The Fraser Blues precision flying team is in semi-retirement – but the crew of mostly air force veterans still make exceptions for a few events, including Remembrance Day.
On Nov. 11, the team, flying four Navion aircraft, will make its way past six or seven cenotaphs. The list definitely includes Fort Langley, Langley, Murrayville, Aldergrove, Cloverdale, and Port Kells, said team leader George Miller.
In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, most ceremonies are either close to the general public, virtual, or informal. But people did gather near cenotaphs around the region last year, or visited them later in the day after the traditional 11 a.m. moment of silence.
“We see them, of course,” said Miller, a former Canadian Forces pilot, first leader of the Snowbirds, and former manager of the Langley Regional Airport. “I know that I would like to be near the cenotaph.”
Although flying the Remembrance Day route isn’t quite as challenging as an aerobatic routine, it does present its own special set of problems.
Miller would prefer to have the Fraser Blues appear above each cenotaph as close to 11 a.m. Since it’s impossible to have the planes appear at 11 a.m. above every cenotaph, they try to keep their circuit to about 20 minutes, passing above each one between 10:50 a.m. and 11:10 a.m.
“We really skedaddle between the cenotaphs,” Miller said.
As a Cold War-era pilot, Miller flew early jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) such as the Starfighter and the F-86 Sabre.
Although there were no combat casualties flying for NATO in the 1950s, there were losses. Miller lost a friend and fellow pilot, Ronald Rolston, to a crash in 1956, during a takeoff in bad weather in Germany.
Miller said he always thinks of and prays for Rolston when flying on Remembrance Day.
Remembering the sacrifices others made for Canada is important, he said.
The precision flying team once travelled to shows around Western Canada to show off their close formation flying.
Now, the pilots are pulling back. But they want to keep doing Remembrance Day events as long as they can.
“Remembrance Day is the most important,” said Miller. “It’s the most important to me, and the rest of the team.
The air shows required more practice and more intricate routines, Miller noted. While the team practices in advance for every Nov. 11, it isn’t as difficult to do a flypast above a cenotaph.
Other events they continue to take part in are also special to the team. They recently did a flypast for a veteran who was turning 100, and they have done funerals, flying in “missing man” formation.
Miller said he and some of the other pilots in the Fraser Blues – which includes his son, Guy Miller – aren’t as young as they once were. They’re keeping an eye on their health, but plan to keep flying as long as it’s safe to do so.
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