Normally, the planes that arrive at the Canadian Museum of Flight at Langley Regional Airport are in a sorry state.
Whether they are covered in mildew, rusting, in pieces, or actually crashed and mangled, the volunteers often anticipate years of restoration work.
But a crowd of dozens gathered Friday morning at the museum’s hangar to watch as the newest exhibit flew in under its own power, banking and soaring above the runways.
The pilots even gave a demonstration of its main purpose, as they dumped a tanker load of water over the grass between runways.
The Firecat Air Tanker was donated by Conair, and it has been operating as a firefighting aircraft in Yukon Territory until a few days before its arrival in Langley.
The old aircraft has a direct link to the origin of aerial firefighting in B.C.
It was in Langley that Skyways Air Services was born, the creation of Art Seller. From crop spraying for pests, the company moved into aerial firefighting.
Eventually, the company became Conair and moved to Abbotsford.
The Firecat Air Tanker has another strand of history, connecting it to the Royal Canadian Air Force.
This model of aircraft began as military submarine patrol craft during the Second World War.
Canada began building some of them during the 1950s, when they were known as Trackers. The museum’s new aircraft is thought to have been one of the Trackers that served on board the HMCS Bonaventure, Canada’s last aircraft carrier, in operation in the 1950s and ’60s. The Trackers had folding wings for aircraft carrier duty.
In the 1970s, they were modified into Firecats, said Gord Wintrup, the museum’s past president.
Tom Wilson was one of three former Skyways and Conair employees watching the landing who actually flew the plane.
Wilson soloed for the first time in 1952 at the Langley Airport, did the first demonstration water drop here in 1958, and went to the Interior to fight fires with Ron Elmore the same year.
He flew this Firecat from 1985 to the 1990s.
“It’s an excellent plane,” he said.
Another former aviator was Ken Macgowan, a Second World War veteran who flew as a navigator on Cansos, the Canadian-made version of the Catalina flying boat.
He went on many submarine patrols, the same duty for which the Tracker was created. Looking for subs wasn’t the most riveting job.
“It was monotonous,” Macgowan said.
Macgowan’s brother in law served on the Bonaventure when it was launching the Trackers later in the 1950s.
The museum’s new Firecat taxied up in front of the hanger to a round of applause for its pilots. The aircraft will now be preserved by the volunteers at the museum.