City urged to keep vintage aircraft

For four decades the two vintage airplanes have sat largely neglected, but in recent years, their fate has sparked an antagonistic battle between two groups of aircraft enthusiasts.

Figuring out what will happen to the city-owned de Havilland Mosquito and Hawker Hurricane took a significant step forward Wednesday with a council committee recommending the city pitch-in $800,000 toward restoring the airplanes to museum quality, if matching funds can be found.

The decision, which will have to be approved by council, is being hailed as a victory for a group of local volunteers who want to work on the planes and keep them in Alberta.

But the decision is also being greeted with great disappointment by the Englishman who three years ago put a major offer on the table for the Mosquito.

Peter Vacher wants to acquire the Mosquito, which was built in 1946, and bring it back to flying condition. In return, he has offered to restore the Second World War era Hurricane to museum quality and hand it back to the city when the work is complete. On top of that, the collector and restorer has committed to creating a $1-million endowment fund for the Aero Space Museum of Calgary.

With Wednesday’s decision, it appears that bid could be scuttled. Vacher said he now worries the volunteers don’t have nearly enough expertise to properly restore the two aircraft.

Little has been done with two aircraft during the past decades, he said.

"The track record of those people who now say they are going to be able to restore it, I have to say, is dismal," Vacher said in a phone interview from his home in Oxfordshire. "Unfortunately, I think the council has been swayed on an emotional basis rather than, shall we say, a practical, hardheaded basis."

Vacher’s offer has been hotly opposed by the Calgary Mosquito Aircraft Society, which on Wednesday dismissed claims it is not up to the task. The group says its members include some of the top aircraft restorers in Canada.

The head of the society, Richard de Boer, said there is a great deal of enthusiasm in the city for the aircraft, and he has no doubts the matching $800,000 can be found.

"There’s no longer a threat of having to sell one to save the other," he said Wednesday. "That’s nonsense. In this city, with the skills and passion, the drive, the money, and the interest to do this, we can easily manage both."

The society proposes to bring both aircraft to museum standard, but not restore the Mosquito to flying capability like Vacher would.

The group has also been sharply critical of Vacher’s offer, which would see the city lose the Mosquito. But other aircraft enthusiasts have supported the collector’s bid, believing his experience and money is needed to properly restore the airplanes.

They point out the council committee is turning away roughly $1 million, and have instead decided to spend nearly that much in taxpayers’ money.

The Mosquito was brought to Canada in the 1950s and used for photo mapping. Veterans of the war also have a great deal of attachment to Mosquitoes as they fought in the Allied victory, although Calgary’s plane did not.