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Find Your Wings fair encourages careers in aviation

Amy Johnson found her wings. – PEFC photo

By Sharon Harrison
Aerobatic aircraft, helicopters, an RCAF CF-18 cockpit and career fair participants will highlight some of the excitement taking off on the flying club grounds Saturday afternoon, Sept. 23 where the public is invited to walk the flight lines, ask questions and witness a fly-by.

And especially for girls and young women who may have wondered what a career in the aviation industry might look like, or have not have given it any previous thought, the flying club’s Find Your Wings event is just the ticket.

“We want the public to really embrace the idea that these careers don’t necessarily need to be male-dominated, and historically, these careers were male-dominated; they still are, especially with aviation,” said Lola Reid Allin, a PEFC member, Prince Edward County resident and event co-organizer, adding “The plane has absolutely no idea whether those hands are female or male!”

Reid Allin is a commercial airline transport-rated pilot, a Class 1 Civil Aviation flight instructor whose adventurous spirit has guided her on solo explorations to more than 60 countries. She was the first female to fly the DHC-6/300 on a scheduled service and the first female supervisor at DeHavilland Flight Safety.

Summer Papple standing beside a Beech King Air (Photo from collection of Lola Reid Allin)

The program is designed to help encourage girls and women to explore professions they may have dreamed of, but were afraid to try, and is also intended to help young women learn about jobs they may not even know exist.

Just six per cent of pilots are female (a world-wide statistic), according to Reid Allin, with just two exceptions: Porter Airlines in Toronto has 11-13 per cent female pilots, including a chief pilot and an assistant chief pilot. The other is Air India which has 12-14 per cent female pilots.

The event, however, isn’t restricted just to the career fair as PEFC (a member of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association Flight 53), welcomes the whole family, and the broader community, with the free-of-charge event open to everyone to enjoy the displays, which also includes local light aircraft owned by PEFC members (as well as from other airports) that will be parked on the runway.

The afternoon is expected to see an RCAF fly-by as well.

Organizers are encouraging the community to come out, where families can spend an interesting afternoon seeing up close and personal the aircraft on display, as well as chat to pilots, ask questions and learn about various aviation-related companies and organizations who will have display booths inside the club and hangars, as well as personnel on hand to share information and chat informally.

These will include the Air Cadets, museums, RCAF careers, universities and colleges, flight schools, and aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturers.

Two girls using a simulator.

Also featured will be female pilot support organizations (Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots, Elevate Aviation, and the Northern Lights Aero Foundation).

“The program’s goal is to inspire girls and young women to broaden their horizons through dialogue with representatives from a variety of aviation-related organizations… We’d love to see anybody, and you never know what a five-year-old might think, and they might think, wow!” she said.

First Officer Sheridan with Captain Barbie (photo from the collection of Lola Reid Allin)

Local County female firefighters and female police officers will also be in attendance, along with fire trucks and cruisers.

Among guest presenters are (Ret’d) Major Michelle “Micky” Colton, who lives in the County. In 2000, she became the first female pilot to log 5,000 hours on the Hercules and accumulated about 6900 hours on the C130 before retiring and joining the Air Force Reserves.

Also presenting is Lieutenant-Colonel Georgina “Georgie” Jones, retired RCAF pilot who lives in Stirling; along with Katie Rees and Lexi Tosh, aircraft maintenance engineers, whose love of aviation began with Air Cadets; and Meera Bissonauth, a flight instructor.

Growing up in Belleville, the first seed of what was to become the start of an extensive aviation career was sown at an early age for Reid Allin. She speaks fondly of watching the then Royal Canadian Airforce’s Golden Hawks when they first started their aerobatic display team where her memory goes back to 1960 when she was five years old.

“They flew overhead and it was really exciting, and they also went to the Belleville Fair which was like the mini CNE, but it was in Belleville,” describes Reid Allin. “They would zoom overhead and I thought, this is so exciting!”

Her first airplane ride came in 1962 at age seven when she and her parents and baby sister flew out west.

“I have this memory of saying to my folks, ‘this is so cool, I want to do this’, and I was more or less ignored the first time, and the second time it was, ‘don’t be silly’” she explains. “My dad just said flat out, ‘don’t be silly, girls don’t fly airplanes’ and I thought he must be right as every pilot I knew was male.”

While she had abandoned the idea, got a good job in banking, got married and started a family, it was her then husband who suggested they learn to fly together, since several members of his family were pilots and owned light aircraft.

Lola Reid Allin in AUG 2023 (photo by Darcy McVeigh)

“We took up flying, and at first, I was pretty scared and it was a little terrifying, but I loved it!” she enthuses, having taken her first flight in March 1979.

By March 1980, she had her commercial licence, quit her job and became a full-time commercial pilot, and never looked back.

She says what didn’t really exist when she was flying in the last three decades of the 20th century was the link to other female pilots. She adds that during her flying years, up until the last few, there were no other female pilots that she flew with, or even saw, and none at the airport where she was based.

“The point of this is to being a role model, so we want women in aviation today, or female pilots today, who are very keen to act as role models for people who don’t have those role models,” she said, where she also speaks to changing attitudes.

Their motto: “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

And while 2023 is a special year for the volunteer-run Prince Edward Flying Club, and the mood celebratory of 70 years of providing a unique service to the Prince Edward County community, there is a dark cloud looming.

Earlier this spring, the club was given notice by the new Base31 group, which owns the airport and controls the use of the airfield where the flying club operates, that the airport will not be part of Base31’s extensive long-range plans.

Base31 will not be accommodating the relatively small footprint of the 70-year-old club within its 750-acre site.

The PEFC was informed in May that the airport will be closed within the next four years, or possibly sooner.

First established in 1953 on what was then Camp Picton, a Second World War training airfield, the club’s first airplane was a 1946 Piper PA-11 Cub special, where over the years, the fleet expanded to almost 20 aircraft.

There was also a flight school which trained roughly 500 private and 100 commercial pilots during the earlier decades.

Lola Reid Allin at the Prince Edward Flying Club, June 2022 (Sandy Barnes photo)

“We are hoping with this event to draw attention to us as a club, to make the public know that we are here,” said Reid Allin. “It’s a very historic airport, and to me, it would be a travesty for Base31 owners to close that down because they have bought the airport and we know they want to develop it, and it’s a lot of land.”

“Right now, it’s a triangular runway which is the standard pattern because the planes weren’t as sophisticated as they are today, so you needed three runways for safety,’ she explained. “We don’t need three runways, but one runway off to the edge where we are located would be great.”

Picton Airport is a Prior Permission Required (PPR) airport, and operates as a private aerodrome. Prince Edward Flying Club (PEFC) is a non-profit corporation, owned and operated for and by its members. Over the first 50 years, the Club flew more than 45,000 hours; trained some 500 private and 100 commercial pilots, with a number eventually obtaining instructors’ ratings. The club also sponsored and employed many aircraft maintenance engineers during the time it operated a flying school.

“It’s the only (non-military) airport in Prince Edward County, so I think it’s important that it continue,” she added, “and why not have the convenience of having people fly in from Toronto or wherever to attend a concert?”

* * *
The Find YOUR Wings event hosted by the Prince Edward Flying Club will take place on Saturday, Sept. 23, 1-4pm at the Flying Club (also known as Picton Airport) located at 343 County Road 22, Picton (Base31). It is free of charge for everyone, and is a rain or shine event, where everybody is welcome. Learn more at PEFC.ca 

 

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  1. Kevin says:

    …such a loss for the community as well as users and certainly doesn’t support historical preservation… and the gall to treat the community like we aren’t smart enough to see through this…..what a shame…… power of $$$$$ is hard at work dismantling yet one more piece of county history…

  2. Paul A. says:

    The corporate ‘Base 31’ states very clearly their intention: “next stage in its [Picton heights] history will be as home to one of the nation’s largest revitalization projects.”

    B Wilder suggests that any thoughts along the lines of County heritage are “deriding” and also suggests that Base 31 “have invested heavily” and that the Picton Flying Club is not paying a “real world” rent. I do not know what the dollar value of those two (investment and rent) suggestions amount to.

    What is clear, however, is that this “revitalization project” does not include any notion of flying, airport or aircraft. The developers describe it as “a place alive with energy, infused with nature, and where history, the arts, and all things culinary are celebrated.” That is a marvelous piece of commercial, Orwellian “market-speech.”

    Maybe many of us in the County are not ready to cede our heritage to outside financing of one of the nation’s largest revitalization projects?

  3. Paul D Cole says:

    So Party Central has invested heavily and usually when a company invests heavily it expects big returns on those investments…for the interests of their investors. Don’t be fooled by drone shows and free pride flags painted on crosswalks that’s called greasing the wheels…

  4. B Wilder says:

    The property may be historic but the flying club is a private group that currently operates for the benefit of its roughly 75 members. There is no flight school.
    The owners of Base 31 have invested heavily to preserve the existing buildings and expand public use of the site. Despite this they are being derided by other commenters. Perhaps the club should consider negotiating with Base 31 to pay the actual ‘rent’ that would be due for the use of the facility in the ‘real world’.

  5. SS says:

    This decision may be simply because of the difficulty of obtaining approval to build residences within a certain distance of an airport.

    When we were looking for a lot a few years ago we could not be assured of a building permit on a Clarke Rd. lot because it fell within a certain radius from the airport. So we passed on that one and are not sure if it ever sold.

    Have to wonder now if decommissioning the airport is the next move. Personally we love the flying that is done out of there and the history is amazing and the club is a great thing that would be unfortunate to lose.

  6. Trudy says:

    People preach about saving history and do the opposite. Born and raised and all our lives here and we put up with people coming to our town saying they just love it here and the next thing we know trying to change everything. Leave the airport as it is, as it is part of our town’s history. Our historical society and our mayor can’t get involved because it’s private?

  7. Paul A. says:

    Is it really true that another eighty-five years of our County heritage, history, tradition and pride are destined to be obliterated?

    Canada’s youngest woman pilot, Helen Bradley, was a grade XIIA student at PECI — our high school — when she got her pilot’s license on her 16th birthday, 28 October 1955.

    From the webpage https://navalmarinearchive.com/research/docs/peci_pilot.html :

    “Helen’s father is the instructor at the Flying Club here in Picton. She has been flying with her father since she was six and helped him fly the plane a few years later. She found that she had to be sixteen before she could get a permit to fly and had to pass an examination.” For this examination “Her per cent was 93.6, the highest average in the Picton Flying Club.”

    This was seventeen years after the ‘Picton Times’, 12 July 1938, had a front page headline “Want British Airport here.” Within months, Canada agreed to host a facility under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. This became ‘Picton heights’ where thousands of pilots, bombers, gunners and ground crew were trained to assist in subduing Mr Adolf Hitler’s intentions. They wrote a local newsletter “Wings” which was a model of integration with our County community. They had a “Padre’s Club”; the Rev. Howard W. Guiness (Sqn.Ldr., MD) was perhaps concerned that many of the trainees were under the age of twenty-one and not allowed “a beer” under Air Force regulations, so he set up an independent floating dive-stage in Picton harbour for these youngsters, documented and photographed in a marvelous little book, covers and pages in hand-sewn birch-bark and sweet grass by one of our Kanyen’kehà:ka friends in Tyendinaga.

    A Registered Nurse here in the County (she passed away some years ago, but was proud of her career memories) was the first to administer Penicillin in North America, September 1943, to the sick wife of an airman from Picton heights, and the vials of this brand-new antibiotic had been flown in to the “heights.”

    These are just a very few pieces of our heritage. Again, do we have to obliterate where they happened?

  8. Teena says:

    Closing is a very bad decision on so many levels. Respect the history here, please.

  9. Sandra L Norval says:

    I am the very proud mother and grandmother of 4 pilots who all attended Camp Picton, as part of their aviation training- and continue to do so.
    A very foolish and self-serving move on the part of Base31 owners.
    Yet another move to pick away at the County’s magnificent history.

  10. CountyProud says:

    I feel a bit like Base 31 is making a bait and switch move with this decision. “Look at all the wonderful things we are doing (distraction) for the community but don’t worry about us obliterating this important part of The County’s cultural heritage”. There must be a creative solution to retaining this and continuing to provide a home for the Flying Club. Please Base 31, reconsider how to accomplish this in a way that is fair and equitable to everyone and still respectful of the County’s heritage and history.

  11. Wyatt F says:

    It would be a poor decision and another example how the history, flavour and atmosphere of The County has changed for the greed of developers and people not knowing or appreciating rural life.

  12. Angela says:

    Base 31 seems to be trading on Camp Picton’s history to promote other initiatives totally unrelated to its past. It’s not about heritage but about making money. The Flying Club should not be closed. it has been part of our county for a long time.

  13. Nigel J. Sivel says:

    Base31 just could be making a very bad decision if they go ahead and close the Picton Flying Club. They will not be making friends with County people who have fond memories of this facility. They would also be missing a unique marketing tool for attracting people to their housing project. How many such projects can boast an airport for potential home owners to use steps from their new homes? Big mistake. Don’t make it please.

  14. Andrea P. says:

    Base31 appears to be absorbed in making money and attracting crowds and less interested in promoting community and preserving heritage. Such a disappointment. These clubs provide opportunity to all ages to explore interests and develop skills, and this is an asset the community stands to lose. Such a sacrifice for money.

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