Stranraer Flying Boat, Ucluelet inlet near Seaplane Base

There are many beautiful views over our Ucluelet inlet. My all-time favourite view has to be one that includes our little Cessna float plane taking off. I will stop and look – it’s a compulsion. I love that little airplane!
OK so I get it that some people really enjoy looking at fish boats or sail boats or kayaks or even sealions –for me it’s an airplane taking off.
My love of airplanes goes back to my earliest memories of me and my dad ‘hanging out’ at the end of a runway. Just him and me — not my three brothers – just Dad and me.
My dad had stories of being a kid and watching flying daredevils ‘Barn Storm’ around southern Alberta. Later during the war years, Dad learned to build airplanes – and watch test pilots take off and land. Dad told stories of being a stowaway, sneaking onboard test aircraft and climbing into the co-pilot seat after the plane was in the air.
But Dad never became a pilot. That was his dream, and that dream was only fulfilled through me, his middle son. Dad was proud as I received my pilot’s licence — the very first day I was legally able to receive it!
My compulsion to fly and to sit at the end of a runway and watch airplanes take off and land never left me, or my dad. Even after I received my pilot’s license and began flying all over the Island, my early favourite hangout was the then near-abandoned grass strip, at Qualicum Beach. (I hadn’t discovered Tofino airport at that point, but once I did, flying into Tofino, parking my little airplane at the end of the runway and walking down to the beach, became my all-time favourite obsession).
One day while sitting in my usual solitude at Qualicum airstrip, this old guy showed up. It slowly became obvious that I wasn’t the only airplane obsessed person and I quickly became friends with an old-timer named Bill McCleod. Bill was old and I was young and Bill had stories. Stories about flying, and flying airplanes I had never dreamed of. Bill claimed to be one of the last pilots of the Stranraer Flying Boat – and he flew this very strange flying machine on regular routes along the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Ucluelet was a normal port of call.
Bill’s description of the Stranraer was seared into my mind. Let’s see if I can describe the Stranraer Supermarine Flying Boat: a slow flying, two winged, two tailed, two engines, eagle beak like nose, a cockpit elevated about the passenger compartment and an observation hatch toward the rear. Oh, and a little round hole just below waist height in the rear for the boys, just in case they fortified their courage a little too well before take-off. Yup, it looked about as strange as described and had it been painted purple, it might have inspired a song.
The Stranraer Supermarine Flying Boat first flew in 1934 from Southampton, UK. The west coast of Vancouver Island was one of the few places in the world it flew on a regular civilian basis.

915 Stranraer parked at Ucluelet Seaplane Base

Bill actually took me to see the last remaining Stranraer in North America. Well, actually I piloted Bill to Victoria to see Stranraer FYOB 915 (pictured above at Ucluelet) just before this last remaining aircraft was shipped to a museum in England.
The Stranraer began its short life as a British-built convoy escort and patrol aircraft. In 1942 Canadian Vickers company, under licence, built 40 Stranraer Flying Boats for the Royal Canadian Air Force for anti-submarine observation.
Many were stationed out of Ucluelet Seaplane Base during the war.
In 1947 a fleet of the remaining Stranraer Flying Boats were purchased from Canadian Crown Assets by Jim Spilsbury. Spilsbury began regular airline flights between Vancouver and Haida Gwaii under the name of Queen Charlotte Airlines.
Remote communities like Ucluelet as well as canneries, logging camps and mines became regular stopovers. The last Stranraer to fly on our coast was late 1966. In 1970 CYOB 915, once stationed in Ucluelet, was dismantled and shipped to an RAF museum in the UK.

920 restored and the only Stranraer left – UK Museum

There were several airplanes that became unique to Ucluelet and to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Future articles will highlight Fairchild, Norseman, Waco and of course, the legendary Beaver. And who couldn’t love the drone of a Cessna 185 on floats taking off from Ucluelet inlet!

 article written by Phil Hood