The Calgary Aero Club of 1919
The first aviation club in Calgary was the Calgary Aero Club which was formed in 1919. Though the Calgary Aero Club of 1927 (the original name of the Calgary Flying Club) is not connected to the Club of 1919 in a legal sense, the two organizations share some of the same founders and the same aviation spirit.
The First World War (1914-1918) saw rapid developments in the field of aviation. At the start of the War airplanes were generally flimsy, under-powered devices suitable only for observing the enemy. By the War’s end aircraft technology had leapt ahead creating relatively sturdy and powerful machines that could be used in a larger number of endeavors.
Some of the Air Veterans of the Great War returned to civilian life hoping to capitalize on this new technology. One of these was Fred McCall. Captain Frederick R.G. McCall DSO, MC & Bar, DFC (4 December 1896 – 22 January 1949) returned from the War as one of Canada’s first air aces with 35 confirmed aerial victories. Like all of the aces from that time, McCall was a natural pilot who with a combination of eyesight, co-ordination, assertiveness, and inate flying sense was able to fly any aircraft even with little or no training.
Following his return to Canada McCall purchased a surplus training aircraft known as a JN-4 “Jenny” and immediately took off on the exhibition circuit as a “barnstormer” performing aerobatic displays and offering rides to thrilled passengers. It was at the Calgary Exhibition in 1919 that McCall performed what could be described as the most elegant emergency landing in history when following an engine failure he set his aircraft down on top of a merry-go-round rather than crash into the crowd on the midway. McCall and his passengers – two children – walked away without injury.
Later in 1919 McCall also ignited Calgary’s passion for aviation by becoming the founder and first president of the Calgary Aero Club. The Club was meant to promote aviation in the City and took on the lofty goal of acquiring an airplane by trying to purchase a war surplus Vickers Vimy bomber for members to fly. Not surprisingly, raising sufficient funds to make this happen proved to be difficult and the first Calgary Aero Club was disbanded sometime around 1925.
Calgary wouldn’t be without a flying club for long. Events were already taking place that would trigger the formation of another Calgary Aero Club a mere two years later.