In its heyday, the Tracker aircraft was like a hawk, gliding through the sky at low altitude and covertly zoning in on its prey – enemy submarines. Now, a procession of police cruisers, heavy-duty trucks and pilot cars stretching more than a mile, were needed to escort a trucker who hauled the battered bird to a new home in Chilliwack, BC. It was like “threading a needle” of narrow back roads for 25 miles.
From 12:30 a.m. to 4:15 a.m. on January 6, 2010, an ex-Royal Canadian Navy Tracker aircraft was transported from the Abbotsford airport to the Chilliwack Military Education Centre, a volunteer-operated, military museum located at the old Canadian Forces Base Chilliwack. “We had narrow clearances, tight turns, telephone poles, mailboxes, signs ... we were zigzagging down the road, missing poles by inches,” said Gord Boyd, a tow-truck driver with Quiring Towing, located in Aldergrove, BC.
|Keith Harrington (right, foreground) along with (L-R, background) Les Rever, Gord Boyd and Rick Ross (VE7FWP) who helped move this vintage Canadian Navy Tracker aircraft from the Abbotsford International Airport to the Canadian Military Museum in Chilliwack. (Photo by Jenna Hauck)|
Last year, the Conair Group in Abbotsford, donated the plane to the museum. Although it’s been sitting in a field at the airport for 20 years, is weather-worn, and has been stripped nearly bare, but it’s still a major piece of aviation history. Tracker aircraft were first built in the mid 1950’ for the Royal Canadian Navy as submarine-hunters and were equipped with torpedoes, mines and rockets. Ninety-nine Trackers were built by de Havilland Canada for the Royal Canadian Navy starting around 1956. Later in their careers, they were employed in fisheries protection and maritime patrol duties.
Trackers operated from the aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, and land bases. When the Bonaventure was paid off in 1970, all Canadian Trackers were transferred to land bases, limiting their usefulness for anti-submarine warfare. Between 1974 and 1981, all but 20 were placed into storage, and stripped of their anti-submarine gear. By 1990, all had been stricken off strength.
|Abbotsford Airport was the starting point of the Tracker move. Easily seen in this photo taken around the summer of 2008, are fourteen Tracker 'hulks' along with a pair of DC-6's. At the top centre is the BC Forest Service Tanker Base with a couple of Trackers , water bombers and a bird dog. Conair's facilities are off the left side of the picture. (Photo courtesy Google Earth).|
The Conair Group, a specialty aircraft operations provider, purchased 15 of the retired Trackers from the Royal Canadian Air Force in the early 1990s with the intention of converting some into fire bombers and using the others for parts. “For 20 years, these planes have been cannibalized for parts,” said former Conair employee Keith Harrington. “And five of them were crunched last year. “This plane is an ex-Canadian military plane, made in Canada; what better place to display it than at a Canadian military museum?”
The museum needed permission from the provincial government and both of the municipalities to transport the Tracker. They needed an approved route, road closure permits, and escorts from the Abbotsford Police and Chilliwack RCMP. They had to measure the route three times to make sure the 32-foot-wide plane (with wings folded) would fit on the roads. They had to contact BC Hydro, Telus and Shaw Cable to make sure the plane’s 14-foot height wouldn’t catch any overhead lines. In some spots, clearance was just two or three feet. And they needed a tow-truck driver that would actually agree to the job.
The engineless plane couldn’t fly to the museum, and it couldn’t be transported on a flat-bed trailer, as the folded-up wings wouldn’t have cleared the lines. It had to be towed on its wheels. When other drivers said it couldn’t be done, and it would be crazy to even try, long-time, Aldergrove driver Gord Boyd relished the opportunity. “I love a challenge,” he said. “It was a test of my driving ability, a test of my nerve.” The Tracker took up the whole road; its wheels teetered on the edges of the pavement, and a few times even dipped into the ditches. The crew only had one serious issue – a narrow bridge. “We had to jackknife around, and go off-route,” said museum volunteer Les Rever, who was nervous about the time it was taking. “We were under the wire; we had to get off the road before the morning traffic started.” At 4:15 a.m., the plane finally entered the lot to the museum.
The Tracker is in need of cosmetic repair, two engines, propellers, a nose wheel assembly, new tires and metal work. Not to mention that the interior wiring also needs to be restored. It will never fly again, but the museum wants to make it look as authentic as possible.
Because the museum is not government funded, and is operated by volunteers, it hopes the community will step forward with monetary donations, as well as parts and time. The museum plans to have the Tracker, which is currently in the museum's lot, available for public viewing and shining brightly by the summer of 2010. The Canadian Military Education Centre in Chilliwack is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
|Getting the aircraft off the field with the 4 x 4. Because the nosewheel assembly is missing, the aircraft had to be towed by its tail.|
|The tarmac is a short distance away. This is a CS2F-2 whose original serial number is 1573.|
|On the tarmac and ready to be hooked up to a larger towing vehicle.|
|Safely at destination. The tow itself could have easily been done by the 4 x 4, however the BC Department Of Highways requested that a tandem axle unit with adequate braking capacity to stop a 10,000 to 12,000 lb load be made available. The tow truck was definitely overkill but the driver (Gord Boyd) donated his time. The company, Quiring Towing from Aldergrove BC, all but donated the equipment involved. Several other outfits said it couldn't be done but Gord said "quit ur whining, ur blocking the road, get out of my way. I'm coming through". Rick and the rest of the team did an absolute superb job.|
|Quiring Towing brought the aircraft to its final destination. While it was being towed, everyone swore that it kept growing in size and the pavement kept getting narrower! The driver spent much more time watching mirrors than the road ahead.|
|All photos in this table by Keith Harrington.|
Credits and References:
1) BC Local News http://www.bclocalnews.com/news/81186942.html
2) Keith Harrington <va7ssb(at)hotmail.com>
3) Tom Brent <tgb(at)telus.net>
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