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In snippets of time over the last two and half years, as often as their schedules and the weather have allowed, a group of about 25 volunteers have gathered in a tiny hangar at Region of Waterloo International Airport, trying to bring an old bird back to life.
The bird is a 1967 Cessna 337B Super Skymaster with about 9,000 hours on it, the airframe stripped of its paint, wings, engines and most other parts. It spent most of its working life as part of the Pakistani government fleet, then it was sold and moved to Canada.
It was sitting behind an office building in Nanaimo, B.C., when Sameer Haqqi, an aircraft engineer from Ontario with Pakistani roots, found it and shipped it roughly 4,200 kilometres east, to Waterloo. The aircraft is special to him because it was flown by his grandfather in Pakistan.
Haqqi envisioned the Cessna’s restoration as a community project that would celebrate global aviation.
“I always wanted to help other people get into aviation,” said Haqqi, standing in the Waterloo hangar on a crisp day in late October, as brisk winds swirled outside.
“We turned this restoration into a community project,” he added. “We formed an organization called International Heritage Aviation Restoration Organization (iHARO), and it just kept on growing from there.”
What began as a small project aimed at teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to young people has acquired much larger goals.
iHARO has also been raising funds through a GoFundMe campaign to shrink wrap the Avro Arrow replica belonging to the former Toronto Aerospace Museum, which is currently relocating to Edenvale Aerodrome northwest of Toronto.
Currently, the aircraft is being stored outside at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
“The shrink wrapping will protect the aircraft from the elements,” explained Haqqi. “There are great ideas regarding how the Arrow replica can be utilized while preserving Canadian aviation heritage.”
Haqqi and Curtis Edmonds, who both helped build the replica, are running the fundraising campaign.
iHARO’s board of directors has also launched an initiative called Bring Pakistan’s Birds Back Home, which aims to repatriate and restore aircraft of historical significance to that country.
One key goal is to preserve a Pilatus PC-12NG aircraft, registration N9854Z, owned by Tampa Bay Aviation in Clearwater, Fla.
This aircraft recently finished a circumnavigation of the globe with Pakistani aviator Fakhre Alam as its pilot. The mission was known as MissionParwaaz.
An even more ambitious goal for iHARO is to build a Canadian civil aviation museum at the Waterloo airport.
These are heady dreams, and success would be a product of several small victories. But iHARO is moving steadily forward, building relationships with government leaders and reaching out to corporate donors.
“It’s definitely picking up momentum,” said Asifa Baig, a chartered accountant from Oakville, Ont., who also has Pakistani roots and sits on the iHARO board of directors.
“I believe there’s a huge branding opportunity for anybody that wants to jump onboard and say, ‘Let’s make this happen.’ ”
She noted the Arrow replica project had several significant corporate sponsors, and the hope is iHARO will get similar support.
Added Farrukh Baig, another member of the iHARO executive committee, “We are trying, as a team, to get Canadians–especially the provincial government–involved.
“And they’re very interested. We got a very positive response from them; they really want to work with us.”
Farrukh is an entrepreneur from Oakville who previously worked at the Goodrich landing gear plant in Oakville, which contributed parts to the first Airbus A380 aircraft.
“It really excites you, when you think about those things–you’re part of that history,” he said.
“We all think people will be very interested, especially for the children–to show them what we have done and what Canadians can do.”
As for the Skymaster being restored in Waterloo, it’s technically no longer a Cessna.
The group has altered it enough to have it christened with a new name: the iHARO AP-AVM MixMaster.
Several community groups have supported the project, including Flight 26 of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association and the Kitchener chapter of the Recreational Aircraft Association.
“We’ll start from where we left off and carry on forward,” said Haqqi, noting the restoration project will be on hold over the winter but will resume in the spring.
“iHARO’s AP-AVM MixMaster is going to be an airworthy aircraft. It’s not going to be just a static display … they finish when it finishes, and funds are a major role player.”