The story of
Lancaster KB-976 is an interesting one since it
was both the beginning and, sadly, the end of
the first real flying aviation museum in Canada.
I was a pilot in the RCAF
over a 10 year period, Regular and Reserve,
extending from 1954 – 1964. During that time I
witnessed, and actually participated in the
departure of several famous types from Canada’s
inventory. I was last to check out on the P-51
Mustang with 403 City of Calgary Squadron RCAF
and last to fly the Hawker Sea Fury. And then, I
was the last to pilot the Avro Lancaster in RCAF
service, but that is getting ahead of the story.
The museum story started
when I was 25 and ended when I was 29.
As the Mustangs were retired
from the RCAF I obtained a contract to fly
something like 70 surplus aircraft to their new
owners in the States. Milt Harradence, an ex-403
Squadron pilot would accompany me. While
visiting the old RCAF Station Macleod, in
southern Alberta to inspect Mustangs stored
there, we saw a large number of Lancasters being
prepared for the melting pot. I decided to save
one as a memorial to the many who trained under
the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan,
during World War Two. Nearly 140,000 students
graduated from this program.
F/O Lynn Garrison, 1958
negotiation, I purchased Lancaster FM-136
without engines. Four Merlins for the ferry
flight to Calgary were borrowed from the RCAF
and FM-136 was serviced by volunteers from local
886 International Association of Machinists,
working with Canadian Pacific Airlines Repair.
It would be mounted on a pedestal at McCall
Field, Calgary’s international airport during
the spring of 1962. (In 1993 I would return to
Calgary to block its sale, by the City of
Calgary, to the Confederate Air Force. As
a result of this, it remains on display there.)
Lancaster FM-136 in
February, 1962 immediately after being painted
As a result
of the Mustang ferry project, James DeFuria, the
American purchaser, gave Milt Harradence, and
me, a pair of Mustangs that were registered as
CF-LOR and CF-LOQ. Milt flew his for a while
until he just had to have a Dehavilland Vampire.
I found one for him and he sold the Mustang
which now flies as Checkertail Clan, N-1451D.
At this point I decided to
collect aircraft for a museum and started the
Alberta Aviation Museum with a box of letterhead
and portable electric typewriter. There
were hundreds and hundreds of War Two aircraft
scattered across the prairies, sitting in
farmyards since being towed from local airfields
by purchasers interested in gasoline in their
tanks and other small things. The basic aircraft
Farmers were pleased to
help, and made their surplus equipment available
to me. A local trucking company supplied a
vehicle to haul the display items to the Shell
oil pipe yard in north eastern Calgary. Shell
was kind enough to let me store my aircraft
there and use their rail siding.
In no time I had 2 Mustangs,
Bollinbrokes (3), a Lysander, Fleet Finch, Tiger
Moth, Fairey Battle (2), Avro Ansons Mark 11 and
V, Stinson Reliant, Fairchild Cornell, Airspeed
Oxford, Cessna Crane, North American B-25,
Nordyn Norseman, Harvard, Yale, 2 Hawker
Hurricanes, all accumulated locally plus a
Supermarine Spitfire AR-614 from the United
Kingdom, an F4U-7 Corsair 133693 from France, a
B-24 (HE-771) Liberator from India, a
Dehavilland Mosquito (RS700 – CF-HMS) from
Spartan Air Services, a TBM Avenger, Seafire,
and a few aircraft purchased from the Canadian
government. A T-33 Silver Star serial 21001, the
first acquired by the RCAF with 210 hours on the
airframe: (My son Tony, a lifetime later, would
purchase the last RCAF T-33 133648) a CF-100,
Sikorsky S-51, a Vought Kingfisher, salvaged
from a British Columbia mountain top, and
- unfortunately – two F-86 Canadair Sabers
in Golden Hawk colours. In all, I would
have 57 aircraft, plus a lot of bits and pieces,
plus others promised.
wife, Evelyn, did without most things a young
woman would expect from life, in order to find
the funds needed to acquire another piece of
history. She should be remembered for this.
In 1963 I founded the
Calgary International Air Show as an annual
event to fund and publicize the project. It was
to be held each July. As we were working
up to the 1964 show, and final exams at
university, I was offered a Lancaster for
$1,500.00. There was a scramble for money, and
$1,500.00 was real money in ’64, especially to
someone in school with a wife and family. I had
just purchased a new house for $12,200.00 and,
in 2013, it is worth something close to
$400,000.00 on today’s market.
Original bill of sale,
courtesy of Lynn Garrison
A few weeks
later Lancaster KB-976 was flown into Calgary
and parked in front of 403 Squadron’s hangar.
The crew climbed out and left everything but
their headsets in place, handing over the log
books before taking another flight back to 408
The aircraft arrived
sometime in April, 1964 as we were planning that
year’s air show. As soon as I saw KB-976 I
decided I would fly it, one last time, but
didn’t tell anyone. I would walk around the
aircraft. I would climb in the starboard rear
door, immediately in front of the horizontal
stabilizer, and make my way up to the cockpit,
climbing over the massive main spar, en route.
Without any Pilot Handling Notes, I managed to
start the engines using experience from the
Mustang. Sitting there, I would listen to the
rumbling of 4 Merlins and watch reactions on
various system indicators.
I gradually became confident
in my plan.
Others knew of my
record, with other types, but suggested the
Lanc was something else. I should let an
experienced Lancaster captain fly the
aircraft, with me as copilot. At the time 403
Squadron had an ex-Lancaster pilot with
something like 1900 hours on type. Bill agreed
to show me the ropes and arrived one Saturday
morning for the first lesson. We did a quick
external and then made our way to the cockpit.
Several squadron mechanics stood by to pull
the chocks since Bill was going to show me how
to taxi. He looked around, as though
expecting something. Unsure of how to start
the engines, I got them going for him. (Bill
had always enjoyed the support of a flight
engineer who handled things.) After a few
minutes my friend waved the chocks away.
I stopped this, pointing at
the Brake Air Pressure Accumulator gage which
was sitting near zero, while those that
indicated the individual brake pressures sat at
a couple of hundred pounds.
Unlike American aircraft,
many British types had air brakes with a squeeze
handle on the control wheel. Pressure to left
and right brakes was controlled by the rudder
pedals with equal pressure, to both, with the
A few more minutes passed.
Impatient, Bill again waved
the chocks away. I pointed to the accumulator
pressure, still near zero, and he snorted
something to the effect that he knew what he was
Bill opened up the 4
Merlins, to overcome inertia. The 4 spluttering
engines surged to a cutting roar! The bomber
moved forward, accelerating. Bill reduced the
throttles, engines spluttering to idle, and
applied right rudder, squeezing the brake handle
to swing us down the taxiway.
With a decreasing hissss,
what little pressure had built up was rapidly
depleted, having little effect on the aircraft
heading. Throttles yanked back against their
stops, the Lancaster rolled sedately forward to
become wedged in the poplar trees surrounding
the squadron hangar.
Mixtures into Idle-Cut-Off
and props spun into silence.
Bill climbed out and
departed. “He had an appointment to take his
wife shopping.” I was left to hook a chain
around the tail wheel strut and tow the Lanc
back to its starting point.
I was now committed to a
do-it-yourself approach. I would captain the
aircraft. We needed a Department of
Transport approval for one flight. The Mustang
ferry project had seen us have the individual
aircraft serviced, and then signed out by a
qualified engineer. I would use this procedure.
It was so simple.
The Lancaster type had once
received a full Certificate of Airworthiness. In
order to be flown for a single flight, it would
have to go through the entire process. By this
time the DOT knew what was on my mind and threw
this roadblock in my path, sure that it could
not be overcome, without many thousands of
dollars in mechanical work.
We had invited Paul Hellyer,
Canada’s Minister of National Defence, as our
Guest of Honor for the 1964 Calgary
International Air Show. He was a close friend of
Art Smith, a War Two Lancaster pilot, DFC,
and recent Member of Parliament for Calgary,
South. Art was on my air show committee. I asked
Art, and Art asked Paul Hellyer, and the
Minister said we could fly it in RCAF colors, as
an RCAF aircraft for one last flight, sending a
letter to this effect.
I forwarded the letter to
our DOT office in Edmonton with the question as
to qualification for the pilot. Dick Beatty, the
Regional Director of Air Services phoned me to
say…”Multi-Engine Commercial so you can fly it…”
He had known all along what my plan was.
Brian B. McKay had helped
find the cash, so he said he would go along.
Ralph Langemann decided he would go, as did Joe
McGolrick. Jimmy Sutherland was proposed by Tony
McCarten, whose company had serviced the Lanc
for me, since Jimmy had been a Lancaster
Flight engineer during World War Two. People
thought I was crazy but the insanity must be
found in my crew, since they knew I had never
flown a Lancaster, and had to carry me out to
the aircraft, due to my broken ankle.
last minute, someone had given me a four page
Xeroxed Lancaster Check List so we buckled in
and followed the program, searching for, and
discovering, new things, as we went.
We were ready to fire up!
We started the starboard
outer, then the starboard inner, turning our
attention to the port side and the other two,
we lost the starboard outer, and had
this pointed out by Brian McKay. Got it
restarted and we were finally on the way with
McKay standing behind me, holding a ten
channel Skycrafters transceiver on his head,
its headset over my ears. We had assumed
that we could get the aircraft radio to
operate, but couldn’t.
Photograph courtesy of Ken
KB976 at start up.
Garrison is just visible in the cockpit
broken ankle , I was relieved to have a
hand-operated brake system.
Cleared to Runway 34, a
short distance from where we were parked, our
run-up was soon complete. I moved onto the
runway to receive both a green light and radio
call clearing us for take-off. The controllers
didn’t have much faith in the tiny Skycrafters
As part of my research, I
had talked with Ben Budgeon who flew North
Stars, with the same engines. He told me to
lead with the right throttles to overcome
torque, opposite to that of the Mustangs.
Shoving throttles forward,
four Merlins took over and launched us down
the runway, tail rising as our airspeed built
towards lift off. Ralph Langemann placed his
hand over mine, taking control of the quadrant
as we skipped into the air. With a nonchalant
nod to Jimmy Sutherland I shouted “Gear Up!”
and he reacted.
The take off, 4th July 1964
undercarriage started to cycle, there was a
gigantic, explosive bang. The cockpit filled
with dust and noise! We were slewing to one
side. I thought we had lost an engine!
I don’t know what the
Not a good first flight!
An explosion and engine
failure on lift of is not an optimistic start.
The Lanc straightened out.
The dust cleared.
The four Merlins were
What had happened?
hatch, that previously housed the radar
antenna had blown up into the nose
compartment, where Joe McGoldrick was perched.
The asymmetric reaction was caused by the main
gear coming up, one at a time.
We were on our way!
Ralph Langemann and I flew Lancaster KB-976
around and across McCall Field, at varying
heights and speeds, accompanied by my Mustang
and a P-40 owned by Bob Warden. During one
pass we ran directly over FM-136 on its
pedestal, creating a classic shot of KB-976
and the Lancaster Memorial.
Photo courtesy of Lynn
now a permanent display in Calgary’s museum,
without even a mention of my name or
involvement. That’s life. At least the
aircraft was saved for future generations.
We entered the downwind
leg, of our approach, and Jimmy Sutherland
dropped the undercarriage. I compensated with
a touch of throttle turning onto a 90 degree
base leg and then onto final, dropping flap as
we lined up on 34. “Gear Down” and Jimmy
Sutherland went into action again. Some trim
to overcome control pressures on the wheel.
Over the fence. Throttle
back. Hold off, waiting for the big bounce I
had been warned about.
Squeak…squeak… a greaser,
and we were rolling straight down the runway,
slowing at the first turn off for the short
taxi back to our parking place.
Braking to a stop, crewmen
placed metal chocks in front of the Lanc’s big
main wheels. Sutherland pulled four
mixtures into Idle Cut Off. Our historic
flight was over as silver props spun into
Photograph courtesy of Ken
Harvard demonstration team was sitting there
watching. A Wing Commander in charge,
who was once commander of the Lancaster
Operational Training Unit, murmured, on
seeing the landing…”Shows what good training
will do…” One of his pilots said.. ”Believe it
or not, that was their first flight.”
The Wing Commander wouldn’t accept the fact
until Art Smith commented that evening, as I
was carried to the head table and placed on a
A week later, when the
swelling had decreased, I had a DOT
medical, for renewal of my Commercial
License. Same day I got a cast on my broken
ankle and would fly Harvards on hail
suppression for the university holidays.
Trying to brake a Harvard, with a cast, was
exciting, but that’s another story.
In April, 1964 the museum
project took on an official foundation. The
Air Museum of Canada was incorporated as an
Alberta non-profit with 100 voting shares. I
held 98, my wife held one and my mother held
the other. I named a few friends to the
non-voting Board of Governors, a move I would
regret – in 1966 - when these friends staged a
palace coup after Milt Harradence attacked me.
Another year passed and we
were again focused on the air show. This time
it would be in support of The Air Museum of
Canada and would feature an RAF Vulcan from
617 Squadron, plus a lot of other aircraft.
KB-976 was a static display.
Photograph courtesy of Dick
KB976 in RCAF colours
just after retirement as an airshow exhibit.
past 12 months I had acquired a CF-100, T-33,
Sikorsky S-51 and now scrambled to come up with
cash required to purchase a pair of freshly
overhauled Canadair F-86 Sabres in Golden Hawk
I borrowed $1500.00 and gave
a Lien against the Lancaster’s Title.
Milt Harradence saw the
Sabers and had to have one. I explained that we
had acquired them under a ‘mutilation agreement’
requiring cut main spars, if we disposed of
them. He just couldn’t take this as an adequate
answer and continued to press. After all, we had
flown together, he was my best friend and had
stood as my Best Man when I was married.
Yet another year passed, and
the 1966 show was sure to be a winner. The
Americans had promised 10 different acts,
including the USAF Thunderbird aerobatic team.
Milt was still pressuring
and asked if he could have one, provided he got
government approval. I agreed and said this must
be in writing. Charlie Drury, the Minister of
Commerce soon called to say I could let Milt
have a Sabre. I asked for confirmation in
writing and – obviously – the minister
discovered what was involved, and never wrote
Milt insisted that I sign
the aircraft over to him, in trade for two
I refused, saying I had an
agreement with the government and had explained
this to him at the very start. He offered to
defend me in an action that might result. Now,
Milt was one of the top trial attorneys in
Canada, and had exceptional political
connections. I countered with a comment to the
effect that there would probably be no action,
but the government would never sell me another
The fat was in the fire!
Milt sued me! Calgary’s
leading attorney against a poor university
student, who happened, up to that point,
to be his best friend! Unfortunately, Milt was a
person who would not be thwarted, no matter
what, by friends, family – anyone!!
He also set out to derail my
application for the annual air show by forming
The Calgary City Police Flying Club with one
member, a tame sergeant. He tried to get
approval for his show, on our dates.
He went to the guy who had
the Lien on the Lancaster and bought the note.
He then demanded payment – immediately!! Ernie
Johnson stepped in and took over the Lien and
the war went on.
I can remember the last
appearance at the City of Calgary Aviation
Commission as Milt fought for control. It was a
frustrating situation that saw me finally react,
with the comment: “You must understand that the
displays are committed to the Air Museum of
Canada, and not the City of Calgary…” This
drew a raucous chorus of laughter, from the
committee members, and the meeting was adjourned
for another week.
I walked out of the City
Hall and stood on its steps as my supporters.
All wished me the best of luck, but they
couldn’t go forward to Red Deer. We shook hands
and I got in my car for the drive to RCAF
Station Namao, outside Edmonton, Alberta, for an
agreement to stage my American acts from their
facility. I then drove to Red Deer for final
talks with aviation enthusiasts there, having
started talks two weeks before. We agreed to
transfer the air show to Red Deer. Calgary never
had another air show.
I had something like 3 weeks
to build an organization to support the project.
Even as I was doing this, Milt Harradence flew
to Nellis Air Force Base in an attempt to have
the THUNDERBIRDs cancel their show. Team leader,
Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Maglione refused
and, when they flew over Calgary, on their way
to Edmonton, they circled the city with their
smoke on as a demonstration of support for me.
The 1966 team members have remained friends,
over the years, and Mag retired as a Major
The show was a success.
The Canadian government
finally agree to let Milt have the Sabre and
this was registered as CF-AMH
Photo credit Harradence
time I had some major offers from the film
business and travelled to California for
projects, hoping to generate funds for the
first Canadian flying museum.
I was soon immersed in the
Warbird community, which wasn’t too big in
1966. Milt and I had a relationship with
founders of the Confederate Air Force – Connie
Edwards, Lefty Gardiner, and Lloyd Nolan. Milt
was a Colonel but I never joined. However, at
my suggestion, they started to paint CAF in
wartime colors, replacing the overall white
scheme with red and blue trim.
I sponsored the 1966 Los
Angeles International Air Show, at Brackett
Field, adjacent to the LA County Fairgrounds
with over 50,000 attending the two day
production. Chuck Lyford did an F8F
Bearcat routine that started with short
take-off and climbing roll as wheels
Over the coming weeks, we
all flew at a number of shows, talking about
World War Two aircraft in our spare time. The
people from Seattle were fascinated by my
tales of stored aircraft and moved to obtain
funds to service and fly a few of my items as
first examples of a flying museum. Since the
Lancaster, Vampire and F-86 were already
nearly flyable it was decided to start with
these. Lyford and Clarke had exceptional
contacts in the upper levels of Seattle’s
aviation, and financial community. One of
Boeing’s hangars at Paine Field was offered.
The Lancaster could serve
as a cornerstone for what could come. We would
service it, paint it and do the air show
Chuck Lyford, (P-51), Gil
Macy, (P-40) John Church, (F8F) Joe Clarke,
Jim Larsen, (one of the great aviation
photographers, and aeronautical engineers),
and I flew off to Calgary to on a recce
mission, to look at KB-976 and see how many
weeks it would take to get the Lancaster into
shape. It had been sitting there since July,
1964. We would then take it to Paine Field, in
Washington State, where it would be painted
and readied for the air show circuit.
Picture by Jim Larsen.
May/June 1967 Calgary,
McCall Field. The aircraft had
been in this spot since 1964.
Chuck Lyford in the cockpit, John
Church standing under the nose,and Gil
Macy standing under the rear of the
I had tried to reach
Ernie Johnson by phone, prior to boarding
the flight, but he was unavailable. This was
a normal condition with Ernie. As one of
Canada’s top eye-ear-nose specialists, he
was always in great demand.
we arrived in Calgary. I left them at the
terminal building with instructions not to
go near Lancaster KB-976 until I made
contact with Ernie to give him his
$1500.00 and clear the Lien.
Since my wife and
family were still living in our home, I
caught a ride to the house to pick up my
car and call Ernie. He was still not
available. Nothing unusual. This was
before the time of cell phones, so I
headed back to the terminal at McCall
Field. When I arrived, some friends said
my team had gone across the field to look
at the Lancaster.
I discovered them
surrounded by police. Someone thought they
were trying to steal the Lancaster. When I
arrived, we were all taken to the police
headquarters, in downtown Calgary. Ernie
Johnson appeared and was embarrassed at
arrived at the station, I moved to make a
phone call to my wife, alerting her to the
situation, so she could make a few calls to
At this point, Detective
Sergeant Simmonds lunged across the room,
punching me in the face with three quick
blows, yelling…”When you’re under arrest you
don’t make calls!”
said…”He isn’t under arrest!”
Simmonds replied, “Well,
he is now!”
About this time, Milt
Harradence walked past the door and looked
it, spotting Clarke, Lyford, Church, and
Macy, instantly recognizing them. He grabbed
an Inspector and told him who they had and
they had better spring everyone or there
would be some serious repercussions. Joe
Clarke’s father was chairman of the American
Petroleum Association. Lyford was married to
Mary Reed of the Simpson-Reed Lumber group.
Church’s family headed a major pickle
corporation and Gil Macy’s partner was
Founder and Chairman of the Flying Tiger
else was released and, since I had been
arrested, I was tossed in a cell overnight,
to wait for a Magistrate. I can remember
lying there, passing in and out of
consciousness, not sure that I would see the
morning. No one would call a doctor.
At 9 A.M. a Magistrate
arrived and the charges were dismissed. My
wife picked me up and drove to the hospital
where I was admitted. Three weeks later I
was still in a condition that precluded
flying. I had suffered some broken bones and
During those days, I had
decided to leave Calgary for good. I visited
Eric Harvey, the founder of Calgary’s
Glenbow Foundation, one of the world’s
leading museum groups. Harvey was the
richest man in Canada and had been my
father’s friend since they served in World
War One. Harvey had been with the Royal
Flying Corps and had already stated his
interest in supporting my museum effort. He
had recently purchased the Sikorsky S-51
helicopter for me and was committed to
building a home for the collection.
I offered Harvey the
collection, free of charge. He
declined with the comment. “The aviation
museum is a personality based organization.
Without you, it will fail.” At the
time I did not appreciate the truth of this
but subsequent events proved him right.
And so, I left the
collection stored in Shell Oil’s pipe yard,
packed a U-Haul trailer with some
possessions, loaded my family and set out
for California, to play a part in the
aviation and film industry. I already owned
the collection of World War One replicas
accumulated, in Ireland, for 20th
Century Fox’s The Blue Max. I had my
personal F4U-7 Corsair – THE BLUE MAX for
air show work, in the States.
Lynn Garrison’s Vought
F4U-7 Corsair 133693 BLUE
Obtained from French
Navy, registered N693M
Garrison’s collection of film aircraft
Ireland, during filming 1969. Blue Max
associates found there was more to the project
than being members of a non-voting board of
governors. One by one they dropped away.
One remained. Peter D.
Norman took over without checking the
documentation. Although the Air Museum of
Canada had been incorporated in April, 1964,
none of the aircraft had been transferred into
the company name. This small problem did not
stop this guy as he disposed of my Supermarine
Spitfire AR-614, a Hawker Hurricane, that was
smuggled out of Canada, by Rem Walker, to
become G-HURI, and a lot of other items.
Even as they tried to get
KB-976 a Certificate of Airworthiness, under
registration CF-AMD, so it could be flown for
exhibition, (CF-AMC was on our 1909 Curtis
Flyer), Ernie Johnson’s interest in the
aviation museum faltered when someone offered
him $150,000 for Lancaster KB-976 and that was
really the final straw in breaking down any
possibility of Calgary having a meaningful
aviation display. Since he had a Lien for
$1500.00 against it he felt he also had the
right to sell the aircraft, and he did. So
much for team cohesion, and all that emotional
I never sold a single
item, although I did give pieces away, to help
others. One set of Hurricane wings made the
Hurricane project, by Neil Rose in Vancouver,
Washington, a success. And I donated my
Vought OS2U Kingfisher to the North Carolina
Battleship Commission. It now has a
place of honour on the USS North
nine of my original collection remain in
My Mosquito, and one of my
Hurricanes are now being rebuilt at the Bomber
Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta. The City of
Calgary had tried to sell them to someone in
the UK for several million, but were stopped
by a new generation of enthusiasts.
Supermarine Spitfire VB AR-614 is now a
beautiful display at Paul Allen’s
Seattle-based aviation museum. My Vought
Kingfisher is now displayed on the North
Carolina Battleship Commission, having been
rebuilt by friends at LTV Aerospace in Grand
My son Patrick and I still
have three aircraft from the film collection,
a Fokker Triplane and 2 SE5s. Well, actually,
the 2 SE5s are his alone.
return to Canada until the June 1986 death of
Rod, Milt Harradence’s son, in a plane crash.
I had baby-sat him as a young child and
returned after the funeral, with my sons Tony
and Patrick, to see Milt and his family. It
was sad that we had lost all of those years.
I moved on to other things
and presently head the Haitian Children’s
Fund, a team that has created the Satellite
School System. It has a studio and uplink
system that will bounce classes off an
Intelsat satellite to any point in the
country. The lessons will be collected with a
dish antenna, receiver and wide screen TV,
powered by solar panels, an inverter and
We might raise the
literacy rate by a few points in the first 12
Most of the others have
passed on, leaving Ralph Langemann and me as
the last men standing, after a wild and
lengthy barroom fight.
Perhaps they did me, and
the Haitian kids, a favor by destroying my
hopes of creating and heading a flying
course, Lancaster KB-976 flew across the
Atlantic to join the museum world there,
finally bouncing back to Kermit Weeks’
museum in Orlando, Florida, but those are
other elements of KB-976’s ongoing saga.
Lynn Garrison, July 2013