Montreal Aviation Museum volunteers build 1930s Curtiss-Reid Rambler biplane

Volunteers at the Montreal Aviation Museum are building a replica of the Curtiss-Reid Rambler - a biplane designed in Montreal, used to train pilot in the 1930s.

Volunteers hope to complete full-size replica in time for Montreal's 375th anniversary celebrations

Patrick Campbell, 92, is holding a small model of the Curtiss-Reid Rambler plane. The retired engineer was a passenger in a Rambler in 1938, and he's helping fellow volunteers at the Montreal Aviation Museum build a full-size replica. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Patrick Campbell clearly remembers the day more than 75 years ago when he climbed into the open cockpit of a two-seater Curtiss-Reid Rambler and took off from Cartierville airport. 

"It was a tremendous thrill," Campbell said, recounting the flight over the Bois-Franc neighbourhood in the Saint-Laurent borough.

The Curtiss-Reid Rambler plane was designed and built in Montreal and was used to train pilots in the 1930s. (Submitted by the Montreal Aviation Museum)

He was 15 years old at the time and had no idea he'd later spend three decades working as an engineer for Canadair at that very location.

Nor did he imagine that now, at 92, he'd be helping to build a replica of that Rambler with other airplane enthusiasts. 

Campbell is one of some 40 volunteers at the Montreal Aviation Museum, located on the Macdonald campus of McGill University in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.

Campbell's idea takes off

Inside a historic stone barn where cows used to feed, you'll find an aviation art gallery, handcrafted model airplanes, a functioning flight simulator, airplane engines, several full-size aircraft models and a workshop, where volunteers are putting together the full-sized Rambler replica.

Retired Air Canada pilot John Duckmanton is a volunteer working on the fuselage of the Curtiss-Reid Rambler project. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

The museum launched the project – Campbell's idea – about a year and a half ago, with the goal of completing the plane in time for Montreal's 375th anniversary celebrations next year.

"Right now our volunteers are working on the fuselage, so they can cover all the airplane itself in metal," said Robert St. Pierre, a volunteer in the artifact department who is also a retired air traffic controller.

Featured VideoShari Okeke spoke with a dedicated group of volunteers at the Montreal Aviation Museum. They are working hard to build a replica of a two-seater airplane designed and built in Montreal more than 80 years ago.

Retired Air Canada pilot John Duckmanton is building the luggage compartment behind the second seat in the fuselage.

"You can imagine yourself sitting in the cockpit and out on an open field... It would be interesting to fly, that's for sure," Duckmanton said.

Search on for parts

This Rambler won't fly: It's a static model that will look real but will not be functional. 

Volunteers have collected some original Rambler parts, including an engine damaged in a crash, which they're repairing and will install in the replica.

A Montreal Aviation Museum volunteer found this upper wing of an original Curtiss-Reid Rambler plane in a garage in Ontario. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

"One of our volunteers discovered in a garage in Ontario a set of [upper] wings which were Rambler original wings... which you don't see anymore today," St Pierre said. 
The Montreal Aviation Museum is building the lower wings based on drawings prepared by Campbell.

The museum also has about 45 original design drawings of Rambler parts, dated 1930.

"They're drawn on linen by women. It's nearly all women who [did] this kind of work," Campbell said.

On display for Montreal's birthday

The replica is expected to be completed later this year, and the hope is that it will be displayed during Montreal's 375th anniversary celebrations next year.

In the meantime, anyone who visits the museum can see the progress volunteers have made on their Rambler model.

"You get the older [visitors] who were in the war and experienced airplanes, but we also get great numbers of children, which is one of the best things of all," Campbell said.