Once upon a B.C. museum


Long, long ago, in 1978, Ed Zeleski, his family and friends, established an old airplane museum at his riverside farm by Crescent Beach.

Many know-it-alls laughed, citing Ed’s well known reputation as a used aircraft bits salesman. You could get any aviation thingy at Zeke’s place! They figured it just an excuse to have his pals store his stuff. Well ‘Ka - zoom!’ Were they ever wrong! This was the birth of the eclectic Canadian Museum of Flight.

Those flying folk adventurous enough to fly cross ‘The Rocks’ to Langley B.C.’s COPA Fly-in AGM are in for a real treat. Sometime during your busy schedule of cruising the seminars, displays, meetings, local tours, COPA Banquet, and all, be sure you cross the field to explore Langley Airport’s excellent Museum of Flight. The last 33 years saw lots of labour under the wings to assemble this aviation Aladdin’s Cave.

In the old days by the river, most of the stuff was stored out in the open, or in drafty old open barns. The annual Wings and Wheels was a gala event, with scrumptious hamburgers, entertainment, and flybys.

The local Western Warbirds would fly around, engaging the crowd in the noise and spectacle of WWII-type airplanes in action. Even Bamboo Bombers and Twin Beech Expeditors. Bessy and I would then demonstrate the loops and rolls as practiced by the thousands of Commonwealth 1940’s Flight Cadets and 1950’s NATO students during their flight training.

After my flight demo, I sat by the Museum’s Harvard display and talked to the people. It was a satisfying experience. Herewith are pics from such a day in 1987, when many of the aircraft displayed looked forward to some tender loving care. When you see them today, they sparkle with all the subsequent TLC! Enjoy!


Back in 1985, The Mary and I visited the UK to see folks and friends scattered randomly across the countryside, Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales, Lunnon, and about. It was a hectic schedule, and we circumnavigated Britain in a peppy little Fiat with squeaky brakes.

Our Canadian Western Warbird News thirderly went to every flying museum type group in the world, and Tony Hutton of ‘The Squadron’, and the UK Harvard Formation Team, had invited us to visit them during the Fighter Meet, at their home base of North Weald, just north-east of London.

My old NATO Trainee friends, Fred Grisley and William Woollard joined us for the show, causing some excitement, be - cause William turned out to be a BBC TV personality, and Fred an occasional writer for Aeroplane Magazine. However, we  were all upstaged by Harvard pilot Gary Numan, who happened to be a Brit Rock Star! The mind boggles!

Invited to watch the show from the ‘Pilot’s Enclosure’, we had a grand-stand view of Spitfires cracking about, chasing pseudo ME 109’s. A Junkers 52 tri motor was a pretend Heinkel 111, and our friend from past Abbotsford days, Sqn Ldr Scott Anderson, presented the grand finale with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s humungous Lancaster bomber.

Scott flew an Argus at Abbotsford in 1972 as an RAF/RCAF exchange officer. He told us how grateful the RAF BofBMF was to the Canadian Warplane Heritage for the gift of a Lancaster prop, without which they would have been grounded.

It bothered him how little people understood how generous this gift was. So thank you again to CWH folks! Just think, without that prop, they maybe couldn’t have flown-over the recent Royal Wedding!

Later, at RAF Conningsby itself, The Mary and I got the grand tour, and got checked out in the Lanc left seat. Awesome. We also sat in the Spitfire that took the WAAF ground-crew girl for a circuit astride the rear fuselage. She was holding the tail down, and the pilot took off! And whilst we were there, they met again after all those years! It was quite emotional!


The PFA was the Brit equivalent of then EAA Canada. Held at the Cranfield College of Aeronautics, it was incredible. There were Tigers and Gipsy Moths, a Prentice, a Mauraine-Saulnier, and planes from all over Europe, and even a couple of homebuilts from Czechoslovakia! There was a major language problem, until my Mary offered to translate, and suddenly we were involved in everything.

Over lunch with the foreign guests, Chairman David Faulkner-Bryant perceived that The Mary knew about aeroplanes, and asked if she would assist Air Commodore Chris Paul to judge the Concours D’Elegance! Well, I hardly saw her for two days!

I was very proud to sit with her at the head table for the Grand Awards Banquet, where she was presented with a beautiful decorated PFA mug.

This was a hard act to follow, but later we saw lots of airfields and interesting people. In Yorkshire, the base of WWII’s RCAF 6 Group, Battle of Britain Spitfire Ace Ginger Lacey was at Bridlington’s Grindale Field,and we enjoyed steak and kidney pie at Bagby, near Thirsk. South of London, a jam-packed Tiger Club hangar at Redhill, overwhelmed us, and we saw Hannah Reich’s pilotable V1 flying bomb at Lashenden, Kent.

At White Waltham had Tony Hutton’s immaculate Beech C-45, and had a snack at the rather exclusive flying club. Mechanic Mark was busy doing a leakdown test prior to heading to Belgium for a big show. Europe, Belgium, Brussels. How romantic it all sounded.

In 1953 we Brit RAF types found Moose Jaw rather romantic too!

At the attractive Kent village of Goudhurst we visited Martin Sargeant and his lovely wife Janet. Martin removed his Harvard wings every winter, and took then home to work on. The family business was restoring vintage Rolls and Bentleys. The yard was full of ’em. So you can imagine how immaculate his airplane was, with Livery as per Silver Ghost! Even let me go and show off my aerobatics and all!

What a great trip, but so long ago. Found the tin boxes with these missing slides by sheer luck stashed under old maps and schooldays stuff, in a cupboard by the front window. What a nice surprise.


We hope to see everyone at the Langley COPA Fly-in AGM on June 25!

And that’s all for this month!

Fly safe now…

Tony Swain & The Mary; copaguy@vcn.bc.ca