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West Coast interceptor page 9


Tragically, a few months later on the night of January 19, 1960, Cudgel 42 experienced the real thing. On a go-around into the black hole off runway 11, instead of climbing away, their CF-100 entered a gradual descent and flew into the water. Hitting the Georgia Strait at a good rate of knots in an almost flat attitude, the CF‑100 made a spectacular blaze of fire. A nearby tugboat described a sheet of flame at least half a mile long. It wasn’t far from where Brian Shaw and Gordie Davis had posed as the downed crew a few months before.

In Fate Is the Hunter, Ernest Gann’s classic 1961 book of flying, he writes of the science of the accident investigator. “They must never write off a crash as simply a case of bad luck. They must never–for fear of ridicule–admit other than to themselves (which they all do) that some totally unrecognizable genie has once again unbuttoned his pants and urinated on the pillar of science.”

Paying homage to this unrecognizable genie seems to be an embarrassing fact of life in the aviation world. The craft of flying airplanes without tears is supposed to be a rational science of skill, good training and experience. Most aviators would deny that superstition has anything to do with it. Fate? Genies? Superstition? Horseshit! would be the automatic reaction.

Yet, at the same time, these most experienced aviators would greet with stony silence any neophyte who piped up cheerily on the flight deck, “Gee, things are going well today.” Or, just as inappropriate, “Man, I can’t wait ’till we get down. Have I ever got a hot date tonight!” The reaction would be, spoken or unspoken, “For Pete’s sake, put a cork in it. Are you stupid or just looking for trouble?” Superstitious? Well, not exactly. Just being prudent, maybe.

On 409 Squadron we had a normal collection of aircrew with secret talismans and rituals intended to ward off the malevolent attention of the genie. There were a few St. Christopher’s medals (patron saint of travellers). One pilot always had a fresh stick of gum before any exercise with a high pucker factor. A Nav/RO, without exception, put his flying boots on left foot first and then right, explaining that maybe this had something to do with never yet having a near-death experience in the air. A never-missed tap on the helmet, a quiet incantation–“OK, let the fun begin”–and so on were as much repetitions of actions that might mollify the genie as they were casual things of no consequence.

Then there was the number 13. On 409 Squadron it was decided to renumber the CF‑100 crews. As usual, the call sign Cudgel 13 was omitted, like skipping the 13th floor in a high-rise. In a cheeky moment of fate-jesting rationality, Bob Burnie and I requested and were assigned Cudgel 13. Eyebrows were raised. No good could come of this. And perhaps that is the way it was, for Bob lost his life at RCAF Station Bagotville a few years later in an unbelievable sequence of improbable events. The genie never seems to be in a rush.

Cudgel 42 seemed to be jesting with fate in volunteering to pose as a downed crew. However, the rescue exercise was pulled off successfully, and warm feelings of congratulations were evident on all sides. Nothing untoward happened. Perhaps fate had enjoyed the joke.

Born in London, England, Brian Shaw–at this time age 24, dark-haired, single, inevitably cheerful and good company–had come to Canada in 1948 at age 13. As a small boy watching the Battle of Britain from his London home, he grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot. In Canada, he joined the Air Cadets and won a flying scholarship, gaining his private pilot wings. In 1955, he won Western Canada’s Best Air Cadet trophy. Flying CF-100s was the realization of a dream.

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