After half a century of leaving its aviation mark in central Alberta, Red Deer Flying Club finds is looking at charting a new direction.
Last year, the club lost its home and the oldest building at the Red Deer Regional Airport when it was torn down to widen the apron for airport businesses.
The club said that a generous stakeholder has provided a temporary meeting space in his hangar for the club, which has about 25 members.
However, it is not a permanent home and finding a new place to meet is among the challenges facing the club, said Gary Hillman, who owns Hillman Air Ltd. and was a member of an informal local flying club even before the current iteration was founded in the mid-1970s.
Hillman and other club members also believe it must do more to promote its past and future contributions and to give those who are not part of the aviation community a better understanding of what they are all about.
One of the more successful outreach efforts for many years has been the annual Fly-In/Drive-In Breakfast. This year’s event takes place on May 7 in the Sky Wings Aviation Academy from 8 to 11 a.m. Tickets for the breakfast of cost $15 for adults, $10 for 12 and under and $35 for a family.
While the documentation is a little fuzzy, the club believes this is the 50th year for the fly-in breakfast that drew more than 200 people last year and will see 3o to 40 small planes swoop in from all across the province.
Flying Club past-president Kirk Seaborn said the organization’s members want to let people know what goes on at the airport and the aviation advocacy contributions of the private and hobby flyers that make up the “general aviation” component at the airport.
“We’ve really been humbled by the loss of our clubhouse, which was our main identity and it was really our biggest in terms of what the club was able to provide,” said Seaborn.
Besides being used by the flying club members for meetings and other social functions, it was the home base for local Civil Air Search and Rescue Association volunteers. It was also often used by flyers stopping off in Red Deer overnight as part of a longer journey or as the operations centre when air shows were held.
“We didn’t really realize how valuable it was until we came to grips with losing it altogether.”
“I think that’s given us cause to reflect and really try and make the most of what we’re doing going ahead from where we are now.”
Hillman said the flying club has been an important part of the airport for many years.
While the goal of turning it into a regional hub for transportation and aviation-related businesses is picking up speed, including the recent announcement the province was investing $30 million into airport improvements, there was a time when the airport had few champions beyond the Red Deer Flying Club.
“The flying club waved the flag for this airport for many, many years,” said Hillman.
Another long-running cause for the club is the COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) for Kids events, which introduces about 3,000 youngsters across to Canada every year.
“There are so many people who live within spitting distance of the airport and really have no clue what goes on there, why there are people in those buildings and what is happening behind those doors,” said Seaborn.
When the club has showcased the airport, such as through the fly-in breakfasts, the response has been tremendous, he said.
“The expressions on their faces, not only children, but adults, they are just in total amazement at what happens at an airport. It’s just to give people a better respect for what we do with aviation and the love behind it and the utility and benefits of aviation in so many other different aspects of the industry.
“That’s maybe our biggest ambition right now is to try and build upon our relations with the Springbrook community.”
The Harvard Historical Aviation Society, which is restoring several vintage aircraft and hopes one day to open a large aviation museum at the airport, shares their enthusiasm for promoting local aviation.
Hillman agrees that the flying club is at an important stage. It is time to develop a new mission or, perhaps, take a look at what its original mission was and see how that fits in today. For instance, at one time the club was active in organizing safety sessions for aviators.
The flying club, like many other organizations that have been around for a long time, is experiencing an aging membership.
“But there’s still a very good core of people, and a few young people coming up — not every many, but a few — and they’re enthusiastic about doing something. We just need to find out what that target is and head towards it.”
Hillman is enthusiastic about the club’s new president, Ethan Brown, who is only in his 20s and the club’s youngest president ever.
“He’s a very enthusiastic kid and he’s a go-getter. I think we’ve got a very good start now with some fresh blood and maybe he’ll attract some more fresh blood.”