P-39 Update: One volunteer’s lifelong dream

Story by Steve Finkelman, AAM Communications Coordinator

Dave McIlmoyle has been waiting 50 years to get his hands on a P-39 Airacobra. Now his dream has come true. He is a key member of the restoration crew at the Alberta Aviation Museum working on the P-39 project.

Dave McIlmoyle at work on the P-39.

The project will rebuild a museum-quality P-39 to represent the more than 4,000 of Airacobras and (P-63) Kingcobras that passed through Edmonton on their way to Alaska and on to Russia during the Second World War.

McIlmoyle’s association with the aircraft started in 1969 when he moved to Watson Lake, Yukon as a meterological technician.

“I learned about the Lend Lease Program and the thousands of P-39s that came through Watson lake,”

he says. “Numerous ones crashed in the region and I was always on the lookout for pieces. I never did find anything.”

A private pilot, McIlmoyle rebuilt several aircraft while in the North, including a Piper Arrow and a Piper PA-12. But he was always on the lookout for a P-39.

McIlmoyle’s handiwork on the Airacobra’s vertical stabilizer, which was build from the plans.

“I eventually built one out of wood for the local tourism authority and it stood at the Watson Lake Sign Post along the Alaska Highway. Weather finally got to it. But it lasted eight years.”

His P-39 obsession was eventually to be satisfied.

“After 49 years in the Yukon we retired to Edmonton and last September at the Open Cockpit Day I saw they were rebuilding a P-39. Well I felt I had to get involved.”

McIlmoyle’s hand skills are coming in handy and he has quickly become adept at building the necessary parts from scratch using only the plans.

“After studying the blueprints you get all your measurements and you just start cutting aluminum and bending, drilling holes, deburring, clecoing and riveting. Right now I am in the process of building the vertical stabilizer and have about 80 per cent on that. Once that’s done I will build the rudders and we will have the tail end of the airplane pretty well finished. “

McIlmoyle can be found working in the restoration shop every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday along with about a half-dozen others.

“It’s a new experience, I learn something new here every day.”

The P-39 Project is still in its infancy with much work to be done before it’s complete.

The project is still a long way from being complete, as the pictures indicate and the museum is still looking for additional skilled tradespeople. You can volunteer here if you are interested in helping out. You can check out Dave’s work, and the work of others on the project, Tuesdays and Thursdays when volunteer area is open to the public.

Drop by and see how this team is creating history virtually from scratch.