Sergeant McNorgan is an air reservist currently serving as assistant air force historian
at the Office of Air Force Heritage and History at No. 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters in Winnipeg.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2003-2004 issue of Airforce Magazine.
The sun was up early, promising a hot July day as I pulled into Nanton. I was in Southern Alberta to help mark the 100th Anniversary of Flight with the Altitude is Everything hot air balloon. Some of the volunteers who run the Nanton Air Museum had already gathered under the nose of their Avro Lancaster for coffee. I introduced myself, got a quick look at the Lanc and then began setting up our display tent.
After a pleasant morning meeting Nantonians and visitors, I went into town for lunch. My flight suit invited the inevitable stares and a comment from a gentleman wearing a CF 100 “Canuck” T-shirt (obviously ex air force). “Are you lost, or is there an air base around here that I don’t know about?”
One wise crack deserves another. I replied that there indeed was a base in the vicinity, but because of its top-secret nature, the cloaking devise was deployed. We laughed, however later that afternoon I was to learn how prophetic my reply had been.
My journey to the “secret base” began while I was looking through the impressive Nanton Air Museum, home of Lancaster FM159. Naturally any chance to see a Lanc is a thrill, but be forewarned: to venture into an aviation museum in uniform is to become an instant tour guide. I was something of a subject matter expert though and happily fielded questions.
This mistaken identity episode brought to mind the first time it happened. It was early in my air force career in Toronto’s Union Station. I was decked out in my RCAF 5’s (dress uniform) and waiting for a train when someone asked me what track the 905 to London was leaving on. I met his question with a blank stare. Not like Nanton. Knowing stuff is a good thing.
In the meantime, I answered all the questions I could about the Lanc until I was stumped. At that point I plead the fifth. “Hey, I don’t work here.”
The museum includes a display on. One of the real tour guides told me the hangar line was still intact and just a 20-minute drive away. I decided to check it out.
Heading east on highway 533, I thought of my “trek” to Vulcan. Perhaps I’d run into an actual Vulcanian like Spock, Sarek, Tuvock, or my favorite Vulcan, T’Pol.
My anticipation was high as I approached Vulcan. I expected to see the station over the next rise or around the next bend but there was nothing. The cloaking devise was functioning as advertised. A quick check with my helmsman was in order. “Sulu, are you sure this is Vulcan and not Sete Alpha 5?”
“Yes Sir. The co-ordinates are correct. I can’t explain it. Could it be we’ve traveled to a parallel universe?”
Checkov spoke up from the back seat. “Kayptain, maybe ve should ask the Wulcans.”
Good man that Checkov. A little young but some time in Toronto will fix that. We beamed into a convenience store. The young lady behind the counter gave me one of those Union Station stares when I asked about the old air force base. Spock leaned towards me and spoke softly. “A child Captain. She would not have knowledge of such things. Perhaps we should direct our inquiries to the ancient ones.”
Right. I asked an older gentleman and got the same blank response. I began to panic, rushing from customer to customer. Surely someone here knew of RCAF Vulcan?
An elderly man stepped forward.
“Lookin’ for the air force station are ye?”
Finally – directions! “About 15 minutes out of town on the right hand side – no wait, the left.” He said I’d best check with tourist information on the other side of the space ship. The Space ship? It was then that I saw it. Our ship, but much smaller!
Bones blurted out, “Jim, they’ve shrunk the Enterprise!
We’ve got to find that station so I can develop an antidote.”
I left town looking right, er left, until I was sure I’d traveled too far (Sulu had been no help – again). I stopped a bipedal humanoid with good cranial development and told him I wanted to boldly go where no one seemed to know the way to.
“Yeah, just turn around and go back towards Vulcan and watch for the only paved road heading left, er right. Once you get there, you can take your car up and down the runway. There’s no one around. By the way, if you get lost again just nip into the Hutterite Colony up the road. Tell ’em, Phil on the Corner sent you.”
This was looking better all the time. The prospect of drag racing my rental was enticing. Spock said something about it, appealing to my primeval Earthman, need for speed. I watched “Phil on the corner” shrinking in my rear view mirror. Just like the Enterprise had. It was imperative we find that station and save the world, as we knew it.
Sure enough the paved road was right where Phil said it would be. The black top was soft because of the heat, making the car feel slightly unsure of its traction. It was almost as if the station didn’t want visitors. A half mile drive over the crest of the hill and there she was, dignified, like a true Vulcan, showing no emotion. That was to come later.
There was a monument erected north of the station but the hangars were fenced off. I drove around to the other side. Entering through the west gate, I was struck by the utter solitude of the place. There was no farmer in the field, no pick-up truck on the road, just that heat and a bit of a breeze. The Nanton tour guide had been, as Spock would say, quite correct. Most of the hangar line was still there and in pretty good shape. A few other buildings remained, along with the fire hydrants in the middle of nowhere.
I drove the car along the apron but again came up against a fence. Wanting a closer inspection, I proceeded to the end of the hangar line where at last the fence ended.
Finally inside the hangar, I listened carefully. Was that the roar of an Anson’s Wasp Juniors on an early morning run-up? I thought I could feel some ephemeral emotions here. Feelings like the pride from a wings parade, the anguish of leaving families, and the anticipation of embarking on a grand adventure.
Many of you will be going to war. Some of you will not be coming back.
Walking through the rubble of the hangar offices, the Vulcan mind meld began to take hold – I know what you know, I feel what you feel. The ghosts of Vulcan started to speak.
Wonder if I’ll be able to see Linda in Calgary again this weekend? What a swell gal – I’m getting to be a pretty good rigger – found that hydraulic snag on 2024 – fixed it too. Maybe I’ll get that promotion to Corporal – wish that Flight Sergeant would get off my back – gotta hit the books tonight – my solo’s tomorrow – what if I wash out? Wait ’till Dad hears I’m getting my commission – he’ll be so proud.
RCAF Station Vulcan had a short but not insignificant life. A product of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, she opened on August 3, 1942 as No. 2 Flying Instructor School, training the men who would teach others how to “dance the sky on laughter silvered wings.” Later Vulcan became home to No. 19 Service Flying Training School, providing graduates for Bomber Command. The station closed as an active base on April 14, 1945.
The young men and women who worked, lived and loved here did so in an era of uncertainty. Many came directly from school, their childhood not yet off the radar screen. This youth gave the station an aura of both energy and innocence. Vulcan had trained them in the art of war, enabling them to strike back at the enemy. It taught them how to fight and also survive. Many of her students owed their lives to the lessons learned from their time here in Southern Alberta.
Before getting back into the car it occurred to me that I might well be the last uniformed airman to visit RCAF Vulcan. I straightened up and saluted the hangar line. The buildings, shimmering in the heat, seemed to rise slightly in acknowledgement of the compliment.
On the crest of the hill overlooking the base, I stopped for one last look at RCAF Vulcan now nestled peacefully among the yellow canola fields. She had earned this peace, this serenity at the end of the day. So long old girl. You did your work well.
Bones antidote did the trick. In Vulcan, everything worked according to the plan.
I pulled out my communicator. “Beam us up home, Mr. Scott. We’re tired.”
by Sergent Patrick Morgan