Pitt Meadows civilian pilots will be celebrating a historic anniversary at the end of the month, as the Aero Club of B.C. turns 100.
“We’ve got quite an amazing history,” said club president Tom Heise.
The oldest registered flying club in the British Commonwealth, it was founded in 1915 by a group of aviation enthusiasts in Vancouver.
At that time, aviation was still in its infancy. The first airplane flight in Canada had only taken place in 1909 in Nova Scotia, and Silver Dart went less than a kilometer.
A 1913 trial flight, to take newspapers from Montreal to Ottawa, crashed.
But progress was rapid, and the First World War, from 1914 to 1918, manufactured aircraft and trained pilots.
The club was soon populated with many veterans of the Royal Air Force and Royal Flying Corps, including Donald McClaren, a First World War ace who shot down 54 aircraft.
In 1927, the club received a pair of De Havilland moths from the department of national defence, and acquired two fleet biplanes in 1930.
In 1929, the city of Vancouver decided to spend $300,000 to build an airport, after a lobby by the Aero Club. City council members were no doubt spurred on by famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s criticism that Vancouver “had no fit field to land on,” so his Spirit of St. Louis did not visit the city.
The club thrived at the new airport, offering civilian flight training and promoting aviation.
The airport was a training centre throughout the Second World War, and the club played a prominent role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program for pilots.
But the growth of aviation soon had civilian pilots under foot at the busy Vancouver airport.
Members of the Aero Club were instrumental in getting the Department of Transport to build Pitt Meadows airport, to serve as a satellite to Vancouver international airport.
When the Pitt Meadows airport opened in the summer of 1963, the Aero Club was among the first tenants to arrive there, and has been there since.
Aero Club president Tom Heise has been a member for more than 30 years.
The club used to offer pilot training, owned its own aircraft, and even ran a restaurant at Vancouver airport.
But pilot training is a business, not a hobby, and the function of the club has changed over the years.
Today the club will organize Transport Canada safety seminars, offer free flights to children to introduce them to aviation, and host social fly-in and fly-out events.
The club also offers scholarship money to air cadets, and shares its clubhouse with other non-profit groups. It has a membership of about 125.
“The function of the club today is still to support and promote aviation,” Heise said. “The future of the club is going to be in our ability to attract young people to the club, and have them take it over.”