Teens help preserve Edmonton’s aviation heritage

Sheet metal technician Don Hitsman shows Christian Chenard how to rivet aluminum.

Teenagers Christian Chenard and Sonia Wong are playing an important role in keeping Edmonton’s aviation history alive.

Chenard, 15, and Wong, 16, have joined the ranks of volunteers in the Alberta Aviation Museum’s restoration department. They are following in the footsteps of dozens of craftspeople who have turned piles of twisted metal, rotted wood and fabric into an impressive collection of historic aircraft.

“Right now we are working on the restoration of a (Bell) P-39 Airacobra,” says Chenard, a Grade 10 student who was caught by the aviation bug about five years ago. “The machines are just so fascinating. The fact that they can just get up in the air and fly and do all these amazing things is remarkable. And the fact that I can work on them and make them look good, I find that very interesting.”

Wong, who attends Grade 11, spends her days studying academic subjects. She loves the opportunity to work with her hands.

Don Hitsman demonstrates how to lay out of sheet metal project to Sonia Wong.

“Being able to work with a group of experienced individuals in the museum with all these wonderfully broken pieces of aircraft is just amazing because there is so much to learn.”

Teaching them the intricacies of aircraft sheet metal fabrication is Don Hitsman, a 10-year veteran of the museum’s restoration crew and a licensed airframe structures technician. Hitsman previously worked on the B-25 Mitchell and is the go-to expert for all complex sheet metal projects. He takes his teaching role seriously.

“With the young people I get reassured that all the work that we put into this place will get passed on. I want this museum to stay around for a long time,” he says. “It’s our job to bring on the next people so it’s important for me to pass the torch.”

Hitsman is particularly pleased to see young women like Wong taking an interest.

“During World War II the woman were fixing the airplanes. So this is really a place women are entitled to be, hence the name ‘Rosie the Riveter.’

Despite the new additions to our volunteer ranks, we are still very much in need of additional help to reach our goal of being one of the finest aviation museums in Canada. In particular we are looking for:

  • Tour Guides & Interpreters
  • Grade 6 Education Program Instructors
  • Restoration & Special Projects
  • Drop-In Program Facilitators
  • Special Event Assistants

You can learn more by attending our Volunteer Information Session, February 10 at 11am. Help us spread the word about Edmonton’s unique and important role in Canadian aviation.