When World War I broke out, aviation was still a very new
invention and few in military planning circles saw its
potential as a useful weapon. The early years of the war were a time of
experimentation, with two air services on which Canadian pilots
could serve. The first was the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS),
and the second was the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). To be a
military pilot, one had to first have basic flight training and
then sign up through the traditional services like the army or
navy before finally transferring into one of the air services.
To receive basic training, Canadians often travelled to the
United States to enter schools like the Stinson School in San
Antonio. To fulfil the need for trained pilots, efforts to
establish private schools began. The well-known flying pioneer,
William (Billy) M. Stark, initiated such a school in Vancouver,
British Columbia. While his effort was not practical, it was
In the summer of 1915, Stark and a small group of businessmen
in Vancouver agreed to form a flying school for the war effort,
and made an application to the Fédération Aéronautique
Internationale in France. They received certification for the
school and named it the Aero Club of British Columbia.
The Aero Club raised $2,500 by a public subscription to pay
Stark a fee of $25 a week and to attain an aircraft. The school
operated on the racetrack on Lulu Island. It had a single seat
airplane that Billy Stark took the wings off of so that students
could taxi the aircraft with Stark standing beside them, yelling
out instructions. Stark placed a wedge of wood
under the foot throttle that allowed the students to attain
only limited speed. As they progressed, Stark would cut away
more wood, permitting them to go faster. Two students graduated
in November and entered the Royal Flying Corps.
As the winter months came, Stark converted the aircraft to a
hydroplane with pontoons, and continued the taxiing exercises at
Burrard Inlet. Training ended when the pontoon hit a log and Stark
and the students were thrown into the water. The aircraft was
A new aircraft and organization were needed to continue the
training in British Columbia. The Aero Club was dissolved and a
new organization called the British Columbia Aviation School
Limited was formed. The hope was to raise $15,000 to expand and buy four
larger aircraft. However, the funds for such an ambitious plan were not raised, and only one two-seat Curtiss tractor
biplane was bought. Several more pilots graduated, but the
biplane crashed at Pitt Meadows and the training effort came to
a close. In total, 15 students graduated.
lithograph of a painting by R. W. Bradford titled "Curtiss 'F'
Flying Boat" and the caption is "A typical training day at the
Curtiss Flying School.