How the Museum Has Changed My Life

Every so often, we love to hear stories about how the museum has changed people’s lives for the better. We were very fortunate to hear from Johann Törner, from Germany, who detailed his experience with the museum back in 2006:

aircraft pilot, Johann Törner in an airplane cockpit.

I was always interested in aviation but never really tried to pursue it as a career option. As a teenager of 19, who had just finished high school, I was looking for something to do in the summer, before starting my engineering studies at a university in Germany. As my studies would be in English, I was also looking for an opportunity to improve on my language skills. Since my father had ties to Edmonton, Alberta and I had been to Edmonton many times before, the idea came up that it was possible for me to volunteer at the museum for a month. It worked out and in July 2006 I went to Edmonton for a month to help out in the museum. It was my first time traveling abroad alone and doing something outside of my known environment and till now I look back on that summer month with joy.

I remember helping out at the museum where I could and talking to some of the “old” volunteers, learning new English words and learning a lot about aviation. I remember listening to stories and anecdotes from aviation and it somehow stuck. One guy that helped me a lot (I think his name was Vincent), talked a lot about airplane engines and even though I didn’t get all the technical terms at the time it was fascinating. I helped him to re-arrange the museum layout and to catalog the displays. Somewhere I still have my old notebook with a list of different airplane engines on so on.

Being among those old planes, in the archives and the workshop, “smelling” old aviation history, somehow left a mark on me.

I remember coming to the airport by bus every morning and walking by the fence of the, then still active, Edmonton City Centre Airport. Once, I saw a formation of Cessnas coming in, landing one after another and I was dreaming about flying by myself one day.

I can’t put it into words, especially not in a language that’s not my native tongue, but somehow the whole museum isn’t just a collection of historic aircrafts and artifacts, it conveys a feeling, it has a deep atmosphere that I absorbed in that summer and that stuck with me until today.

Years later I would do my private pilots license and eventually, after finishing my studies, I became a commercial pilot and flight instructor. Now I work full time as a flight instructor, teaching students the basics of flight, especially doing a lot of ground instruction. I’m still very much interested in aviation history, especially the pioneering days in the 1920’s and 1930’s after the first world war. I do a lot of research about the development of aviation in Germany and I have a lot of old books from that time period. I publish my research results on a YouTube Channel (German only so far) and when doing research, I spend endless time reading through old books and articles. And sometimes I stumble upon a reference to Canadian aviation. This research, the smell of the old books gives me the same feeling that I first experienced at the Alberta Aviation Museum. It’s fascination that was passed on to me at the museum and I try to convey this fascination of aviation history and the technical details to my students.

In 2017 I went to Edmonton to celebrate the 70th birthday of my father and I finally did a flight, now as a pilot, around the Edmonton area! I visited the museum as well, the first time since 2006 and it was so familiar!

There are two things coming to my mind, now that I’m writing about my time at the museum:

  1. I remember that every day I would leave through the museum gift shop and there was so many stuff that was interesting to me. Airplane models of old warbirds but especially old books about aviation. Unfortunately I couldn’t have them all – I had neither the money nor the space in my luggage, but when I left for Germany I could pick a few things for free from the gift shop and I got a book about WW2 airplanes from all nations. I consumed the information and it somehow keeps fascinating me up to this day.
  1. On one day all the aircraft displays outside of the museum had to be moved to a runway on the Edmonton City Centre Airport. I don’t know the reason, maybe due to some renovation or similar, but I still remember helping to get those old planes moving. Pumping the old tires, carefully pulling the planes with a tug, the sounds of the old aircraft moving on their own wheels. It was a hot afternoon and to the north there was a big thunderstorm cell approaching. It was a strange atmosphere. I recorded some video footage of that day, but I’m afraid it is lost on an old hard drive. I only have one photo left, from my last day. On it is Vincent (?), I think he was a dutch-Canadian volunteer and Barb(?), I don’t remember her full name.

Johann Törner with two Alberta Aviation Museum Volunteers

So this became a rather long mail, but those are my memories of the museum and my time there definitely changed me and strengthened my interest in aviation history. I hope I will be able to visit the museum sometime again in the future and maybe spark the same interest in my son!

All the best and greetings from Germany

Johann Törner
Flight Instructor – Commercial Pilot – Aviation Historian