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Unique piece of Canadian aviation history unveiled at Alberta Aviation Museum

EDMONTON- A unique and important part of Canada’s aviation history has been unveiled at the Alberta Aviation Museum.

The F-104 Starfighter- known as the fastest fighter the Royal Canadian Air Force ever had- was unveiled to an adoring crowd at the museum on Saturday.

“It was very nostalgic, brought a tear to my eye actually. It brought back a lot of memories, most of them pleasant, some unfortunate,” said Rick Wall, a retired Air Force pilot.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Wall last flew the aircraft. He once crashed one during a simulation attack on a missile site in northern Alberta.

“We were going about 540 knots,” he said. “And hit a bunch of birds… and at 540 knots you don’t have time to do anything.”

After trying several times to right the aircraft, Wall and a fellow soldier were forced to abandon the Starfighter.

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“It became pretty apparent that nothing was going to work so I told Harold to get out and he did, he was happy to. And I went out after him.”

Capable of reaching speeds of Mach 2.35, which is the equivalent of travelling over 800 metres per second, the aircraft was the jet of choice for NATO members during the 60s and 70s.

Wall says flying the F-104 Starfighter was one of the most thrilling times of his life.

“Everybody that flew it fell in love with it… When the 104s flew overhead everybody would stop and look at it. It’s just that kind of airplane. It’s not the appearance of the airplane, it’s the sound that it makes. It was just tremendously exciting. Best time of my life,” he said with a smile.

It’s a feeling shared by many at the unveiling ceremony.

“It had a je ne sais quoi. It was one of those airplanes that just had a mystique about it because it was so blindingly fast, it was so sleek. It was just, there was nothing that looked like it, nothing that sounded like it, nothing that went as fast. It just was one of those airplanes that… ‘I’ve got to fly that airplane,'” said MP Laurie Hawn, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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But the process of getting the F-104 to Edmonton certainly wasn’t easy.

“It’s been a huge task. Seven years of searching, 18 months of working through three different governments, across two continents and an ocean,” said Tim Hinderks, executive director of the Alberta Aviation Museum. “The effort was huge.”

From there, experts spent four and half months restoring the aircraft- a job Hinderks says usually takes up to five years. But, he says the effort has been absolutely worth it, as it will help tell the story of Alberta and Canada’s history to generations to to come.

“Bringing history back to life isn’t just about remembering the past. It’s about inspiring the future.”

The aircraft was unveiled as part of the Alberta Aviation Museum’s grand re-opening ceremony. The museum has gone through a major overhaul and has a number of new features and exhibits.

With files from Tom Vernon, Global News.