Status: In restoration
Restoration of CF-AWR is a Labour of Love
Like most of the aircraft in our collection, CF-AWR – a rare Bellanca Aircruiser – played its part in Canada’s aviation history and played it hard. After 12 years in the service of Eldorado Gold Mines Limited, the Eldorado Radium Silver Express crashed in January 1947 while carrying a shipment of uranium concentrate. It was so badly damaged that the company abandoned it.
CF-AWR’s cargo, engine, instrument panel and other easily removable bits and pieces were salvaged for use as spares for surviving Aircruisers. In subsequent years, other parts such as doors, windows and fairings became furnishings in local trappers’ cabins.
By the time it arrived at our museum in 1973, most of the woodwork had rotted away, steel parts were badly rusted and trees had grown up through the skeletal remains.
Ron Morrison, in the image above, has spent many hours restoring CF-AWR.
This meant that when it came time to restore AWR to its original glory, many parts had to be made completely from scratch. Al Nelson, Co-Chief of the museum’s restoration crew located original Bellanca drawings at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C. With these drawings, the crew was able to replicate the missing cabin doors.
It was not quite as easy with parts such as the instrument panel. The crew – which is famous for its saying “We’ve done so much with so little for so long that we can do anything with nothing” – built an instrument panel using an old photo of the panel on another Aircruiser, CF-BTW, along with a lot of imagination.
This left two major projects: the cockpit doors and the trim system. The NASM had a drawing of the cockpit doors, but it was in such bad condition, unrolling it to make copies would have destroyed it. Without drawings or original parts, authentic reproductions of the doors and trim would be impossible. Fortunately, a sister to CF-AWR still exists, CF-BTW, in the Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon, where it is still flown occasionally.
Reunited With an Old Friend
In July 2007, Al Nelson and life-long friend Gerry Norberg made the journey to Tillamook. In their early careers, both Gerry and Al had worked as crew on BTW, so the journey was like a reunion with an old friend. The duo had complete access to Tillamook’s Bellanca and spent a whole day measuring and photographing every part of the airplane that, years ago, they had loaded and unloaded with tons of freight – everything from fish to dynamite. As a bonus, the Tillamook Museum donated a complete set of wheels and tires that were surplus to them. Our Museum already had tires but not wheels, so this was truly appreciated.
After returning to Winnipeg, the photographs and measurements were converted into drawings and models that were turned over to master machinists: Dick Thornhill and Gordon Windat. One gearbox was cast of aluminum while the other was made of welded aluminum plates, both machined to the required size and shape. Gears, shafts and universal joints had to be found and fit to the gearboxes. The parts, produced by Dick and Gord, are virtual clones of the original Bellanca ones and are now installed on CF-AWR.
Dick and Gord are two of a dedicated team of restoration volunteers with many exceptional skills that include machining, welding, woodwork, sheet metal, engine repair and fabric work. Without these skilled volunteers, most of the aircraft in the museum would probably still be rotting away in the bush or at the bottom of a lake, resulting in a part of our heritage being lost forever.
We plan on having our machinists and sheet metal volunteers start working on the landing gear and fairings. We plan to install the inner, upper and lower wing sections.
All fabric work has been completed. Forward fuselage fairings have been made and installed. The instrument panel is being installed. Cockpit doors were built. The cabin headliner is being installed. The engine is ready for installation and a propeller has been located. The fuselage has received a fresh coat of paint, duplicating CF-AWR’s original green and gold colours and markings. The registration and other lettering have been hand-painted to match the original aircraft.
Still to be completed is:
- Completion of the cockpit, including electrical panel, side walls and seat installation
- Install cabin windows
- Install the engine
- Fabricate and install the engine exhaust system
- Fabricate and install the engine cowling
- Install the landing gear and wheels
- Fabricate and install the sheet metal landing gear fairings
- Install inner, upper and lower wing sections
- Fabricate and install wing fairings
- Fabricate and install landing lights and housing