Edmundston Lancaster KB882 transferred to National Air Force Museum of Canada

An RCAF technician from ATESS tightens straps on one of KB882’s engines in preparation for its removal. Photo: Warrant Officer Fran Gaudet

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By Joanna Calder

An Edmundston, New Brunswick, landmark is being readied for its journey to a new home at the National Air Force Museum of Canada (NAFMC) in Trenton, Ontario.

Avro Lancaster KB882 has stood at the entrance of the Edmundston airport since 1964, when the city purchased the aircraft for $1,500 as a memorial to local veterans. Over the years, volunteers from the Lancaster Preservation Society raised funds for preserving KB882, but the City of Edmundston realized that the cost of undertaking full restoration work and building a protective hangar was beyond its capacity. City council therefore made the difficult decision to transfer ownership to a suitable museum.

The NAFMC was selected after an agreement with the Alberta Aviation Museum fell through due to the initial costs of dismantling and shipping the aircraft.

The formal transfer of ownership took place beside KB882 at the Edmundston airport on September 20, 2017. The Mayor of Edmundston, Cyrille Simard, reflected on the bittersweet nature of the transfer.

“It’s mixed feelings for us today. This old friend of ours is part of our community. The volunteers . . . put so much effort into the preservation of this jewel. But the lack of resources – not the lack of dedication, not the lack of willpower – is the reason why we are here today.

“All the goodwill in the world is sometimes not enough. KB882 was at risk, and our first and foremost responsibility as proud Canadians [and] proud Edmundstonians has always been to make sure it is preserved for generations ahead. We can be proud of what we have done over the past 50 years for KB882, proud of what KB882 gave back to our community, and proud and satisfied that we could find a safe haven for KB882 with this new agreement with the National Air Force Museum.

“This is where what could have been a sad ending can become a new beginning.”

To mark the occasion, the curator of the NAFMC, Kevin Windsor, presented Mayor Simard with a drawing of KB882 in the area reconnaissance configuration and paint scheme in which it will be displayed at the museum. “I hope you will hang this in your council chambers so that the city of Edmundston will never forget Lancaster KB882,” said Mr. Windsor.

In return, Mayor Simard presented Mr. Windsor with a historical plaque, which has been mounted on a plinth in front of KB882 since 1985, on behalf of the citizens of Edmundston and the city council.

Mayor Simard thanked all who had worked tirelessly over the years to preserve KB882, including the city council of the day who purchased the aircraft, members of the Lancaster Preservation Society “for the incredible work that they carried out over the years to preserve it and find the best way to keep it with us”, the many volunteers who cared for it over the years and the current city council “who had to make difficult but necessary decisions” regarding its future, as well as the National Air Force Museum of Canada and RCAF authorities who responded positively to “our request to take over the restoration and see it through to completion”.

Mayor Simard and the RCAF’s Brigadier-General Scott Howden both thanked the Alberta Aviation Museum for the work they carried out on KB882. “I’d like to add a great vote of thanks to the personnel from the Alberta Aviation Museum [who] were going full throttle to bring it back to a state of its former glory,” said Brigadier-General Howden. “We welcome the opportunity to step in behind the Alberta Aviation Museum and the City of Edmundston . . . and I promise that we will take good care of this aircraft.”

Dismantling KB882

A combined team from the RCAF’s Aerospace and Telecommunications Engineering Support Squadron (ATESS) and the National Air Force Museum of Canada began dismantling KB882 the day before the transfer of ownership, with work continuing by day and by night. Work is progressing rapidly, and the wings and wing tips arrived by truck in Trenton on September 29 with the fuselage expected to arrive in early October.

This is the third time that ATESS (or its predecessor, No. 6 Repair Depot at Mountain View, near Trenton) has worked on KB882 as the aircraft passed through their capable hands in 1954 and 1964. “It is fitting that the same unit that helped prepare KB882 for its journey to Edmundston in May 1964 is involved now in its move to the museum in Trenton,” noted Brigadier-General Howden.

The first challenge was simply moving the aircraft forward from the grassy area where it had rested for years onto the airport tarmac, only a few feet away. First, the bomb bay doors had to be removed so slings could be placed around it. A local 60-tonne crane was engaged to move the aircraft, which has a dry weight of 36,900 pounds (16,738 kilograms). The move was accomplished in six or eight “hops” of 10 feet (three metres) each, with the aircraft being lifted only a foot (30 centimetres) off the ground with each hop forward. The move, which took a full day, was managed by the recovery and salvage support (RASS) team from ATESS.

Enthusiasm is running high among members of the ATESS team. “It’s an amazing aircraft,” said Master Warrant Officer Dean Thompson of ATESS. “The guys are keen to get the job done.

“It wasn’t built to dismantle,” he added, saying that the team is preserving whatever they can, and aiming to dismantle as little as possible to make the restorers’ work easier. He also noted that the aircraft was simply landed and put in place; there was even still oil in the engines. “It was just like tar!” he said.

Public display in 2024

KB882 will go directly into the restoration shop at the NAFMC upon its arrival in Trenton. Restoration work is expected to take five to seven years, and KB882 will then be permanently displayed inside a new wing of the museum that will be constructed to house it and other museum aircraft. When it goes on display, the NAFMC will be the only museum in the world to have in its collection both a fully restored Handley Page Halifax and a fully restored Avro Lancaster.

The grand opening and unveiling of KB882 is planned for April 1, 2024, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force. “KB882 will be a valuable anchor for commemorative activities, a beacon for the preservation of Canada’s history and heritage, and a shining example of Edmundston’s community spirit,” said Brigadier-General Howden.

“So, let us gather all together in 2024 in Trenton . . . to visit our old friend KB882 during the celebration of the RCAF’s 100th anniversary,” suggested Mayor Simard to the audience at the transfer of ownership ceremony.

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