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VIDEO: Personal connections help B.C. museum Lancaster restoration soar

Aviation museum hopes to have visitors sitting in the cockpit by August

Two chunks of a huge silver plane fill the middle space of a hangar at the BC Aviation Museum.

Boxes and bins line shelves along the walls, filled with bits and bobs – some that the restoration team isn’t sure where they belong, and others sorted to where they figure the parts belong.

It’s presumably all the parts to the 1944 Avro Lancaster Mark 10 shipped to the North Saanich site by the City of Toronto in 2018.

“We got a kit,” explained project lead Gary Powe, joking about the puzzle volunteers have been putting together for years now.

Leaning on existing knowledge, the other remaining 16 around the world, old schematics, math and educated guesses, they’re sorting it all out to get a good static display.

READ ALSO: North Saanich’s B.C. Aviation Museum helps preserve physical legacy of Second World War

Built in 1944, at Victory Aircraft Limited in Toronto, the FM104 was sent to the UK in early 1945 but didn’t ever see combat. It had been mounted on a concrete slab in a city park for more than three decades.

“I have photos of us having picnics under it,” said Cheryl Thorpe, seated metres away from the nose of the aircraft she once played under.

The FM104 is part of her childhood as a picnic site, and the Lancaster in general, serves as a reminder of the war trauma her father endured – first serving on a Lancaster as a mid-upper gunner then as a pilot.

“It was a miracle he came back because he did 38 missions,” Thorpe said.

She’s been cleaning bits and bobs of the engine for about five years now – starting around the time the plane landed at the museum.

Her son Chris Thorpe does similar detailing duty nearby, tackling one of four Merlin engines nearby – and knows how it works inside and out.

Several of the volunteers buzzing about the room have personal connections to that aspect of the plane’s working life.

Bryan George’s grandfather worked on them in the UK. While this one was made in Canada, it still offers that connection to the past.

At the museum, the shop manager’s father worked in them, and Powe’s own father flew in them.

A woman visited recently who worked riveted wings on Lancasters in the 1940s.

“It could well have been on this aircraft,” Powe said. “There’s a lot of family connections with this particular aircraft.”

READ ALSO: B.C. Aviation Museum starts challenging restoration of Lancaster Bomber

While FM104 didn’t ever see combat – “During the war it never had guns in it,” Powe said – it did full a full career changing lives. It returned to Canada in June 1945 and was retrofit to become a coastal surveillance and search and rescue plane, amassing 7,000 flying hours until it was retired in 1964.

There were notes in the nose where crew indicated who or what they were searching for, typically in the Arctic, Powe says.

“There’s a history angle of it, but I guess also an engineering history of it … ideas that are still viable or workable today,” Powe said. “We’re all old geezers, but to get younger people interested in engineering and manufacturing techniques there’s a real value there.”

This Lancaster won’t likely ever fly again, but that’s not the goal. The idea is to get it looking like it flew a week ago.

Powe hopes to have the floor and pilot seat in place as well as the front instrument panel installed and partially populated by the time the BC Aviation Museum – packed literally to the rafters with aircraft – hosts its annual open house in August.

READ ALSO: Ambitious B.C. Aviation Museum need $10M to get iconic Lancaster back in the air

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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