Local air cadet flies in vintage Second World War plane

Matt Gardner
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A Prince Albert member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets enjoyed a ride on a Second World War-era plane last week as part of an annual initiative by Vintage Wings of Canada.

Vintage Wings of Canada pilot Derek Blatchford hands a certificate to Cadet Amanda Loeffen, a member of 38 Anavets squadron in Prince Albert. Loeffen flew in the Boeing Stearman aircraft as part of this year’s Yellow Wings tour, which offers young Canadians the chance to fly in vintage airplanes.

Cadet Amanda Loeffen, a flight corporal at 38 Anavets squadron, flew in a restored Boeing Stearman for the Yellow Wings Youth Leadership Initiative, a program that seeks to inspire youth and encourage careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Loeffen, 14, is attending the Advanced Musicians Course this summer at Penhold Air Cadet Summer Training Centre (PACSTC) in Penhold, Alberta.

Of the 1,200 cadets at the centre, Loeffen was one of 50 selected to enjoy a flight on the vintage aircraft.

“At Penhold, I am given so many exciting opportunities along with my course, but this summer I got a very rare experience and one of the most amazing moments of my life,” Loeffen wrote on the 500 Dreams Take Wing Facebook page, which compiles youth experiences from the Yellow Wings tour.

She added, “I was selected to fly with the Vintage Wings of Canada in one of the very few Canadian Boeing Stearman(s), which is a biplane with an open cockpit. I thank Vintage Wings and their generous sponsors and donors for reassuring me that flying is what I want to do with my life … I will remember that moment forever.”

The Yellow Wings tour first began after a visit to the cadet camp in Cold Lake by Vintage Wings president and CEO Rob Fleck, who left impressed by the engagement, intelligence and enthusiasm he encountered among the cadets.

Fleck began considering a way to further inspire young Canadians, which eventually led to the Yellow Wings initiative.

Despite the strong flying element, the goals of the program are broader than one might first assume.

“It’s not just about grooming pilots. It’s about grooming good Canadians,” Vintage Wings western director of advancement Brenda Blair said.

“We’re noticing it in our industry that less and less kids are entering science, math, engineering, technology, and so we want to sort of encourage kids, inspire them to ... take these modes of higher education.

“A plane … doesn’t fly unless you have scientists, technologists, engineers and people who know math, and (we’re) just trying to instill in them that these are really important areas of study.”

Despite the educational aspects of the Yellow Wings tour -- which include stories from veterans, technical notes on the aircraft and benefits of the aforementioned technical careers -- the chance to fly in a vintage airplane is an undeniable highlight.

I thank Vintage Wings and their generous sponsors and donors for reassuring me that flying is what I want to do with my life … I will remember that moment forever. Amanda Loeffen

The Boeing Stearman that Loeffen flew is the last surviving example of 300 planes that were brought to Canada during the war to serve as training craft for pilots. The Stearman saw years of service at the Royal Air Force Elementary Flying Training School in Bowden, AB.

At PACTSC, pilots reminded the cadets of their similarities to wartime youth who came off the street and learned how to fly using those same planes.

“We get a lot of energy from these youngsters because they’re so excited, and then they all get a hand at flying the airplane,” pilot Derek Blatchford said.

“We basically give them an initial flying lesson so they get to fly the airplane around, and it’s something completely different. Any flying they’ve done before is in an airplane that has a cockpit, so they’re basically removed from the elements and enjoying the view and so forth.

“In this case, they not only get that, but there’s no roof over their head. They’re wearing goggles and a leather helmet and enjoying the wind in their face and wind in the wires -- just a big, noisy old airplane really, and they just loved it.”

For Loeffen, the experience confirmed her desire to pursue a career in flying.

She plans on applying for the Gliders Scholarship when she turns 16 and then earning her wings through the Power Pilot Scholarship. After high school, Loeffen has expressed a wish to attend Royal Military College or join the Royal Canadian Air Force.

A former air cadet himself, Blatchford credits the organization with kickstarting his lifelong aviation career, which included stints as a military pilot and flight instructor.

“I spent my whole career in flying, and that’s what got me on my way,” he said. “What I want to do is help the youth of today get on their way in something.

“It doesn’t have to be flying -- just pick something and go for it.”

Organizations: Royal Military College, Royal Air Force, Canadian Air Force

Geographic location: Penhold, Canada, Alberta Cold Lake Bowden

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