Standing nose to nose with a Sopwith Triplane at the Aero Space Museum of Calgary I couldn’t help but be amazed by how far air transportation has come. One propeller, three stacked wings and no inflight magazine. Things have certainly changed! Spending an afternoon at any of the aviation museums in Alberta always turns out to be a fun learning experience.
Winged History in Calgary and Edmonton
Collectively, the Aero Space Museum of Calgary and the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton are home to over 100 aircraft, from the light weight AEA Silver Dart to the hardy workhorse for the northern communities, the Douglas DC-3. With planes and helicopters dangling from the ceilings, nose to wing and tucked under tents outdoors, they all look like they’re ready for action.
The Calgary museum is lofty and bright. A second floor balcony lets you look straight into the hanging planes. Art and interactive displays will keep your airplane buffs entertained for hours. The Edmonton museum houses many planes and thousands of artifacts as well. There’s even a chance to watch the latest restoration efforts or to see how it feels to sit in an ejector seat – unplugged, of course. Many of the planes mounted outside are tipped towards the sky as if just lifting off.
I like to pop into these museums during the week. Sometimes there are school kids learning about the aircraft and I listen along. Or if it’s quiet, it’s a good time to talk to the volunteers. They are keen to share their knowledge and explain just one more time what Bernoulli’s Principle is. Maybe next time I’ll get it.
The Pride of a Nation
Less than an hour south of Calgary is the town of Nanton, home to the Bomber Command Museum of Canada. Two jet aircraft are perched on stilts out front. The fake pilots in the cockpits fool almost everyone passing through town. But inside the hangar is the pride of the town and Canada.
A giant World War Two era Lancaster bomber is being restored by local volunteers to its former flying glory. It’s not an easy task when most of the airplanes were stripped down after the war and melted for the metal. Of the 7,377 Lancaster’s built worldwide, less than 20 are left on display. Nanton can proudly say that this bomber’s engines rumble and roar just like they did so long ago.
What is surprising to most guests is that you are invited to crawl into the plane and see exactly what the pilots and gunners endured. It is a chilling experience – not to mention almost impossible to imagine how they fit a crew of five into what feels like a cigar tube. I sat in humble silence next to the rear gunner’s turret thinking of the bravery of all these men.
The museum houses 13 aircraft and associated military vehicles, a library and thousands of artifacts related to the planes and personnel of the Second World War. For a WWII buff the bookstore, the displays and the aircraft are worthy of a long afternoon of discovery – and for many, at least one return trip.