EDMONTON – It came down to crunch time, but a historic piece of Alberta’s aviation history took off from the City Centre Airport Friday afternoon, just one day prior to the airport’s closure.
“It’s been a very, very intense process,” said Tom Hinderks, executive director of the Alberta Aviation Museum.
The Boeing 737 came into service at the City Centre Airport in 1979 with Pacific Western Airlines, and was retired from Air Canada’s service in 2005.
The aircraft — which has been an exhibit at the museum for the past eight years — took off for its new home at Villeneuve Airport around 2:00 p.m. Friday.
While the flight went smoothly, the process to get the 34-year-old plane ready to fly wasn’t easy. It took dozens of volunteers months of hard work to get the aircraft into flying shape, after learning in July the 737 would not fit within the museum’s new property lines.
“We had to meet all the requirements that are normally done in six to eight months, in three and a half,” Hinderks said. “The team has been great. We could not have done it without the volunteer efforts of the airline professionals… I admire these guys. It’s been awe-inspiring to work with them.”
“We’ve spent the good part of the last few months doing paperwork and doing preparation work,” said Dale Hyrve, one of the many volunteers.
But it really came down to the wire over the past few days. The 737 was still going through final testing Friday morning, in anticipation of the afternoon flight.
“Right now, it’s intense,” Hinderks said prior to takeoff Friday.
“We’ve spent the last three days working on the aircraft, pretty much around the clock, with a dozen or so volunteers and got the aircraft into the condition it is now,” Hyrve explained. “We’ve saved the aircraft- that’s a good feeling. But at the same time, we know we’re leaving a home that we’ve all gotten to know very well over the years.”
After the aircraft passed the final checks, it was time for takeoff. Dozens of people gathered at the City Centre Airport to see the 737 fly off into the afternoon sky, on a day that was bittersweet for many.
“I’m feeling very sad about the airport,” said Edmontonian Gerry Jarvis, who came out to “give the old bird a good send off.”
“It’s a sad day, really, when you think about the history,” said John Kershaw. “The 737 behind is a piece of history flying off and we’ll see it fly into the sunset today and be a great day, a celebration for a new beginning.”
WATCH: Boeing 737’s journey from City Centre to Villeneuve from the Global 1 News Helicopter
The volunteer pilots, Mike Wilson and Tim Seehagel, were the only two people onboard the aircraft, as per Transport Canada regulations. Both men say the flight went really well.
“I’m just glad to be part of the team,” Wilson said. “I think the best part of the flight was taxiing across the farmer’s field.”
“It was a beautiful flight, perfect day for it,” said Seehagel, who added the plane ran like a charm.
“Last flight for this old bird,” he said. “When I was learning how to fly and watching these Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 737s roaring out of the municipal airport, I thought ‘well, that’s about the coolest job in the world.’ And I knew I wanted to do that.
“To get to fly these machines and do this special flight today, on a beautiful day, is pretty spectacular.”
WATCH: Takeoff and landing from inside the Boeing 737’s cockpit
The jet was met by another crowd at Villeneuve, where it will become an exhibit at the new Alberta Flying Heritage Museum, which will eventually be built at the site.
“It’ll be a place you can bring your kids to let them get their first taste of an airline ride before they get on an airplane, to see what a cockpit’s like,” Hinderks said, “so we can keep telling that story, keep using it as an educational tool; we can keep showing how Alberta got into the jet age.”
The City Centre Airport – which opened its doors in 1927 – will officially close Saturday, with a fly-past of two CF-18s. The ceremony will mark the end of an era for many aviation enthusiasts.
“Seeing this airport close down, for us in the aviation industry, it’s the saddest thing I can think of. This airport has so much history,” Hyrve said. “To see it close down hurts.”
“We had a choice – we could either be miserable about it or we could celebrate. We’ve chosen to celebrate it,” Hinderks added. “It’s a tough time, but we’re moving ahead.”
With files from Fletcher Kent, Global News.