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West Coast interceptor page 10

STORY by DICK BENTHAM

Raised in Calgary, Gordie Davis, the Nav/RO, was 22 and married with a seven-month-old son. Good-looking, blond, blue-eyed and looking more like a young choirboy than an aircrew member of a fighter squadron, Gordie was a quiet and friendly character.

If the genie was looking for a fertile time and place to toy with aviators’ minds, it needed to look no further than Comox in winter. Night after night and day after day, flying went on in weather that always seemed to be raining with low ceilings and visibility, and clouds that were seemingly solid up to 30,000 and 40,000 feet. Like all fighter aircraft, the CF-100 was vulnerable to any number of calamitous single failures. There were times when almost everyone got a little tense.

One night a few weeks before his fatal accident, Shaw struck up a conversation with me at the bar and matter-of-factly stated that he did not expect to survive the winter. This was unusual, to say the least. I made a joke and changed the subject. But I wondered what had gotten into his mind to be so down. It never occurred to me that the genie might be preparing his own jest.

On takeoff or a go-around from runway 11 at Comox, you were quickly over the Georgia Strait. On dark nights there was absolutely no visual horizon. It was like entering a bowl of black ink.

For such conditions, the CF-100 attitude indicator was simply not good enough for determining whether or not you were climbing. It could show the nose nicely above the horizon, when in fact the aircraft was descending. It was the VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) with its instantaneous and absolutely clear indication of a climb that was the vital instrument. The VSI together with the attitude indicator were a vital cross-check under these conditions.

Arriving back at base at 01:30, Shaw had elected to make a go-around off his GCA approach. Often, just to let those sleeping at the base know there were still a few hardy souls out and about, a late crew would start a go-around some distance back from the runway and hold the airplane down to cross the field at low level, making a hell of a racket. It was important to start climbing as soon as the visual reference from the airfield was left behind.

For whatever reason, Shaw obviously did not climb away from the airfield but rather descended to hit the water. While there could be a number of reasons for this, such as control problems or pilot incapacitation, the most likely seemed to be that the vital VSI/Attitude Indicator cross-check slipped.

CF-100 18682 was no more. No trace of Brian Shaw or Gordie Davis was ever found. The definitive cause of the accident was never determined. An unlikely moment’s inattention from an experienced, careful pilot? Bad luck? An unrecognizable genie repaying a jest? We’ll never know for sure. |

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