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A Cessna 195 restoration that ‘makes no sense’

A tribute to a pioneering air ambulance

This gleaming Cessna 195 stands out even before you know its colorful history.

Photography by Thomas Hoff
Photography by Thomas Hoff

The 1947 radial-engine taildragger has a bright, bold, medical red cross in the middle of its fuselage, the Saskatchewan provincial emblem, and “air ambulance service” painted on the door.

It was restored over a 35-year period by Thomas M. Thomas, its owner and pilot, who regards his multi-decade quest as a fool’s errand.

“This shows what happens when you combine ignorance and enthusiasm,” said Thomas, 72, who was born and raised in Germany, moved to North America at age 21, and became a Canadian citizen, pilot, and business owner. “The restoration makes absolutely no sense and should never have been attempted. But I’m stubborn, and once I start something, I want to finish it.”

The Cessna 195 air ambulance served in Canada from 1951 until 1972 when it was damaged in an accident.
The Cessna 195 air ambulance served in Canada from 1951 until 1972 when it was damaged in an accident.

The Cessna 195 lived and worked in Canada as an air ambulance from 1951 until 1972 and had logged more than 7,000 hours when it was damaged in a landing accident. The airplane overturned, and then it was harmed even more when it was carelessly flipped upright.

The wreckage was stored outside for 20 years with its top torn off. Then Thomas, founder of a metal fabrication shop in Alberta, acquired the carcass in the early 1990s and began restoring it. He built a rotisserie jig for the fuselage and completely disassembled the airplane.

“I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into,” said Thomas, who speaks English with a clipped German accent. “The gear supports were all busted up. It was an insane amount of work.”

Thomas is a highly experienced private pilot and has logged more than 5,000 hours flying single-engine land and sea airplanes throughout the Canadian provinces and continental United States. His restored 195 had only flown about 20 hours since its restoration when Thomas brought it to the Round-Engine Roundup in Idaho Falls, Idaho, in June 2023.

He planned to fly it to Saskatchewan this past summer as a tribute to the air ambulance service, a pioneering organization founded by T.C. “Tommy” Douglas, who later became a driving force in starting Canada’s national healthcare system.

Thomas’s airplane is the only airworthy remnant of the far-ranging air ambulance service, yet he won’t seek any awards for his historically accurate, painstaking restoration.

“I didn’t do any of this for awards or recognition,” he said. “I did it for the history, and the history of this airplane is all in Saskatchewan.”

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Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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