Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Canadian Aviation Award To Bushplane Centre: Museum plans vintage craft's restoration

A plane that "gave birth" to the water bombing of forest fires is being restored by Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.

The museum plans to spend $30,000 over three years to replace the canvas on the Fairchild KR-34.

The fabric, about 20 years old, covers most of the 82-year-old plane except the cowl and the cockpit area. The canvas will be stripped off and a longer-lasting polyester fabric put on.

The plane's lengthy history includes ties to Sault Ste. Marie.

The KR-34 was flown by Herbert Passmore, president of Fairchild Aircraft Company.

Ontario Provincial Air Service used the KR-34 from 1931 to 1944.

Carl Crossley tapped the plane to experiment with water bombing beginning in the late 1930s. He placed a 45-gallon drum in the passenger compartment and doused a staged bush fire.

His attempt marked "the birth of water bombing," said Todd Fleet, centre curator. Present-day water bombers can carry 5,000 or more litres of water.

Frank MacDougall, superintendent of Algonquin Park, used the aircraft for aerial patrols.

Air-Dale Ltd., of Sault Ste. Marie, purchased the KR-34 in 1945. Engine failure caused the plane to crash in 1948 on the shore of Wildcat Lake in the Muskokas. No one was hurt.

The wreckage was retrieved in 1963 and brought to Sault Ste. Marie. The KR-34 was restored to mark OPAS's 60th anniversary in 1984.

The plane, donated to the museum in about 2005, is only one of only a handful in North America. It's the only one of its type still in flyable condition.

An association of female pilots is helping with the plane's restoration. The Ninety-Nines presented the museum with $1,500 and its Canadian Award in Aviation.

"Bushplane history is a unique piece of the North," said Gayle Manley, a retired Sault teacher who presented the award on behalf of the Ninety-Nines.

"It opened up a lot of areas in the North."

The museum wants to raise another $7,000 this year on top of the Ninety-Nines donation. The centre's goal is to restore the KR-34, as much as possible, to its original condition "to preserve for future generations."

Sponsorships of the restoration start at $500. Tax-deductible donations can be made online at or by visiting the museum on Bay Street. 

Help is also being sought for the project. Training is provided. 

"We're trying to involve the community because it is part of local heritage," said Fleet.

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