Heavy snow combined with rain proved disastrous for the Handley Page Hampden bomber on display at the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, British Columbia. The weight of the snow tore the left wing off the historic twin-engine bomber on December 26.
“It happened late at night,” explained Rob Currington, a member of the museum staff. “The Hampden is on display in the courtyard. During the day we had an ongoing effort to clear off the snow. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone there late at night. The weight of the accumulated snow mixed with the rain was just too much. The wing doesn’t have a spar inside because when the aircraft was restored in the 1980s, it was restored to static condition only, not to airworthiness.” According to Currington the left wing is torn at the root.
“The leading edge of the wing is still attached to the fuselage and is severely buckled. The trailing edge is torn off. The wing fell onto a display case that was underneath it. This bent the wing tip up at a fairly severe angle and the case is also damaged.”
Currington called the Hampden the museum’s star attraction and pointed out that it is one of only two left in the world. “There were 160 of them built in Canada. Ours is one of those. There is only one other Hampden left, being restored at a museum in the United Kingdom.”
The Hampden was used early in World War II by the British. It featured a slender tail boom and sometimes was referred to as a ‘tadpole’ or ‘frying pan’ because of this. It carried a crew of four. The men who flew in them described them as “flying suitcases” because they were so cramped on the inside.
“Even when you’re not in flying clothes,” remarked Currington.
The twin-engine bomber was designated for combat from 1938 until 1942, when newer designs replaced it. By 1942 it was used for training operations, for the most part. The museum’s Hampden was used for training in the Pacific Northwest. It was wrecked in November of 1942 during a torpedo training mission near Patricia Bay.
“The airplane had a nasty characteristic known as a stabilized yaw. The pilot dropped the torpedo and started pulling out and the airplane went into that. At only 150 feet over the ocean he didn’t have the altitude to recover,” Currington said. “All the crew escaped with only minor injuries. The aircraft was recovered from the ocean in 1985 and spent the next 15 years or so in restoration.” The parts from two other Hampden crashes were used to supplement the wreckage and make one airplane.
Currington said the museum estimates it will cost $80,000 to repair the bomber. “We are going to attempt to rebuild it,” he said. “If there is a silver lining in all of this, and that is a big if, it is that we plan to construct new building at Langley. When we are done we plan to hang it in there. We have to put some sort of internal structure in the Hampden to do that, and it would have to be restored again to achieve that goal, so we may be able to use this restoration to do that.”
Donations for repair and restoration are being accepted. For more information: 604-532-0035 or CanadianFlight.org.