Category Archives: Museums, Air Shows & Restorations

Museum pieces that fly

High time, pun intended, that bearing360 introduce a few more aircraft to the site and what better way to do so than with a visit to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum?

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CF 104 Starfighter at entrance to museum.

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DC3

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Hawker Hurricane

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Avro Lancaster, undergoing engine work.

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Avro Canada CF100 Mk 5D

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Cockpit of the CF100. Tight fit.

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Bristol Bolingbroke, undergoing restoration. Note the perspex indent on the nose to provide better visibility for the pilot.

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Restored Bolingbroke mid-upper gun turret with twin Browning .303 machine guns.

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The museum is located at the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport (CYHM) and is about an hour’s drive from my home. It’s one of my favourite aviation stops. I dropped in with my kids last weekend.

(Hamilton, I should add, is my birthplace and home for five generations of my family. Six if you include two of my kids, who were also born there. More about Hamilton and its airport in a future post.)

The museum. It’s notable not only because it has a remarkable collection of vintage aircraft — likely the best collection in the nation outside of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa — but is unique insofar as most of the aircraft, including an Avro Lancaster bomber, are in flyable condition. In fact, you can book a ride in many of the aircraft, including the Lancaster, DC3, and B25 Mitchell bomber; before I leave this mortal coil, I must ride in that Lancaster, which is one of only two remaining in the world that still fly. Getting married? The museum hosts wedding receptions and meetings on its hanger floor (and yes, I was tempted when I got hitched; the Mrs. wasn’t quite as enthused).

Among the museum highlights : a walk-through of life as a Lancaster crew member during the Second World War and a North American Yale aircraft, which played a role in the (mostly regrettable) 1942 Hollywood film, Captains of the Clouds, starring James Cagney.

The museum is also dedicated to aircraft restoration. It has three projects on the go, including a Bristol Bolingbroke medium bomber, a Canadian variant of the Bristol Blenheim Mk IV bomber. The Bolly, as it was known, was built and used exclusively in Canada for anti-submarine patrol on both coasts during the Second World War and as a training platform under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It’s distinctive nose has an indented cutout in the perspex covering the bomb aimer compartment in order to provide better visibility to the pilot. I spoke last weekend with one of the gentlemen busy with the restoration and was told it should be complete three years hence.

 

 

 

The mystery of the missing Spitfires

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A Mark XIV Spitfire, similar to the those believed buried in Burma at the end of the Second World War.

If you’re a lover of machines with wings, you can’t help but be captivated by a remarkable undertaking currently unfolding in Myanmar (Burma).

There, a 21-member team of archeologists, led by a British farmer and aviation enthusiast by the name of David Cundall, has begun the process of excavating and raising to the surface what is believed to be dozens of buried Spitfire aircraft from the Second World War.

The quest drips with historical intrigue and drama. Do the aircraft actually exist? One report says there may be as many as 140 of them. If they do, and they’re found, in what condition will they be?

Part of the answer may already be at hand. Early this morning there was news from the site: The team said it had found a wooden crate containing what is believed to be an aircraft and that the crate was filled with water. The information was gleaned from a camera inserted through a bore hole.

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Aviation enthusiast David Cundall is spearheading the search for Spitfire aircraft in Burma.

Cundall, who has invested $200,000 of his own money and some 17 years on the project, called the find “encouraging,” and believes once the water is pumped out, a vintage aircraft in good condition will be the prize.

But will it? Others are more skeptical. One of search team’s archeologists, Andy Brockman, has said the team might find nothing more than rusted metal and parts. British war veterans have been quoted saying the airplanes don’t even exist.

Cundall is more hopeful. He believes the airplanes, new from the factory, were packed in grease and tar paper and that the burial depth of 30 feet will be enough to keep oxygen out and prevent corrosion. He also says a protective covering was placed over the crates to prevent water damage.

It’s believed the airplanes were buried by the U.S. army, on British orders, in August, 1945, as the war was coming to a close. Reports vary as to why. One says that with the war in its final stage they had become surplus and were buried to prevent them from being used by Japanese. Another says the airplanes were buried so they couldn’t be used by Burmese independence fighters (Burma was a British colony) after the war.

Regardless, if true, and if the airplanes are in a condition that would permit restoration, the find would be sensational. The Spitfire is the iconic fighter that helped win the Battle of Britain, Some 20,000 were built and only 35 remain flyable. The buried airplanes are all believed to be the Mark XIV variant, meaning they were equipped with the powerful (2035 hp) Griffon engine.

Impossible not to be cheering Cundall’s team on, and hoping some, or even all, of the aircraft exist and can be restored to flying condition.

By the by, there’s a minor Canadian angle to the story: Cundall says the lumber used to crate the airplanes was two-inch thick Canadian pine.