Evelyn Fletcher—Trailblazing Glider Pilot
By Aimee Benoit
Gliding emerged as a sport in western Canada in the 1930s driven by the passion of small amateur clubs. Members of the Lethbridge Glider Club, formed in 1929, worked together to design and build their own motorless aircraft. They took turns launching into the skies and piloting the gliders through thermal updrafts around Lethbridge.
Evelyn Fletcher joined the Lethbridge Glider Club in the fall of 1936. She became one of Canada’s first female glider pilots. With dreams of becoming a stunt flyer, she began her training on the club’s Gull Wing glider. By July 1938 she solo piloted the more sophisticated Hutter H-17. Evelyn maintained meticulous records for the club. She also logged her own progress as she achieved higher and longer flights and more complex maneuvers.
Evelyn made her first cross-country flight on May 14, 1939. She stayed aloft for 51 minutes and reached an altitude of 1176 metres (3858 feet), setting a Canadian gliding record that stood for ten years. She applied to the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association (RCFCA) for a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) gliding certificate. Unfortunately her application sat unprocessed for years and was only rediscovered in 1960. The RCFCA gave Evelyn a special retroactive certificate numbered S01, because they had issued many FAI gliding certificates by that time.
When the Second World War began, Evelyn moved to Calgary to train for her pilot’s licence. Her new goal was to serve in an auxiliary unit of the Royal Air Force. She completed the course and earned her commercial pilot rating—but she never made it overseas, instead marrying her flying instructor, Bill Smith.
To learn more about Evelyn Fletcher and the history of gliding in southwestern Alberta, visit the Galt Museum & Archives’ exhibit Soar!, which runs Feb 17—May 27, 2018.