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Edmonton company helps buy F-104 Starfighter jet for museum

Edmonton company helps buy F-104 Starfighter jet for museum

The Alberta Aviation Museum will be getting its own F-104 Starfighter aircraft after a local waterbombing and forest firefighting aircraft company stepped in with a donation to commemorate its founder.

» Aviation - UK | Monday, December 12, 2011 • Air News Times
Air Spray Ltd., whose founder Don Hamilton died in July at age 86, will be giving up to $40,000 to the museum to help it purchase one of the fastest planes ever operated in Canada.

“Whatever it takes to make the purchase, we will cover that cost,” Don’s daughter Lynn Hamilton, president and CEO of Air Spray, said Saturday.

Her childhood vacations always included trips to airports around the world, many in deserts, so her father could chat up the local pilots and mechanics, she said.

“He loved being in the air. That was when he was happiest. He got behind the controls and had a big smile on his face the whole time.”

When Lynn learned the Alberta Aviation Museum was running out of time to raise money to purchase a $70,000 F-104 from The Netherlands, she, her family and the company immediately decided to step in.

As of last weekend, the museum had raised $23,000.

F-104 Starfighters had a sleek design and were known as “the missile with a man in it” because they could fly twice the speed of sound, or about half a kilometre per second.

In the past week, the museum has received another $7,000 to $10,000 toward its goal from people across Canada.

“It was such a perfect fit,” said Lynn, who administers a legacy fund set up by her father to give back to the community.

Don donated $1 million to the Alberta Diabetes Institute, keen for someone to discover a cure because two of his eight grandchildren have Type 1 diabetes. He also donated airplane engines to the aviation museum.

Don was an avid supporter of the downtown airport, where his company has been based since 1967.

He was also keen to preserve the museum. Earlier this year he was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame after a long career flying trappers and fishermen in and out of the bush, and taking polio patients to hospitals in the 1950s.

He also helped build the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line of radar stations in Canada’s North to warn of Soviet bombers during the Cold War.

In the 1990s, he flew Bruce Saville, Jim Hole and a negotiating team to talk to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about purchasing the Edmonton Oilers, and became one of the core group which bought the team.

Tom Hinderks, the aviation museum’s executive director, said once the contract is signed mid-December, it will take about four months for the Starfighter to be disassembled and sent in a ship container to Canada.

When it reaches Edmonton, he estimates it will take another two months to have it ready for display, painted in the same colours as the airplanes which operated in Canada for 25 years from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Although the purchased plane can no longer be flown, due to minor corrosion, it will be used for educational programs on servicing and diagnostics because it has a complete cockpit and intact engine.

“It’s a big tool historically and educationally, and that’s what makes it so important for us,” Hinderks said. “This aircraft made a big mark on Edmonton’s history.”

Thousands of local people maintained and overhauled the aircraft at North West Industries’ huge repair facility, and pilots from CFB Cold Lake and One Air Division flew the “zippers,” as pilots called them, Hinderks said.

But 37 Canadian pilots also died while operating the planes on the front lines of NATO missions and patrolling Canadian air space during the Cold War, he said. In Germany, where more than 100 pilots died, the Starfighter was nicknamed “the widow maker.”

That story needs to be told too, Hinderks said. He said the plane was originally designed as a high-altitude interceptor that could fly high and fast to stop any Soviet attackers coming over the Arctic.

But when NATO and German forces used the Starfighters, their pilots practised by flying 15 to 30 metres off the ground, training as low-level strike aircraft penetrators, Hinderks said.

“If they made a mistake, it was a fatal mistake because there was simply no time to react,” he said. “That was the height of the Cold War and every training mission was flown as if it was going to be a combat mission. It had to be practised. It’s part of the story we want to tell . . . It’s good and bad.”

Hinderks said many people came forward with donations to purchase the 17-metre-long Starfighter, including the Hamilton family, because they wanted to make history come alive in a place such as the aviation museum.

“In this day and age, unless you come to our museum, you can’t get in the cockpit of a 737, whereas most of us getting a little grey around the edges remember a time when kids could see the cockpit of an airliner,” Hinderks said.

“This is an opportunity to sit in an airplane that can break double the speed of sound, an aircraft that was a huge part of the Cold War defence system and an aircraft that is still unbelievably sophisticated and unbelievably capable.”
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