Born and raised in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Alexander Lilly earned his pilot’s license and flew his first solo flight in 1927 at the age of 17. During the 1930s, Lilly served as a bush pilot with the RCMP and later flew with Imperial Airways in England. Lilly returned to Canada in 1939 to train Royal Canadian Air Force students in Moncton, New Brunswick. He was later made chief test pilot with Ferry Command in Montreal, putting Mosquitos, Lancasters and B-26s through their paces. In 1946, Lilly joined Canadair where he was responsible for test flying more than 100 different models of aircraft including the Canadair Sabre. In 1950, he test flew the first Sabre to come off the assembly line in Montreal. This demo flight made him the first person to break the sound barrier in Canadian skies. Lilly retired from test flying in 1953. He continued to work at Canadair and retired as Vice President.
Canadian Aviation magazine published an article on Lilly’s demo flight in the September, 1951 edition. It is reprinted below. The photo is of the Canadair Sabre on display at the museum. This particular aircraft was the last Sabre built in Canada. It is part of our permanent display.
September, 1951, Canadian Aviation
by Ronald A. Keith, Editor
Destined to serve as the standard RCAF interceptor, the Sabre is now in production at the Canadair plant near Montreal. The first on the original order for 100 of these sweptwing single-jet fighters made its initial demonstration flight before a gathering of dignitaries at Dorval airport on Aug. 9 with Al Lilly, Canadair’s chief pilot, at the controls.
Built to the designs of North American Aviation of Inglewood, California, the Sabre is the standard United States Air Force interceptor and holds the present world speed record of 670 mph. It is claimed to have exceeded 700 mph unofficially. The first Canadian-built Sabre is the F-86A.
The following impressions of the Sabre, limited by security requirements are based on observations during the demonstration flight, which the writer attended, as well as a study of the aircraft in production at Canadair.
While flying the Sabre is not considered a difficult assignment, the utmost importance is attached to the preliminary checks, for an oversight could be disastrous. Before climbing aboard, the pilot checks to see that the safety pin is removed from the nose-wheel. (Otherwise it is not steerable.) In the cockpit, the safety pins are removed from the ejector seat. This device will blow off the canopy, then, a split second later, fire the seat 45 to 60 ft. in the air (clear of the tail). It is triggered by the pilot as the means of escape from the cockpit in a flight emergency.
Capt. Lilly wore a U.S.-style crash helmet for the demonstration flight. The cockpit check follows the usual left-to-right procedure. In addition to the regular panel, the F-86 has a console panel between the pilot’s legs, behind the stick. It contains fuel selector valves as well as gear and flap indicator lights.
Starting the 5,200-lb.-thrust General Electric J-47A turbine engine requires an external battery cart, which is plugged into the system by the ground crew. When the tachometer is registering about 5% rpm, the pilot advances the throttle, the engine takes over and the battery cart is disconnected. The hydraulic pressure is now effective and the flaps can be lowered to take-off setting.
Proceeding with commendable caution on the initial flight, Capt. Lilly climbed straight away, then made a number of high-speed passes over the field, followed by an impressively sharp climb out-of-sight. It was worth noting that there was a trail of black smoke behind the Sabre. This is not the case with the Avon-powered CF-100.
With flaps and gear down, considerable power is used on the approach. The actual landing is normal except that the nose comes up quite high before the stall. As the plane loses speed on the runway, the nose wheel comes in for the landing. The landing gear and nose wheel are fully retractable by means of the hydraulic system. Their location in the wing and fuselage are concealed by contour-forming doors, which are designed and constructed to obtain maximum aerodynamic cleanness. Further construction details are restricted.
This article originally appeared in the September, 1951 edition of Canadian Aviation.