The Red Knight
By John Corrigan
A solo, aerobatics performer of the Royal Canadian Air Force's Training Command from 1958 through 1969, the role of the Red Knight was actually shared by seventeen different pilots over a period of twelve seasons. Although originally authorized to perform only three shows, the Red Knight went on to make over six hundred appearances, all over North America. The Red Knight was commonly sent to venues considered too small for the aerobatics teams of the day. According to 1963 Red Knight, Bill Fraser: "As with the Teams, the positive publicity achieved was tremendous, and all for what was, even in those days, a very small budget. We did some "openers" for the Golden Hawks, and took part in some larger Canadian and US displays, but most of our shows [took place] in out of the way places that did not rate a Team."
The Red Knight was uniquely Canadian -- a solo military display. These pilots, with the help of their Crew Chiefs and support personnel, brought an extremely impressive and professional aerobatics show to communities that might not otherwise get the chance to see such an event. The trademark of the Red Knight was his brilliant red aircraft; first the T-33 "Silver Star" and then, for the last two seasons, the CL-41 "Tutor".
The Red Knight was uniquely Canadian -- a solo military display. These pilots, with the help of their Crew Chiefs and support personnel, brought an extremely impressive and professional aerobatics show to communities that might not otherwise get the chance to see such an event.
The unique feature of the Red Knight displays was that all the manoeuvres were performed within the boundaries of the airfield -- keeping the action in view of the spectators throughout the entire show.
There were several reasons that, in the late fifties, the time was right for the Red Knight, as Jack Waters, the 1967 Red Knight, explains: "It was not surprising that the Red Knight aerobatics demonstration program saw its beginnings as post-World War II RCAF Training Command reached its zenith in the fifties. The Command was endowed with a state-of-the-art modern fighter type aircraft, the Canadair T-33 "Silver Star", and thanks to the burgeoning North Atlantic Treaty Organization combat flying program, was endowed as well with a large supply of highly skilled, mature yet still young fighter-experienced instructors. On the one hand, the Command was anxious to demonstrate its capabilities to other military organizations and to the Canadian public in a dramatic way. On the other hand, many T-33 instructors were eager to take up the challenge of aerobatics demonstrations."
"Thus, by 1956, some individual pilots were permitted to put a T-33 through its paces in front of military and civilian spectators at unofficially sanctioned air shows. The manoeuvres, conducted at low altitude, were basically those employed in normal military pilot training: loops, rolls, cuban-eights (a double combination loop and roll), and cloverleafs (a series of wingovers). The show usually concluded with a traditional fighter pitch-out and landing. Resourceful pilots could expand the demonstration into a fifteen minute "sound and light" show which was both thrilling for spectators and very demonstrative of fighter aircraft capabilities and pilot skill."
Roy Windover, a native of Belleville, Ontario, was the first Red Knight. He died May 29th, 1990 in an automobile accident near Arnprior, Ontario. Fortunately, he had told the story of how the Red Knight program began to Larry Milberry, who included it in his book, "Sixty Years". In 1957, Windover was a Flight Instructor at Central Flying School (CFS), in Trenton. During the Labour Day weekend that year, he attended the Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto. A spectator at the show, Windover was disappointed to see an American exchange pilot flying an RCAF jet in a solo aerobatics display at Canada's premier air show. Roy vowed to himself that he would be the pilot flying that display at the 1958 Air Show.
As luck would have it, one of Roy's students back at CFS was Air Vice Marshall (A/V/M) Bryans, the AOC of Training Command, who was renewing his green ticket at the time. Windover lobbied his case to the A/V/M and was granted permission to begin practicing a solo aerobatics display. His first performance was at the Air Force Day celebrations in Trenton on June 14th, 1958. The show went well and Roy continued practicing for his CIAS appearance in September. In preparation for these shows, his aircraft (T-33 S/N 21057) was painted dayglo-red, to make it more visible to the audiences. On July 12th, a photo session was arranged to get publicity pictures for the air show programs and press releases. The photographer, Cpl. George D. Hardy, commented during the shoot that the brilliant red aircraft reminded him of Baron von Richthofen, the Red Knight of Germany, and so the act was dubbed as "the red Knight".
Windover performed two shows at the CNE, September 4th and 5th, and received critical acclaim from the press. One newspaper clipping, that Roy taped into his log book, proclaimed that: "The two pilots who caused the most startles in the crowd were Blue Angels' solo leader Lt. Jack Dewenter in his F11F-1 Tiger and the RCAF's Flt. Lt. Roy (Windy) Windover in a fire-engine red T-33 Silver Star." After the CNE shows, the T-33 was returned to CFS, stripped of its red paint and resumed its regular duties.
There is no objective evidence that Windover had planned to continue the routine in 1959. Roy had, however, left a favourable impression with one very important spectator who would bring him back for an encore performance, as Bob Hallowell explains: "In early 1959 preparations were being made for the big 35/50 shows - 35 years of the RCAF, 50 years of powered flight in Canada. The Hawks were formed, and hordes of T-birds from all over the prairies were jockeying around to spell "35" and "50" in aluminium. To get this all rolling a "Chief's Airshow" was planned at Ottawa/Rockcliffe for the Chief of the Air staff, (Air Marshall Hugh Campbell) and a few friends. The CAS had seen Windy at the CNE, so when the '59 Chief's show was planned he asked for the "red jet"."
Hallowell was designated as Windover's alternate pilot and flew a second aircraft to the show, as a precaution against technical problems. According to Hallowell: "Windy was on notice for a posting to Sabres, so I was the last one standing and was recruited as his back-up. He did a few other shows before leaving, as interest had sprung up in the display, and it was an easy alternate to the Hawks. It was around this time that the PR wallahs started using the term "Red Knight." Certainly, neither Windy nor I had any shining armour." Roy Windover completed three Red Knight displays before reporting to No.1(F) OTU on July 10th. Later that same month, the program moved to Saskatoon with Central Flying School. Hallowell, an experienced instructor and former F-86 Sabre pilot from Guelph, Ontario, became the RCAF's first "official" Red> Knight. Bob completed seven additional shows in 1959. But Hallowell had seen the positive reaction to the act and felt it should continue, as he explains: "That fall, 057 was to be stripped and returned to regular flying. However, I was aware of requests coming in for the next season, so I wrote an impassioned memo to my boss, and somehow saved the show."
During the next year, 1960, Bob Hallowell completed a North American show schedule of forty-five performances and brought the program to maturity. For the first time, a full time Crew Chief was assigned to the Red Knight. This maintenance technician would travel with the Red Knight and look after the aircraft on the road. The first Red Knight Crew Chief was John (Jack) Woodhouse, known affectionately to Hallowell as "Woody". Unfortunately, there was not much additional support provided by the Air Force. The two men were on their own -- looking after meals, accommodations, ground transportation, air show details and maintenance problems. (This would become the norm for all but the 1967 Red Knight team.)
The 1961 season was significant for the changes it brought to the Red Knight program. By the spring of that year, Bob Hallowell had already begun preparing for his third season. A second T-33 aircraft, serial number 21574, had been acquired and was to serve as a spare, in case of mechanical problems. Both aircraft had been re-painted and featured a distinctive new emblem displayed prominently on the nose. The red Knight's helmet with the flowing yellow plume on a white, circular background was to become the official emblem of the Red Knight for the remainder of the program.
There was, however, a sudden change in plans, as Bob Hallowell recalled, "I had started practice for the season, but received a short-notice posting to a squadron in Germany. After watching the manure that I had to wade through to keep the show going, none of my mates wanted the job, so (Training) Command picked Ray Goeres at Portage. As my routine was already approved, I flew there and took Ray up for a run-through". So the Red Knight moved again, this time to what many consider to be the home of the Red Knight, RCAF Stn. Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
The new Red Knight, Flt. Lt. R.J. (Ray) Goeres, was a 39-year-old Flight Instructor at No. 2 Advanced Flying School (AFS). Raised in Stranraer, Saskatchewan, he joined the RCAF in 1941 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), while serving with the RAF during World War II. After six years of civilian life, Goeres rejoined the RCAF as an instructor in 1951. He served three and a half years with Canada's NATO Air Division, flying Sabres in Europe.
Once at Portage, a number of other changes were introduced to the Red Knight organization. Now, with two aircraft, an Alternate pilot was added to the team. This pilot would fly the spare aircraft to the major shows and stand-in for the Red Knight in times of illness or when scheduling conflicts required the Red Knight to be in two places at once. The Alternate Red Knight would sometimes act as commentator and could provide a critical eye for possible improvements to the performance. It was intended that the Alternate would become the Red Knight in the following season, giving the pilot a year to learn the ropes.
The first Alternate Red Knight was Flying Officer D.J. (Dave) Barker from Lakeview, Ontario, a flying instructor at No. 2 AFS, Portage la Prairie. A promising young pilot, Barker had flown Sabres in Europe and was a member of the RCAF team which won the 1959 Guynemer shooting championships -- a type of "Top Gun" competition among the NATO countries. Upon the recommendation of the OC No. 2 AFS, Dennis Simmans was appointed Station Co-ordinator for the Red Knight airshows. It was his duty to provide liaison between the Red Knight and the sponsoring committees, after the air show had been approved by Command. Jack Woodhouse was brought in from Saskatoon to continue in his role as Red Knight Crew Chief. To complete the team, a second Crew Chief, Les Matthews, was added to look after the Alternate's aircraft.
During the 1961 season, Ray Goeres performed 54 aerobatics displays. Dave Barker flew an additional 19 shows, bringing the total number of performances to 73 -- the busiest schedule to date for the Red Knight. More importantly, the structure of the team had evolved into the basic format that would remain throughout the rest of the program.
In 1962, Ray Goeres moved on to other duties and Dave Barker assumed the role of the Red Knight, as planned. A new Alternate was required and Bill Fraser, also a Flight Instructor at Portage, was selected from the list of applicants. Born and raised in Salmon Arm, BC, Bill obtained his wings in August of 1957 and had flown CF-100's operationally with 409 Squadron, at RCAF Stn. Comox, BC. Dennis Simmans remained as Station Coordinator for the Red Knight; however, the ground crew was completely new for 1962. The season began with Grant Harrison and Moe Foote as Crew Chiefs; however, Paul Bouche replaced Foote early into the season.
The number of performances increased again, in 1962, to 74 aerobatics displays. Dave Barker flew 66 shows, while Bill Fraser flew another 8 displays as Alternate. One notable development of the 1962 season was the introduction of the Co-ordinated show -- not technically considered formation flying, both Red Knight aircraft performed the same manoeuvres, at the same time and in the same direction, while maintaining a minimum separation of 1,000 feet.
The next season would be one of transition and tragedy for the Red Knight program. Early in 1963, Dave Barker left Portage La Prairie to join the Golden Hawks' aerobatics display team in Trenton, Ontario. So, Bill Fraser became the new Red Knight. His new Alternate was F/L J.W. (Bud) Morin, a 25 year old Flight Instructor and native of Maniwaki, Quebec. Dennis Simmans began his third season as Red Knight Station Coordinator. The Crew Chiefs', "Stretch" Dunn and Bob Casey, were both new members of the team.
The season was only just beginning when Fraser received notification of a transfer to Europe, as Bill recalls: "I was Red Knight in ‘63 and got in nine shows before leaving Portage La Prairie in early June of that year. Being transferred out in the middle of your year was very unusual considering the expenses in training and publicity that had already been invested in you. But in my case, a Two Star had requested me by name and insisted when queried. I went to Air Div HQ in Metz, France, to be Executive Assistant to the Air Officer Commanding, A/V/M D.A.R. Bradshaw. The A/V/M knew me, as he had been Commandant of the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario, during my time there until graduation in 1956. My new posting was grand, but I was sad to leave the Red Knight, particularly in mid year."
With Fraser's departure, Morin assumed the role of the Red Knight. Wayne MacLellan from Stellarton, Nova Scotia, was selected to replace Morin as Alternate. The two pilots began a rather busy schedule of aerobatics displays. The program faltered somewhat and came close to cancellation later that summer. On August 21st, the two Red Knight aircraft were performing a coordinated show, as part of the Gimli Air Force Day celebrations. They commenced a Cuban 8 and entered cloud near the top of the manoeuvre; on exiting the cloud, both aircraft were in a steep diving attitude. MacLellan's aircraft broke off the manoeuvre without completing the final roll and pull through. Morin's aircraft completed the final roll and, during the pull through, contacted the ground and exploded. Morin died in the crash of T-33 21057, the original Red Knight aircraft.
A Board of Inquiry was held to determine the cause of the accident. In the end, the Board put forth a number of recommendations to improve the margin of safety for the act. The practice of coordinated shows, (which had never been officially sanctioned), was terminated. MacLellan took over the role of the Red Knight and continued the schedule of performances. In the fall of 1963 Winnipeg native Bill Slaughter, a new Portage la Prairie Instructor and former F-86 pilot, volunteered for the role of Alternate Red Knight for the remainder of the season. All together the four pilots who participated in the Red Knight program made 90 performances, in 1963.
In 1964, the Red Knight program regrouped, reorganized and recovered from the traumas of the previous year. After Bud Morin's accident, there had been some discussion about canceling the program. In the end, it was decided that the Red Knight needed additional support while on the road. A new position, Red Knight Officer Commanding (OC) was created. The OC was to travel with the team and look after all the organizational details, allowing the pilots to concentrate on their shows. The first Red Knight OC was Jack Desbrisay.
The Canadian Government made significant cuts to Defense budget in the 1964. This forced the RCAF to reduce spending. The most notable actions taken were to disband the Golden Hawks and lay-off hundreds of pilots. Wayne MacLellan, who probably would have continued as Red Knight in 1964, was one of these unfortunate pilots. As a result, Bill Slaughter became the Red Knight. The Alternate for 1964 was D.C. "Tex" Deagnon. Paul Boucher returned as Crew Chief, along with newcomer Ellis Gauthro. With the budget cuts, the team's schedule of performances was dramatically reduced. Bill Slaughter completed only twenty-six air shows that season. Tex Deagnon performed four additional shows as Alternate. In September of 1964, the Red Knight Program moved once again, this time to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
The 1965 Red Knight was Tex Deagnon, moving up from his role as Alternate in the previous year. His new Alternate, Terry Hallett, was also a former F-86 pilot and a Squadron mate in Europe. The remainder of the team consisted of Jim Stothard, who replaced Jack Desbrisay as Red Knight OC, and Crew Chiefs Jack Rathwell and Tom Lupton. The base of operation remained at Moose Jaw. Deagnon made 26 appearances that year, with Hallett performing an additional 3 shows.
Terry Hallett became the Red Knight in 1966. Terry was born in England, but was raised in Powell River, B.C. His Alternate that year was Roger Cossette. Roger, a native of Amos, Quebec, had flown CF-100s and CF-101s operationally before becoming a Flight Instructor. Ken Sheppardson assumed the role of Red Knight OC, and the Crew Chiefs were Jack Rathwell and Chip Lake. It was another busy season for the Red Knight, with Hallett performing 59 shows. Cossette was kept busy too, as Chip Lake put it: "Following Joey Smallwood around Newfoundland as he opened up sections of the Trans-CanadaHighway." Before the end of the season, however, both pilots would leave the team. Terry Hallett was posted to Chatham to begin training for CF-104 posting. To make matters worse, Roger Cossette had accepted a position with Air Canada and had already left the team. This left Red Knight OC Ken Sheppardson without a pilot. Bill "Kiwi" MacArthur was asked to complete the season and had accepted the job; however, he was not a member of Training Command at the time, so word came back from HQ to find another man. Jake Reilly explains what happened next: "Headquarters transferred Terry Hallett right in mid-season - way to go "HEADS". Ken Sheppardson (the Red Knight OC) was also my boss in Standards and was crying in his glass at "Beer Call" so badly and so long on the Friday following the bad news because Roger Cossette had left for Air Canada and he didn't even have a back-up that I told him that I'd do the job for him if he'd just agree to stop crying." So, Reilly took over as Red Knight and completed the remaining dates that season, doing 8 shows.
The 1967 season started off on a sad note, as former Red Knight Dave Barker was killed in a flying accident on February 15th. A member of the Golden Centennaires Aerobatics Team at the time, Barker was part of a nine-plane formation practice just west of Comox. During a right banking turn, the horizontal tailplane of Barker's aircraft came in contact with the left wing tip of another aircraft. The tailplane of Barker's aircraft was torn off. His aircraft pitched over and he crashed into a wooded area. Barker was an excellent pilot and had the distinction of being the only person to have been a Red Knight, a Golden Hawk and a Golden Centennaire.
Although Jake Reilly fully expected to carry on as Red Knight in 1967, events happening elsewhere would dictate otherwise, as Jack Water recalled, "In late 1966 Canadian Forces Headquarters in Ottawa approved the creation of an air demonstration team in celebration of Canada's Centennial Year, 1967. The Golden Centennaires, as they were called, were formed under the leadership of Wing Commander O.B. Philp, a W.W.II pilot and CF-104 Strike/Attack Squadron Commander (434 "Bluenose" Squadron, Zwiebrucken, Germany). O.B. was posted to Portage la Prairie, where Group Captain Vic Stuart was designated to administratively support the new Team. The original Centennaire Team complement was nine Tutor aircraft, one CF-104 Starfighter, one CF-101 Voodoo, two Avro 504K WWI vintage biplanes and one T-33 Silver Star support and communications aircraft. The team schedule was to cover approximately one hundred locations in 1967. To my best knowledge, there was initially no plan to include the Red Knight operations into 1967 and beyond, but as Centennial Year air show requests rolled in from communities across Canada, it became clear that the Centennaire Team alone could not meet all air show commitments; therefore, a decision was made in early 1967 to continue the Red Knight program. As it happened I wrote O.B. in January 1967 from my "desk job" at Recruiting Centre Detachment Kitchener, Ontario, in order only to congratulate him on his new challenge (I had known him and flown with him at Zweibrucken). After he received my letter he called me in early February to offer me the 1967 Red Knight job. (I am not certain of the dynamics whereby, the original Moose Jaw Red Knight selected for 1967, Jake Reilly, was not allowed to join the Centennaires "Flying Circus", but I suspect that O.B. Philp wanted someone he both knew and had flown with.) I was at the time contemplating a job with Air Canada but quickly changed course and accepted the Red Knight posting. By March 1st, I was in Portage and starting Red Knight practices."
The Alternate Red Knight was F/O R.E.M. (Rod) Ellis. At 23, the native of Bathurst, N.B. was the youngest member of the Centennial aerobatics team. The official programs showed Bob Hawes and Greg Moore as the Crew Chiefs for the Centennial Red Knight team, however, Moore was replaced very early into the 1967 season by Vince Kavic. (The Red Knight OC position was not continued after 1966.) It was a physically exhausting schedule, with Waters completing 94 air shows throughout Canada and the United States. Ellis, completed an additional 7 displays, bringing the 1967 Red Knight total to a record 101 shows.
After a rather exhausting schedule during the Centennial celebrations, the Red Knight prepared to return to a more normal routine in 1968. Jack Waters, now a Major, had moved on to other duties at Portage La Prairie and Rod Ellis had decided against assuming the role of Red Knight. Dave Curran, of Kingston, Ontario, a former F-86 pilot with operational experience in Europe, volunteered to be the Red Knight. The pilot selected as his Alternate was John Reid, who had flown CF-104s and had recently come to Portage La Prairie, as a Flight Instructor. The Crew Chiefs for 1968 were Larry Hunt and John Hilts.
On May 21st, 1968, in preparation for the upcoming season, Curran and Reid were involved in a photographic session to obtain publicity shots for the Red Knight. Reid, flying T-33 21620, made several low-level passes over the airfield. On his third pass, he pulled his aircraft into a loop. In attempting to complete this loop, his aircraft struck the ground and exploded. Reid was thrown from the wreckage and was found alive; however, he was gravely injured and died five hours later in a Winnipeg Hospital.
Once the shock of Reid's death had worn off, Curran prepared to salvage as much of the season as possible. Although Curran made one appearance in the remaining T-33 aircraft, (on Air Force Day at Portage La Prairie), it was clear that a reliable spare aircraft was needed. Unfortunately, there were no suitable T-33 aircraft available. There were, however, a number of ex-Centennaire Tutors in storage at CFB Mountainview. These aircraft were already modified for aerobatics display, so two Tutors were quickly dispatched to Portage. The aircraft arrived at the base on July 15th and, by the end of that month, both aircraft had been accepted, stripped, painted and made ready for use. It was about this time that Joe Houlden joined the team, to serve as Commentator and pilot of the spare aircraft. To his credit, Dave Curran completed 22 shows across Canada that year: twenty one of them in August and September.
As preparations for the 1969 season began, Dave Curran received word that he was being loaned to the US Air Force. It was at the height of US involvement in the War in Vietnam and there was a shortage of Flight Instructors in the United States. Since there was no Alternate from the 1968 season, the 1969 Red Knight would be starting from scratch. This presented a problem, as Jack Waters explains: "In early 1969, I cooperated with Dave Curran to select a 1969 Red Knight, but found that the volunteers were few and all too young and inexperienced, with no operational background. (Actually only two instructors underwent 1969 selection flight with Dave Curran, and both were young "pipeliners" with no operational experience.) As I recall, it was against our judgment that headquarters in Winnipeg designated Bryan Alston to be Red Knight."
Perhaps Training Command was less concerned than Waters and Curran because the other members of the team all had experience from previous seasons. The Crew Chiefs for 1969 were both returning veterans. Larry Hunt continued on from his 1968 duties, while Bob Hawes returned to the team after a one-year absence. Joe Houlden also moved to Moose Jaw, to continue his role as Red Knight Commentator. However, prior to the beginning of the 1969 air show season Houlden stepped down and was replaced by Robert (Bob) Cran.
Although only 23 years old, Bryan Alston was an extremely talented pilot. By one account, he was so skilled that, within a few weeks of practising, he was able to fly his whole show inverted. The season progressed well, with the team performing a number of shows throughout Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, that would all come to an end on July 13th, 1969. Upon returning to CFB Moose Jaw from a show in Selkirk, Manitoba, Alston was asked to perform for some visiting Italian Air Force Officials. During this display, his aircraft experienced a power failure and he decided to attempt a forced landing. As he made his turn towards the runway the aircraft, Tutor No. 26154, went out of control and crashed inverted. The aircraft burst into flames and Alston was killed. (Compounding this tragedy, Cran died seventeen days later in a training accident.)
Alton's crash effectively ended the Red Knight program. It was the second fatal accident in less than fifteen months and the third in Red Knight history. However, it wasn't the only reason the Red Knight program ended. Perhaps just as significant a factor was the posting of Colonel O.B. Philp to CFB Moose Jaw. Philp, the former commander of the "Golden Centennaires" had dreamed of forming another air demonstration team.
On his first tour of his new command, "O.B." noticed a number of ex-Centennaire Tutor aircraft on the base, including the Red Knight's spare aircraft -- Tutor No. 26153. He quietly set to work re-establishing a Canadian Forces air demonstration team that would become, of course, the Snowbirds. Thus ended a unique chapter in RCAF/CAF aviation history.
Until now, the 12-year history of the Red Knight has remained for the most part, untold. Perhaps that is due to the very nature of the programme. Members of the team participated for a year or two and then moved on. The base of operations changed six times during the twelve seasons -- the longest period at any one base being just over three years. This lack of information seems rather sad for what should be an important part of RCAF/CAF history. Undoubtedly, many of today's pilots were inspired to pursue careers in aviation after seeing a performance of the "Red Knight".
Note: John Corrigan is compiling information on the Red Knight for the purpose of writing a pictorial history about the RCAF's Solo Aerobatics performer. He would welcome any information, including copies of any letters, photographs, film or video tapes, logbooks, air show programs, newspaper or magazine articles, that may help fill in details of the 12 year history of the act. John's address is 397 Ormond Drive, Oshawa, Ontario, L1K 1J3, telephone: (905) 725-1697, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in Winter 1998-99 issue of Airforce Magazine (Vol. 22 No. 4) Reproduced with the permission of the Author.