Estimated reading time 19 minutes, 36 seconds.
A small team of enthusiasts is devoting its time to a unique cause: finding, dismantling, and relocating vintage planes. But the relics they seek to preserve aren’t just any aircraft; the passionate crew have their eye on a specific era in Canada’s commercial aviation history.
Rik Barry is the chairman of the Time Air Historical Society (TAHS), which he launched in 2018. Today, Barry and his self-elected board have obtained four (long-since) retired aircraft with a dream of bringing them “home” to Lethbridge, Alberta – the birthplace of Time Air.
The story of Time Air
Founded by Walter “Stubb” Ross, an Alberta- based entrepreneur and aviation pioneer, Time Air operated for almost three decades (1966 – 1993) out of Western Canada. The airline was known as Lethbridge Air Service before becoming Time Airways in 1969. According to TAHS, the commuter airline began with “Stubb” Ross transporting passengers with personal aircraft, which evolved into a more significant operation when Air Canada discontinued its service out of Lethbridge Airport (YQL) in 1971.
Time Air operated a variety of aircraft, from the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, to the Short SD-330, to the Fairchild F-27 turboprop, to DHC Dash 7 and Dash 8 aircraft. Fast forward to 1993, Time Air merged with Ontario Express to create Canadian Regional Airlines — which eventually merged with Air Canada Jazz in the early 2000s.
“Stubb” Ross is a name that is embedded in Canadian aviation history. The Time Air founder began his flying career when he joined Flying Farmers, and went on to become chairman of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), and a recipient of the Order of Canada for his “major contributions to commercial aviation in the west.”
Today, Lethbridge Airport remains four nautical miles southeast of Lethbridge, at 417 Stubb Ross Road.
Thus far, TAHS has recovered four aircraft previously operated by Time Air: a Short SD-330, a Fokker F-28-1000, a Convair CV580, and a de Havilland Canada Twin Otter.
Moving aircraft that are no longer airworthy requires strategic research, planning, permits, and “the use of cranes, semi-trailer trucks, a pilot car fleet – and a bit of craziness,” said TAHS chairman Barry.
The current TAHS fleet has come from manufacturers worldwide: Canada, the U.S., Holland, and Northern Ireland. The intent “is to repatriate these aircraft back to Lethbridge,” and refurbish them to their original livery.
TAHS hopes to fund the hefty road transport cost for all the aircraft via a GoFundMe crowdfunding initiative. As it stands, the estimated price the society hopes to recoup is $150,000.
Meet the fleet
C-GTAV (serial number 3007)
According to TAHS, Time Air was the first airline to fly the Short SD-330 (1976), and while the type was eventually flown by several other carriers, “the Irish-built aircraft will be only one of two SD-330s displayed in a museum setting. [Only] 141 of this aircraft [type] were built, and [C-GTAV] is currently in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Seven carriers flew this aircraft.”
C-FTAV (s/n 11106)
The Fokker F-28-1000 (1976), a Dutch-built passenger jet, “will also be one of only two airline-configured F-28-1000s to be displayed in a museum setting.” In total, just 241 were built. Six carriers flew this aircraft. [C-FTAV] is currently move-ready in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. However, in 2022, the relocation faced hurdles that inhibited a move, including construction at Saskatoon International (CYXE) and electrical line lifting delays.
C-FTAP (s/n 334)
The U.S.-built Convair CV580 “will be the only CV580 in the full-passenger configuration on display in a museum setting.” According to Barry, “eight carriers flew this aircraft. [C-FTAP] is currently in Montreal, Quebec.”
C-GBPE (s/n 21)
TAHS’s de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter (1967) “will be the second oldest Twin Otter on display.” [C-GBPE] was the Twin Otter demonstrator aircraft for DHC during that time, which toured worldwide. A total of 844 original Twin Otters were built. Eleven carriers flew this aircraft.”
The grass-roots not-for-profit society relies on the generosity of those who see the value in protecting and restoring these aircraft types and the lives they touched.
“These are rare planes,” said Barry. “Each aircraft’s story [reaches] far beyond Time Air history, and we are committed to bringing their full history back to life.
“The Fokker F-28-1000 and Twin Otter moves are well underway,” he added. “The Convair and Short moves will require the most work, with planning to commence shortly. The Twin Otter’s wings are waiting outside of Calgary to join its fuselage already in Lethbridge. The City of Lethbridge and QL Aviation have allowed us to secure spots to reassemble, park, and display these aircraft.”
Presently, the aircraft are temporarily housed in various outdoor spaces. TAHS board member Jesse Millington recently took ownership of the first repatriated F-28-1000, stored on his property in Vulcan County, Alberta.
Millington found the plane through his work with the TAHS, intending to honor and preserve southern Alberta’s aviation history and educate people about it.
The F-28-1000 purchase and relocation were entirely funded out-of-pocket for the young aviation enthusiast. Millington also did most of the disassembly and reassembly himself. His experience will be applied directly to the move of TAHS’s F-28-1000 to Lethbridge Airport in 2023.
He said he has witnessed the occasional passersby take a second look, as they were astonished to see the commercial airliner parked in his yard.
“I grew up playing with diecast airplanes and building model planes,” said Millington. “Joining the society brought me back to that time, and small-scale has turned into one scale. I’m experiencing aviation in a whole different way than I have been able to before — it’s pretty cool.”
Once the society has relocated each aircraft, it plans to refurbish and repaint them in their original Time Air livery. The F-28-1000 and CV580 will be fully accessible once reassembled.
“They will only require repainting, and engines will be sourced in the future,” Barry told Skies. And once they are complete, “they will both be on full public display.”
When the entire fleet is intact, they plan to open a gathering space for the general public to explore the aircraft. TAHS intends to bring “Canadian airline history back to Lethbridge for all to enjoy.”
The group plans to also exhibit artifacts and narratives from former Time Air crew to complement the static display of actual aircraft.
Barry shared that through studying Time Air’s history – “which later became Canadian Regional Airlines, which became part of Air Canada Jazz” — he and his team decided to expand, unearth, and preserve a “broader history of aviation in Western Canada.”
He added: “We need everyone’s support to get all these first four planes home for 2023. . . . We have always been a cart before the horse organization. However, we will commit to fully engaging as a registered charity as we grow.”
Until then, Barry and his board plan to “work from the ground up to grow the original Time Air fleet, which included 14 different types of aircraft.
“In addition, we are looking at long-term opportunities of [obtaining] Canadian Airlines International and Air Canada’s former fleet,” he said.
The goal of the museum space is an immersive experience where visitors can enter the flight deck, sit in the seats, and explore the cabin of each aircraft.
“We don’t want something pretty sitting on the ground; we want people to be immersed in each and every aircraft.”
Millington added: “It will be more than just a museum; we want people to return. So, while the core will be aviation history, we want to keep things as interesting, fresh, and diverse as possible.”
They hope to offer many options, including an event space and an aviation-themed microbrewery.
Part of protecting and restoring Time Air’s legacy includes the intended acquisition of Time Air’s original hangar (Lethbridge Airport). In addition, the proposed location for the TAHS museum is “an important structure that has been around since 1939.”
Barry added: “[The structure] is the last remaining mainline TCA hangar in Canada and has not been significantly altered.”
“When Trans-Canada Air Lines (Air Canada) was planning its transcontinental run, Lethbridge was selected as the safer route to the west coast via the Crowsnest Pass. Larger aircraft led to an eventual shift of the mainline route to Calgary. Lethbridge remained a secondary run to the west coast into the 1960s,” explained Barry.
TAHS is currently negotiating the purchase of the building, upon which they hope to also “seek National Historic Designation for the site.”
“With the larger story of Canadian Airlines International, the opportunity to expand the collection to include the amazing mosaic of airlines that eventually created ‘Canadian’ is the society’s long-term goal. The story of ‘Canadian’ goes back to the earliest days of airline history in Canada and is a history that needs to be fully told,” Barry shared.
“Time Air was an integral part of that story, which included Canadian Pacific, Pacific Western, and Wardair, as well as the larger regional carriers of Eastern Canada.”
Barry concluded with a play on words, stating: “This is just the beginning — it’s time.”