A historic aircraft with fascinating local relevance is flying to the West Coast this weekend.
Locals should start looking up around 2:30 p.m. Friday as a World War II era Catalina aircraft will be circling above Ucluelet and Tofino before landing at Long Beach Airport where a booth will be set up on Friday and Saturday for locals to learn about the aircraft’s storied past.
“This old girl actually flew out of there in ‘44 and ‘45,” said Robert Dyck of the Catalina Preservation Society. “It was a long range patrol bomber and they flew out of Ucluelet, Tofino, up and down the Coast looking for submarines and enemy ships.”
The Catalina replaced the famed Royal Canadian Air Force Canso 11007 that remains where it crashed near Radar Hill around 1945 and has become a popular feature for hikers near Tofino to visit.
“A lot of people know the story about the one that crashed. The aircraft that we have here actually took over its place up in Coal Harbour. So, actually, a lot of the crew that were in the crash went on as crew in this aircraft,” Dyck said.
He said the Catalina was converted into a search and rescue plane immediately after the war and became a water bomber in 1961. It performed various duties across the country until being stored and was flightless when he purchased it in 2010 and got to work on restoring it and getting it back in the air.
“I’ve been working on it ever since; returning it to it’s old looks and trying to educate people on what these old girls did back in those days,” he said. “If you can imagine, if you had a 75 year old car or 75 year old boat, it takes a lot of fiddling. But, like everything else, if you keep it in good shape, it’s quite happy to go flying. The old girl is just beautiful in the air. Once you see this thing with it’s wheels tucked up it goes from an ugly duckling to a swan. It’s an amazing transformation.”
He added the plane elicits surprising connections at the various places he displays it.
“It’s amazing the feedback we’ve got from people about the aircraft and the number of people that have come forward that have some connection to the aircraft,” he said. “There was a lot of them built. It was the most prolifically built flying boat ever. There was about 3,450 of them built and there’s probably about a dozen or so that are flyable left in the world.”
Dyck added that he’s excited to see the Catalina finally making it’s way back to the West Coast.
“This is our first trip to Tofino,” he said. “We’ve been going through a few shows over the last couple of years since we’ve been airworthy and it’s been on the back of our mind to get a trip to Tofino because of the significance of that aircraft to that airport.”