History on the wing takes off from Langley

When you’ve got a museum full of airplanes, your displays are a bit more mobile.

A recent $40,000 provincial grant to Langley’s Canadian Museum of Flight will allow the museum to reach out to smaller communities around the province.

The idea sprang from a one-off visit to Alert Bay with one of the museum’s prized restored aircraft.

The 1937 Waco AQC-6 biplane belonged to Dr. Jack Pickup, who used it to visit patients and travel to remote areas of the province.

Though based out of Alert Bay for decades, Pickup’s practice took him to many remote inlets on Vancouver Island and the mainland, where he would treat injured and sick loggers, fishermen, and First Nations people. Pickup flew the aircraft for 20 years, and then in 1980 donated it to the museum.

When the museum was asked to bring the Waco back to Alert Bay, it arrived to an amazing reception.

“We just had a super time,” said Terry Brunner, the manager of the museum. “There was a million stories floating around.”

Among the people who turned out to see the restored Waco were Sam and Peggy Hobbs. In the 1950s, Peggy had served as Dr. Pickup’s OR nurse, while Sam was the town RCMP officer.

The visit has inspired the outreach program, which will see museum staff and volunteers taking their aircraft out to other communities up and down the coast, from Pemberton to Lillooet to Lytton.

A variety of aircraft will be taking to the skies, as the museum has several flight-worthy vehicles.

One that will be featured quite a bit this year is their replica Sopwith Camel.

The Camel is one of the most famous fighter planes of the First World War, and with the anniversary of the start of the war taking place this summer, it’s a physical reminder of the role aviation and Canadian pilots played in the conflict.

The museum’s replica Sopwith was built using original blueprints and is fully to scale.

The $40,000 grant that will help get this program off the ground came from provincial gaming funds.

“We are very fortunate to have Canadian Museum of Flight located at Langley Airport,” said Langley MLA Mary Polak. “It’s a unique facility and with some pretty rare aircraft that can’t be seen anywhere else.”

Aside from using it to reach out to the rest of the province, Brunner is hoping that the museum can do some work boosting its profile locally.

He said that one of the odd things about running a museum with many rare aircraft is that some people make the trip from overseas just to see them, while many Lower Mainland residents have never heard of the museum.

The museum’s Handley Page Hampden bomber, for example, is one of only two in existence. 

The rusted carcass of the bomber, a twin-engined medium bomber used during the early days of World War Two, was hauled off the sea floor in 1989. It crashed off the B.C. coast while on a training flight in the 1940s.

Most of the Hampdens were destroyed during the war or scrapped as they were replaced by more advanced aircraft.

People hoping to see the restored Hampden or other vehicles have come from as far away as Europe.

The Museum of Flight is located at the Langley Regional Airport.

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