A Lysander’s view of the Battle of Britain 75th anniversary

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The single-engine, two-seater Second World War spy plane known as the Lysander was already storied enough in the annals of aviation history when it took off this weekend from the Gatineau Executive Airport as part of the Battle of Britain 75th anniversary celebrations.

But the legend of the little silver plane that repeatedly snuck in behind enemy lines to deposit and pick up allied spies got an extra tweak from the latest pilot behind the controls — none other than David Hadfield, brother to Canada’s singing astronaut and co-writer on the first album ever recorded in space. In a nod to Cmdr. Chris Hadfield’s noted wit, it’s entitled Songs from a Tin Can and is due out on Oct. 2.

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“I wrote those songs thinking Chris would be busy enough while he was up there,” remarked Hadfield, an airline pilot, as he swooped and pivoted the vintage aircraft over Gatineau while being interviewed by the Citizen from the back passenger seat. “In fact, he was able to record the vocals and rhythm guitar in space for the whole album. It’s a first for the human race.”

Somehow it was a fitting revelation, given the nature of the weekend’s celebrations, which commemorated another kind of first for the human race, the three-month-long Battle of Britain in 1940, which involved 3,000 allied aircrew, including 100 Canadians. Widely considered a turning point in the war, it also gave Sir Winston Churchill ample material for some of his best lines, including the oft-quoted, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

For Vintage Wings of Canada founder, Michael Potter, the importance of the event can’t be understated.

“The Battle of Britain was a turning point in civilization. And Canada was fully present. Whether you consider the heroism or that we were part of the shifting of the geopolitical tectonic plates, it was a significant moment in our history.”

Vintage Wings of Canada staged an airshow on Saturday and flew over Parliament Hill on Sunday afternoon, showcasing the Lysander, combat aircraft like the P40, P51, Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster bomber, followed by aerial acrobatics by the CF Snowbirds’ and the CF-18 demonstration team.

Supported by Canso Investment Counsel and McGann Wealth Management, Vintage Wings also invited WWII veteran and former Lancaster bomber crewman Andrew Carswell, 91, to Saturday’s events, where he recounted how he twice escaped from German POW camps before being liberated in 1945.

Originally used for battlefield surveillance, the Lysander found its true purpose during the Battle of Britain in getting spies behind enemy lines undetected.

For Hadfield, the importance of recalling history is as important as maintaining the aircraft he calls “living historical treasures.”

“There’s no better way to do it than to restore these old airplanes and keep them flying. Just to be involved with that is a tremendous honour.”

For information about flying in a vintage aircraft, contact www.vintagewings.ca.