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Mosquito Debate

In last month’s Bits and Pieces, we ran an article about the debate swirling around the fate of a Mosquito and a Hurricane aircraft currently owned by the City of Calgary. At stake was the question of whether the Mosquito should be sold to a restorer in the United Kingdom for restoration to flying condition or whether it should be kept here and put into a static display which would render total restoration at a later date unrealistic. In addition with the first option, the Hurricane would also be restored to a static display for the City of Calgary.

The results of our poll indicated a strong support for a flying restoration somewhere in the world instead of a static display in Calgary, with over 81.6 percent favoring the complete restoration and about 18.4 percent voting for a static restoration.

This article prompted the following response from Paul Gregory, a local individual vitally interested in the debate. We are pleased to present his views below: 

Dear Editor,

Regarding the story “Future for Two Vintage Aircraft Uncertain” in the April edition of EAA Bits and Pieces, I would like to submit my perspective on the subject and correct some errors in the Calgary Sun’s story.

To Fly or Not to Fly: Our Global Aviation Gift

Like many Canadians, I have a close and personal connection with the aviators of World War II. My father’s oldest brother was a Royal Air Force Bomber Command pilot who flew the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley from the start of the war. He was shot down on June 27, 1941, and spent the rest of the war in POW camps. So I share the passion about ensuring that future generations can experience actual artifacts that bring aviation history alive.

When I first learned that the City of Calgary had an unrestored de Havilland Mosquito and that it might be sold, I was at first dismayed and wanted to prevent losing such an artifact. So I began to get involved and learn more about the facts. Quickly I realized that these aircraft represent a potential gift we Canadians (or in my case, Calgarians) can give the world.

The Planes

There are two famous planes involved in this debate – one with a strong connection to Calgary and Canadian history, and one that has a lesser connection to the city. Let’s start with the one that has sparked the controversy: the de Havilland Mosquito B Mk 35.

There are many sources available to learn about the significance the Mosquito had during the Second World War, so I won’t try to repeat them here. But I will note that it is a unique aircraft, as it is built of wood with molded plywood that is extremely difficult to restore to an authentic state. In fact there is only one recognized facility in the world capable of it, and it is located in New Zealand.

Controversy surrounds the Mosquito held by the Aero Space Museum of Calgary. Many believe this plane is a WWII aircraft and it was flown by Canadian pilots like the ones that tragically collided with a radio tower in Calgary at the end of the war. But in reality this version, a Mosquito B Mk 35 (or even PR Mk 35), was never used by the RCAF in the Second World War or subsequently.

de Havilland Mosquito

This “Mossie” was built in the United Kingdom at Christchurch in Dorset just after the war. It served initially with the Royal Air Force as a B-35 bomber, and subsequently it was modified to PR Mk 35 photo reconnaissance, serving with 58 PR Squadron out of Benson in Oxfordshire. In 1948 it was put into storage, and for eight years it languished in various RAF storage units until it was struck off strength in 1956. With eight sister ships of the same type, it was sold to Spartan Air Services of Ottawa, and it acquired the Canadian registration CF-HMS. Between 1956 and 1960, it served Spartan on aerial mapping duties before being retired and seemingly left in outside storage for a number of years. About 40 years ago, it was salvaged and shipped to Calgary and left with the fledgling Aero Space Museum. Despite its less than glamourous history, I don’t believe the plane ever flew near or landed at Calgary.

Yet there is an unsung hero that gets overlooked during the debate – the City of Calgary owns an equally significant artifact – a Hawker Hurricane which is a real piece of Canadian heritage. Many know this plane as the real backbone of the fleet that helped win the Battle of Britain.

This particular plane did fly in and around Calgary as Hurricane 5389 with No. 4 Training Command – a facility that trained many Commonwealth pilots during the war. In addition, a local veteran who often volunteers at the museum flew this very aircraft patrolling the west coast off Vancouver. To top it off, this Hurricane was built at the Canadian Car and Foundry Company at Fort William, Ontario, and it became the very first artifact for the museum. Undeniably, this plane is truly local and Canadian and needs to be recognized.

Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane

Today the Mosquito and the Hurricane sit in several storage facilities in and around Calgary. Both are piled in numerous boxes in thousands of pieces. Sadly there are no flying examples of the Mosquito in the world at this time.
The Proposal

For decades, the aircraft have sat in pieces. Despite some attempts, nothing was finished and nothing was planned to restore these aircraft in the near future. Then six years ago, the debate was born. A British gentleman, Peter Vacher, who has successfully restored a Hurricane with his own hands (it is featured in the April 2010 edition of FlyPast magazine), visited the Aero Space Museum of Calgary. He was dismayed to learn of the two aircraft lying in storage in less than adequate facilities in and around the city. He was told that the museum did not have the funds or skills to complete a restoration for either aircraft.

Upon returning to England, he wanted to help and provide a solution for both these historical artifacts. He offered to the owners (the City of Calgary) the following: to restore the Hurricane to “taxi-able condition” for the museum and to make an endowment of $1 million available to the city or museum. In return, he will take ownership and restore the Mosquito to flyable condition at his expense and unveil it as the “City of Calgary” Mosquito. He has also promised to initially paint the Mosquito in the Spartan paint scheme and bring it to Canada for a flying season for aviation enthusiasts to enjoy.

When I learned of the details of this proposal, my perspective changed completely. I saw a way to honour the true history of both aircraft and raise the profile of the city...all without having the Calgary taxpayers pay or cover any inevitable cost overruns during such a complex restoration.

The People

There are many people touched by this issue. Societies have now formed to advocate keeping the Mosquito, many citing their own historical reasons and assertions. Other groups have volunteered to try their hand at restoring it despite never working with such a unique construction that is in the Mosquito.

And despite their good intentions, sadly the Hurricane, our true local historical heritage, gets at best ignored or brushed off entirely.

With respect, I wonder why little or no action, prior to the proposal, was undertaken by those who oppose Mr. Vacher’s plans to restore the planes as they languished in storage for decades. Since the proposal, has anyone formulated an actionable plan backed with strong restoration credentials needed for the unique Mosquito and multimillion-dollar financial backing to make something happen to both planes – all within a handful of years? Even in the last few years since the proposal, has anyone at least succeeded in raising sufficient funds?

I have had the opportunity to read Mr. Vacher’s book chronicling his lifelong personal passion restoring important mechanical artifacts, most notably the only flying Hawker Hurricane that saw action in the Battle of Britain. Every flying season, he shares the aircraft with the public with a tight schedule of air shows all over Britain. On a recent trip to England, I imposed on his hospitality and toured his large workshop. Without a doubt, I learned that he has proven he has the means and access to skills to get this done properly – for both aircraft.

Much of the debate has centered around creating a static restoration versus a flying restoration. I agree that restoring the Mosquito to a static condition might expose the plane to hundreds, or at best, to thousands per year. I doubt Calgarians know there is a static Mosquito already in Edmonton. I didn’t until a recent visit, and there was no line to see this plane. Static aircraft, regardless of importance (unless in world-famous museums like the Smithsonian), do not draw much interest, especially from the younger generation.

It is a fact that crowds of people, regardless of their level of interest in aviation, are attracted to flying examples of aviation history. Hundreds of thousands flock to air shows all over the world (including impressionable children) to see what aircraft are meant to do – fly. So whenever we have the chance to bring wings back to these aircraft, we must jump on the opportunity.

We owe it to our surviving Canadian veterans who flew similar aircraft to restore them to the best possible condition, and if possible, to flying condition – quickly. We Calgarians have a great opportunity here to give a gift to the world of aviation and receive back global recognition of the city’s role with both aircraft, and have a truly local Hurricane in its collection.

The Politics

Currently the debate is now in the hands of the city politicians and the people of Calgary. At a special committee meeting held in March 2010, many citizens voiced their opposition to spend $1.6 million of taxpayer money restoring both aircraft. This prompted the committee to direct the administration to solicit proposals to restore the aircraft with the hope of keeping them local.

It is my very great fear, however, that any option involving well-meaning volunteers will result in restored airplanes that are mere representations and not true to the individual aircraft’s history and construction. Unlike in England, we lack local and available craftsmen, production tooling, jigs, and the management to fund expensive projects that might encounter cost overruns.

So the elected officials of the City of Calgary have one of three choices:

  1. Take a chance again to let Calgarians or local volunteer enthusiasts attempt to complete the Mosquito and the Hurricane restoration projects with the expectation of decades before seeing the first aircraft completed (and many more years afterward see the second aircraft, likely the Hurricane, completed) – if at all.
  2. Take on the risky prospect of using taxpayers’ money to fund and manage two airplane restoration projects, something never done by a city administration before.
  3. Turn the Mosquito over to a professional who can fund and quickly complete the aircraft to flying condition, and let it be viewed by millions of enthusiasts worldwide with its name “City of Calgary” Mosquito. Plus, receive a fully restored Hurricane back in Calgary in its historical wartime colours while there are still veterans of that conflict who remember it.

I urge my fellow Calgarians to promote the third option to their elected officials and get these important artifacts restored properly – and own a truly valuable piece of history, the Calgary Hawker Hurricane. I encourage my fellow Canadians to support us and endorse getting the Mosquito flying again.

The Passion

People who love planes are, by their nature, very passionate. As I became involved, I began to meet some of the personalities on both sides. Without exception, everyone involved is deeply emotional about the subject, and rightfully so.

So I sincerely empathize with those who fear the loss of the Mosquito and believe we should be holding on to it in Calgary. But I ask them not to see this as I used to – as a loss. Instead, this really is a gift to ourselves and all Canadians. A gift to veterans everywhere, our children, and our future.

While I share the passion, I am also realistic about preserving aviation history. I, too, would love to see both aircraft restored and flying in the Calgary skies. But that is when cold reality sets in. Our city does not have the resources or expertise available to complete this undertaking properly and quickly. So we must make choices.

This kind of opportunity comes rarely. What a wonderful way for us as Canadians to contribute to both global aviation heritage and local history at the same time. Let’s act on Mr. Vacher’s proposal and get these two aircraft restored quickly before it is too late.

Paul Gregory is a Calgary-based businessman who has a lifelong love of aviation history and the aircraft of WWII. He’s a private pilot and a partner in a Cessna C-210. Paul is also an active volunteer for the local EAA Chapter 1410 High River, Alberta, Canada. He would like to note that his involvement (and those of his colleagues) with the debate is without any personal or financial gain whatsoever. The opinions expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect those of EAA in any way.

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