They’re outside the hangar, but the two newest additions to the BC Aviation Museum are used to the elements.
“They’ve been outside for 20-plus years,” says museum president Steve Nichol.
The additions in question are a pair of Piasecki H21 helicopters, commonly known as “Flying Bananas.”
The Cold War-era choppers are on a gravel pad outside the museum’s restoration area. Both were used by the Royal Canadian Air Force for search and rescue, and later in commercial logging operations in B.C. They were delivered by flatbed trucks last week after a two-day journey from a donor in Golden.
“I think it was the world’s first really successful twin-rotor helicopter,” says Nichol.
The Flying Banana gets its nickname from the curious banana-like shape which accommodates its duel rotating blades. The American-made Piasecki H21 was deployed in conflicts all over the world and could handle hauling massive weight in addition to its troop-carrying capabilities.
“Twenty-one guys fully loaded, so they say,” says Nichol.
Despite the tropical nickname, the Flying Banana was capable of operating in frigid temperatures.
“It used to service the early warning radar sites in the high arctic,” says Nichol, who adds it could withstand temperatures as low as -58 C.
One chopper, rust-laden but still adorned with RCAF colours, will be used for parts, while the other will get the full restoration.
Nichol credits the museum volunteers with restoring these pieces of Canadian aviation history.
“They only look good because our volunteers make them look good,” he says.
There’s no immediacy in getting the chopper ready for the museum floor. The most pressing project is the restoration of a Lancaster FMl04 bomber.
“It’s our biggest project so far,” says Nichol, who adds that the restoration of the bomber is done in pieces due to its size, and will be reassembled inside the museum once it’s ready to be viewed by the public.
As for when you’ll be able to tour the restored Flying Banana? “You’ll have to ask my great-great grandchildren,” laughs volunteer Mike McGaw.
McGaw, a pilot himself, considers all aircraft to be beautiful, although he admits to the odd exception. Two of which sit outside on the gravel pad, waiting for a new life.
“The Flying Banana? That’s an ugly one,” laughs McGaw.
The BC Aviation Museum is located in North Saanich and is open year-round, seven days a week.