Montreal·Video

Bringing a piece of World War II aviation history back to life

A team from Buffalo Airways, in the Northwest Territories, is restoring a neglected DC-3 plane in Longueuil, on Montreal’s South Shore.

Team from Northwest Territories' Buffalo Airways restores neglected DC-3 plane on Montreal's South Shore

Mikey McBryan says the team has been working up to 12 hours a day to get the plane flight-ready. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

After being forgotten for nearly 25 years, a WW II-era plane in Longueuil has come back to life.

At the helm of the project to restore the DC-3 aircraft is Buffalo Airways general manager, Mikey McBryan.

He and his team have been hard at work since March, trying to get the aircraft ready to get off the ground in time for June 6 — the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The Yellowknife-based airline flies Second World War-era DC-3 planes for cargo and passenger flights.

"This aircraft is bigger than I could have ever imagined ... it means a lot to a lot of people. People who've flown this airplane, who are now in their 90s, can look back. This airplane would have been forgotten and now we're bringing it to the front stage," says McBryan.

A history linked to Montreal

The plane has quite the story.

It was built in Oklahoma City in 1944, then transported to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Montreal later that year, before heading overseas.

The RAF referred to the military version of the DC-3 as a Dakota.

Squadron 271 flew the plane during the Second World War.

A photocopy of a page from the aircraft’s record book. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Seventeen paratroopers and four crew members were on board during D-Day operations.

"Half of those people were missing or killed within 48 hours after the operation," says Benoit de Mulder, head of the non-profit aviation group, Avialogs.

De Mulder, an aviation enthusiast, was also surprised to learn from the squadron log that the aircraft dropped a dozen bombs that weighed nine kilograms each.

After the war, the military aircraft returned to Montreal and was remodelled as a civilian plane by Canadair.

It later went on to fly with Trans Canada Airlines and Transport Canada, says de Mulder.

The plane flew until the late 1980s.

Plans to restore the plane date back to 2017

Benoit de Mulder is helping McBryan and his team restore the DC-3 plane. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)
De Mulder bought the plane back in 2017 with plans to restore it within five to six years.

When financial backing fell through, he set out to find the right buyer who would restore the DC-3 and keep it in Canada.

"It was no question for us to save the plane," de Mulder says.

McBryan was the perfect fit and he wasted no time getting to work.

De Mulder sold the plane in December 2018. By January, McBryan was in Montreal to inspect the aircraft and figure out what parts he needed.

The plane has been neglected, looted and vandalized over the years.

"There were birds' nests and everything throughout the aircraft.… Everything was missing, everything was broken and we basically just had the core," McBryan says.

But that was enough to go forward.

McBryan got a lot the parts he needed from his father, Joe McBryan, who collects DC-3 parts and has been flying this type of aircraft since 1968.

"He's got basically a Walmart of DC-3 parts."

McBryan and his team began to work on the plane in March.

Members of McBryan’s team working on the aircraft in the ENA hangar. (Simon Martel/CBC)

He's also been video blogging the progress everyday on his YouTube show, Plane Savers.

Help from the École Nationale Aérotechnique

The more McBryan worked on the aircraft, the more he felt a connection to Montreal and Quebec.

"The plane needed to be saved, there's no question," he says.

With that in mind, McBryan reached out to the École nationale d'aérotechnique (ENA) in Longueuil.

Eager to get involved, the school set him up with a hangar space on campus — that way McBryan and his team didn't have to work in the cold and rain.

Professors and students can stop by and help out when their schedule allows.

Frédéric Morin, an avianotics professor at the ENA, tries to drop by when he has a break between classes.

Frédéric Morin teaches avianotics at the l'École nationale d'aérotechnique in Longueuil (Simon Martel/CBC)

"We tend to forget about what happened in the past and with this aircraft, we realize this aircraft is not an object — it's something alive," Morin says with a smile.

It's Morin's first time restoring an aircraft that dates back to the 1940s, but he says working on the DC-3 is a great opportunity for students.

"They've been working, most of the time on prototypes or on not real situations, and for the first time some of them are working on a real aircraft that's going to really fly."

McBryan says if it weren't for the help of students and professors, he's not sure if his team would be able to meet its deadline.

Flying on the 75th anniversary of D-Day

The DC-3 was on display at the ENA's air show in early June, and soon after got off the ground and into the skies.

McBryan's father and the founder of Buffalo Airways, Joe, flew the plane to honour its tremendous history.

McBryan says the plane will now be featured in air shows and museums.

Watch the video to see how the project came together:

A DC-3 that flew over Normandy on D-Day was an abandoned shell until a group of aviation enthusiasts brought it back to its former glory. 3:36

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