Visit to Canada Wings at Southport, Manitoba

By Dennis Schoonbaert


Aviation appeals to almost everyone if they just have opportunities to participate. The tour of the Allied Wings training base at Southport, Manitoba planned by the Shoal Lake Flying Club/COPA Flight 162 was held on Nov. 23.

Seventeen people arrived in five aircraft and one truck is a case in point. There were males and females, pilots and non pilots, farmers, businessmen, ex-military, and retirees from all sorts of occupations, ages varied by seven decades (see if you can pick them out in the group photo, I guarantee you couldn’t by watching them during the tour), and everyone had a great day!

There were many, many conversations about aviation involving many more people as a result of the tour.

A bit of history first. In the early 1940’s No 14 Elementary Flying Training School was established just south of Portage La Prairie as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP); a visit to the BCATP Museum in Brandon, Manitoba, just 125 kilometres west of Portage, is a great way to learn more about one of Canada’s major contributions to the World War II effort.

In 1952 it became RCAF Station Portage la Prairie, #2 Advanced Flying School, training RCAF and NATO pilots. Several military flight schools operated there prior to the base closing on September 1, 1999 as DND contracted out flight training as a result of budgetary constraints.

Southport, a not-for-profit company, was established to operate and develop the area with an emphasis on flight training, aviation, aerospace, manufacturing, commercial development, residential development, and recreation. In 1992 Southport was successful in obtaining the Military Flight Training contract managed by Bombardier and since then all Canadian Forces military pilots have started their training at Portage.

The terrain and weather characteristics that made it a good choice for a BCATP base still apply to flight training 70 years later. Presently there are about 200 military and 300 civilian personnel including students involved in flight training.

While Southport is open to other air traffic it is very busy during the week when training is occurring and its capacity to serve other than its paying customer is very limited. Check the Winnipeg VNC and the AIP for information if flying in the area.

Our tour began just after 10 a.m. when those of us who flew in met Paul Riedle, Dispatch Lead for Canada Wings Aviation Training Center, on the west ramp along with Ken, Dylan, Brad, and Arthur who had driven in from the Austin/Carberry
area. It was a beautiful morning with unseasonably warm temperatures for late November; near 10C by mid afternoon!

After a short walk to the Hilly Brown Building (Google Hilly Brown for some interesting history) we registered as guests for the day. Hilly Brown is an 80,000 square foot state of the art training facility containing classrooms, briefing rooms, lounges, a theatre, networked training and distance learning equipment, flight briefing rooms, flight simulators, ..., in short, everything needed to support modern flight training.

After touring the various rooms we got to the highlight of the day, the flight simulators. There are simulators for the Grob G120A which is used for Phase 1 training, the King Air C90A which is used for Phase III multi-engine training, and the Bell 412 which is used for Phase III advanced helicopter training.

The Bell 206 is used for Phase III basic helicopter training. Everyone got to ‘go for a ride’ in both the King Air and Bell 412 simulators. As you can see from the group photo these are full-motion state-ofthe- art $10M simulators.

Overloading prevented motion but the feeling of flight from inside the cockpit was overwhelming. A low pass through the old Bomber stadium in the King Air was a highlight especially with the final Blue Bomber game played there only a week or so earlier, too bad they didn’t bring home the Grey Cup. Over-temp, over-torque, over-speed... it was all academic — warnings sounded but were mostly ignored! The Bell 412 was pretty much everyone’s favourite. With a real helicopter pilot in the right seat operating the collective many of us got a chance to fly, that was relatively easy, but hovering and landing, especially auto rotation, resulted in the red screen of death at some point for many of us.

Some attitudes and motions were unusual for fixed wing pilots (even for helicopter pilots when we were on the controls); with the sound and vibration of the rotor it was very realistic and very entertaining. The Mess Hall was our next stop; lunch was a welcome break after all that flying!

After lunch we walked through the main 40,000-square-foot storage hangar which was almost empty on such a fine flying day and visited the fire station. With responsibility for aircraft crash response during flight training activity, fire safety in all the buildings on both air and ground side, but no structural fires it seemed to us to be the best fire fighting job anywhere; the fire fighters agreed!

The weather station was our next visit. As with the other services providers the product is contracted, paid for and used primarily by the customer. Data collection is electronic and mostly automated; the maps and data available on the monitor were very interesting.

A walk through the maintenance hangar, also 40,000 square feet, was an eye opener with all four types of aircraft represented with everything from regular maintenance to heavy overhauls being conducted by the staff of about 60.

Our final tour was the Tower. This was a highlight for many of us; tower manager Derrick Edmundson was born and raised in Shoal Lake. Post retirement, Derrick is clearly enjoying his new career. Derrick’s uncle, Dick Edmundson, was with the group; they confirmed their December 17 plans to attend a Winnipeg Jets game!

His briefing was an eye opener as we realized all that was going on in the arrival area even if we were unaware of it earlier. With runways 31L and 31R both active, different aircraft using different circuit altitudes, helicopters moving here and there and practising auto rotations near the airport, and practise areas to the west and south it is very busy airspace.

Derrick debriefed all of our arrivals, explaining in my case the call for an immediate climb from 2,500 feet to 3,000 feet (to avoid a Grob at 2,500 feet leaving the area in our direction). It’s easy to understand why Derrick has done a lot of training in his career as he left us feeling wiser and not the least bit chastised for our ‘mistakes!’ Time spent in the tower cab was interesting, especially the fly past by a Bell 412.

Back to Hilly Brown, we turned in our visitor badges and then walked to the ramp for departure. Derrick’s departure briefing was turned on its head as the active runways were switched from 31 to 13 due to a wind change, but went off without a hitch. We appreciated being switched to another frequency and getting his personal send off.

I’m not sure about the others’ but my passenger, Mikal, nodded off on the flight home; it was a full day. After visiting the NATO training base at Moose Jaw last year, Mikal now knows what his primary military flight training will look like if he’s successful in his career plan. Presently in the Army Reserves he’ll find out if he’s accepted to the Royal Military College in Kingston in February, 2012. Good luck, Mikal!

Thanks to everyone at Southport, especially Paul, who showed us around and were so welcoming. We are very fortunate to have this facility in our province!

As we get ready to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of our airport and our Flying Club in 2012 it’s gratifying that we have active and enthusiastic people that allow us to do trips like this. More importantly perhaps, we are proud to provide a wide range of opportunities and services to a much larger region than our immediate community.

We invite you to join us in our anniversary celebration on March 3, 2012 at our annual social – see On the Horizon fordetails.