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Chapter 1410 Hosts Blowout B-17 Tour in Calgary
Story and Photos by John Mader, Vice President, Chapter 1410
July 2016 - EAA Chapter 1410 is based in High River, Alberta, Canada, and attracts members from the entire Calgary to High River region.
We are an active building chapter, with chapter members averaging two to three aircraft completions per year.
Our chapter hosted EAA’s B-17 at the Calgary/Springbank Airport June 20-27, as part of Aluminum Overcast’s very first Canadian tour.
When Chapter 1410 agreed to host this stop, we knew that the key to the tour stop’s success would be selling passenger flights. We set off early to get the word out wherever we thought we might find people interested in flying in the B-17.
This effort, led by our amazing marketing chief René Prévost, included visiting and putting posters up at Royal Canadian Legions, airport businesses, pilot shops, aviation and military museums, collector car auctions, and airports throughout southern Alberta. We also attended museum events and set up a chapter display table.
We were not sure what kind of reception we would have as the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) mainly used Lancasters and Halifaxes during the Second World War with only six older model B-17s used for transatlantic mail service.
However, the public response was incredible. We watched as the pre-books climbed to 25, then 45, then 85, finally reaching 118 when pre-booking was cut off the day before the passenger flights were to start.
We knew by then we were headed for success, but did not know just how big that success would be.
The B-17 media flight, planned for the day before the start of passenger flights, was so well attended that we ended up doing two flights instead of the usual one.
Our chapter media relations chief, Jeff Seaborn, arranged for Doug Curtis, a 94-year-old former Lancaster tail gunner, to go on a media flight, and the reporters were delighted with him. We ended up being featured on the entire second page of the Calgary Herald newspaper the next morning, and had good coverage from all of the local TV networks as well.
With B-17 pilots Ken and Lorraine Morris in the cockpit, we arranged with Nav Canada to have our passenger flights run down over the western side of Calgary, further increasing our public exposure.
It was not long before the calls started pouring in, keeping Tim Fox and Dale Ensing, the traveling B-17 tour coordinators, constantly busy booking seats. Demand was so high that they began to add flights, first in the morning, then in the evening.
Ground tours also climbed steadily, with many people saying that they had come because they saw the bomber fly overhead, then remembered seeing something on the news about the aircraft being at Springbank.
Overall, I think we had close to a thousand people go through the B-17 on the ground. René spent hours keeping the people waiting in line entertained with his wonderful stories and answered hundreds of questions.
We added a final passenger flight on Monday morning, and the crew loaded up to head for Regina, Saskatchewan, the next tour stop.
Total effort for our event: 25 flights and 247 paying passengers, as compared to the originally planned 16 flights.
Many thanks are due to all of the volunteers for the work they did in marketing, arranging equipment and services, managing the ramp, controlling the event crowd, managing parking, selling ground tours, and even buying a birthday cake for one of the pilots.
These volunteers came not only from Chapter 1410, but also from the Calgary Flying Club, the Bomber Command Museum, and the Calgary Mosquito Society.
Thanks are also due to the Calgary Airport Authority, Nav Canada, and Transport Canada for their help in making this tour a success.
Nav Canada even loaned us a standby building that we used as an office for the tour coordinators.
Overall, we believe the tour stop was a great success, and an excellent opportunity for Calgarians to see and experience this historic aircraft.