By Bill Grunewald & Carol Zarudenec Smith
The Algoma Flying Club was founded by Henry Lang and Dan Murray, I believe, in 1956 or 1957. It was an approved school that meant we had to have a minimum of two training aircraft, a classroom suitable for ground school and a class 11 instructor and belong to either the R.C.F.C.A. or the Air Transport Association (A.T.A.). We needed to have a valid charter from the Air Transport Board (A.T.B.) and an operating certificate from the Department of Transport (D.O.T.). The Algoma Flying Club had a class 7, 9, and 4 charter. Class 7 enabled us to offer flight training, aircraft rental, sightseeing, power line patrol and photography. Class 4 enabled us to fly commercially hauling passengers or freight from point to point in an aircraft like a Cessna 180 not exceeding 2550 lbs. gross allowable weight for takeoff. Class 9 enabled us to exercise the class 4 in foreign countries like a trip from the Sault to Detroit would entail the class 9.
The Club had three Presidents over the years with our first Club President being Dan Murray, then Peter Doran and myself Bill Grunewald.
I was doing my training in Sault, Michigan but wanted to fly floats (pontoon planes) so I joined the Club and became a member in 1958. At this time, the Club operated on the river at the end of Fournier Road. At this location, Art Denning, now deceased, was our very qualified maintenance engineer. He kept us in the air. We had a membership of approximately one hundred people. They were good people and I had lots of fun with them. We provided cross country flights, fly-in breakfasts to other flying clubs during the summer months, sightseeing tours and fishing trips. When we had fly-in fishing trips, Keith Messenger was always there to help with an extra load. He was a good friend who owned Sault Airways. We also used his hanger for maintenance.
The Club was an affiliated member of the Royal Canadian Flying Club’s Association which meant that members of the Algoma Flying Club had membership privileges at all other Flying Clubs in Canada.
There were three types of memberships. With a Life Membership for $100, nothing else had to be paid and you were able to vote in the election of officers. A Sustaining Membership meant you paid a $25.00 entry fee and $10.00 each year after that. You have all the privileges of a Life Member. A Flying Membership meant you paid $10.00 but didn’t have to vote in Club affairs and was entitled to all privileges of the Club, flying, social gatherings etc.
The instructor of the Algoma Flying Club at the time was an English chap named Doug Edwards. I completed my licence and became active in club affairs.
In 1961, it was decided to move the Club from Fournier Road to the airport. We purchased new aircraft, two Piper Colts and a four place Cessna 172 that we not only used for training purposes but rented to licensed pilots. Our engineer at the airport location was Bud Elliot. Both Bud Elliot and Art Denning were excellent engineers who maintained our aircraft. George Mercereau also did some work for us. Because of the efforts of these men, we had many hours of accident-free flying. Our major checks, fifty hour and one hundred hour inspection were done in Sudbury by Allan McMahon.
We had two young instructors who were very good. Bruce Cochrane was our Chief Flying Instructor. Our second instructor was Neil Ayers. Both later went into very successful aviation careers. Bruce became a captain with Air Canada and Neil spent thirty-eight years with the M.N.R. as a pilot. Bruce passed away July 5th, 2009. Neil presently flies for Fisher Wavey Inc.
They provided both private pilot and commercial pilot training. Requirements for a Private Pilot’s Licence included passing the Department of Transportation Medical Examination, having thirty-five hours of flying instruction, having twenty hours of ground school, passing the flying test and passing the ground school examination. The total cost of the thirty-five hour approved course was approximately $535.00. One hundred was refunded by the Government to successful candidates who were under thirty-three years of age.
My wife Beth started a snack bar with coffee and sandwiches to feed the students and employees so they didn’t have to go home for lunch or bring one with them. Some of the money from that income went towards operating expenses and the rest went back into the Club to purchase pilot’s apparel and the wings that were presented to over one hundred of our graduating pilots.
Each year we had our Wings Party and dance where graduating pilots were presented their wings. Every graduate was very self-satisfied with that accomplishment.
We were the first Club to train a female pilot., Miss Mary Lou Danz (now Harris). “I always wanted to be a pilot,” May Lou stated. She began her course in March. She recollects, “The men were very nice and very helpful. It was a special time in my life.” She had her first solo in June. “I will never forget that,” she exclaimed, “It was the greatest thrill.” She was an excellent student who trained with us in 1962 and got her licence in January 1963. We were very proud of that. Mary Lou stated, “It was a great personal achievement for me. After graduating, I continued to fly recreationally and enjoyed that for many years. I recall that Norm Officer and I flew to Sudbury in a float plane and landed on Lake Ramsay. He let me fly part of the way but he landed the plane. He was a very fine man.”
We also licensed five or six Air Cadets each year which helped our revenue intake. Many pilots graduated from the Algoma Flying Club. Some went on flying as a career while others became recreational pilots.
Another first was bringing the R.C.A.F. Golden Hawks to the Sault on July10th, 1962. There were an aerobatic team that performed shows in Canada and the United States. Flying standard Mark V1 F-86 Sabre jets, painted gold with a red and white hawk motif emblazoned on the fuselage, the team performed a unique sequence of tight formation manoeuvres as well as high speed solo aerobatics. Cars were bumper-to-bumper waiting to find their parking spot at the airfield lots to view this first-time air show. An estimated 30,000 people from the Sault watched this breathtaking and amazing performance.
We had weather related mishaps. Once high winds from the lake tore the plane from its tie- down and overturned it. These types of things hit us hard financially and we were forced to close in 1964.
I met a lot of nice people in the aviation world. Many are still friends today. Neil Ayers and I visit all the time and talk to each other once a week. I was also in tact with Bruce until he died. He and his wife came to our cottage for a visit before he became ill in 2009. All in all it was a wonderful experience, one that I won’t forget.