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Shearwater Aviation Museum
Birthplace of Canadian Maritime
Military Aviation Heritage

Report and photos by Gord McNulty
CAHS Vice President

Visitors to the Shearwater Aviation Museum (www.shearwateraviationmuseum.ca) at 12 Wing CFB Shearwater, Nova Scotia, will be impressed with a colourful and growing collection of aircraft and artifacts depicting Canadian maritime military aviation from 1918 to the present.

RCN Fairey Firefly FR 1In September, I was fortunate to visit the SAM, a CAHS Museum Member, and enjoyed an overview of activities with SAM Curator Christine Hines. Established in 1978, SAM has 15 heritage aircraft on display or undergoing restoration.

The museum has about 15,000 artifacts and an extensive collection of aviation art. Informative exhibits include an Eastern Air Command display, highlighted by a replica of the wall map used in Eastern Air Command headquarters at Halifax during the Battle of the Atlantic. A Victoria Cross Memorial Gallery includes portraits of Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, RCNVR, and F/L David Ernest Hornell, RCAF.

An archives and library holds a large collection of historical and technical information available to researchers and boasts an exceptional photographic collection. A gift shop carries a variety of aviation related merchandise; sales contribute to development of the museum.

Working jointly with the museum is the Shearwater Aviation Museum Foundation, www.samfoundation.casamfoundation.ca, an arm’s-length, charitable fundraising organization dedicated to the development of the museum. The foundation publishes The Warrior magazine three times a year. In the Winter 2019 issue, SAM Foundation president John M. Cody described progress with an ongoing $2 million fundraising drive for additional space and exhibits.

SAM celebrated Shearwater’s 100th Anniversary as an air base in 2018. It is one of the oldest military airfields in Canada, second only to CFB Borden established in 2016. The ‘Shearwater 100’ celebration included many rewarding activities. To read an excellent report by CAHS Ottawa Chapter member Don MacNeil, published by the Museum, click here.

As a Centennial project, SAM officially opened the new Shearwater Aviation Memorial Park, displaying a Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King, a Grumman TBM Avenger and a Canadair CT-133 Silver Star. The rugged Avenger, RCN 85861, was forced to ditch in Bedford Basin in 1953 and lay submerged until 1972, when it was raised by base technicians. It served as a gate guardian, but sustained severe deterioration and was moved indoors to one of the 12 Wing hangars. It is now displayed outdoors because of space limitations.

A second Avenger, that had been flown as a water bomber in New Brunswick, was acquired from Forest Protection Ltd. of Fredericton by the Museum Foundation in 2012. The last of the FPL fleet, it was flown to the museum and refinished in the attractive two-tone grey RCN scheme. It is now a valued part of the indoor exhibits of museum quality aircraft.

Two Sea Kings that were officially inducted in 2018 are among the highlights. One of the two airframes, Serial Number 4001, was the first of four Sea Kings built at Sikorsky’s Stratford, Connecticut plant for the RCN. It has been beautifully restored to RCN configuration circa 1963. The second airframe, CF12431, is presented in RCAF configuration, giving the museum a pair of bookends to tell the 55-year story of the versatile Sea King.

Two Grumman/de Havilland Canada CS2F/CP-121 Trackers are on display. Tracker number 1501, in RCN colours, is especially noteworthy as the first Tracker built for the RCN. It actually started as a U.S. Navy Grumman-built S2F-1 purchased by DHC to verify the production jigs and tooling supplied by Grumman. The only American Tracker acquired by the RCN, it flew in various test and engineering roles as serial number X-500 and was re-serialled as 1501 in 1956.

Tracker number 1557, still in airworthy condition, represents CS2F Trackers that were modified and redesignated as CP-121 maritime reconnaissance aircraft with integration of the Armed Forces in 1968 and the subsequent demise of HMCS Bonaventure.

Rebuilt RCN Fairey Swordfish Mk II, serial number HS469 (civil registration C-GRCN), is proudly on display. Withdrawn from RCN service in 1946, this aircraft languished in a farmer’s field in Ontario for many years. It was restored in the early 1980s by naval aviation enthusiasts in the Toronto area. After more than 13 years of painstaking work, HS469 flew in April 1994 to Shearwater and was donated to SAM.

A McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee is another attention-getter. Among the remaining 11 Banshees struck from the RCN inventory in 1962, this aircraft had been displayed at the entrance to the base until 2000, when it was refurbished by 12 Air Maintenance Squadron for exhibit at the museum.

The distinctive nature of the collection is represented by a Piasecki HUP-3 Retriever, acquired in 2002 from the Museum of Flight in Langley, B.C. and replicated as the RCN’s first HUP-3, serial number 51-16621.

Vintage helicopter enthusiasts will also be impressed with a Sikorsky HO4S Horse, serial number 55885. Delivered to Shearwater in 1955, this helicopter was involved in at least seven rescue mission saving upwards of 20 lives. Most notably, No. 885 was instrumental in saving survivors from a Flying Tiger Super Constellation, carrying 76 American military personnel and family members, which ditched in the North Atlantic in September, 1962.

Two Canadair CT-133 Silver Stars are on display. The first, serial number 133038, is finished in RCN markings typical of the paint scheme of T-birds flown by the Navy in the 1950s and 1960s. The second, serial number 133618, is displayed outdoors in low-visibility camouflage grey representing T-birds last flown from Shearwater by Air Command’s 434 Squadron in 1994.

A Harvard, derived from Harvard serial number 2777 as flown by the RCN in the 1950s, also makes an attractive exhibit. Harvard 2777 was restored from a deteriorated condition and with parts from other Harvards was refurbished as a VC 924 naval air reserve squadron aircraft with “930-NAVY” markings.

The museum’s restoration projects are fascinating. They include a Fairey Firefly, PP462, that was among the first of 29 Firefly Fighter Reconnaissance Mk 1’s taken on strength by the RCN in 1946 and 1947. In 1950, it was one of nine FR 1’s sold to Ethiopia. It languished in the desert until 1993 when its long journey to Shearwater began after a diplomatic agreement with Ethiopia.

Good progress is being made with a Beech Expeditor, once stationed at Shearwater. CF-SEB was acquired by SAM from a parachute club in Vacourt, Quebec in 2015.

For more photos and information, check out the Facebook news feeds of the museum and the foundation.

A tribute to aircrew

A tribute to aircrew who have served at Shearwater.

SAM display describes the restoration

SAM display describes the restoration of Fairey Swordfish HS649 to flight in 1994.

A wing display G McNulty

A wing display is a suitable welcome for visitors to 12 Wing Shearwater.

Grumman Avenger RCN 85861

Grumman Avenger, RCN 85861, being recovered in 1972 from Bedford Basin after ditching in 1953. It is now a gate guardian at SAM.

Sikorsky Sea King RCN 4001 G McNulty

Sikorsky Sea King RCN 4001 in its original two-tone grey and DayGlo colour scheme at the SAM.

CS2F Tracker RCN 1501

CS2F Tracker, RCN 1501, started as a Grumman-built aircraft purchased by de Havilland Canada and was the first Tracker built for the RCN.

Canadair CT 133 Silver Star G McNulty

Canadair CT-133 Silver Star in RCN high-visibility scheme as flown at Shearwater in 1950s and 1960s.