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GUEST COLUMN: Okanagan Aerospace and Aviation Museum a unique gem in B.C.

Reps from aviation museum, historical society will be at Sunday airport expo in Salmon Arm

By John Crook

Special to the Observer

British Columbia has a long and proud history of innovative aviation going back to 1910 with a visiting Curtis pusher biplane flying off Lulu Island near Vancouver on March 25.

This was followed in September of the same year by a flight of 200 feet by William Wallace Gibson of Victoria. Near Victoria, Gibson flew his unorthodox experimental aircraft which had several wings, both fore and aft.

In commemoration of the rich aviation history in B.C., three excellent aviation museums can be found in existing airport hangars and facilities at the Comox Air Force Museum, the B.C. Aviation Museum in Sidney at Victoria International Airport, and the Canadian Museum of Flight at Langley airport near Vancouver.

Until August 2022, when the modern, purpose-built KF Centre for Excellence - Okanagan Aerospace and Aviation Museum opened, no aviation museum commemorated the rich flying history in the Okanagan Valley. The most notable flight was on August 7, 1919 when Captain Ernest Charles Hoy undertook the first successful flight across the Rockies from Vancouver to Calgary, via Vernon, where he was the first to land at the new Vernon airfield and deliver a letter from the mayor of Vancouver. He then continued over Kelowna to Grand Forks and on to Cranbrook, Lethbridge and Calgary. Subsequently, several Okanagan Valley flying clubs formed like the Vernon Flying Club with a history of air shows and barnstorming.

The KF Centre of Excellence - Okanagan Aerospace and Aircraft Museum has taken a novel approach to its design and thinking, going beyond conventional aviation museums. The Centre’s lore says that the plan was sketched out by its founder, Barry Lapointe, on a table napkin as he showed executive director Paula Quinn what he envisioned. It was designed to take the shape of an aircraft. The roof is shaped like the upper profile of a wing. Two “wings” accommodate an aircraft hangar on each side of the central “fuselage,” or body of the building. The “fuselage” forms the display area for piston and jet engines, airliner flight simulators and hands-on educational exhibits.

The centre’s upper floor is reached by an impressively modern wooden spiral staircase which takes you up to a spacious conference area for meetings, and for a view over the hangars and aircraft on each side. This is no ordinary building just north of Kelowna’s international airport terminal. It is well worth exploring.

The jewels in the crown of the KF Centre are airworthy examples of aircraft. Barry built his interest in aviation into Canada’s largest commercial aircraft maintenance repair and overhaul organization. The Centre can draw on many of the tools, skills and personnel Barry assembled. With the new facility, Barry and Paula aim to instill a love for aviation in youth for generations to come.

In 1986 Barry flew around the world in a 1944 DC-3C to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of the aircraft, and Expo ‘86 in Vancouver; visiting 55 cities in 28 countries over two months. This vintage transport, which is now in the museum, is being restored to fly again in memory of that voyage.

There are two Second World War vintage aircraft which are, or will soon be, airworthy. They include the de Havilland 98 Mosquito and the Hawker Tempest Mk II.

The Mosquito B Mk 35, VR796, is a unique gem. She flew into Kelowna last fall. Unlike five other flying Mosquitos which were rebuilt in New Zealand using wood molds, she still has her original wooden airframe and is getting humidity control for her hangar to keep her structure in good shape. VR796 worked as an aerial survey platform for Spartan Air Services across Canada, in the Arctic and abroad during the 1950s and ’60s. It will be wonderful to hear her two synchronized Rolls Royce Merlin engines roar the next time she flies.

The Tempest ll – MW376 has been restored immaculately to almost flying condition. Pending some work on the engine and the usual safety regulation authorities, the Tempest is expected to fly soon.

Other aircraft in the collection include: a de Havilland Canada Mk III Turbo Beaver; Cessna 180 on floats; and a Beechcraft model 17 Staggerwing which was the business executives’ hot rod in the 1930 skies. Out on the ramp are two impressive Convair 580s in a water bomber configuration and electronic test bed format.

Rumour has it the Centre will soon be welcoming a pointy, short-winged jet which flew very fast. Stand by for that treat which is still under cover.

B.C. museums cover a broad range of aviation history, each in their own way. Coastal B.C. and the Lower Mainland have been served by float planes and flying boats for over a century, while aircraft of Canadian, American and British design and production made a key contribution to the war effort during the Second World War. Added to this effort was the establishment of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) which trained pilots, engineers, navigators and gunners at airports scattered around the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

Today we have several international airports, while most communities are served by locally operated airports for general aviation, medivacs and emergency firefighting.

Read more: Guest column: Marvellous model aircraft take flight over Shuswap Lake

Read more: Seasoned North Okanagan-Shuswap pilots maintain formation as the Vernon Snowflakes

If you want to find out more, Paula Quinn will be attending the Shuswap Regional Airport Open House & Emergency Preparedness Expo in Salmon Arm on June 25, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. She and others will be more than happy to have a chat about her passion for vintage and future aviation challenges associated with the new Centre’s Aerospace and Aviation Museum. There will also be information on the other three aviation museums in B.C. should you wish to explore them in the future. The Canadian Aviation Historical Society (CAHS) will have material and journals so you can delve deeper into the world of vintage aviation and aeronautical innovation in Canada over the last century and beyond.

Hope to see you on June 25 at Salmon Arm Airport.
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