Airplane pilot Roger Yorke never flew for the Canadian military. But he knows a little something about military precision when it comes to the annual war plane flyover of Remembrance Day celebrations at Royal Canadian Legion branches across the mid-Island.
Yorke, a former Qualicum Beach resident, has flown his original 1955 T-28 Trojan military trainer over commemorations here for 17 years. He originally partnered with the late Phil Kalnin, who began the flyover in 1970 in his World War II-era Harvard fighter-trainer, and now teams with pilot George Kirbyson of Vancouver, a former member of the Ray Ban Gold Aerobatic Team who brings his own Harvard from the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley.
“It’s a very carefully choreographed and precisely timed event, to occur over the Parksville cenotaph at 10 seconds into the moment of silence,” said Yorke, 56, who spent 13 years as a pilot for Air Ontario (now part of Jazz Aviation). “There is a miliary precision to ensure that timing.
“We want a solemn ceremony. We deem to be not too fast, not too slow, not too high and not too low.”
The throaty, “truculent” sound of the planes’ historic radial engines provides a nostalgic impact for older veterans on the ground, said Yorke, though he misses that impact while in the air.
“People, I’m told, react to it very favourably,” Yorke said of the flyover. “It brings back memories. That is partially our goal, to honour those who sacrificed, but also to bring back those memories of service.”
With its moment-of-silence flyover, Parksville is the signature location for what is actually a 45- to 50-minute flight that includes flyovers of Remembrance Day commemorations in Qualicum Beach, Bowser, Nanaimo, Ladysmith and Gabriola Island, said Yorke.
He said he and Kirbyson have tried to maintain the schedule established by Kalnin, who flew over each legion ceremony in the order in which he received the requests.
Yorke and Kirbyson will lift off from Qualicum Beach Airport, where Yorke’s T-28 is hangared, at about 10:30 a.m. They will promptly fly over the Remembrance Day parade to the commemoration at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre.
“Since Qualicum Beach has an enclosed ceremony, we fly over the parade so people get to see the aircraft in flight,” Yorke said.
From there, it’s on to Bowser, which will also be in the midst of its short parade to the Legion hall and its cenotaph commemoration.
The aviators will then “massage” their time over Parksville bay in order to arrive during the minute of silence in Parksville, Yorke said, then head south to perform flyovers of commemorations in Nanaimo, Ladysmith and Gabriola Island.
Yorke said he plans to continue the local flyovers as long as he is fit and able.
“Phil and I flew for a number of years together,” said Yorke, who accepts no compensation for the flyover. “It’s interesting, because Phil knew where to go. It requires local knowledge, and I’m uniquely situated to offer that.
“It is designed to be solemn because I take my liberties and freedoms very seriously. And I’m in a unique position to contribute to those who fought and died for those freedoms.”