Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vintage plane gets royal treatment in Ottawa Airport

Reprinted from  Ottawa This Week by: EMMA JACKSON / Aug 25, 2011

1932 de Havilland Fox moth. The Prince of Wales' 1932 de Havilland Fox Moth is on display at the Ottawa International Airport until the new year. Photo by: Emma Jackson

The Ottawa International Airport welcomed another royal visitor this month, but this one’s here to stay.
The personal airplane of King Edward the eighth, a 1932 de Havilland Fox Moth that he flew for one year while he was still the Prince of Wales, arrived for display Monday, Aug. 15 and will remain in the arrivals lobby for the coming year.
 {Editorial correction: Michael Potter is the Chairman of an Independent Board of Directors and founder of Vintage Wings of Canada. The President, formerly the CEO, of Vintage Wings is Rob Fleck} 

The plane is operated by Vintage Wings Canada headquartered at the Gatineau airport, and is still in perfect working order. However, the plane will quit the skies this year to contribute to Vintage Wings CEO and plane collector Michael Potter’s goal to keep antique planes in the public eye. 
“It keeps these planes available to people, they can see them and it keeps people aware of history. It educates people into the past of the air force,” explained Gavin Milo, a long time pilot who volunteers with the non-profit organization once a week. Potter’s private collection was turned over to a foundation in 2005, and the many antique planes including a Spitfire and a handful of other World War Two fighters are on display six days a week in a hangar at the Gatineau airport.
Ottawa Airport spokesperson Krista Kealey said the airport is excited to have another vintage plane on display, after showing a WACO Taperwing from the Vintage Wings collection last year.
“It’s a different air, its something that people don’t see everyday. They don’t have the opportunity to get up close and personal with an aircraft like that every day and we’re glad to offer the opportunity,” she said. “For the airport, there’s an obvious connection to these aircraft that have been used in war time. It’s a natural partnership.”
The Fox Moth is a light transport plane, a close relative of the Tiger Moth training plane that taught many Second World War pilots how to fly.
The model on display was one of 98 Fox Moths built in England, although after World War Two more than 50 Fox Moths were built in Toronto. The original Fox Moth prototype was also tested in Canada as de Havilland figured out how to apply floats and skis to the versatile craft.
Built in 1932, the plane on display was made specifically for the Prince of Wales, who would briefly become King Edward the Eighth in 1936 before abdicating the throne to his brother.
By 1933 the sleek black bi-plane with red leather passenger seats was bought by a private pilot and then taken back by manufacturer de Havilland. It was sent to New Zealand, where it was used as a tourist plane to take people into the mountains. In 1943 it crashed into the Franz Josef glacier and was briefly out of commission.
For a decade it changed hands repeatedly, until a private owner took the plane to Fiji and it was abandoned for more than 30 years.
In 1990 an aircraft company began to restore it, and in 1993 the plane’s true saviour discovered the plane and restored it in earnest. By July of 1993 the plane had won the Reserve Grand Champion Antique award at a major air show in “experimental airplane mecca” Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“It was considered the best of the best at that time,” Milo said.
Vintage Wings acquired the plane in 2006.
Milo said the Fox Moth on display represents a whole line of planes that were used as bush planes, mail and passenger carriers and agricultural planes after the war in Canada.
“They built about 50 of these planes between 1945 and 1958. They were used for bush planes, and they operate on skies and on floats,” he said. One of the most famous bush operators in Canada was Max Ward, who flew a Fox Moth before starting his famous charter company Wardair.
Although most of the Fox Moth line is more than 60 or 70 years old, Milo said there is no shortage of pilots who can fly antique planes like the one on display.
“Especially here in North America there are a lot of aircraft of this type that are in private hands, there are several philanthropists who own this stuff,” he said, noting that apart from insurance policies an experienced pilot could learn to fly a Fox Moth in about five hours. Of course, young men at war were learning to fly from scratch in a relatively short amount of time, which was part of the reason so many air force members died. “In World War Two, people flew things like that for 30 or 40 hours at the most, went to England, were stuffed in a Spitfire and said to go fight. I have 300 hours and I’d be kind of nervous about going to war in a thing like that,” he said. “Your hands are full just making this thing get up in the air and get back down, let alone ducking the bullets that are flying around and shooting the guy down that’s in front of you.”
Vintage Wings will host their annual air show out of Gatineau Airport this Sept. 17, where spectators can see antique fighters, trainers and transport planes in action.
“It’s worth going, even if you’re not a plane nut. You learn a lot, and who knows, you might become a plane nut,” he laughed.
The display hangar is open Monday to Saturday and is free to the public. For more information about the organization, visit www.vintagewings.ca.

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