Membership

Print

A memorable rendezvous
with the Thunderbirds

By Gord McNulty

Climbing the ladder to the Thunderbirds F100 Super Sabre at the 1957 CNE Air Show Jack McNulty photo

Climbing the ladder to the Thunderbirds F-100 Super Sabre at the 1957 CNE Air Show (Jack McNulty photo)

What a thrill for a 10-year-old kid to check out the controls of an F-100 when the Thunderbirds visited Canada for the first time in 1957.

The elite demonstration squadron was in Toronto for the Canadian International Air Show and naturally my father, Jack, was among the aviation photographers who flocked to Malton to view the aircraft.

No sooner had my father and I arrived then my dad talked his way past the security and I was invited to “inspect” a Thunderbirds’ Super Sabre. Wow!

I eagerly climbed up the ladder, met a member of the ground crew who gave me a briefing, enjoyed a pilot’s view of the cockpit, and donned a helmet. It isn’t any wonder that I was hooked on aviation as a youngster.

The F-100, introduced by the Thunderbirds in 1956, was the first supersonic aircraft in the squadron and was flown by the team until 1969.

The Canadian National Exhibition was in its heyday back in 1957. Starring in the CNE grandstand show that year were Bob Hope, Dave Garroway, original anchor of NBC-TV’s Today show, and singer Helen O’Connell.

That information was provided by the late Texas Congressman Sam Johnson, a member of the Thunderbirds Alumni Association, who had a remarkable career in the U.S. Air Force. He was a fighter pilot in the Korean War and then the Vietnam war, where he was shot down and spent nearly seven years as prisoner of war, including 42 months in solitary confinement.

Johnson flew the solo position for the Thunderbirds in 1957. He died at age 89 on May 27 of this year.

Fun in the office of the Thunderbirds F100 Super Sabre at the 1957 CNE Air Show Jack McNulty photo

'Fun in the office' of the Thunderbirds F-100 Super Sabre at the 1957 CNE Air Show (Jack McNulty photo)

Ready for takeoff in the Thunderbirds F100 Super Sabre at the 1957 CNE Air Show Jack McNulty photo

'Ready for takeoff' in the Thunderbirds F-100 Super Sabre at the 1957 CNE Air Show (Jack McNulty photo)