Meet a group of Albertans working to preserve and showcase southern Alberta's airline history

Millington says this Fokker F28-1000 flew all over Europe, and it was once painted bright yellow. (David Mercer/CBC - image credit)
Millington says this Fokker F28-1000 flew all over Europe, and it was once painted bright yellow. (David Mercer/CBC - image credit)

If you're driving down a gravel road in Vulcan County, about 50 kilometres northeast of High River, Alta., a strange sight may catch your eye.

A Fokker F28-1000 — a huge 65-seat passenger jet — sits in the middle of an acreage owned by Jesse Millington.

Onboard the plane, Millington points out the air safety cards, the 2001 edition of Enroute magazine and an air sickness bag, all still intact in a storage pouch.

"I just wanted to have something for myself that I could contribute to aviation," Millington said.

"When people come out here, if they want, they can go inside the airplane, they can see, they can experience it on a totally different level."

Occasionally, some people do pop by and take a look, whether it's a curious driver, an area farmer or someone from the local Hutterite community.

Millington found the plane through his work with the Time Air Historical Society, a Calgary-based not-for-profit. The group formally started in 2018 with the goal of honouring and preserving southern Alberta's aviation history, and educating people about it.

Initially, the group wanted to focus solely on the history of Time Air, a former commuter service based in Lethbridge that was founded by businessman Walter (Stubb) Ross in 1966.

But through studying the airline's history, and the purchases and mergers that went along with it, the group decided to expand to the broader history of aviation in southern Alberta and in Canada.

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

Eventually, the group hopes to open a museum at the Trans-Canada Airlines hangar at the Lethbridge airport, built in the 1930s.

"It's a really, really interesting project," said Rik Barry, chairman of the Time Air Historical Society.

"It's an incredibly large story and one that's been either forgotten or brushed over for the most part. And that's why we are doing what we're doing."

The group has collected a number of artifacts and stories from former pilots, as well as four physical airplanes, some donated and some purchased through crowdfunding.

Time Air previously operated all of the planes: a Short SD-330, a F-28-1000, a Convair CV580 and a de Havilland Canada Twin Otter C-GBPE.

Time Air Historical Society
Time Air Historical Society

Millington's plane is not included on the list as he acquired it privately in hopes of preserving it. But as a member of the group's board, he does want it to be used as part of their efforts.

Since he was a child, Millington says, he's always loved airplanes, having spent many nights at the airport with his father, snacking on a burger, watching them take off.

He likes to think his passion will rub off on those who visit, inspiring more aviation enthusiasts to do their part.

"I didn't do this to make money. I didn't do this to show boat. I did this strictly to preserve … the memories that I had for growing up and for all the people involved in this kind of stuff," he said.

Time Air Historical Society

The society itself is made up of seven board members. Two have their own personal planes.

Barry, who's from Lethbridge, says planes used to fly almost directly over his parents' house when he was younger, and he'd run outside each time to see what airline they would be from. Many of his friends ended up flying for Time Air.

While at a community function about a decade ago, he discovered he wasn't the only one from the city who felt nostalgic about this local bit of history. A group slowly formed, and things took off from there.

"Time Air, at one time, was the largest regional airline in Canada … an airline that a lot of people don't even realize existed."

Throughout the years, the airline eventually became part of Canadian Regional Airlines, and then part of Air Canada Jazz, Barry said.

Submitted by Jesse Millington
Submitted by Jesse Millington

As part of their efforts, the group decided to find out where planes flown by Time Air had ended up.

They've contacted many of the plane's owners, Barry said, and most of them have been receptive to the group's mission.

Moving a plane

Still, some of the planes didn't end up in Alberta.

Getting them here is quite costly, Barry said. Each one needs to be disassembled, lifted onto trailers using large cranes and transported to its final destination.

Millington says the group helped to move his plane from Saskatoon about three years ago as a test run.

"Unfortunately, this one won't ever fly again just because there are some other things when we were moving it that you didn't have a choice but to deal with," Millington said.

"We're making sure each one, every time we do it, is even better than the last when we move it."

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

This year, the group's focus is on getting the planes home to Lethbridge for public tours so they can start generating extra funds. They also plan to acquire more of the types of planes operated during Time Air's tenure.

In the meantime, Millington says he'll be restoring his own Fokker F28-1000 to its original state.

And when people stop by, he's armed with information. He knows where the plane's been, what colours it's been painted before and which airlines it's belonged to.

It took its last flight on Oct. 25, 2002, he says, and though it's not in the sky, he's got a whole other life planned for his giant jet.

"I'd like to preserve it and keep it as an homage to all the people of Canadian Airlines, Canadian Regional and that time of aviation that was so special and the battles that went on," he said.

"It still retains everything that it was back then. So when people see it, they're literally going back in time."