A Brief History of GPSS
The Club was formed in the late nineteen-seventies when a local farmer, Lee Johnson and a former mayor of Grande Prairie purchased a new Blanik L 13 two-seat glider and five club members purchased a Belanca Scout towplane. In 1980 the club purchased the Blanik from the original owners and also leased a privately owned Schweizer 1-23 single-seat glider. The base of the flying activities was at the Johnson airstrip, just east of the city. A lot of local flying, mostly student training and “Fam” flights, was being done with the club having well over twenty members, including four instructors and five tow pilots.
Les Oilund in a Schweizer 1-23 getting ready for takeoff
In 1981 the first cross-country flight from Grande Prairie was done when the CFI Jordie Carlson (who was one of the founding members) flew the Schweizer 1-23 to the Peace River airport. Heinz Schwarz flew the following week with the same aircraft the same route, he took a sealed barograph along and could claim the Silver “C” distance and altitude, and once more a week after that the Schweizer did the third consecutive cross-country flight with pilot Walter Mueller, who flew to Valley View and achieved also the Silver “C” distance and altitude.
The next few years the club was also participating at the Cowley summer camps by aero-towing the Blanik there, where several badge flights were being made by club members, (Marty Slater completed the Silver “C”, Dave George the Diamond altitude, Walter Mueller the Gold distance). Back at home some more cross-country flights were recorded: Steve Weinhold in his Kestrel 19 flew the Diamond triangle GP to Fairview-Dawson Creek and back, and later Les Oilund flew in his Phoebus C also the Diamond triangle GP to Peace River-Dunvegan and back, and Walter Mueller made a straight down-wind flight to Slave Lake. At the home field student training and passenger flying kept the instructors busy.
Livingstone Range, Cowley AB
With a downturn in the economy the membership declined and by the mid nineteen eighties it was not economically feasible to operate the towplane and the owners sold it. The club was faced with changing to winch launching, but first one had to be build. This was done almost exclusively by two people, Bryan Konshak and Les Oilund at Bryan’s farm shop
The first winch launches from the Johnson field were successful as far as the winch is concerned, but the airstrip of 2800ft was too short for getting sufficient height for safe circuit flying. In 1987 we moved our operation to the Beaverlodge airport where we can have 5000ft of cable laid out to achieve an average of 1500ft above ground. This has been the club’s base of operation ever since with a short trial at the GP airport, which was not very successful.
GPSS, Blanik L-13 C-FIRB
In 1992 the membership had declined and we had to shut the operation down and the Blanik was put in storage in the hangar at the Johnson airstrip. A few members kept the club alive on paper with the hope of better days ahead, and such was the case when in 1994 Bryan Lynch and Dave Olson, officers from the Air Cadets, joined us and brought some students with them. The Blanik was aero towed back to Beaverlodge by Reg Isley with a vintage Tiger Moth and Walter Mueller in the Blanik. A few very active years followed, a trailer was built for the Blanik to be able to attend the Cowley summer camp again. A Schleicher Ka 8 was purchased and some members had private owned gliders. Then for various reasons some of our most active members moved away. Karl Soellig, who was our secretary/treasurer for some time, retired and moved to BC and joined the Vernon Club, and Phil Stade, who also was secretary/treasurer for a few years, was transferred by his employer, and he is now with the Calgary club and is also ASC’s Exec. Director, Terry Hatfield, who was our last secretary/ treasurer before Lloyd Sherk took over, retired from flying for personal reasons and so the flying activity was reduced to the point where it was not economically feasible to continue, and the club went again dormant. The Blanik was leased to the club at Vernon and a year later to the Calgary club, where it is now in storage because of a worldwide grounding of this aircraft model. Walter in the meantime flew with the Edmonton Soaring Club with his own Cirrus sailplane, but on his 90th birthday on 29th of October 2010 he did a half hour flight over Grande Prairie, having been towed up by no other than Jordie Carlson with his “Acrosport” and fellow pilots Erle Loewen and Les Oilund acting as ground crew.
A few years back a former Canadian Forces Pilot, Lloyd Sherk, had joined us and he has been the key person to keep the club together on paper in the last three years with the hope that some new membership will re-activate the club. Walter’s flight on his birthday was the catalyst to get Dwayne Doll back into soaring again and in 2011 he renewed his licence and purchased a high performance sailplane and he is now the main driving force for a re-start of the club. There is a lot of work to be done but the future looks not so bleak anymore and it is a justification for the few people who have kept the club together.