In the Wings - Four New aircraft for Vintage Wings

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Photo via Rob Fleck

There have been many big developments at Vintage Wings of Canada over the past few months. From a new membership drive and members ride program to ground school education events, our Gray Ghost program to help the Canadian Navy celebrate their 100th Anniversary and bags and bags of restoration work. However, nothing gets the attention of the international aerogeek community (of which I am a very proud member) than the acquisition of new aircraft.

The following histories and photographs will be your introduction to latest members of our ever-growing collection. We have here a real mix of projects for sure - an off shore data plate rebuild (Spit XIV), an in-house refresher (Cornell), a showroom finish flyer (Tiger Moth) and a project (Lysander) about to come out of our own restoration shops - our first!

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Vintage Wings of Canada's Most wanted list is getting shorter with the capture of two BCATP classics and a red-blooded Canadian combat veteran.

Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIVe

Last year, as is now fairly common knowledge, we purchased a third Supermarine Spitfire - a Mark XIV  (that's "14" for all you youngin's who never quite got the certification in Roman Numerals required for your Vintage Aircraft ticket). Well, in truth, we only purchased the earthly remains of a Spit - the corroded bones, torn skin and saintly relics of a former Royal Thai Air Force Spitfire. But one thing of great value and holy importance lay amidst the pile of junk that was once the most beautiful of airplanes - a Canadian pedigree. With these two embedded at the heart of our rebuild, we will, layer upon layer, build a pearl - a combat veteran with a powerful Canadian story to tell future generations. Nearly 7 decades since she last felt the warm embrace of a young Canadian pilot, Spitfire XIV RM873 will be brought home to Canada to spend the rest of her days in that embrace.

Spitfire RM873 may have been found in a sorry and ignominious state, but she has a long and storied flying career. She came out of the Vickers plant as a Spitfire XIVe with constructor's number 6S.432296 (for the firewall bulkhead frame), powered by the mighty Rolls Royce Griffon 65. From here she was flown to Number 39 Maintenance Unit (RAF Colerne, Wiltshire) on October 8th, 1944 for the fitting of her radio and machine guns.

Shortly there after, on October 25th, 1944, she was assigned to her first operational squadron - number 402 "City of Winnipeg" Squadron. Formed at Winnipeg on October 5, 1932 as No.12 (Army Cooperation) Squadron, 402 operated bi-planes such as the de Havilland Gypsy Moth and Avro Tutor. At the time of RM873's assignment to 402, the squadron was advancing with the Allies across France. The squadron was very active during this period, conducting fighter-bomber and reconnaissance missions over France, Belgium and the Netherlands. 402 Squadron is one of the oldest Canadian Air Force flying squadrons in existence and still very active in, of all places, Winnipeg where it flies the Dash-8 "Gonzo" navigation trainer.

However, her time with 402 was short. Two weeks into her 402 assignment she was suffered Category B damage while on operations in Belgium. Bill Walker of the marvelous website "Canadian Military Aircraft Serials Database" describes Category "B" damage as damage where "The aircraft must be shipped, not flown under its own power, to a contractor or depot level facility for repair." (It appears that during the Second World War, Category B aircraft were sometimes flown to a repair facility, with flight restrictions. Today, any damage requiring a specific repair design, rather than a standard tech manual repair, is usually Category B, even if repaired on site. From France, she was presumably flown to a place called "Air Service Training" for repair and then assigned to 130 RAF Squadron on the first of March, 1945.

130 Squadron was operational on the western front, employing their Spitfire XIVs against ground targets through the Low Countries and on reconnaissance sweeps through Germany. However, according to records, RM873 sustained Category AC damage (Repair is beyond the unit capacity, i.e. may be repaired on site by another unit or contractor) the very day of her delivery to 130 Squadron. Bad luck. She was sent to 409 Repair and Salvage Section, then on to 401 Squadron RCAF on the 10th of May, 1945 - just two days after hostilities ended on VE Day.  From the 18th of June 1944, the squadron had been operating from France, conducting ground attack missions and armed recces. The squadron received a few Spitfire XIVs in May 1945 (including RM873) but Mk XVIs became standard equipment until the squadron disbanded in Germany two months later on 3 July, 1945. 

For the two months until 401's disbandment, RM873 was flown as YO-W on post-war operations by Canadian pilots and attended to by Canadian ground crew including Ronald Seyfert. His nephew Robert Potter submitted a couple of key photographs to the wonderful RCAF.com website that show RM873 painted with the squadron code YO and the aircraft letter W. According to Potter, RM873 was Seyfert's personal aircraft.

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RCAF airman Ronald Seyfert poses with Spitfire XIV RM873 possibly in Germany shortly after VE Day.  As Seyfert has no pilot wings on his jacket, we believe that perhaps he was ground crew. The YO-W code is interesting to us at Vintage Wings of Canada for a couple of reasons - first and foremost, it identifies our aircraft as a Canadian combat veteran and secondly it is coincidently the three letter airport code for Ottawa - YOW!  If anyone knows the Seyfert family or a better source for these photos, please let us know. Photo via Ronald Potter through RCAF.com

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Given that this is the only photo of RM873 that we have seen to date, it makes it the logical choice as reference for a future livery for this Canadian warhorse. However, it flew with 401 after war's end, so perhaps it will be her 402 Squadron combat history that we will honour. We have 401, 402, and 411 squadrons in her bloodline - a unique opportunity for us to tell yet another Canadian story. Photo by Ron Seyfert via Rob Potter at www.RCAF.com

After that RM873 was transferred to yet another Canuck squadron - this time 411 "Grizzly Bear" Squadron. Like 401 and 402, 411 had operated across Europe following the front and causing havoc behind German lines, strafing and bombing. In July of 1945, 411 Squadron converted to Spitfire XIVs, receiving RM873 on the 26th of July.  With the war over the squadron remained in Germany as part of the occupation forces, disbanding at Utersen on 21 March 1946.

RM873 was returned to No. 6 MU at RAF Brize Norton at that time, then to No. 29 MU at RAF High Ercall for long-term storage.  Nothing else is known of RM873 until the 10th of May 1950, when she was sold back to Vickers Armstrong and grouped among a batch of Griffon-powered Spits that were sold to the Royal Thai Air Force. The sale comprised twenty-four F14E models and six FR14E models, at a cost of £16,340 each, designated Fighter Type 14. As well, four PR19 reconnaissance Spitfires were purchased in 1954.

In the service of Thailand, she was henceforth known as serial U14-5/93.  RM873 was delivered to the Thais in November of 1950 and saw service with 41 Squadron, 1 Wing from March 3rd 1951 until being withdrawn from service on the 27th of January 1954 (Source: Royal Thai Air Force Museum Wings). Before the decade was over, the Thais ended Spitfire service and distributed the airframes around the country. The immediate fate of RM873 is not known, however she was found derelict in 1981 and acting as a children's play structure in the township of Sawankalok in Northern Thailand.

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In 1950, the Royal Thai Air Force purchased thirty Supermarine Spitfire Mark XIVs among other marks from the United Kingdom - this is the manner in which our Spitfire would have been painted for the final phase of its operational life. The Royal Thai Air Force Museum mistakenly refers to this airframe in their collection as RM873, but as other photos have shown, RM873 was a high back Spitfire. Photo by Peter Lewis

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Slippery aluminum, searing to the touch in tropical Thailand; jagged edges ready to lacerate and no hand holds - in 1989 the Thais sure had a different take on children's playground safety.  Ravaged by time and weather, cannibalized for other restoration projects (the restoration of Spitfire RR232), RM873 was a ghost of its martial past when this photo was taken on April 30, 1989.  Photo by Peter Arnold - Mark 12 of Flypast Historic Aviation Forum

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The aircraft was recovered from the clutches of Thai children and removed by Tango Squadron - a foundation for the preservation and development of Thai aircraft to outside storage at the Royal Thai Air Force bas at Takhli.  Photo via Steve Darke of Flypast Historic Aviation Forum

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In April of 1999, Peter Arnold took this photo of RM873 in storage in New Zealand from whence it would eventually find its way to Duxford, England the gravitational centre of the known warbird universe.  Photo by Peter Arnold - Mark 12 of Flypast Historic Aviation Forum

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In September of 2009, the world class historic aviation magazine, Aeroplane wrote: "Combat-veteran Supermarine Spitfire XIV RM873 arrived at Duxford Airfield in early September for restoration to flight on behalf of a collector in North America. The former Thai Air Force machine, RThaiAF serial Kh.14/5-93, first came to the attention of Western enthusiasts in 1981 when it was located in a children's play area in the township of Sawankalok in Northern Thailand. It had been one of several Mk XIVs and XIXs that the Thai Government had distributed around the country when the type left service in the 1950s.

Initially donating its wings to an Australian project, Spitfire IX RR232, the fuselage was moved back into Thai Air Force care with 41 Wing's Tango Squadron museum at Chiang Mai Airport. Parts from the firewall forward were then used in the static restoration of two Mk XIXs, PS836 and PM630, at Don Muang, Bangkok, both also having been recovered from the provinces."
Photo via Howard Cook

RM873 was rescued by Tango Squadron - a group dedicated to the preservation of former Royal Thai Air Force aircraft. They had it removed first to Don Muang, the RTAF Museum store, then on to Takhli RTAFB where it spent considerable time in exterior storage. Finally, it arrived through a series of hands at Duxford, England where it was purchased by Vintage Wings of Canada. It will undergo principal restoration at Duxford under the experienced hands of John Romain's Aircraft Restoration Company.

This project will take many years, but we hope to be able to put this legendary Canadian Spitfire back in the air to tell the story of our airmen who fought their way from England to Germany in the closing months of the Second World War.

Vintage wings of Canada would like to acknowledge the support of Andrew Pentland, whose interpretation and website dedicated to the fates of all Spitfires ever built was a tremendous resource to help us trace the life of RM873.

Fleet Aircraft Company-built Fairchild Cornell

In 2011, Vintage Wings of Canada will celebrate the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. We will dispatch our "High Flight Harvard", new Tiger Moth and our recently acquired Fairchild Cornell training aircraft on missions to educate Canadians and commemorate one of our greatest accomplishments of the Second World War - the training and winging of thousands upon thousands of pilots, navigators, gunners, bombardiers, and radio operators for the Allied war effort. Airmen from all corners of the British Commonwealth were shipped to the scores of training airfields scattered across Canada where they were honed into the fighting airmen.

The Cornell was one of four elementary training types employed by the BCATP and the only monoplane - the others being the Fleet Finch, de Havilland Tiger Moth and a small group of Boeing Stearmans. It was considered very docile and a good aircraft to build confidence in fledgling pilots. Many Cornell trainers were employed close to our Ottawa home at Number 13 Elementary Flying Training School at St Eugene on the Ontario-Quebec border.

Vintage Wings of Canada searched for a Cornell that would help us celebrate this achievement. We found one with the Vintage Aircraft Group in upstate New York near the southern shores of Lake Ontario. The aircraft was in fair condition, definitely flyable, but will undergo a restoration of sorts under the direction of Deryck Hickox, our Coordinator of Restorations. 

The former Vintage Aircraft Group Cornell was built in Fort Erie, Ontario and taken on strength with the RCAF by number 4 Training Command (this command covered BC, Alberta and the southwest corner of Saskatchewan plus No.15 EFTS Regina) on June 30 th 1943 with the 5-digit serial number 10712. It was first assigned to No. 15 Elementary Flying Training School at Regina. Number 15 was an RCAF establishment operated under contract by the Regina Flying Club. The Cornell went on to storage on the 24th of July, 1944. The school shut down operations in August of 1944, so this coincides well with date of the placement into storage. It was re-assigned to Number 2 Air Command on December 1, 1944 but remained in storage at No. 202 REMS at Mossbank, Saskatchewan until the end of the war.  At that point, on April 8th, 1946, it was transferred to No.2 REMU, also at Mossbank. She was struck off service on December 1946 and assigned to the War Assets Corporation for disposal. Cornell 10712 was sold to an American buyer and registered as N226PT.

Much of the history of Cornell 10712 was gleaned from Bill Walker's fabulous database of Canadian Military Aircraft Serials. If you are like me, some of the terms such as REMU and REMS need to be further explained. In doing so, this sheds light on the way the BCATP was unwound at the end of the war. Bill kindly supplied me with a good explanation of these terms:

"These are names for storage facilities.  They underwent a confusing series of re-assignments from late 1944 to about 1947, as the war surplus aircraft were gradually sold off, and the facilities downsized and closed.

A Reserve Equipment Maintenance Unit would be a high level unit, with pilots and mechanics on staff.  It could have several Reserve Equipment Maintenance Satellite facilities under it, which were basically just parking lots with a watchman or two.  If aircraft at an REMS needed to be moved or prepared for sale, a mobile party from the parent REMU would come out.  Most of these facilities were at former BCATP bases, and usually wound up as the only unit left there, responsible for buildings as well as aircraft until the facility completely closed.

At one time, the REMS had 3 digit numbers based on their parent REMU (For instance, 202 REMS fell under 2 REMU).  The organization structure changed every few months as facilities were closed, and the nomenclature changed a few times, so it can get very confusing.  Early on they were called Equipment Holding Units, EHU and SEHU.  The last few REMS and REMU became branches of Repair Depots, and after about 1948 were just known as that, for example 10 RD at Calgary had detachments at Vulcan and Patricia Bay, 6 RD at Trenton had detachments at Dunnville and Mountain View, and so on.

Since arriving, our Cornell was promptly set upon by the now-experienced aircraft restoration volunteers at Vintage Wings of Canada. In no time short, she will join her sister yellow-wingers to tell the remarkable story of the BCATP - The Aerodrome of Democracy.

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Rob Fleck (Left), Chief Operating Officer of Vintage Wings of Canada and test pilot Rob Erdos inspect the recently arrived former BCATP Cornell while it still sits in its shipping container.  Photo: Peter Handley

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The Cornell's centre section awaits Vintage Wings muscle to bring it into our hangar. Photo via Rob Fleck

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Every man with a heartbeat at Vintage Wings was pressed into service to extract our "little toy" from its packaging. Photo via Rob Fleck

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A nice close-up of one of the Cornell's rudder pedals embossed with the Fairchild logo. While Fairchild designed the Cornell and manufactured them in New York for the US market, Canadian Cornells such as this example, were manufactured under license in Canada by Fleet Aircraft Company of Fort Erie, Ontario. The initials of the logo could represent either. Photo: Peter Handley

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Prior to coming to Vintage Wings of Canada, the former Canuck trainer, one of 1,642 built in Canada, was restored to flight status by the Vintage Aircraft Group of Albion, New York.  Here she is warmed up at the Pine Hill Airport west of Rochester. Photo via Vintage Aircraft Group

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A nice photo of the work that was done on the Cornell's centre section by the Vintage Aircraft Group. The Cornell had a fabric-covered and welded steel tube fuselage, but the rest of the design used plywood construction, with a plywood-sheathed center section, outer wing panels and tail assembly. The landing gear was fixed with the large wheel span giving good ground handling. In this photo we can see the gear legs attached right at the extremity of the centre section. In late 1943 a series of wing failures occurred, requiring reinforcement of the main spar. After the war many Cornells were sold for civilian use, but the wing spar problem continued and required stringent annual inspections. This weakness greatly reduced their popularity. Obviously, VAG took great pains to get this major component perfect! Photo via Vintage Aircraft Group

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A beautiful blank canvas for Vintage Wings of Canada to paint a story of our history. The Cornell was awaiting the painting of Canadian markings when we bought her. Unfortunately, all fabric surfaces were stripped away at VWC to enable full inspection and repaint.  While we could easily just paint her the way she was marked in her service with the BCATP, we are still researching Cornell paint schemes that may give us a more compelling paint scheme and story. Photo via Vintage Aircraft Group

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A view of the front cockpit of our new Cornell. Within a few days, this would be all stripped out for inspection and for a new outer skin. Photo via Vintage Aircraft Group

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A Vintage Aircraft Group pilot taxies the Cornell at the Pine Hill Airport outside of Albion, New York.  We look forward to the day we can demonstrate this important aircraft for Canadian audiences. Photo via Vintage Aircraft Group

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Volunteers at Vintage Wings of Canada, under the supervision of Restorations Coordinator Deryck Hickox, remove the from seat of the Cornell shortly after her arrival.  Photo: Peter Handley

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Down to her skeleton, our new Cornell is prepared for inspection and a new coat of fabric and paint. Photo: Peter Handley

deHavilland Tiger Moth

Last year, Vintage Wings of Canada was in the Tiger Moth business, but due to an unfortunate accident on take-off in August of 2009, this reliable and effective story teller was lost. The pilot, Howard Cook, sustained serious injuries, but is in the process (indeed final stages) of a full and healthy recovery. The aircraft not so much. We looked seriously at the costs and timetable associated with restoring this classic trainer and determined that the best course of action to put us back in Tiger Moth operations quickly would be to acquire another Tiger Moth. This would actually be less expensive than a rapid rebuild of the destroyed airframe.

The old Tiger Moth will now slide into line in our restoration area and await the funds, time and volunteers to bring her back to life. It is expected that this will be many years in the future. In the meantime, subject to a bit of assembly, we are in the Tiger "bidness" again. The per flying hour costs in terms of man hours and money and the low costs of operating this little trainer make it pound-for-pound, the most effective aircraft in our collection.

When we saw Bill Neelan's exquisite restoration of Tiger Moth 4947 and learned that is was for sale, it was a no-brainer. An on-site inspection by Maintenance Manager Andrej Janik confirmed what the photographs showed - there is no finer Tiger Moth anywhere. Since its recent restoration, very few flying hours have been put on the airframe and the engine.

Tiger Moth 4947 was built in Ontario by De Havilland Canada coming off the line as Constructor's Number C746 and taken on strength with the RCAF on April 16, 1941. She was first assigned to No.2 Training Command and records show that in December of 1943 she was relegated to the status of an instructional airframe which perhaps means that she had an accident that would have ended her flying career.  Subsequent to war's end she was placed in storage, struck from service in July of 1946, sold off and until 1990, not much is known. At that time she was registered to S. Squires of Milestone, Saskatchewan. Following that, in 1992, she was then registered as CF-IME to a J. Squires of Weyburn, SK. It is also known that this registration was cancelled in 1999 - perhaps at the time of sale to Bill Neelan. Since its recent restoration, Tiger Moth 4947 has been registered as CF-ANN.

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Here she awaits pre-buy inspection in her well insulated hangar near the small town of Wetaskiwin. After inspection, everyone agreed that this particular Tiger Moth was perhaps the finest example of a restoration of the type they had seen anywhere.  If de Havilland Canada had a sales centre back in the day, this baby would be what we would call "showroom condition."    Photo by Stephen Martin

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Another photo of our new Tiger Moth taken during the pre-buy inspection. It took thousands of hours of precise and gifted work to make a Tiger Moth this perfect. The beauty was owned and restored by Albertan Bill Neelan. Photo by Stephen Martin

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In this photo taken prior to our interest in the Wetaskiwin Tiger Moth, the spectacular paint and finish is obvious. Our former Tiger Moth, written off last August, had a matte finish which was not so pleasing. Though the matte finish was more like that of a working BCATP trainer, the juicy gloss finish just sings the song of the Tiger Moth better, don't you think?  Photo via Bill Neelan

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From the fabric to the sheet metal, the Tiger Moth's finish is first class. Photo via Bill Neelan

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Nothing says "let's go flying" than the delicate and lovely lines of a cadmium yellow Tiger Moth under a summer's sky on a grass field. Photo via Bill Neelan

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The skeletal framework of the Tiger Moth before her yellow party dress was installed. The superior quality of the workmanship of Neelan's team is evident. Photo via Bill Neelan

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One of the most noticeable differences between our old Tiger and our new one was the brand new condition of the Canadian winter canopy. Our old one had suffered from a few years of use and one final smack-down, but this one looks like it just arrived from the Canopies-R-Us aftermarket factory - not a scratch, a dent or even a fingerprint. Photo via Bill Neelan

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I've owned luxury cars that were not as finely finished as this Tiger Moth - rebuilt to perfection. Students back on the early 1940s would have had a cold, uncomfortable seat and the bare minimum of instrumentation. This baby has cabin heat, map lights and plenty of first class "wood" finishing. Photo via Bill Neelan

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Passing her inspection with flying colours, the Tiger Moth is broken down into major components, secured in a shipping container and packaged for shipment to Gatineau. Photo by Stephen Martin

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Outside her Wetaskiwin home, the Tiger Moth is craned onto a flatbed and made ready for the cross-Canada journey. Photo by Stephen Martin

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Shortly after a long winter's journey by truck from Wetaskiwin, Alberta, the beautiful de-limbed Tiger Moth rests comfortably and snug in the warm embrace of the Vintage wings of Canada hangar at Gatineau, Quebec.

National Steel Car-built Westland Lysander

We've had our Lysander for a few years, but recently great bounds have been made in her restoration. Soon, in April, we will turn over her fully rebuily Bristol Mercury engine and then begin the joys of test flying and making her ready for her debut this summer. Our plan is to take her "Down East" to Summerside, PEI for the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association national convention this summer. Here we will honour a Canadian hero by the name of Cliff Stewart of Charlottetown - a real life secret agent during the Second World War who was delivered into occupied France aboard a Lysander on more than one occasion (he could tell you how many, but he would have to kill you afterward). Take a look at these photos and you will get a good idea of the progress.

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After years languishing in the back corner of our crowded hangar, the National Steel Car-built Westland Lysander nears completion.  Photo: Peter Handley

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Our new Lysander will wear the distinctive markings of 416, the first Lysander to come off the assembly line at Natioanl Steel Car in Malton Ontario. This Lizzie was featured in a story that appeared on our site a couple of years ago. After her initial flight tests, 416 was flown to RCAF Station Rockcliffe where she was evaluated for service. Having a 416 commemorative Lysander ready to fly back to Rockcliffe this summer is something we are all looking forward to. Photo: Tucker Harris Collection

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Way back in the 1970s, the Lysander is seen in the hangar of legendary Harry Whereatt -the Obi-Wan Kanobe of Canadian aircraft restoration.  Harry was personally responsible for saving some of our most cherished aviation artifacts. Whereatt (and his family) would work tirelessly for decades to build the Lysander from the remains of three Lysanders. Photo via Bill Ewing

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In Harry Whereatt's hangar in Assinaboia, the Lysander nears completion in 1993. Whereatt chose to paint the Lysander as a Target Tug for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.  Photo via Bill Ewing

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The first engine run in July of 1996. With harry at the controls, her Bristol Mercury engine coughs into life with a farm pick-up truck providing the power to crank. Despite a successful engine start, the Lysander never flew - qualified Lysander pilots being in short supply. Photo via Bill Ewing

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Don't worry Harry, we'll take good care of her. A somewhat wistful Whereatt plays along for a photo-op at the time (May, 2007) that we picked his Lysander up in Saskatchewan. Photo by John Brennan

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Loaded and Rollin' - The Whereatt Lysander begins her cross Canada trek back in the spring of 2007. Photo by John Brennan

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Our new Lizzie arrives in Gatineau, May 28th, 2007. Upon her arrival she was put into storage for more than two years with her engine going to England for overhaul. Photo by Mike Henniger

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It was a big occasion indeed when her Bristol Mercury was finally re-attached -  Photo: Peter Handley

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Volunteer power was critical to the speedy restoration of the Lysander - here VWC pilot Blake Reid (foreground) and Ted Devey prepare the Lysnader's access panels to receive a new fabric covering. The airframe on the left is our Hawker Hurricane XII project. Photo: Peter Handley

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Tall and quirky beyond description, the Lysander was not an easy aircraft to work in and around.  Photo: Peter Handley

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The wings are hoisted in place. Photo: Peter Handley

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The Lysander restoration team poses with their project prior to recovering. Front Row: Allan Macmillan, Jim Ashby, Jim McGregor, Ted Devy, Renaud Gagne, Steve McKenzie, Deryck Hickox, Rob Fleck    Back Row: Jim Luffman, Nelson Smith, John Aitken, Bob Boyer, Wayne Giles, Terry Cooper   Photo: Peter Handley

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The Lysander is a complex blend of steel tubing and wood cabinetry - requiring skills in every restoration science.  Photo: Peter Handley

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Purists might pale at the thought, but markings were put on the Lysander using a decal product called Control-Tac. This product is about the same thickness as a coat of paint and it's so sensitive to its substrate that even the linen weave is picked up through the surface as well as every stitch, pinked edge and even imperfections in the paint. This techique allows us to position markings exactly and avoid masking and underspray. The material is easy to remove should the markings need to be changed. Photo: Peter Handley

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There's no ham like an old ham. Restorations Coordinator Deryck Hickox plays to the cameras of Kailuna Enterprises, a film production company working on a documentary about the Lysander's restoration. The documentary is being made for a TV series entitled "Ultimate Restorations".   Photo: Peter Handley

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 Photo: Peter Handley

Chercher
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