En­thu­si­ast re­stores 10th war­plane

The Niagara Falls Review - - Front Page - AL­LAN BENNER

The Stin­son L-5 Sen­tinel had been slowly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in a hangar near Mon­treal for more than a decade when Bruce MacRitchie found it.

Six years later, he has re­stored it to its for­mer glory.

De­spite its con­di­tion and the huge amount of work re­quired to launch the old plane into the sky again, the 84-year-old pilot and air­plane me­chanic knew he had to have it.

It was one of about 3,000 of the vin­tage planes that were built specif­i­cally for the U.S. mil­i­tary, and one of only three regis­tered in Canada.

“They were used all over the cam­paigns in World War II and also in Korea,” MacRitchie says. “It was an in­ter­est­ing air­plane.”

The planes were equipped with over­sized en­gines, huge win­dows that rat­tled as they soared through the sky, and some were equipped with large open­ings on the fuse­lage where in­jured sol­diers could be car­ried to safety.

“They were used all over the place — used to res­cue peo­ple and for ar­tillery spot­ting and that type of thing.”

Although there had been con­sid­er­able in­ter­est in the old planes fol­low­ing the wars in which they were used, MacRitchie says air­wor­thy Stin­sons are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly scarce.

He wasn’t ready to give up on that 75-year-old plane he found sit­ting in that hangar at the Mas­couche air­port.

He’d pre­vi­ously re­stored nine vin­tage war­planes dur­ing his long ca­reer — in­clud­ing the T-28 Tro­jan he used to fly over­head dur­ing Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies — and he was con­fi­dent he could do the same for the Stin­son that rolled off the as­sem­bly line on Nov. 16, 1943.

“I trucked it back here be­cause it hadn’t flown in years and did a tremen­dous amount of work on it, en­gine and air frame,” he says.

MacRitchie de­scribes his hobby of restor­ing vin­tage war­planes as a labour of love — “or stu­pid­ity, I’m never quite sure which.”

The Stin­son has been re­stored to its orig­i­nal con­di­tion — with a few ad­di­tions such as black and white in­va­sion stripes on its wood and fab­ric wings and fuse­lage, in recog­ni­tion of the role sim­i­lar Stin­son planes played dur­ing the Nor­mandy D-Day land­ings in 1944.

He says the old plane “flies very nicely,” although he hasn’t had as many op­por­tu­ni­ties to take off from Ni­a­gara Cen­tral Dorothy Run­geling Air­port in Pel­ham. He fin­ished restor­ing it too late in the sea­son to fly it on warm days, and the plane isn’t equipped with a heater.

“Now I have to pick my days to fly it,” he says.

MacRitchie is re­search­ing the his­tory of the plane, try­ing to de­ter­mine con­flicts in which it may have been in­volved. But trac­ing the his­tory of a mil­i­tary plane is “a mon­ster” of an un­der­tak­ing, he says.

“I’m still pur­su­ing it and I will find out even­tu­ally where it did serve.”

In ad­di­tion to do­ing his part to keep vin­tage air­craft fly­ing to be en­joyed by fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, MacRitchie has pitched in sig­nif­i­cantly to help train the next gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple work­ing in

the in­dus­try — he re­cently do­nated $1 mil­lion as well as two planes and other items to Cen­ten­nial Col­lege in Toronto.

More than 30 years ago, MacRitchie set up an avi­a­tion tech­ni­cian schol­ar­ship at Cen­ten­nial in me­mory of his older brother Doug, who was killed in a plane crash in 1980. He has re­turned to the col­lege ev­ery year since, to present the schol­ar­ship to the grad­u­at­ing stu­dent of the year.

“Last year when I pre­sented the award, a young man came up to me and said, ‘I have to say hello for my grand­fa­ther.’ I asked why, and he said, ‘Be­cause he worked for you in 1966,’” MacRitchie re­calls, laugh­ing.


Bruce MacRitchie is pho­tographed at Ni­a­gara Cen­tral Dorothy Run­geling Air­port in Pel­ham with a Sec­ond Word War plane that he has re­stored.


Bruce MacRitchie flies a vin­tage air­craft in this un­dated photo.

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