In 1966 the RCAF was severely cutting back on regional orientation flights in military transport aircraft for Air Cadets. Inspired by an experimental programme at Penhold, Alberta, Pilots Hank Bruhlman and Frank de Jong responded with a proposal utilizing gliders, to put the “Air” back into Air Cadets. They devised a plan to provide local glider familiarization flights to the Royal Canadian Air Cadets of 294 Chatham-Kinsmen Squadron which then Major Bruhlman Commanded. With a grant from the Kinsmen Club of Chatham and funds raised by the Cadets themselves the Squadron purchased a used Schweitzer 2-22 glider. Captain de Jong, an aircraft engineer and chief ground school instructor for the Squadron, designed a winch and a cable retrieval car which were built by students at Chatham-Kent Secondary School. With the assistance of additional Squadron staff and the Pioneer Flying Club, 78 familiarization flights were provided that first year to the 294 Squadron Cadets.

In 1967 the team was invited to provide familiarization flights to the hundreds of Cadets attending summer camp at Canadian Forces Base Trenton. It proved a great success, demonstrating a very affordable method to expose Air Cadets to flight on a personal and individual level.

In 1968 the programme entered Phase 2 - Glider Pilot Instruction. Five Cadets received air instruction on weekends, and these first five soloed and earned their glider pilot licences and Wings. In 1969 an intense two-week summer course was held here in Chatham which trained 6 additional Cadets to pilot standard. The local programme ran independently until 2002, training 72 Cadets as glider pilots as well as providing familiarization flights and ground handling experience to the Squadron complement each year.

The programme proved so successful and cost effective that the Department of National Defence and the Air Cadet League of Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding to adopt it and provide glider familiarization and training nationally. Both men travelled to other Cadet Regions across the country to assist in the development of the gliding programme. This offspring of Chatham’s model has run continuously as the signature Air Cadet programme with a fleet of approximately 100 tow-planes and gliders operating across every region of Canada. Tens of thousands of familiarization flights are flown and an average of 300 Air Cadets are trained as glider pilots annually.

This plaque is placed to celebrate Hank Bruhlman’s and Frank de Jong’s vision, drive, and dedication to create a programme that has benefited hundreds of thousands of Royal Canadian Air Cadets and continues to do so.

Gratefully presented by Kent Flying Machines Chapter - Recreational Aircraft Association - 2022


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