Nick Lees: Volunteers help navigate helicopter restoration project at Alberta Aviation Museum

Taking a break from working on the 206A helicopter being restored at the Alberta Aviation Museum, are Harry Nagel (left), lead restoration volunteer and former aviation technician with the CFB-based 408 Helicopter Squadron, and John Liddle, the restoration project manager, a retired RCAF technician.Taking a break from working on the 206A helicopter being restored at the Alberta Aviation Museum, are Harry Nagel (left), lead restoration volunteer and former aviation technician with the CFB-based 408 Helicopter Squadron, and John Liddle, the restoration project manager, a retired RCAF technician.

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Expanding the exhibits of romance, courage and clashes that mark the last century of flight are being grounded at the Alberta Aviation Museum by COVID-19.

“We rely on former Canadian pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers to help show and restore our exhibits,” says Ryan Lee, curator of the Kingsway Avenue museum.

“Veteran pilots often come to act as museum guides, while technicians help rebuild our aircraft, some of which were state-of the-art flying machines many decades ago.”

Technicians have helped create such priceless exhibits for the museum as a First World War aviatrix custom stunt plane, the one-of-a-kind Curtiss Stinson Special; the first all-season bush plane, the Fairchild 71C, and the Second World War B-25 Mitchell Bomber.

“Most of our volunteers are aged 65 or older and are especially vulnerable to COVID,” says Lee. “We have always done everything possible to keep them safe.

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“But as pandemic numbers increased again some months ago, many volunteers elected rightly to stay at home. And then, to keep everyone safe, we shut down all volunteer work at the museum.

“Now, many volunteers have been or are being vaccinated and are keen to resume work safely on our many projects.”

The museum, declared a city and provincial historic resource, is housed in Hangar 14, a double-long, double-wide hangar built in the Second World War era on Blatchford Field.

Two keen aviation buffs who have helped bring a crashed vintage Bell 206A Helicopter back to some of its former glory are John Liddle (front or right), the lead restoration volunteer and former aviation technician with the CFB Edmonton-based 408 Helicopter Squadron, and Alberta Aviation Museum curator Ryan Lee.Two keen aviation buffs who have helped bring a crashed vintage Bell 206A Helicopter back to some of its former glory are John Liddle (front or right), the lead restoration volunteer and former aviation technician with the CFB Edmonton-based 408 Helicopter Squadron, and Alberta Aviation Museum curator Ryan Lee. Photo by Supplied photo

Supporters latest project is a Bell 206A Jet Ranger helicopter, built in Fort Worth Texas and flown commercially in Ontario and Quebec before coming west in 1982.

It flew for Echo Bay Mines in the Northwest Territories supporting mineral exploration projects until 1987, when it was involved in a non-fatal accident at Bathurst Inlet.

“The helicopter was trucked to Edmonton and used as an aviation program training aid at NAIT for 25 years,” says Lee. “When the program shut down in 2012, it was donated to our museum.

“It sat outside under a tarp until we decided it would be a good, relatively easy project for our volunteers.”

John Liddle, the restoration’s project manager, says the work has been tougher at times than expected. But the idea is still to create a helicopter the RCMP might have flown in 1979.

“Parts for 206 helicopters are in high demand as many are still flying,” says the retired RCAF technician. “But we are doing very well.”

Receiving high praise from Liddle is Harry Nagel, the lead restoration volunteer and former aviation technician with the CFB Edmonton-based 408 Helicopter Squadron.

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“Every single repair is a major project,” says Nagel, who reports work has been completed on the helicopter’s tail boom; a new port upper-door frame installed; the instrument panel renewed and landing gear rebuilt.

The helicopter will never fly, but it will fit well with the museum’s more than 30 other aircraft rebuilt by seasoned aviation engineers dedicated to helping mark Northern Alberta’s rich aviation history.

“Our volunteers built this museum and are the true heart of our organization,” says Lee. “We are really looking forward to everyone returning when it is safe.”

Two keen aviation buffs who have helped bring a crashed vintage Bell 206A Helicopter back to some of its former glory are John Liddle (front or right), the lead restoration volunteer and former aviation technician with the CFB Edmonton-based 408 Helicopter Squadron, and Alberta Aviation Museum curator Ryan Lee.Two keen aviation buffs who have helped bring a crashed vintage Bell 206A Helicopter back to some of its former glory are John Liddle (front or right), the lead restoration volunteer and former aviation technician with the CFB Edmonton-based 408 Helicopter Squadron, and Alberta Aviation Museum curator Ryan Lee. Photo by Supplied photo

Gorilla hugging?

Edmontonians are talking more of post-COVID-19 plans following the government’s declaration last week that all Albertans over 18 should be vaccinated by the end of June.

Intrepid Janet Riopel, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, says she will hug those close to her with abandon, adding she has never appreciated how important that is to her mental well-being.

“I also miss a glass of wine with friends and the laughter and joy that goes with it,” she says. “During the pandemic I have been researching another adventurous bike ride, perhaps returning to Spain or riding Niagara’s wine country. And another safari is definitely high on my list, with the gorillas in Rwanda having my attention.”

Meanwhile, Ali Sachedina, Aga Khan Foundation Canada volunteer consultant and CEO of Edmonton’s Willowbrae Childcare Academy, plans to party with all family and friends and hug his kids indefinitely.

“Sadly, plans to enjoy the April Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta are cancelled, along with my friends’ annual golf tournament in Mexico,” he says.

“But I look forward to enjoying a live hockey game and having a haircut more than once every four months.

“Some physical frustration will be burned off by watching martial arts bouts on television while also booking to attend the 2022 World Soccer Cup in Qatar.”

A must-do soon is a life-long ambition, says Sachedina. He plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, at 5,885 metres, the highest peak in Africa.

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