War has always been an impetus for great innovations, and the airplane is the prime example of this. During the First World War, aircraft were transformed – out of necessity – from single-seat wood frames to reliable and high-flying fighter aircraft with power to carry guns and their operators. At the end of World War I, most people thought aircraft had little value off the battlefield. However, the thrill of flight had captured the imaginations of the handful of men who had served as pilots during the war. In the 1920s, Winnipeg became the proving ground for many of the advances made overseas when returning pilots – including H. Phillip Crabb and John Sully – turned what was a hobby into a multi-billion dollar industry.
H. Phillip Crabb
Although many war veterans hoped to develop their skills as pilots, by 1926 few active pilots remained, and the industry began to look overseas to fill their needs in the burgeoning industry. For many, such as H. Phillip Crabb who operated the law firm Crabb & Company Ltd., flying was a weekend pastime, but one worth investing in. Crabb had volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 and became a flight instructor and examining officer with RAF 26th Wing. In 1928, he and several other Manitoba pilots formed the Winnipeg Flying Club. This newly formed club offered much-needed flying lessons to locals.
John Sully was named the Winnipeg Flying Club’s first president due to his advanced rank and extensive service record. The club earned sponsorship under the Commonwealth Air Training Plan and in 1932 Winnipeg’s first air regiment No. 12 Army Cooperation Squadron was formed under the command of Squadron Leader J.A. Sully, who was succeeded by Squadron Leader H.P. Crabb in 1937. No. 12’s primary duties included officer training and transportation of RCMP Officers. The 12th was renamed 402 City of Winnipeg Squadron at the outset of World War II and served in numerous engagements from The Battle of Britain to D-Day.
The efforts of these men thrust Winnipeg, and Canada, on to the global stage of aviation, and their investments remain one of our city’s leading industries. The Winnipeg Flying Club’s original home was Stevenson Field. The airport also remains the home of 402 Squadron who recently celebrated their 80th anniversary on October 18, 2012. The Winnipeg Flying Club continues to offer training to a new generation of pilots from St. Andrews Airport.