Have you ever wanted to fly an airplane or see how beautiful York Durham Headwaters is from the sky? If so, the Brampton Flying Club is a must-visit destination.
Established in 1946, the club, which owns the Brampton-Caledon Airport, is one of the largest in North America. The airport that is also home to the Great War Flying Museum where visitors can revel in and marvel at WWI-era aircraft up close, as well as talk to the pilots who fly them.
“There were about six to eight gentlemen who returned to Canada after fighting in World War II who met and decided to go flying,” says Allan Paige, General Manager of the Brampton Flying Club. “They bought a de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane, which was a plane used to train pilots, and they formed a club so they could fly that airplane.”
But Ontario’s distinguished aviation history precedes the founding of the Brampton Flying Club. It dates back to August 2, 1909, when the flight of the Silver Dart – the first powered aircraft to fly in Canada – took off from a runway at Camp Petawawa in a demonstration for the Canadian Army.
Constructed out of steel tubing, wood, bamboo, wire, and other lightweight material, the fragile plane had no brakes and was challenging to fly, and it subsequently crashed on a poorly prepared landing strip, never to take to the skies again. Nevertheless, but the time World War I erupted in 1914, Canadian pilots were volunteering to join Britain’s Royal Flying Corps. By January 1917, the forerunner to the Royal Canadian Air Force – the Royal Flying Corps Canada – was established at Camp Borden in Ontario to train Canadian pilots for active service.
Operated by the not-for-profit Ontario Aviation Historical Society, the Great War Flying Museum was founded by members of the Brampton Flying Club in 1970. Among its collection is a Sopwith Camel single-seat biplane fighter aircraft, perhaps the best-known fighter plane from that conflict.
“Most of our planes were acquired in a partially built condition,” explains Nat McHaffie, Curator and Vice-President at the museum. “The Camel – its actual name is the Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter – is undergoing restoration work currently. We don’t have enough space to work on more than one airplane at once. However, we are currently fundraising for an extension to our hangar, which we expect will be completed early next year.”
Other aircraft in the collection include a full-scale Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a biplane, a Nieuport 28 French biplane in American colours, and a Fokker Dr.I – the famous Red Baron’s triplane – and the Fokker D.VII triplane.
“The Fokker Dr.I triplane gets the most attention. It’s all red and has three wings, so it is easily identifiable,” McHaffie says. “Manfred von Richthofen was the highest-scoring and best-known pilot of WWI. He was the dreaded Red Baron that Snoopy (from the Charlie Brown comic strip) on his doghouse was always trying to shoot down. If a visitor to the museum knows only one Great War plane, it’s that one.”
The museum celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2020 on Father’s Day (June 21, 2020) when it will open a new hangar. But there’s more to the museum’s collection than its fabulous flying machines.
“We have an excellent collection of Great War aviation artefacts housed in a separate annex, which is the part of our operation that enriches the experience for visitors,” she adds. “Our goal is to inspire a love of early aviation – not just showcase WWI fighter pilots. Many visitors come for the airplanes but return more than once for the history in the artefact museum.”
Learning to Fly (When You Don’t Have Wings)
The Brampton Flying Club also runs a flight school to train both recreational and professional pilots, and it provides sightseeing tours of central and southern Ontario.
“If people are interested in learning to fly, the best thing to do is to visit us and meet our instructors and staff who can answer any questions they may have,” Paige says. “They can go on an hour-long discovery flight with an instructor that gives them a chance to fly the airplane.”
There are about 1,200 club members currently; Paige says about 15 per cent of them are women. To that end, the club actively promotes flying to women, and each year honours the top, graduating female pilot from its flight school with an award based on their written exam and flight test marks.
“We do a lot to promote women pilots, and we’d like to have more women join the club,” he says. “We host events focusing on women in aviation each spring … we’d love to have 50 per cent of our pilots be women.”
Adventures in the Air and on the Ground
Neil Mont has been a pilot for more than 50 years and is a Flight Instructor at the Brampton Flying Club. In addition to teaching people how to fly single-engine aircraft, he also pilots sightseeing tours over York Durham Headwaters and Toronto.
“People absolutely love the experience of the sightseeing tours,” he says. “But what they don’t tend to think about is the fact that the average flight is 40 minutes long, and it goes by in a flash because they’re so excited and delighted while we’re in the air.”
When asked about how to prepare for flight school training, Mont says it’s a mixture of confidence, motor skills, and mathematics.
“I tend to ask my students, ‘can you ride a bicycle?’ Because if you can ride a bicycle, I can teach you to fly,” he says. “There are little tricks they need to know to help them figure out time and navigation. You fly an airplane by time, not by distance.
“The main concern is always, ‘how much fuel do I have time-wise?’ Then after you check the wind and weather conditions; it’s about knowing how far the amount of fuel you have will take you … and understanding the little things they need to know to help them out with the math (behind making those calculations).”
For history and aviation enthusiasts, families, and tourists, the Brampton Flying Club has much to offer. Paige encourages all to come to the club’s Annual Airport Day on Sunday, September 8, which is an open house, held in conjunction with the Great War Flying Museum.
“It’s a community event and fundraiser for the Great War Flying Museum to help keep their airplanes flying,” Paige adds. “We also offer short discovery flights, tours of our facilities, a barbecue, a bunch of activities for children … it’s a terrific family event.”
For more details including upcoming events at The Great War Flying Museum, surf to GreatWarFlyingMuseum.org. For more information about the Brampton Flying Club, visit BramptonFlightCentre.com. Both are located at the Brampton-Caledon Airport at 13691 McLaughlin Road in Cheltenham.
By Liam Lahey
– Lahey is a freelance writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter: @LiamLahey