Our Amazing DC-6 Simulator

Story by Al Olsen, Photos by Doug McFayden

Do you wonder what it is like to fly an aircraft? We have an awesome DC 6 simulator that you can try your hand at the controls once it is fully restored. Our simulator has been on quite the journey before and since coming to the Alberta Aviation Museum.  The back of it looks like a spiderweb with millions of wires.

wire system of the DC-6 Simulator
Wiring system as the museum works to upgrade the DC-6 Simulator


Canadian Pacific Western Airlines bought The DC 6 Simulator for $755,000 in 1957. According to the Bank of Canada, this would be $7.7 million with inflation today. Dave Heathcote with help from Chuck MacLaren installed the system in the 1960s, at NAIT. It was a second-generation simulator. It didn’t have any graphic interface on the windscreen, or motion. However, it did have accurate instrumentation that reacted to the control inputs as well as the sound of the engine and other aircraft sounds. The whole system was operational by miles of wires and vacuum tubes in a separate module.  Dave and Chuck designed and installed an audio-visual system.


When the Alberta Aviation Museum received it from NAIT, the simulator wasn’t fully functioning. However, it had all the cockpit controls. There is a sister simulator in Alaska, and to my knowledge, these are the only working DC-6 ones left. The system in Alaska is still used by pilots today.  Our simulator has had quite a journey and facelift since we got it.

Interior cockpit of DC-6 Simulator
Interior cockpit of DC-6 Simulator

In February of 2010, Gord Russell and Roy Reville removed the digital projection tunnel that was built in 2000. This course of action made it possible for three flat LCD monitors to be installed for the “outside window” view. This technology provides an awesome upgrade in the clarity of the display. The new screens allow patrons who can’t navigate the cockpit’s stairs to view the simulation from the main-floor level.  It is usually in the “demonstration mode” these days without worry about replacement projection lightbulbs. The removal of the tunnel of wires restores the system to the original 1953 outer look. Russell and Reville also painted the simulator in authentic Pacific Western Airlines colours for a 1960 DC-6.

Exterior of DC-6 Simulator
Exterior of DC-6 Simulator in PWA Colours

With the cooperation of an American simulation company, Heathcote arranged it so that the aircraft presented in our simulator is a DC-6B in the same authentic colours. The airplane depicted is CF-PWF, fleet tail number 602. In simulation mode, the aircraft starts each engine with smoke as a real one would, alongside backfires and flames from the exhaust stacks.


Over sixty flight controls and switches are working in the cockpit. The scenery matches the time-period and is from other sources. Traffic aircraft that are seen on the ramp and in the air are Viscounts, Vanguards, Super Constellations, and others in Air Canada or other period companies.


Modifications and upgrades to the simulator still continues to this day, with a goal to fully integrate the simulator with the newest in SIM technology.


(Technical information credited to Dave Heathcote)

Volunteer stands in front of DC-6 Flight Simulator