizing F-86 .50 cals -Circa 1956

 So it came to pass in the fertile mind of an unknown airman, that because the armourers used plumb-bobs in their duties the term gun plumbers was coined. Much to my relief the term had no association with a secondary duty of installing sinks or plunging toilets. The term remained in vogue during my 18 years in the trade. Whether or not it is still in use today, I cannot say.