Finding a Vickers Vedette for the museum collection was high on the wish list for the founders of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada. The Vedette was the first aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Canada, and it played an important role for the RCAF and government in the 1920s. When the founders went looking for a Vedette, it became apparent that no complete examples were in existence. They quickly concluded that if the museum wanted a Vedette, they would have little choice but to build their own.
Sixty-one Canadian Vickers Vedette’s were manufactured and used in Canada for aerial survey and mapping. Unfortunately, many of the Vedette’s were lost. Some sank to the bottom of lakes, some crashed, and others were turned into boats. A fire at the Vickers factory in Montreal had long since destroyed all of the designs and blueprints – further complicating matters for the museum’s founders.
Three separate Vedette’s were used to generate information for the museum’s replica.
The first was Vedette, G-CASW, which had crashed into a mountain on Porcher Island in British Columbia while conducting a forest fire survey.
The second was Vedette, CF-MAG, which was owned by the Manitoba Government Air Service. In 1937, the Air Service had already begun phasing out the aging Vedette’s from their fleet, and so when the engine failed – forcing the pilot to land in a swamp near Cormorant Lake in northern Manitoba – the Air Service decided to abandon and torch CF-MAG. This turned out to be a stroke of luck because the museum’s dive team – who retrieved much of the fuselage in 1976 – discovered that charring from the fire had preserved many delicate wooden fragments of the wings and hull.
Preserved pieces of a third Vedette were loaned to the museum by the National Aeronautical Museum in Ottawa.
These fragments from three separate aircraft would form the groundwork for the creation of blueprints. Thankfully, restoration volunteer Doug Newey, who had recently retired from Bristol Aerospace, had worked at the Vickers plant in Montreal, building Vedette wing struts early in his career. By memory and painstaking examination of the assembled Vedette remains, Newey was able to reproduce calculations and drawings that were used to create a set of blueprints. These are the only set of Vedette blueprints in existence. From there, it would take museum volunteers over 20 years to complete the flight-worthy Vedette replica.
Thanks to the expertise of Doug Newey and dozens of other dedicated museum members and volunteers, visitors of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada can once again see Canada’s first airplane. It remains the only fully replicated, airworthy Canadian Vickers Vedette in the world.