BC takes flight

🕔Dec 03, 2008

“I spent my whole life flying airplanes.”
Other than four years of school and a short stint working for an oil company, 73-year-old Chris Weicht—73 years young, as he puts it—has been in the aviation industry since he was a teenager. He was 16 when he flew a plane by himself for the first time.
The official associate Air Force historian of BC and the Yukon, and the author of a series of books on Western Canada’s aviation history entitled Air Pilot Navigator, Weicht maintains he knows his subject fairly well.
That’s quite an understatement. During a phone interview earlier this year, Weicht was able to recite specific names, dates and locations almost exactly as they appear in his books. Perusing the first volume of his series, North by Northwest, Weicht could turn to a page and, off the top of his head, explain exactly who was who and what they were doing in the photograph on that page. Bear in mind that each of the seven books in his series displays close to 500 old photos.
Starting in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), he served as a pilot for several airlines including Pacific Western and Air West in Canada, Cascade Aircraft in the United States, and for private individuals including Ray Charles. He’s worked as a base manager for the BC Forest Service in several locations and taught aviation for the Air Cadet Squadron in Abbotsford. In the mid 1980s, he was also hired to expand a First Nations airline in Bella Bella.
Weicht’s father was an air force officer in Britain during the Second World War, a fact that likely propelled Weicht’s love of aviation. But it was Weicht’s first experience floating through clouds himself that clinched it.
In 1948, Weicht and his parents immigrated from England to Port Coquitlam, BC. They flew to Canada, which was rare at the time—most people came by boat. The captain of the plane invited Weicht, who was then 13 years old, to join him up front in the captain’s chair. Though the plane was actually on autopilot, Weicht thought he was controlling the aircraft as he sat in that grand seat with a bird’s-eye view.
“From then on, I decided I was going to be a pilot. There was nothing else I wanted to do,” he says.
Within a year, Weicht had joined the air cadets, receiving a scholarship that paid for his flight training and pilot’s license. “It was a good time. I learned a lot and met interesting people.”
In addition to Weicht’s formal training in the air cadets, he learned much about flying from simply hanging around pilots at the Vancouver airport when he was a teenager. He would ask the pilots question upon question while studying how they maintained their machines. Sometimes they would fulfill his main desire and take him into the sky for a short flight.
“Now a kid can’t get in to the airport, or even close to it,” Weicht says.
Feeling free is what the aviation expert loves most about airplanes, though he admits much has changed since he first started flying.
“The freedom when I was flying was a lot greater than it is today. (Pilots) didn’t have radios in those days. They took off from the grass, not runways. You turned the airplane to face the tower and they gave you the green light to take off,” he explained. “Not as much regulation had come into play.”
Writer’s realization
Writing was never a prominent part of Weicht’s early career. He did publish a few magazine articles in the 1980s, and he sometimes kept a journal. As well, his father worked as a journalist and newspaper editor, but Weicht never felt this was an influence.
“I didn’t think any of that was rubbing off on me.”
Researching and writing became a serious part of Weicht’s life in the late 1980s, when he learned of plans to permanently close the military base at Jericho Beach in Vancouver.
Weicht’s idea was to write the military’s long-standing history at Jericho Beach in the context of the province and country as a whole. He got the go-ahead, and the RCAF reinstated him so he could access information more readily.
“It takes time to get information from the military when you are a civilian,” Weicht explained. “When you go in your uniform, you get it right now.”
Accompanied by two assistants, Weicht spent the next few months researching aviation archives in Canada’s Directory of History and Department of National Defense in Ottawa.
“I copied everything, and came back with boxes and boxes of information that I still use today,” he said.
The book he had proposed, Jericho Beach and the West Coast Flying Boat Stations, was published in 1997 and became a Canadian bestseller.
Next, loaded with the information he had gathered in Ottawa, Weicht aimed to write a second book about airfields in BC. To further his research, he travelled extensively throughout the province, rummaging through city archives, visiting former airfield sites, and interviewing pioneer aviation locals and their descendents.
“I spent years going to every town in BC that had any aviation history,” he says.

Books take flight

Weicht’s one planned book turned into seven, taking about 10 years to finish. “If I can find a nugget of info, I try to build it into a story, into something I can tell and write.”
Weicht’s first title in his series, North by Northwest, focuses on the aviation history of northwest communities stretching from Stewart BC to Spokane, Washington. It’s a collection of stories about the people who lived in these communities years ago and their discovery of machines that could take them and their towns to places they had never dreamed of—physically and economically.
Ask some of the old-timers in the area about the stories in the book—like the adventures of Clarence “Ollie” Prest, a New Yorker who set out to fly from Mexico to Siberia and spent time in several northwestern communities due to plane troubles. They may be able to tell you their own accounts of the stories, and how significant the introduction of the airplane was at the time.
“In the early days, the airplane was able to move people and information in northern communities. It helped to open up each community, open it to centres of civilization. It made things happen,” he says. “Instead of mail taking weeks to get somewhere, it would be there in days. In much the same way that the computer has been such a great tool in the last 20 years, airplanes did similar jobs in the 1920s and 1930s.”
Weicht is now publishing one of his seven manuscripts every year, with the sixth just about to be released.
Weicht believes these books are important because if he didn’t write them, the information and photos could disappear forever. “History is so easily lost,” he explains. “It would be a shame if this information is lost. These photographs would get thrown out—and once they are gone, they are gone.”
“I think I’m doing something worthwhile. I’m currently the only person writing about the history of the area.” Others have only written about segments of it, he adds.
“I want my books to tweak the reader’s interest to find more information, to write stories themselves.”
Weicht retired from commercial flying when he was 67 and now lives on the Sunshine Coast. Retirement has definitely not slowed him down, though: he keeps fit by walking several miles a day and still has his private pilot’s license.
“But that’s for my own pleasure,” he says.
Weicht publishes and markets all of his books himself. He’s just returned from a tour of northern BC, the Yukon, Alaska and part of Alberta. Plus, in addition to his already completed seven-book series, he has up to five more books on aviation in the works.
“I still have so much to do. I always say I don’t have time to croak,” Weicht says, laughing.
Weicht books published to date include Jericho Beach and the West Coast Flying Boat Stations, Yukon Airways, Trans-Canada Airway, Air Route To The Klondike, Pacific Airway and North By Northwest. For more information on Chris Weicht and his books, please visit www.creeksidepublications.ca.