Text and photography by Eric Dumigan
The Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association (CHAA) has just rolled out a freshly-rebuilt Harvard Mk.4 trainer following a lengthy restoration. This aircraft served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as serial number 20304, having rolled off Canadian Car and Foundry’s production line in Fort William, Ontario during 1952, the 95th Harvard to do so. She flew with the RCAF for eleven years in a training role, starting first at RCAF Macdonald near Portage la Prairie in Manitoba and later at RCAF Centralia near Exeter, Ontario. Following the conclusion of her military career, Canada’s Crown Assets Disposal Corporation sold RCAF 20304 as surplus on December 7th, 1964 at No. 6 Repair Depot, RCAF Station Dunnville, in Dunnville, Ontario. Gilbert Dressel was the lucky man to acquire the aircraft; he stored her in a barn near Wainfleet, Ontario where where she sat untouched for the next four decades.
CHAA member, Greg Tyrell, purchased 20304 from Mr. Dressel in 2006 with plans to restore the aircraft to flying condition and dedicate her to his father Stanley Tyrell who had served in the RCAF. Sadly, Greg Tyrell passed away two years later following a battle with cancer. In honor of Greg Tyrell’s memory, his family donated 20304 to the CHAA, who vowed to return the aircraft to flying condition in memory of Mr. Tyrell.
Greg Tyrell had a long history with the CHAA, having joined in 1993. He began flying Harvards soon after completing ground school, and served in many rolls within the organization, including as president (2003-2005). He also spearheaded many fund-raising events for the CHAA, such as a cash calendar. Greg also felt that, to ensure its longevity, the CHAA needed to operate as a business. Therefore, every backseat needed to be filled with a paying member on an operational flight so that all expenses could be covered. He often brought his family to the CHAA’s hangar, and is quoted as saying, “I came for the Harvards, but stayed for the people.”
As already noted, 20304 had remained virtually untouched since her RCAF retirement, so she arrived at the CHAA in virtually time-capsule condition. The CHAA documented all of the airframe’s markings before stripping her down to the smallest component. For over ten years, CHAA’s volunteers have worked on returning the Harvard to her former glory, and wearing the same markings she wore upon her retirement at RCAF Station Centralia. This past October 25th, with members of the Dressel and Tyrell family in attendance, 20304 rolled out from CHAA’s hangar to the sound of the RCAF March Past. CHAA dedicated her to Gilbert Dressel, Stanley Tyrell and Gregory Tyrell. In a touching moment, Reverend Bill White from Legion #501 in Lambeth had everyone present place their hands upon the aircraft while he blessed it.
This winter, the CHAA will complete final touches and paperwork for the Harvard. The first flight should take place during the spring of 2021. RCAF 20304 will be the most complete and authentic Harvard in CHAA’s fleet once she takes flight, and the organization plans to take her to the next EAA AirVenture Oshkosh convention for judging.
For more information about the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association and how you can help them achieve their goals in preserving and maintaining aircraft from the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, please visit their website at www.harvards.com.
About Eric Dumigan
Since 1988, Eric has freelanced for Canadian, American, French, German, Australian and British Aviation magazines. He has published hundreds of articles and thousands of photos, as well as having images displayed in several aviation museums and businesses. Eric enjoys photographing everything from people to wildlife. To learn more about Dumigan and his work, please visit his website, www.airic.ca