When Bill Alder of Sealand Aviation spearheaded the TeenFlight program in collaboration with School District 72 back in 2013, the idea was simply to instill a love of flight in some more kids.
When he first got into aviation, Alder says, passions were high for things that fly, but that passion, it seemed, at least amongst the general public, “had really fallen off over the years.”
So he wanted to build that passion in another generation by teaching teenagers how to construct aircraft. While that may sound like a lofty goal, Alder was confident. He soon got others on-board and TeenFlight was taxiing the metaphoric runway and preparing to get airborne. Through donations from local businesses, service groups and individuals, the program had the money to purchase its first kit from Van’s Aircraft in Oregon and have it shipped to Campbell River.
But in order to sustain the program – which is still the only one of its kind in Canada – they would need some money. They would buy the planes as kits, put them together and sell them as completed, ready-to-operate aircraft, but the profit from doing so wouldn’t be enough to keep them going.
So Alder started Wings ’n’ Wheels, the annual plane and car show held each year out at the airport to help subsidize things after talking with with Jim Johnson of North Island Cruisers and forming a partnership to put on the event.
This weekend (Sunday, July 15) marks the fifth such show, and Alder says it has only gotten better with age.
“When we started this whole thing up, we didn’t even think about how it would go in the future or the longevity of it or anything,” he says. “But every year we’ve gotten more calls from people who wanted to show up for it. Last year was the most planes we’d ever had, and everyone said they were coming back this year, so I expect it will be even bigger.”
But with growing crowds of participants came growing crowds of onlookers. Finding room for everyone to park, Alder admits, became an issue.
“People were lined up along the side of the road all the way out to the highway,” he says. “They were walking in from quite a ways away, and sometimes it was hot and not very pleasant. So this year we’ve arranged to have a bunch of parking open at the far end of the airport and we’ll be shuttling people over to the event.”
Alder says it’s been nice to see the enthusiasm grow over the years not only for the show itself, but also for the venue.
“Every year I meet people who have come out to the airport and say things like, ‘wow, I didn’t know all this was out here,’ because they just think it’s a place to fly in and out of,” he says. “It’s nice to think that maybe one of the things we’re doing is raising awareness of the airport and the grounds out here and showing people there’s more to the place than just departures and arrivals.”
Sunday’s event – which will feature B-25 bomber flights, helicopter and airplane rides, a ton of planes and classic cars on display, silent auction items up for bid, and more – starts bright and early at 8 a.m. with the annual pancake breakfast in the hangar and runs until 3 p.m.