- Sara White
Is it a plane? No, but the 2024 Decal Challenge is Catching Military Aviation Buffs’ Imagination
Major (retired) Bob Johnson was “man one” on the start of CF104 Starfighter 891 as it left the Italian runway in March 1986 for Turkey, part of the sale of the fleet from Canada to Turkey as it was replaced with the F18.
“I was an aerospace technician, and I enjoyed working on the Starfighter – 891 was the last one I started, so it is of sentimental value.”
Today, he can start a “pretty close” version of AC 891 up in his own Greenwood driveway and drive about town: his grey Kia Soul is now replica-decaled as that aircraft, with RCAF numbering and lettering, a roundel, Canadian markings and even ejection seat stickers on his front exterior doors (although his neighbourhood travels shouldn’t be as dramatic as flying what was once called “the world’s largest lawn dart,” “missile with a man in it” or “widow maker”).
“We lost a lot – when you defy the laws of gravity, things happen,” Johnson says of the Starfighter, adding details about a “not typical or approved” maneuver pulled by the captain piloting AC 891 that 1986 day.
“On take-off, he told us to watch. The 104 had tip tanks and underwing tanks. He got that aircraft off the ground, snapped the gear up and rolled the aircraft on liftoff with full fuel tanks. It caught all of us off guard! That was his last time flying the Starfighter, too.”
2024 marks the 100th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force, already on the radar of the RCAF – and veterans like Johnson. He’s joined a group of military heritage hobbyists to start looking ahead.
“We’re starting a trend and gathering steam for the anniversary – a bunch of us are doing up our cars as heritage aircraft. People who know the Starfighter will see it in my car.”
Bill Burns at CanMilAir Decals, based in London, Ontario has been helping with the project. He can take your every-day vehicle, compare it to the RCAF aircraft you may have in mind, and superimpose the markings on your car. He’s already done an Avro Arrow CF105 onto a white Ford Escape, and an EF101 Voodoo onto both a Harley Davidson and his own Dodge Challenger. Johnson is also aware of a yellow motorcycle on its way to becoming a search and rescue Cormorant helicopter.
“We’ll be driving around, trying to get community interest in Air Force history, especially with the upcoming centenary. We went historical, and it would be awesome to see current Air Force members do today’s aircraft.