Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum


by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

History Overview

The following is an excerpt from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum website.

Over 30 Years of Heritage Flying
“A collection of over forty aircraft has grown through the friendship of Dennis J. Bradley and Alan Ness. Their love of aviation and their desire to maintain and preserve Canada’s aviation history saw restoration projects that were not only great pieces of workmanship but airworthy examples.
Bradley and Ness approached friends Peter Matthews and John Weir to become partners with them to acquire the first aircraft, a Fairey Firefly.

This aircraft was to become the masthead of the museum’s advertising and stationery and continues to this day to be incorporated into logos, crests and memorabilia. A tribute to the four flying founders is located in the museum’s main entrance.

In 1972, the group moved into part of a hangar at Hamilton Airport and started to seriously seek out other restoration projects or flying aircraft. A Harvard Mark IV was to be the next acquisition, followed over the years by Supermarine Spitfire, Corsair, Chipmunk and Tiger Moth.
Hangar 4, followed years later by Hangar #3 for restoration, was purchased and the aircraft collection and the volunteers finally had a home. The group applied for foundation status, to be governed by its own volunteers, operating as the Canadian Warplane Heritage. Meanwhile, sufficient interest was being shown by those watching the aircraft being restored. More enthusiasts wanted to become part of the growing activities and the membership program began.

1975 saw the collection move into another area in Hangar 4 and the acquisition and restoration began on the B-25 Mitchell. The story of the arrival of this aircraft suggests a strafing of the airfield and the bombing of the runway with watermelons. In the same year, the Westland Lysander and Cessna Crane joined the collection.”

“The following is a description of our tour of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum”

The Start of a Great Idea…
Years ago my brother Chuck mentioned that his friend Dennis Bradley and a few of his friends were setting up a Warplane Museum in Hamilton. Dennis and Chuck were partners in a Cessna 185 airplane, Both Chuck and Dennis were airplane “nuts”, so the announcement of this museum didn’t come as too much of a surprise. At first Chuck didn’t talk much about the museum, but his friend Dennis went full steam ahead and set up the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. They purchased and worked on a number of antique warplanes.

Chuck was one of the first aviators to join the Museum, he told me that he was either member #5 or #6. He was involved in their activities in a “fun” way, but not officially. He purchased a “Harvard” and joined forces with two other pilots. To quote from the all-volunteer Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, an organization born in 1985 at a small grass airstrip in Woodstock, Ontario, from the dreams of a handful of Harvard lovers who were determined to keep the legend of the Harvard alive) …”The HARVARD or AT-6, Yale, Texan, SNJ, Wirraway etc….these are all variants of the same airframe, is probably the best known training aircraft of all time. Several generations have thrilled to it’s unforgettable roar. (Caused by the tips of its 9 foot propeller going supersonic.) It was used as an advanced trainer by 137,000 aircrew who came from all over the world to learn to fly in Canada as part of THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH AIR TRAINING PLAN. It bridged the gap between the elementary trainers of the day like the D.H. TIGER MOTH, and the thoroughbred fighters such as the Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs. It was, of course fully aerobatic and pleasant to fly, but it had enough vices to ensure that students learned to do things properly if they wished to survive. The real lineage of the Harvard began in 1937 with a USAAF competition to develop a basic trainer. The requirements were for a type capable of basic instruction as well as simulating the controls and feel of an actual combat aircraft. It also had to be able to carry guns and bombs as necessary. With hostilities on the horizon, France went to North American for a version of the BT-9 called the NA-57. these proved very popular, so just before the war, they ordered a further 230 updated machines. This incarnation was called the NA-64, later to be called the YALE I. It was a hodgepodge machine, featuring the Harvard canopy, the fixed landing gear and the Wright Whirlwind engine. It did, however, have the semi-monocoque rear fuselage rather than the earlier fabric structure. It retained an early wing type, which gave it certain vicious stall characteristics. Later modifications to correct this were never really successful so the aircraft kept its reputation of biting the unwary.” The three formed a squadron team and went to air shows to fly in formation. Many of the shows they participated were also attended by Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum warplanes and pilots. I’m not sure how many air shows they few together, but quite a few.

The Fairey Firefly…
I think that the one story that stands out in my memory was when the Museum found and purchased an old Fairy Firefly. The Fairey Firefly (as quoted from the internet) was “a British Second World War-era carrier-borne fighter aircraft and anti-submarine aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA).It was superior in performance and firepower to its predecessor, the Fulmar, but only entered operational service towards the end of the war. Designed around the contemporary FAA concept of a two-seat fleet reconnaissance/fighter, the pilot and navigator/weapons officer were housed in separate stations. The design proved to be sturdy, long-ranging and docile in carrier operations, although the limitations of a single engine in a heavy airframe reduced overall performance. The Fairey Firefly served in the Second World War as a fleet fighter but in postwar service, although it was superseded by more modern jet aircraft, the Firefly was adapted to other roles, including strike operations and anti-submarine warfare, remaining a mainstay of the FAA until the mid-1950s. Both the UK and Australia Fireflies flew ground attack operations off various aircraft carriers in the Korean War. In foreign service, the type was in operation with the naval air arms of Australia, Canada, India, and the Netherlands whose Fireflies carried out a few attack sorties as late as 1962 in Dutch New Guinea.” Dennis asked Chuck if he would help him get the airplane back to Toronto. The idea was that one pilot would fly the Firefly and then other pilots would fly separate planes. You see, the problem was that the Firefly had no communications equipment. The three separate planes were going to “triangulate” the Firefly and led it back to Toronto. One problem! The Firefly was much faster than any of the other planes! It took off like a shot and wasn’t seen or heard of until everyone had reached Toronto (Could you imagine this happening in today’s strict security!) The Firefly flew into Toronto air space, but, of course, the “tower” couldn’t contact the Firefly. They had to put commercial planes in a holding pattern while they got this “idiot” down! Finally, the other planes caught up and they were eventually all able to land safely! You might think that everyone, tower and commercial pilots, would all be very angry! The truth was that they were all “warplane enthusiasts” and the Firefly was a special airplane. They all wanted to see this plane in person! The Firefly was eventually restored, but years later came to a disastrous end! The pilot of the airplane, Alan Ness, one of the founders of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and also a good friend of Chucks, was flying the plane at the Canadian National Exhibition Air Show. While he was maneuvering the warplane, it went into a steep dive. The plane crashed into Lake Ontario and killed Alan.

The Rest of the Story…
The foresight and enthusiasm of all the 4 founders Dennis J. Bradley, Alan Ness, Peter Matthews & John Weir paved the way for one of Canada’s premier Museums and attraction, The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. So, when my friend, Kevin Andrade, told me that his father was a guide at the Museum, I suggested that he and I ask his Dad to give us a personal tour.

I’ll let Kevin and his Dad, Malcolm, finish the story.

Kevin StuartMalcolm Andrade

by Kevin Stuart and Malcolm Andrade

Right From The Start…
From the time I was a child, I always remembered my dad’s passion and enthusiasm for war time aircraft. He had built models of several of them, in addition to many historical books complete with actual photos from the time of World War II. I will admit that I did not possess quite as keen an interest, although my brother did, and was even in the air cadets at one time. However, one of our traditions for many years was the annual air show that Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum arranged each year at the Hamilton Airport.

In those early years the shows were somewhat more austere in presentation than they would eventually become, but there was something about that grassroots appearance that really connected with the public. Some of the best pilots of the day would display their abilities to cheers and applause from a crowd that had at least some understanding as to the degree of skill required to execute many of those maneuvers.

Fast forward several years, to November 2006, when I, now a dad myself, attended a Remembrance Day service at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum along with my dad, Malcolm . To say the ceremony was moving would be an understatement. As they asked those who saw action to stand, I swelled with a renewed sense of pride in realizing just what my dad and so many others had been a part of. To bring the message even further into a modern focus, there were several vets present who had just returned from tours of duty in Afghanistan. It was an honour to be able to shake the hand of one such soldier although the only words I could muster were simply “thank you”.

That had been my first opportunity to see just how far the museum had developed over the years from the original dream of Messrs. Bradley and Ness.

A Date Was Set…

Fast forward just a few more years to when I developed a closer personal, as well as working relationship with Gary McWilliams, and learned about our common connection with Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. He had expressed an interest in meeting with my dad to gain another personal insight into the museum. We both knew that the only way it would come to pass is if we set a firm date which turned out to be July 26, 2011. Although I always knew my dad was knowledgeable I still was impressed with the detailed explanations he was able to provide with almost every display area. This is likely due to the weekly tours he leads for the many groups that come to learn firsthand about Canadian and other wartime aircraft.

What the Museum Offers…
If nothing else, the value this museum offers is what seems to be lacking in our nation’s general knowledge…just how much this country contributed to the allied efforts in numerous conflicts. A good place to view that is the Heroes of Canadian Aviation memorial wall. Of course, other aircraft are also displayed which can be seen in the photos below. A notable contribution this country made was the BCAPT (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan), a benefit that aided the Allied war effort significantly. We trained 131,553aircrew with men from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, some USA as well as Canada.

There are other ways to get a small taste of the experience as some of the aircraft also offer the general public the chance to sit inside, such as the DH Buffalo and even a modern FedEx jet. I find the amount of technology a pilot must simultaneously be aware of to be incredible! Is it any wonder countless hours of flight experience are required to execute not only normal flying but how to react when the abnormal occurs.

Canadian Warplane Heritage Museumis also home to one of only two flying Lancaster bombers. The other is housed and maintained by the British RAF. The great thing about the one at CWH is the public can actually reach out and touch an incredible piece of wartime history. This airplane carried the heaviest bomb load in WW II which includes all of the combatants. It should be noted that during each year’s Remembrance Day ceremony the “Lanc” flies over the CWH hangar at exactly 11am during the moment of silence – truly a moving event and on occasion leaves some of the “bomber boys” eyes moist.

Naturally, during flight communication with the base is vital and that aspect is covered in the special wartime radio room. At certain times there are people in there to demonstrate the equipment which helps bring it a little more to life.

Up Close and Personal…
Whether you lived in the time or are interested in it, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum provides an up close and personal view of Canada’s part in the war effort provided by some those who are most dedicated to preserving this precious piece of our history.

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum has a number of special events that are held throughout the year.

You can visit the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum website for current event information. (Link:

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