Tiger Moth.png

THIS PAGE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

OUR HISTORY

In the mid 1950’s a group of Fredericton aviation enthusiasts attended an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Club meeting in Moncton, New Brunswick. The Fredericton group was researching in the possibilities of either joining with Moncton or forming an association or club of their own here in Fredericton.
There was most definitely a strong interest in GA in the Fredericton area and why not take advantage of the sentiment and get things off the ground, so to speak.
The first meeting of those interested in forming an association, held on Sept. 27, 1958, saw in excess of 50 potential members attend and most expressed support for a Fredericton club. It was here that the idea was born to form a flying club. GA was in a growth phase Canadawide and a local flying club seemed only natural.
Meetings were held and much was decided including the club name – after some discussion and finally settling on the Fredericton Flying Club. Maybe this was not an overly imaginative name but it was descriptive and most easily identifiable.
The Fredericton club flew out of the Wilkins Air Strip situated along the banks of the scenic Saint John River and just outside of Fredericton. The club negotiated the use and developed this air strip as their own.

Wilkins Field.png

Soon hangars and a club house appeared and a number of aircraft were flying out of the province’s newest airstrip. The location was a mixed blessing as most every spring the strip flooded, at least until a dam was built up river, however, the location was great for all concerned. 
The summer months were fine but the spring could be dicey at best. Regardless, the club was now in business.
In mid-1966, the club was incorporated and that left; what to fly as a club aircraft? An Aeronca Champ, IVB, became the club’s first aircraft and they were now in the air and operating, albeit from a slightly soggy airfield.
The major drawback was Fredericton Aviation, the local flying school, was in and out of business therefore flight training was sporadic and this of course impacted the number of new pilots available to the club.
At that time the club had no intention of getting into the flying business and with a maximum number of pilots at around 20, the club could easily sustain one aircraft.
Just as an aside, in those days it cost approximately $50 per hour solo and $65 per hour with an instructor with fuel at 29 cents per gallon. Times do change!  although I do remember how much
The club carried on as a recreational group until 1968 when, with a major rush of blood to the head, the club decided to incorporate and get full time into the business of flying and flying instruction.
The first application to Transport Canada was bounced as Wilkins Air Strip was deemed unsuitable for a commercial enterprise.

Seaplane Base.png

Not to be deterred, the club approached the Fredericton Airport and secured space on what was then a single runway airport. Transport Canada relented and the club was now not only in business, it was a business.
The club advertised for a CFI and this position was filled out of Saint John.
One Piper PA 140, VNP, and one full-time instructor presented themselves to the world in March of 1969 and the club was now officially off the ground and beginning the partnership with the Fredericton aviation community that exists to this day.
The club, with absolutely no money in the bank, ordered two new 140’s to accommodate the influx of students. Aircraft maintenance was contracted out to Diamond Aviation, a local firm and situated at the airport, as the club could not afford to take any AME’s on staff.
This was quickly becoming a full-time seven-day-a-week operation. At this point the club still had only one full-time instructor.
The workload was such that a second, and part time, instructor was required. This was filled by an existing club member and later on an additional full-time instructor was hired. The club was finally making money.
All was moving along swimmingly until late 1973 when the club CFI resigned. The club was now also in the commercial license and twin rating business along with its other activities. It could ill afford to lose its ability to certify its students and therefore was effectively out of business.

Instructors were relatively easy to find, however, finding a CFI was a completely different matter.
A club member, Dennis Moore, a long-time member of the Fredericton aviation community provided the solution. Dennis had begun his flight training in the late 1940’s, had attained his instructor rating in 1969 and by 1973 had a class 3 instructor rating.
If he could be convinced to quit his stable, relatively well-paying and pensioned job at NB Tel he could be taken on as the CFI, at minimum wage or less. In addition, he had been working part-time as an instructor so knew the ropes and quite enjoyed the job.
Dennis was approached by the club executive and asked to come to work for the club as a full-time flying instructor and full time CFI. The club offered the princely wage of 18K per year and Dennis accepted after some discussion with his long-suffering wife, Joan. She knew where his heart lay and gave her support to this new endeavour.
As another aside, Dennis had been making $2.50 per hour instructing evenings and weekends so this was a quantum leap in flying income.
This now gave some stability to the instructor cadre as the club now had a local resident who hopefully would not be tempted to defect to Air Canada, CP Air, Ward Air or some such large, cold and well-paid and pensioned job.
The club had now grown to include three 140’s, two 172’s and, surprisingly, a twin Navion. The Navion was one of the few, if not the only, twin of this type in Canada. It was a conversion from a single and, according to Dennis, a nice aircraft to fly.
Along with those jobs previously mentioned, the club was contracted by the Air Cadets to provide annual flight training to selected New Brunswick, Ontario and Newfoundland Air Cadets during the summer months. Although the cadets did have some initial training from their home units, they took the complete PPL course as mandated by Transport Canada and taught by the club.

These were the club’s halcyon years as General Aviation was on the rise and, in general terms, flying clubs had difficulty keeping up with the demand.
Aviation was booming in New Brunswick and the province bragged it had flight training schools in Edmonston, Saint John, Grand Falls, Saint Stephen, Moncton, Miramichi and a charter operation in Charlo and, of course, a flight school in Fredericton.
In the mid-1970’s the club was booming and Dennis had been moved up to the position of permanent CFI and also took on the job of both operations and business manager.
In those days Fredericton had an engine shop located at the airport. The shop produced excellent work, however, was constantly in and out of financial difficulty so the province stepped in to assist with small business loans.
Unfortunately the shop was forced to close and the province approached the club to undertake the management of that shop pending finding a new owner/operator. A new task on the plate and undertaken by the club.
If nothing else, this guaranteed prompt repair or replacement of the club’s problem engines so at least there was benefit there. The club operated the shop on behalf of the provincial government until the late 1970’s when the government sold the enterprise to the club outright.
Fredericton’s aircraft were constantly in use and making money for the club, however, operating costs were also going up and that began to affect the bottom line. The good times continued through the 1970’s and into the 1980’s with the club making a decent profit and meeting all of its contracts.

In the mid-1980’s the popularity of general aviation began to slide and costs were still going up. It became more and more difficult to balance the books as the aircraft operating costs were taking the lion’s share of the cash inflow, let alone any profits.
The club struggled to make ends meet but the writing was on the wall – not only here in Fredericton but across the country – as flying clubs were folding or reverting flying club status only and dropping the instruction format.
In 1996 it was well and truly over. Costs were well in excess of anything the club could make even with the cadets, forestry contracts, etc. Aircraft maintenance and fuel costs effectively drove the club out of business.
The club hangar was sold to Air Canada Cargo and the remainder of the assets were sold off and the aircraft returned off lease.

This was not the end of the club. In 2000 about 20 of the remaining members purchased a 1974 Piper 140, GNBO, from the remaining cash and the club was back in the air.
You may have wondered why Dennis Moore was mentioned by name in this article. Dennis is the remaining original member still active in the flying world.
Dennis’s son Stephen is also a member so we have two to contend with and the family name is carried on in the club.
Today, we still have GNBO and she flies regularly from our new hangar at the Fredericton GA. Activities are much reduced as we now have only a handful of flying members but at least we can get NBO virtually anytime we want to go flying.

Adapted from the original piece by Kent Carswell,

Published in COPA Flight, April 2016

IMG_20200208_075700_edited.jpg