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Innisfail-area farmer hauling a piece of aviation history to his home

Arnold Begeman’s lifelong love of airplanes ultimately led him to embark on an international journey

INNISFAIL – A lifelong affinity for airplanes ultimately led an Innisfail-area farmer to embark on a journey to bring to his property a piece of aviation history.

Arnold Begeman, who is originally from the Netherlands, developed early on a passion for planes.

“That must have been when I came out of the womb I guess,” Begeman said followed by laughter when asked what were his earliest memories of discovering his love of aviation.

Levity aside, the 49-year-old said, “My father, he was also an aviation enthusiast. When I was a little kid, he took me sometimes with him and then we drove to the airport in Amsterdam and watched airplanes.”

The two would observe the planes landing and taking off while listening to a scanner to hear the radio communications, he recalled on Friday, June 16 during a phone interview, later adding he would also keep a close eye out for planes that flew over their home.

The pastime did not turn out to be a fleeting phase, as his enthusiasm over the years into adulthood not only did not wane, but perhaps also even arguably intensified. The proof, as the saying goes, is in the pudding. Begeman, who in 2008 moved to the Innisfail-area farm that his family now calls home, has for years been pursuing a project near and dear to his heart.

And now, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is getting that much brighter. But the inspiration behind the project was itself also years in the making.

“In Amsterdam, there used to be the Fokker factory; now it’s all gone,” he said, adding he as a result developed an interest in the Dutch-manufactured aircraft.

Despite experiencing commercial success throughout the earlier part of the 20th century, the company went bankrupt in 1996.

Further fuelling his passion was a family friend who happened to be the chief editor of an aviation magazine for the airport in Amsterdam, he said.

“He knew that we were into airplanes,” said Begeman, adding this was all before the digital age and that the editor had saved a small wealth of information through aviation magazines and press releases.

“I got into the Fokkers, and I kind of knew what was going on and who bought what and who flew with what,” he said. “So, before I even moved to Canada, I already knew there were all these Fokkers being stored in Saskatoon.”

A certain model from his childhood memories seemed to appeal to him the most.

“There was one particular aircraft that I saw when I was young, when we were eating at a restaurant in Amsterdam with a panoramic view on the ramp, and the closest airplane there was an F28 . . . in Air France colours,” he said.

“I fell in love with it and then I kind of kept track of where it was going.”

Every other year, the plane was flying for a different airline under different colour schemes and prior to being placed in storage in Saskatoon had been rented out by the owners until it was sold to Canadian Regional, he said.

In 2018, Begeman said he became aware that some of the Fokkers in storage in Saskatoon were destined for the scrap heap, but that anybody who was interested in obtaining a part from an F28 could order one.

“I wanted to buy a part of the F28 that I saw as a child in Amsterdam through the restaurant,” he said.

Embarking on a road trip alongside Rik Barry from the Time Air Historical Society, whose board Begeman also sits on, the pair car pooled to go and pick up some parts that had caught their attention.

“He ordered some parts too from a different airplane,” said Begeman.

“On the way home, Rik and I decided that it would be worthwhile to see if we could buy a complete F-28 instead of only parts,” he said, adding they reached out to the owners, Aero Logistics, who eventually agreed to sell an F28 to the Time Air Historical Society, which is working to establish a museum in Lethbridge.

“Of course I was completely enthusiastic about this aircraft type and about this whole endeavour, but I live very far away from Lethbridge,” he said, adding that with a farm and a family to take care of, regular trips to work on the plane such a distance away wasn’t feasible.

“That’s when I asked if I could buy another one, and that was no problem,” he said, adding he in January 2020 selected his personal favourite from the remaining lot because of its closer connection to his roots as a plane that was manufactured in the Netherlands.

The plane earned the nickname Tizzy less as a result of its designation – F28 C-GTIZ – and more due to its unfortunate history of ending up in ditches along the way, said Arnold.

In the early ’90s, he said the plane was flying for the government in Africa’s Ivory Coast when a part of its landing gear broke down upon touching down and steered it into a ditch. Fokker subsequently bought back the plane from the insurance company and eventually brought it back to the Netherlands to finish repairs.

After a fresh new paint job, the good-as-new plane was leased to Air Ivoire and registered as TIZ. Successfully completing its service there, Air Ivoire eventually returned the plane to Fokker, who in turn sold it to Time Air before it eventually ended up in the Canadian Regional fleet.

After transportation to Calgary, the company spent some six months rebranding the plane and preparing it for service, after which it was then leased to now-defunct Inter-Canadien. Within the span of a month, there was construction happening on the runway at St. John’s airport and the plane ended up overshooting its landing.

“So, it was in the ditch again,” he said.

The plane underwent minor repairs in St. John’s that enabled a crew to fly the craft back to Calgary for a more thorough overhaul. When it was all done, somebody had neglected to ensure the parking brake was on, he said.

“The mechanic said, ‘Well, this plane certainly had a lot of tizzy moments!’” said Begeman.

Fast forward to today, and the plane once again found itself travelling – this time attached to a wide-load trailer. Although it was supposed to have arrived at their Innisfail farm last Thursday, the preceding storm that had swept through the area ended up delaying the delivery as utility crews worked to restore power lines, and the Fokker was temporarily grounded in Sundre.  

“They were busy with all the damage that the storm caused and then fair enough, we were not a priority,” he said.

However, he was reluctant to leave the plane sitting unsupervised in town all by itself.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said, adding a local connection was all too happy to offer some space at their property on a nearby farm.

“This morning, we moved the plane to their front yard to the driveway,” he said, adding he hoped it would finally arrive at its destination early this week either on Monday or Tuesday.

Although Begeman’s plan does not involve making the plane airworthy, he intends to restore the Fokker as much as possible to its original condition so it might look ready for takeoff to the naked, untrained eye.

But there yet remains a lot of work to tackle, including re-attaching the wings that also house the landing gear, without which the chassis cannot be put into its final resting place, he said.

“The landing gear is attached to the wings, to make it a little bit more complicated,” he said, chuckling. “So, we cannot unload it off the trailer unless it’s got wings so that we can put it on its landing gears.”

For the time being, a specific plan for how to use the plane remains uncertain.

“This journey has been so long, that I kind of first wanted to see that the plane was here before I believe it,” Begeman candidly confessed.

“But we also would like to do a little storefront and sell beef and eggs,” he said.

Begeman’s wife Colleen told the Albertan that the couple, who met in Calgary and married in 2013 before going onto have two children who are now ages nine and seven, decided to pursue a business model that blends farming and tourism.

“The plane is meant to be sort of the showpiece,” she said, adding the interior remains in remarkable condition despite sitting in storage for so long.

There’s certainly potential to use the chassis as a sort of storefront, but the couple has not yet decided for certain. Considering everything the plane has gone through, gutting it would be a shame, she said.

“We may or may not use it actually as the store. We'll have to see as time goes by,” said Colleen.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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