Remembrance Day celebrations may be curtailed on the ground, but the pilots of Langley’s Fraser Blues will be taking to the skies on Nov. 11 over several local cemeteries and cenotaphs.
“It’s our most cherished and looked-forward-to flight year round,” said George Miller, the leader of the local precision flying team.
For 20 years, the Fraser Blues have been visiting air shows and other events across western Canada to show off their close-formation flying.
The team has pulled back from air shows in recent years, but kept up a busy schedule of appearances on Remembrance Day, passing over ceremonies at Royal Canadian Legions and cenotaphs in Langley, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Abbotsford, and Mission.
However, COVID-19 has put a crimp in planning for any large get-togethers this year, and that includes most mass gatherings for Remembrance Day. Ceremonies are scaling back drastically, going virtual, or being cancelled entirely.
“This year, it’ll be five,” Miller said of the ceremonies his team will visit.
They’ll travel to Fort Langley, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, the Aldergrove Legion, and the Murrayville cemetery and cenotaph.
All of those will be within a few minutes before or after 11 a.m., when the moment of silence is usually observed.
Miller, a longtime officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the first team leader of the Snowbirds aerobatics team, has a personal reason for always observing Remembrance Day, as well.
In 1956, he lost a friend to a crash while they were flying together with the RCAF.
Miller’s unit was taking off in a training flight in Germany in foul weather, after just returning from training in Morocco.
Ronald Rolston couldn’t get his wheels up and crashed on takeoff just past the runway in heavy cloud.
“We were very good friends,” Miller said.
Miller was 20, Rolston was 21.
He thinks and prays for Rolson when he’s flying during Remembrance Day events, Miller said.
Beyond that, as a former military officer, Miller is aware of the history of Canadians who have died in the First and Second World Wars, Korea, and other conflicts around the world.
“It’s to honour the tremendous sacrifice of so many,” he said.
“It’s a small thing for us to honour that sacrifice.”
The annual flights are watched for by thousands at ceremonies around the Lower Mainland, but this year those who go outside near 11 a.m. will still be able to see the Fraser Blues pass by.
“We fly what we call the box formation,” Miller said.
He is in lead, with his son Guy Miller – manager of the Pitt Meadows Airport – and friends Clive Barratt and Ray Roussey flying close by.
At each site, to make sure people can see the flight, they perform “a big split 360, around and over the site again,” Miller said.
The Navions they fly aren’t fighter planes, but they were designed for military use.
The U.S. military used them in the late 1940s and through the Korean War for observation, artillery spotting, and carrying officers and dignitaries.
Miller’s Navion was built in 1947, when it was still being constructed for military use. Later models were built for the civilian market.
It’s one of the most comfortable four-seater aircraft that resembles a 1940s-era fighter plane, Miller said.
“It’s strong, it’s a real beast,” he said. “I love it.”
Keep an eye out for the four Navions of the Fraser Blues starting just before 11 a.m. over Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, and Langley-area Remembrance Day events on Nov. 11.