Off to Bagotville!

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Today the museum had asked me to come in to replace someone who was ill. Apparently they had asked two people to come in and told me “Oops, sorry! Go home.”. I got home thinking I’d still go to the pow-wow instead, but I arrived back in Chicoutimi 15 minutes after the bus left, and there isn’t one running tomorrow. Needless to say, I am not impressed.

Instead, seeing as it was a nice day, I decided to head out to Bagotville. I already knew a bit about Bagotville since one of the exhibitions I do tours of talks about it. Bagotville was a military base created during WWII to help protect the Saint Lawrence River from invading German U-Boats, and also to prevent attacks on Arvida, a nearby town with the world’s largest natural source of aluminum, vital to creating war machines. The base today serves as a museum, an airport and a Royal Canadian Air Force Base. It is the only military base in Canada accessible to the general public.

I arrived about 15 minutes before the guided bus tour of the base. They forbade anyone from taking pictures (which makes sense) so I can’t really show you any photos of the base. We saw some CF-18 Hornets taking off for pilot training which was really cool to see! We also saw inside a few hangars since today was repair day for the planes. Everything needed to be removed from the hangars to give room to the mechanics. This included the air missiles, which were lying haphazardly on the pavement next to the bus, baking in the sun. Only in Québec…

After the tour, I headed into the museum. Walking around Bagotville means you run into a lot of military personnel. When everyone would stand at attention and salute, I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do, haha! They were all friendly though. Inside the museum there was a lot of old military memorabilia, which was fascinating. I also tried my hand at one of the old Morse code machines from WWII. I would get so tired of that “beep” noise it makes, but it did perform a very important job.

While I was checking out a (surprisingly small) aircraft engine, one of the military personnel approached me and spoke in French way too quickly for me. I said “Excusez-moi?” which gave away my accent and the man looked relieved saying “Oh thank god, another anglophone!”. He introduced himself as Sean, mentioned that he saw me looking at the engine, and asked if I was interested in engines. I said I knew a little bit about cars but not about aircraft. Sean gave me a low down on how aircraft engines worked (not much different than cars really) and invited me to a tour he was going to be giving. It was for a group of visiting young cadets who were also anglophone and so the tour was in English.

Sean is really into aircraft, and during the tour, we saw a lot of old aircraft from Canada’s military history, like the DH-100 Vampire, the F-86 Sabre, the Vertol H-21 helicopter and the Soviet’s MiG-23 (for anyone who knows what any of those are). The DH-100 Vampire looked like a child’s toy, with lots of rounded edges. the F-86 Sabre was what I pictured with I imagined old wartime aircraft; more traditional looking. MiG-23’s are more modern aircraft from the 1970’s, that look similar to the fighter jets of today, and usually painted in camouflage. The Vertol H-21 helicopter was my personal favourite. It was kindly nicknamed the “Flying Banana”, as they are all bent in the middle and do kind of resemble a banana. They had two propellers on them, which didn’t make them the favourites of the pilots. Apparently two propellers is a lot harder for the mechanics to make and operators to fly.

After the tour was done and the cadets had left, Sean offered to show me what the aircraft Canada’s military currently uses looks like up close. He talked to an officer and I was allowed to step inside the cockpit of a CF-18 Hornet fighter jet, which is the exact same aircraft I saw taking off early today!

Obviously this aircraft wasn’t about to take off or anything, so Sean and the other officer showed me how the controls worked and all the other gadgets on the control board. Talk about complicated! All those little white squares in the photos are actually unlabelled buttons! There are three little screens you need to watch, alongside actually looking out the window at where you are going. The “steering wheel” is more like a video game controller, and there is a stick shift beside my left leg that works as the clutch, plus another stick shift on my right.

Needless to say, that was a very cool day! It was a backstage-pass to what the Royal Canadian Air Force does day-to-day and I can see the appeal to new recruits – the aircraft is fascinating.

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