A familiar sight at Nanaimo Airport is about to take off for greener pastures.
The bright yellow former RCAF Canso A (PBY flying boat) is being rescued from 10 years of neglect to become a display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore.
Known as C-FNJB, the Canso was one of two flying boats at Nanaimo Airport. It’s sister plane (C-FNJF) was purchased by a group in England and flies regularly throughout Europe.
C-FNJB was bought by the Captain Michael King Smith Foundation in Oregon for the museum last July for $100,000, and restoration work by Victoria Air Maintenance is ongoing to prepare it for one more flight.
Stewart Bailey, curator of the Evergreen, said the plane, with borrowed engines from Victoria Air Maintenance, will make a one-time ferry flight to Oregon and then will be fully restored to go on display.
“While we found it to be in really good shape structurally, internally there are a lot of things that are OK for a one-time ferry flight, but not to keep it flying regularly,” said Bailey. “The plan is to have it displayed in the museum, not become a flying aircraft.”
Built by Canadian Vickers in 1943 in St. Hubert, Que., for the Royal Canadian Air Force, C-FNJB served between mid-1943 and 1961. It was converted to a military transport aircraft in 1945.
In 1961, it was bought by Kenting Aviation in Toronto for use as a water bomber and for a good portion of the 1960s, was used for firefighting in France.
In 1969, it was sold to Norcanair of Prince Albert, Sask., which was handling firefighting operations for the province. The Saskatchewan government bought it in 1980.
Ray Williams of Nanaimo was hired by a group of Malaysian investors – the plane’s last owners – to find a PBY for tourism flights in Africa and he found both planes in St. Thomas, Ont. and flew them to Nanaimo in the late 1990s.
“The money fell out and the Malaysians would come out every once in awhile, but they didn’t want to spend any more money on it,” said Williams.
The Canso has also gone through a number of paint schemes in its life, from original white and silver and orange, to light blue and its current yellow.
And it will change once more as the museum plans paint the plane in a Second World War U.S. Navy scheme.
“We will be painting it up as one of the navy PBYs that spotted the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway,” said Bailey. “Aircraft 44P-4 was touted as the one that first made contact with the Japanese.”
“It was also a PBY5-A and the airplane in Nanaimo is a 5-A. It fits, so we’re not playing loose with history painting it that way.”
David Legg, a Catalina/Canso enthusiast, writer and researcher in England said organizations like Evergreen and the current owners of the former C-FNJF are entitled to paint their aircraft how they want given the huge amount of financial and human resource involved in restoring them and keeping them in good condition.
When it arrived in Europe, C-FNJF was painted, not as an RCAF Canso A, but as a UK-based USAAF OA-10A Catalina from 1945.
“There is already one airworthy former RCAF Canso A flying in Canada with the Canadian Warplane Heritage in RCAF markings and another about to do so in France,” said Legg in an e-mail. “The point is that the very significant part played by the RCAF Cansos in World War Two and beyond has not been ignored by Catalina and Canso owners.”
But Williams said he hates the idea of the PBY heading to the U.S. and won’t be at the Nanaimo Airport to watch it take off for Oregon.
“That is an original PBY5-A that played a huge part in the West Coast’s aviation history,” he said. “They’re beautiful aircraft and we sell this one for peanuts to the U.S.”
Bailey said it’s the story that is important to the museum.
“Being the Battle of Midway was a turning point for the Allies in the war in the Pacific, it has an important story to tell,” he said. “These things are just wood, fabric, metal and plastic without the stories of the people that built them, maintained them and flew them.”
Mike Ingram, president and director of maintenance of Victoria Air Maintenance, said getting the plane’s generators working is the last step and permits to fly from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Transport Canada are expected in early August.