Museum Shuffle

Written by Maurice Tougas MAURICE TOUGAS

Adding a new display to the Alberta Aviation Museum is not like adding a new book to the shelf, or a vintage LP to your collection. It’s more like playing a giant game of Tetris but with literally no room for error. 

That’s the challenge facing the museum’s curator, Ryan Lee, as he planned how to add not one, but two helicopters to the museum’s fleet. 

The Air 1 helicopter acquired by the museum was Edmonton’s first police helicopter, a Eurocopter EC120 Colibri, which took to the air in 2001. When it came time to buy a new chopper, the police found that selling it wasn’t worthwhile – except for the engine and transmission, which were sold to help pay for the new helicopter. Air 1, now permanently grounded, was donated to the museum and was delivered to the museum on Thursday, April 25th. It’s the first new aircraft to be put on display since the Jenny in 2018. Once it is reassembled – EPS located a used engine and transmission – it will land permanently in the museum’s display space. The museum has about 40,000 sq.ft. of space; Ryan says about three-quarters of it is filled, so although it looks like there is plenty of room for more, the reality is a bit more complicated. 

“The easy thing to do would be to just put the helicopter in an open space, and call it good,” Ryan says. “But the open space is really useful for corporate events or weddings, and we want to keep that space open as long as possible.” 

And it’s not just Air 1; the now fully-restored Bell 206 RCMP helicopter is ready to land. With the existing Bell 47G helicopter already on display, unobtrusively at the back of the facility, the

 museum will have three choppers, which of course would work best together. And therein lies the challenge Ryan faced. 

Back in 2015, when the museum layout was redesigned, Ryan and Lech had 1/72 scale models of the planes to play with in creating the new layout. The entire museum was emptied, then the new positions were taken up and the curbing was installed. But this time, the choppers will have to be installed without the luxury of wide open spaces. Trying to figure out where to put the new displays, and how to do it with minimal disruption to the existing displays, was “annoyingly complicated” he says.  

After a couple of other ideas didn’t pan out, Ryan used a camera-equipped drone to map out half of the museum. Using those photos, he made an “orthographic depiction” (too complex to get to here) to chart out how to get the job done.  

Ultimately, eight planes – nine including Air 1 – are being moved, some to permanent new positions, some just moved out of the way to facilitate the arrival of the new kids on the block.  

Despite their often imposing size, Ryan says most of the planes are not that heavy, and since they are on wheels are not that difficult to push. Some of them are surprisingly fragile, so great care has to be taken to ensure no nicks or scratches. A small army of volunteers is getting the job done.  

The restored Bell 206 will be partially disassembled to fit through the hallway between the restoration workshop and the gallery,, with Air 1 going into the shop in its place before finding its new home. The work will be done on Mondays when the museum is closed, or before or after opening hours to minimize disruption. 

And this may not be the end of the airplane shuffle. Ryan says they will be coming into possession of a Pietenpol Air Camper home-built aircraft, coming from Calgary.  

But that’s a challenge for another day.  




Learn more about our museum collection HERE
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