MacPherson: Tiger Moth flight brings history to life


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A few days and a couple of phone calls later I was on the ramp, climbing awkwardly into the biplane’s open cockpit, fumbling with the period-correct three-point harness and wondering what the flight would feel like.

(For the record, I booked the flight on personal time and paid for it myself. I did it because I wanted to, and didn’t even consider writing about it until after we’d landed.)

SASKATOON,SK-- MARCH 11/2020-9999 macpherson weekender- Tom Coates, who restores old airplanes, at one of his hanger near Dalmeny, SK on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.(Saskatoon StarPhoenix/Liam Richards)
Tom Coates examines one of four De Havilland Canada Tiger Moths he has restored or rebuilt. This one features the distinctive Canadian-style canopy, a necessity in the winter months. One of Coates’ vintage trainers is now stored at the Saskatchewan Aviation Museum and Learning Centre in Saskatoon. Liam Richards/Saskatoon StarPhoenix

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t bewitched by airplanes. While flying never became a career, it nevertheless shaped the first two-thirds of my life. I was fortunate to earn my glider pilot’s licence at 16, and my private pilot’s licence a year later. For years, everything revolved around opportunities to go flying. But aviation is expensive and it’s now been more than a decade since I rented an airplane for a couple of hours.

I still devour books about airplanes and the people who fly them, though, and have come toappreciate the rich history of aviation, both military and civilian, in the province I call home — one that dates back to the spring of 1911.

Saskatchewan is a big place and flying was, and remains, the best — and in some cases only — way to reach many communities. Airplanes are, quite literally, a lifeline in the province’s north.

The BCATP has been described as the greatest Canadian megaproject you’ve never heard of. Evidence of its effects can still be seen today, if you know what to look for.

And Saskatchewan still has a robust military aviation culture. Canadian Armed Forces pilots learn their trade in the skies over Moose Jaw; it’s not uncommon to see Harvards and Hawks flying in and out of the airport. Moose Jaw is also home to the Snowbirds.

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