Chris Colton retiring as air force museum director
Chris Colton, the soon-to-be-retired director of the National Air Force Museum of Canada, stands before a CC-130 Hercules in the museum's air park. The former Hercules pilot said he's enjoyed his "wonderful career" with the facility.
CFB TRENTON — Chris Colton is cleared for takeoff.
The executive director of the National Air Force Museum of Canada will retire June 29.
It won't be his first retirement: the pilot spent 37 years in the air force, retiring as a lieutenant-colonel and this base's operations officer.
He then joined the museum board in 1997 and has since remained a presence there.
“It's been a wonderful career,” Colton said in an interview in his second-floor office.
“It allowed me to maintain my air force links … which was wonderful.”
Surrounded by models of Canadian military aircraft, he reflected upon a museum career of many chances.
“I think I've probably seen seven stages of construction,” he said. “It means we're moving forward.
“Museums should never be static.”
He said his most memorable moment was the November 2005 unveiling of the museum's Handley-Page Halifax bomber after years of work.
A crowd of 1,500 jammed into the south end of the museum to watch as a recording of Halifax engines came to life, smoke effects billowed and spotlights glared. Then the curtains fell away to reveal the towering bomber as the applause thundered and veterans wept.
Colton said veterans are still coming to see the museum's showpiece, which was restored inside and out.
“The Halifax got them back home safely,” he said.
“They just stop dead and you can just see the emotion on their faces.
“That airplane … opens that door that they probably had closed for so many years.”
Colton's other memories include visits by athlete Rick Hansen, the Olympic torch and political and military dignitaries from around the world.
“This is one of those venues that everyone wants to see.”
Maj. Bill March, who chairs the RCAF Memorial Museum Foundation – which kept the museum's former name – has known Colton for about 20 years.
“In that time he's been basically the heart and soul of the air force museum,” March said.
Colton was “instrumental” in guiding the $6-million expansion to house the Halifax, said March.
“Without Chris at the helm it might still have gotten done, but it would've taken a lot longer.
“He likes to make sure that everybody's engaged,” March said. He said his friend is personable and knowledgeable, applying his expertise “very firmly and very fairly.”
Colton has been such a part of the place, said March, “I can't imagine it without him.”
Colton said the wing commanders and staff of Canada's largest air force base continue to work closely with museum personnel.
“They've been amazing, truly amazing, in the support they provide," he said. “Can't thank them enough.”
Colton's successor is expected to be announced this week.
That person will pick up the baton for oversight of the next major expansion: one to house the Lancaster bomber now being restored in the museum's shop. It's to be unveiled April 1, 2024.
When asked what he'll do in retirement, the director answered without hesitation.
“I will do whatever I want,” Colton said precisely, then allowed a smirk.
His wife, Micky (Michelle) Colton, also former a transport pilot on the base, retired in 2011 and earlier this month retired from reserve service. She was the first Canadian woman to log 5,000 hours piloting the CC-130 Hercules.
Her husband said they plan to remain in the region.