The Allied pilots, who fought fascism in the skies over Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific during the Second World War had humble beginnings.
Before they could fight the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy or Imperial Japan in the likes of the legendary Spitfire fighters or Lancaster bombers, they learned to fly in a de Havilland Tiger Moth.
Three-quarters of a century later, a handful of pilots gathered at the Saskatchewan Aviation Museum to learn how to fly the biplane.
“This is the plane that trained the majority of the fighter pilots for Canada and bomber pilots in World War Two,” said Danno Peters, a private pilot attending the lesson.
“It’s a really flying piece of history we have here.”
Peters, and about a half-dozen other students, are learning to fly the Tiger Moth to preserve it and, with it, a local aspect of Second World War history.
Aggressive tactics by the Axis powers meant that the skies over Europe weren’t safe during the war. Many Allied pilots, under the auspices of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, were sent to bases across Canada — including RCAF Station Saskatoon, now known as Diefenbaker Airport — to learn how to fly.
All but one of the students learning to fly the Tiger Moth this time are already pilots. They’re learning the old controls so that they can keep the plane in the air and with it, they hope, earn the public’s interest.
In the spring, the museum will again be offering rides in the plane. About 60 people took part last year and, with new pilots, the staff are hoping to have more than 200 sit in the co-pilot’s seat in 2020.
“That’s the big thing — make it available,” said course instructor Doug Tomlinson.
“If we can get people to ride in these aircraft it brings an income to maintain them and keep them operating so that circle keeps going.”
Tomlinson told Global News more than 3,000 Tiger Moths were built but only a few remain and even less can still fly.
Which, he said, is a shame.
“It’s a time machine if that makes sense.”
“We’re not going very fast and we’re not going very far and you’re doing it kind of in style because the rest of the world is whizzing around you,” he explained.
“To be able to get in the thing just puts a grin on your face every time,” said chief pilot, Gary David.
David said he hopes passengers enjoy the ride and that the altitude and perspective of Saskatoon help them remember the pilots whose war started in the Tiger Moth.
“This is their legacy.”