Genevieve Beauchemin, Montreal Bureau Chief, CTV National News and Tom Yun, CTVNews.ca writer | June 13, 2021
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TORONTO — A decommissioned airplane at one of North America’s top aircraft maintenance schools is getting a new lease on life as an underwater attraction for divers.
For nearly three decades, a twin-engine Piper Aztec plane was an important teaching tool at École nationale d’aérotechnique (ÉNA) in Saint-Hubert, Que., just outside Montreal.
But as ÉNA upgraded its teaching fleet with newer models for the mechanics-to-be, the Aztec had to be retired.
That’s when ÉNA teacher and former army mechanic Serge Rancourt came up with the idea to lower the plane into the depths of a quarry in Thetford Mines, Que. for its final landing.
“I am a diver myself, so I have seen shipwrecks, some aircraft wrecks,” Bancourt told CTV National News.
Before the plane could be placed underwater, some 80 ÉNA students helped strip down the plan to ensure all contaminants were removed.
“We were given a toolbox, given a section of the aircraft to work on,” said ÉNA student James Alexander Midlash, who worked on the plane’s engine mounts.
Since the plane wasn’t going to fly again anyway, it didn’t matter if students made mistakes.
“With this project, mistakes were allowed,” said Rancourt. “If they were doing mistakes, it was acceptable, because the plane was basically going under water later on.”
For first-year student Lisa Major, the experience was confirmation of her passion for the male-dominated field of aviation maintenance.
“I was involved with taking the wings off the plane and that is something you never have to do,” she said. “It was something that was a really cool experience.”
In the next phase, the team had to figure out the best way to sink aircraft, a process known as scuttling.
“On my side, it was all about transportation, also putting the aircraft in the water” said diver and research engineer Pierre-Olivier Dubois.
To plan for the landing, drones and other high-tech tools were used to create a 3D model of the plane and the underwater landing site.
The landing had to be precise. Otherwise, the plane could crash on the side of a cliff, or be lost in nine metres of water, Dubois said.
After seven minutes, the plane was successfully submerged with the help of a crane. It’s already become popular with divers, serving not only as a something for divers to enjoy, but also as an aviation time capsule. A plaque with the names of all those who worked on the project was also added to the fuselage of the plane.