B.C. Aviation Museum makes progress on Lancaster FM104

An Avro Lancaster bomber built in Ontario by Victory Aircraft Ltd. is gaining a new lease on life at the B.C. Aviation Museum.

The nose and cockpit section of FM104 were carefully secured to a trailer in spring 2019 to highlight the restoration project at local parades and events. Grant Hopkins Photo
The nose and cockpit section of FM104 were carefully secured to a trailer in spring 2019 to highlight the restoration project at local parades and events. Grant Hopkins Photo
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The four-engine Lancaster, serial number FM104, rolled off the line in 1944 at Victory’s Malton plant near what is now Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

In early 1945, the aircraft was flown to England, though it wasn’t deployed for combat duties. The Second World War in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, and FM104 came back to Canada weeks later.

By the fall of 1945, the plane was stored in Claresholm, Alta., along with dozens of other Lancasters that survived the war.

Emerging from nearly six years of storage in Alberta, FM104 went through modifications and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force’s search and rescue operations in the 1950s and early 1960s, focused on Canada’s East Coast.

In what will be a 10-year restoration project estimated to cost more than $5 million, plans call for the vintage Lancaster to be eventually airworthy. It will again have the search and rescue livery that it had upon its retirement in 1964.

The not-for-profit B.C. Aviation Museum, located on land leased for a nominal $1 a year from Victoria International Airport, acquired the Lancaster two years ago in a process overseen by the City of Toronto.

Over the 2018/2019 winter, the nose cone was separated from the cockpit to begin repairs to the structure and components. Grant Hopkins Photo
Over the 2018/2019 winter, the nose cone was separated from the cockpit to begin repairs to the structure and components. Grant Hopkins Photo

After securing rights to the plane, the museum took delivery of the historic aircraft in the fall of 2018. It arrived in sections inside five transport trucks that made the lengthy trip to Vancouver Island.

The history of FM104 includes damage long after the war, adding to the complexity of the painstaking work being undertaken by dozens of volunteers in the Victoria region.

After the plane’s retirement in 1964, it was mounted on a plinth in 1965 for public display (repainted in its wartime camouflage colours) at Coronation Park, located near the Canadian National Exhibition on Toronto’s waterfront.

“The plinth-mounting technique undermined the aircraft’s structural integrity and caused corrosion. Exposure to lakefront weather, bird infestations and ongoing vandalism also threatened FM104’s long-term survival,” said a report by the City of Toronto in 2018.

FM104 was subjected to Toronto weather from 1965 until 1999. The plane was transferred indoors in 1999 and over the next two decades, efforts to fully restore the aircraft suffered a series of setbacks in Ontario.

Grant Hopkins, co-ordinator of the B.C. museum’s ambitious restoration project, said repairs will be required to fix damage not only from being exposed to the elements outside but also vandalism while on public display.

“It’s a big process of restoration,” he said in an interview. “There’s a lot of corrosion inherent in an aircraft that was sitting out on a post for more than 30 years. Our goal is to do the restoration to an airworthiness standard.”

In July 2019, FM104 was displayed in the restoration hangar during a museum open house. Grant Hopkins Photo
In July 2019, FM104 was displayed in the restoration hangar during a museum open house. Grant Hopkins Photo

Hopkins noted that the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton and Royal Air Force Coningsby in England have the only two Lancasters in the world that are still airworthy.

Retired graphic artist Colin Bowley, who is one of the B.C. museum’s volunteers and aviation buffs, painted FM104 on canvas. He depicted it as it would have appeared in the skies in the early 1960s.

“Many years ago, I lived in Toronto and was there when FM104 was mounted on the pedestal,” recalled Bowley in an email message. “I went there to see it a couple of days after it was put on display. At that time, it looked really impressive.”

Of the 7,377 Lancasters produced in the world, 430 were built in Canada, all at Victory’s Malton plant.

Only 17 complete Lancasters remain in the world, including eight in Canada. Ontario has four, Alberta has two, while British Columbia and Nova Scotia each have one.

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“First flown in 1941, the British-designed Avro Lancaster was one of the most famous Allied bombers of the Second World War,” said the City of Toronto in its 2018 report.

While it did not see active service during the war, “FM104 is a rare and significant object,” said the city.

B.C. museum president David Jackson said it makes sense to restore the plane to its former glory. “We’re going to have to rebuild a lot of that centre section where it was cut out,” he said in an interview.

Lancaster FM104 as it would have appeared in the early 1960s, captured in this acrylic on canvas painting by Colin E. Bowley in 2018.Lancaster FM104 as it would have appeared in the early 1960s, captured in this acrylic on canvas painting by Colin E. Bowley in 2018.
Lancaster FM104 as it would have appeared in the early 1960s, captured in this acrylic on canvas painting by Colin E. Bowley in 2018.

The museum, which has more than 30 planes in its collection, has two display hangars, one restoration hangar and other facilities such as a gift shop and library.

“We’ve had to reconfigure our restoration hangar to install new tooling,” said Jackson. “Once restoration is close to completion, we’re going to need a new hangar to stick the plane in because our current hangars are not big enough.”

The museum has been fundraising and also encouraging more people with valuable skills, such as licensed plane mechanics, to step forward to help with the restoration project.

“One of the challenges with any volunteer organization is getting people to come in consistently, and getting people who have the knowledge to do the job properly,” said Jackson.

6 thoughts on “B.C. Aviation Museum makes progress on Lancaster FM104

    1. Where can I donate to project. My Daddy built these babies!!
      Thanks to all the talented volunteers, with good hands, and big hearts.
      I have touched the one in Hamilton and heard the special roar when it flew on Nov. 11th. I crawled inside when it came to Bracebridge, Ont. air show. Not very much comfort for crew. Also difficult to escape from compared to other makes. We lost my Momma’s 21 year old brother, a Navigator, defending Britain on the North Sea coast in 1942.

  1. My father was a Lancaster pilot during WW2 and he flew 38 operational missions from December 2, 1944- April 9, 1945. It would be awesome to see another Lancaster airworthy.

  2. I was part of the crew that rescued FM104 from the plinth at Coronation Park in Toronto and delivered it to safety at the Toronto Air & Space Museum at Downsview Airport, It was a labour of love and many people worked hard on this rescue and TAM protected that item from further damage until arbitrarily closed by Downsview Park. I think that those who worked so hard to save FM104 should be given some credit for their activities in saving this aircraft.

  3. If Lancaster FM 104 had not been removed from the Plinth in Toronto in 1999 and stored indoors for 12 years while undergoing restoration, (much work was done, including disassembly and rebuilding of several of the four Merlin engines) this Lancaster would not exist for the B.C. Aviation museum to complete the restoration.
    The Toronto Aerospace Museum and it’s volunteers saved this aircraft and deserve recognition for their work.

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