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45º 42': One big happy family

May 06, 2011
Written by Peter Pigott
It’s one of the country’s most iconic flying clubs, and in 2011 it’s celebrating a very special milestone: 50 years of splendid service.

 “You can always come here, even if you are grumpy, and know you will leave happy. There is a true sense of community." Photo: Rockcliffe Flying Club


Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Flying Club came to life when Wing Commander Norman Hoye arrived at RCAF Station Rockcliffe with “a strong desire to see the formation of a service-operated flying club.” Through his efforts, on August 28, 1961, the Department of Transport issued Rockcliffe Flying Club (RFC) Operating Certificate No. 1859. A pair of Aeroncas CF-JKW and a CF-NMY were bought for $1,825 and $1,374 respectively, and the Air Force’s storage facilities were put to use.

Sadly, when the RCAF moved to Uplands Airport in 1964, the Club lost its hangar space, snow removal service, air traffic control and runway lights. But the members coped, DND gave the Club the authority to use UNICOM 122.8, flare pots were used for night operations, aircraft landed on skis and a modest clubhouse was built.

A study of its history depicts a flying club rich with stories of tornadoes, social events, Charlie Brown the Club cat, the day a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s Ryan monoplane visited, and armchair generals who analyze all takeoffs and landings.

Fifty years old this summer, the RFC is one of the few remaining authentic flying clubs in the country. Other clubs have shut down or saved themselves by aligning with college programs. But Rockcliffe continues to do well on its own merits, and when visiting the Club, it’s easy to see why.

“With a new maintenance hangar, the Redbird Full Motion Flight Training Device, a leased C182, two C162s on order and a Super Decathlon coming on-line for its aerobatic and tail wheel-training programs, the RFC has successfully positioned itself to be ‘a one-stop shopping center’ for the recreational pilot,” said Simon Garrett, chief flight instructor and operations manager.

Added Michael Hopkinson, a member since 2003 who got married at the club: “What makes the club unique is the camaraderie of the staff and members. The Rockcliffe Flying Club was the only place my wife, Rica (who is working on her Recreational Pilot Permit) thought of to get married in. Thanks to Brenda Reid, the RFC Office Manager and Garrett, they made it happen.”

In fact, several other members are said to have met their spouses at the Club. “The Club is a jewel,” said Candace Denison, who has just completed her PPL. “The members and staff are truly special – it feels like one big happy family.”

Jordan Steingass first came to the Club as a co-op student in 2004 and has been, when studies allowed, the Club dispatcher. She echoed Denison’s view. “The Club is very much like a family. You can always come here, even if you are grumpy, and know you will leave happy. There is a true sense of community and everyone is so friendly.”

Although focused on recreational flying, with an IFR pilot examiner on staff and more than 20 students on course for commercial training, the RFC remains fully committed to producing professional commercial pilots, several of whom have gone on to fly for Air Canada and First Air. There are six Class 1 instructors, one Class 2 and several Class 3 and 4 instructors on staff.

With instructors like Kathy Fox, one of the great Canadian aviators, Garrett, who was awarded the David Charles Abramson Memorial Flight Instructor Safety Award, and Mark Braithwaite, the assistant certified flight instructor, students can be confident in the flight training they receive. Also Pilot Examiners, between the three of them, they are able to provide RPP, PPL, CPL, IFR and Class 4 Instructor Initial and Class 3 and 4 Instructor renewal flight tests.

As operator of the Rockcliffe Airport, the Rockcliffe Flying Club also works closely with the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and Vintage Wings of Canada to ensure the airport is available and accessible for an ever-growing list of aviation and non-aviation related events, such as Capital Wings and Wheels (formerly the Classic Air Rallye), Canada Day, Battle of Britain, EAA Fly-in and the Canadian RC Off-Road Championships.

And there’s big news on the horizon. “Steeped with history and personal achievements of many of its members, the Rockcliffe Flying Club is privileged to be hosting, for the first time, the Webster Trophy Competition in 2012,” said Garrett. “With a DCAM recipient on staff and several members of the Club members of the CPFA, hosting the Webster is truly going to be an honour.

Peter Pigott is a Wings writer and columnist.

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