In his book, Sled Driver: Flying the World’s Fastest Jet, SR-71 Blackbird pilot Brian Shul writes of a radio exchange as he and his back seater were flying across southern California, 13 miles high. They were casually monitoring various radio transmissions from other aircraft as they entered Los Angeles airspace. Although commercial air traffic personnel do not control military aircraft, they do monitor their movements across the scope. The exchange began with a Cessna requesting a readout of its groundspeed. Control replied that the small plane was making 90 knots (about 150 mph). Moments later, a Twin Beech required the same information, and was told they were making 120 knots. Military pilots being a competitive lot, a nearby F-18 then requested a ground speed readout which happened to be 525 knots. That’s when the back seater in the SR-71 took to the radio and requested the Blackbird’s groundspeed. After a slightly longer-than-normal pause, Control replied that their ground speed registered at 1742 knots (a little over 2000 mph). No further groundspeed inquiries were heard on that frequency during the time the Blackbird was on scope.
The first powered flight over Ottawa, Canada occurred in 1911, but the landing field at Bowesville Road was not completed until the early 1920s. At that time, it was known as Hunt Club Field and in July 1927 it was renamed Lindbergh Field following a visit by Charles Lindbergh in the “Spirit of St. Louis.” But this name didn’t stick: the following year, the air field was renamed Uplands Aerodrome. The property subsequently changed hands two more times and was eventually purchased by the Canadian Department of Transport, becoming the Uplands Airport in 1938. With the onset of WWII, the Department of National Defense commandeered the facility and established a flight training school.
Even after the war ended military activity continued in this location, and by the end of the 1950s combined military and civilian traffic gave Uplands the distinction of having the highest volume of air traffic of any Canadian airport. The airport’s official designation was changed to Ottawa International Airport on August 24, 1964, and in June 1993 the government officially renamed the airport Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International in honor of two of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation. The Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority (OMCIAA) was established February 1, 1997 as part of a 26-airport National Airports System.
Like all other airports, Macdonald-Cartier International has an International Air Transport Association (IATA) code used to quickly identify it. While some of these codes make sense, such as DAB for Daytona Beach, Florida, others are not so intuitive. For example, MBS is the airport code for Saginaw, Michigan and GGG represents the East Texas Regional Airport in Longview, Texas. And when flying into Ottawa, Canada the airport code is YOW. The “OW” obviously comes from OttaWa, so that works. The “Y” is for Canada, even though there is no “Y” in the name of the country. The “Y” was selected by Canada and added in front of all their pre-IATA two-character codes. Essentially, it reports that “YES” the weather is monitored at the same location as the airport (or at least that’s the story).
But “YOW” may actually be an appropriate acronym for this airport. Construction of a massive airport terminal building began in 1957, and the new terminal was scheduled to open in August of 1959 with all the pomp and circumstance expected after a major project of this nature. As part of the opening ceremonies, there would be an airshow by a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, a US supersonic jet. The Starfighter would perform a series of designated aerial maneuvers, but a Canadian official opted for a last-minute change in the routine. He requested something special – a supersonic fly-by. As reported by Time Magazine, the breaking of the sound barrier so close to the new structure resulted in disaster:
Answering an official’s request to see him buzz the field, the pilot swung the Starfighter out over the city in an arc, then leveled and came in low and flat. Like a bullet, he was gone. And so was the new terminal. Only splinters were left of more than $10,000 worth of glass; the whole north wall was smashed; tiles fell from the ceiling, and insulating material poured to the floor. Door frames, window frames, and even structural beams were twisted.
The Starfighter broke not only the sound barrier, but virtually every window in the structure. This mishap also caused significant structural damage to the building, adding about a year and $500,000 to the construction schedule. The terminal was finally repaired, and subsequently dedicated by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on June 30, 1960. Although there were no reports of injuries, there are unique ICD-10-CM codes for:
V97.818A Other air transport accident involving military aircraft, initial encounter
Y37.201 Military operations involving unspecified explosion and fragments, civilian
Y99.1 Military activity
In addition, there are ICD-10-CM codes that would only be reported when ground safety measures failed:
V97.32XA Injured by rotating propeller, initial encounter
V97.33XA Sucked into jet engine, initial encounter
The Ottawa fly-by was a disaster, but it wasn’t unique. In 2012, a pair of Brazilian jets buzzed the country’s Supreme Court building as part of a flag changing ceremony. In this incident, the jets also shattered the glass in the courthouse, causing thousands of dollars in damages. In the words of A. A. Milne, Eeyore says:
They’re funny things, accidents. You never have them till you’re having them.