Mike Sattler says he felt “like a kid on Christmas” on Thursday afternoon as the Canadian Museum of Flight received one of the most significant donations in its history.
A Boeing Stearman, owned by one of Langley Airport’s pioneers, Art Seller, was gifted to the museum by his son, David.
“The importance of this machine to the community, to British Columbia, to Canada, is beyond description,” said Sattler, who is the general manager of the Canadian Museum of Flight.
“To have this machine donated to us, to keep it in Langley, is immensely important and a true honour. I really can’t say enough good things about Mr. Seller and his graciousness and the family’s graciousness to do this.”
The Stearman was purchased by Seller’s company, Skyway Air Services, from the United States in the mid 1950s to use as a trainer for new pilots. It had originally been used as a trainer in the Second World War, and therefore had two cockpits, when most biplanes had only one, David explained.
“We also used it for glider towing, and then my father actually taught me to fly in it when I was a young kid going to Langley High School, and I soloed in it on my 16th birthday in this same airplane,” he said.
Skyway Air Services was the first operator at Langley Airport, starting with one airplane in 1946. It was two-faceted, operating as both a crop spraying company and a flying school, until the late 1950s, when Art purchased 14 TBM Avengers — ex-torpedo bombers — and began a fire bomb operation in B.C.
That service continues today in Abbotsford under the company Conair, whose president, Barry Marsden, is one of Skyway’s original employees.
In fact, at one of Conair’s anniversary celebrations a few years ago, they asked David if they could borrow his Stearman to use as their centrepiece.
“(It was) in respect for the heritage of Conair’s owner, but more importantly, the heritage of Skyway and his relationship with Skyway. So we felt very proud and privileged that the airplane went up to Abbotsford and it was their centrepiece,” David said.
David bought Skyway Air Services from his father on Jan. 1, 1973 and expanded it from a small flying school of six airplanes that his father ran as a hobby (Art sold his other planes to Conair in the late 1960s), into a company of 35 airplanes and 50 staff by the late 1980s.
Art passed away in 1977, and David sold the company in 1989 to pursue his hobby of sailing.
Making the decision to donate the plane was difficult, David said, as it helped keep his dad’s memories alive over the years. But it is a donation he is honoured to make.
“It’s quite emotional,” he said.
“They are (the museum staff) very, very respectful of the heritage of the airplane and very respectful of the heritage of Skyway, and I have requested that the airplane is donated in the name of my father, so they’ve been very respectful of that.”
The Stearman was officially signed over in front of a group of former students and staff at Skyway.
Sattler says the museum plans to keep the plane operational, and hopes to fly it again very soon.
“It requires a little bit of light mechanical work to it, just because it’s been sitting for so long. It requires a little bit of paperwork, just because it’s been sitting for so long. But other than that, it’s fully functional right now and serviceable to fly,” he said.
“This machine will be seen in the skies of Langley again in short order.”