Friday, January 27, 2012

New Beginnings for the Roseland Spitfire

On an overcast, slushy, wet day in Comox, about 50 people are gathered in a small building out at the airport. They have come for the unveiling of new hangar work space and the re-naming of a Spitfire in restoration.

The fuselage of the Spitfire in question sits behind a small podium, a gleaming hulk stripped down to bare metal, and missing engine, wings and tail. John Ambler of the Comox Air Force Museum begins the ceremony with a quote from famous poet Robert Service,

“’A promise made is a debt unpaid.’ We made a promise to return the Spitfire to flying condition, and that was really the clincher in our decision to transfer the restoration over to Vintage Wings.”

The transfer was made in 2008, when the Spitfire was known to locals as the “Y2K” Spitfire, Y2 designating 442 Sqn, to which the Spitfire belonged. The locals have a big interest in seeing this aircraft fly again; they have been chipping in nickels for the restoration for years. But it takes more than a few nickels to restore a WWII fighter.

The Spitfire, which Vintage Wings aims to have flying in 2015, will cost $2-3 million to bring back to flying condition.

As John Ambler passes the speaking torch over to Vintage Wings president Rob Fleck, the mayor of Comox sneaks in the door, late and soaking wet. He quietly greets veteran Stocky Edwards, and slides into the empty seat in the front row. Meanwhile outside the rain noisily spatters against the window, as if angry to have been left out of the festivities.

“Things don’t make history, people make history,” begins Fleck as he launches into a fascinating presentation on the “In His Name” program. He runs through each dedication on each of our aircraft, from the Al Lilly F-86, the first Canadian to break the sound barrier, to the Archie Pennie Cornell, who at the end of the war flew Mosquitoes after years as an instructor on Cornells. The crowd is honoured to have veteran Stocky Edwards and his lovely wife Tonnie in attendance. Vintage Wings has dedicated the P-40 Kittyhawk to Canadian air ace  and Wing Commander “Stocky” Edwards. In addition to the P40, Stocky also flew the Hurricane, Mk XVI Spitfire, Sabre and P51.

Flight Lieutenant Arnold Walter “Rosey” Roseland, a native of Youngstown Alberta, flew with 442 Squadron in France. Although he also flew P40s, Roseland flew the Y2K Spitfire on close to 65 sorties. He was killed in action during a dogfight with German fighters in 1944. And it is in honour of him that Vintage Wings has named the Mk IX Spitfire the “Roseland” Spitfire. He was always a part of history, and he is now a part of the family.

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