A piece of military aviation history will be exhibited in glass for visitors to see at the Comox Air Force Museum Heritage Airpark.
The pavilion will be constructed to mark the centennial of the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2024, and house the DeHavilland Vampire Mark III.
First designed in the early 1940s, it was commissioned just after the Second World War. It was the one of the first jet-powered fighters and in 1948, the Royal Canadian Air Force chose to order 85 of the Mark III variety over the Gloster Meteor.
With speed being the big advantage of jets, the Vampire could hit speeds upwards of 540 mph, a large jump compared to piston engine planes such as the Hawker Typhoon that could hit 400 mph.
Pilot “Stocky” Edwards flew these types of aircrafts at the time, and said they were the equivalent to driving a sports car in comparison to the piston powered aircrafts.
The planes were primarily assigned to auxiliary squadrons, including 442 “City of Vancouver” Auxiliary Fighter Squadron on Sea Island, which is now known as the Vancouver International Airport.
The aircrafts would serve in the RCAF until 1958 and were replaced with F-86 Sabres that were deemed more advanced.
After spending many years flying in air shows, the Vampire 17031 was brought to Comox in 2000 still in flying condition. It was declared an artifact in 2001 and 19 Wing and Comox Valley Airforce Museum are working to bring it back into the public eye.
“In an effort to preserve our history and heritage we want to share this particular aircraft with the community the same way that we’ve done with the other aircraft in the museum and airpark,” said project lead Maj. Kevin Stevens.
“However, part of this aircraft is actually constructed of wood including balsa and spruce. So, it can’t be stored outside without getting damaged by the weather.”
The solution is to build a glass pavilion around the aircraft in the centre airpark. Designs show it will be covered from the top, with glass positioned around the outline of the aircraft so visitors can get a close-up view.
With lighting installed and an area cleared, 19 Wing and the museum are looking to fundraise $1.5 million to get the pavilion built and ready to house the fighter. It is a part of a greater Heritage Air Park project that will see upgraded fencing and other improvements.
Vampire Pavilion team member Dave Mellin says they have managed to raise around $350,000 so far, and they have had a lot of support in getting it off the ground.
“People, as they do in the Comox Valley, are stepping up and providing what they can,” said Mellin. “It’s a big number but it’s a special piece of history that needs to be preserved.”
Mellin adds its significance goes deeper with the base being a large economic driver for the Comox Valley, along with its history and heritage.
The goal is to get the pavilion constructed by April 1, 2024. Stevens says anyone interested in donating or assisting from a volunteer perspective, more information can be found by visiting comoxairforcemuseum.ca.