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Let your passion for aviation history soar with the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association

The Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association (CHAA), located in Tillsonburg, Ontario, provides a window into Canada's military aviation past through the historic Harvard aircraft.

harvards in the sky

Discover the Stories and History of the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association

Read what happens when passionate volunteers work to preserve history in a meaningful way. Want to skip ahead? No problem.

The Harvard aircraft's contribution to World War II

The Harvard aircraft’s contribution to World War II In 1939, the Canadian government created the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), a program that saw 151 military flying schools across Canada train more than 130,000 air crew from Canadian and Allied Forces to become pilots, gunners, navigators and more. Before they could earn their wings and go on to fly fighters and bombers, pilots trained on a variety of aircraft including the Harvard, the most advanced, single-engine trainer at the time.

Dubbed “the pilot maker”, the distinctive roar of the Harvard engines was a familiar sound at air bases across Canada.

“It was thought that if you could fly a Harvard you could fly anything,” says Terry Scott, an active member of the Harvard Association for 30 years.

Pilots could go on to fly Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters, Wellington bombers and other aircraft. “It was a very special aircraft to anyone who was involved in the war effort. The Harvard has a very long and important history in Canada,” added Scott.

After World War II, the Harvard continued to serve with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as a primary trainer until its retirement in 1965.

The Roots of the Organization

The Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association (CHAA) had a humble start with roots in 1985. A handful of people, including former RCAF pilot, Bob Hewitt, were determined to keep the legacy of the Harvard alive and everything it meant to aviation military history.

Originally located at the Woodstock Flying Club, it housed its very first Harvard aircraft there – a move that put the association on track to becoming the largest fleet in North America and a leading authority on Harvards with a global reputation.

harvards in the sky

Harvard Aircraft Association Today

Today, the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association is a volunteer-run, registered not-for-profit charitable organization located at the Tillsonburg Regional Airport. Its volunteers work passionately and tirelessly to preserve, restore, maintain, display and demonstrate their fleet of trainers: eight Harvard and one Yale.

With 3-4 aircraft airworthy each season, visitors take full advantage of flying experiences and soar as thousands of young, courageous men did, who honed their skills in these warbirds before heading off to war.

The Harvard Association welcomes visitors on Tuesdays and Saturdays year-round. Guests can drop by the Visitors Centre, take a hangar tour and watch restoration projects in progress.

During its high season, from May to November, many events are put on where the public is most welcome. Monthly Fly Days offer family-fun while its signature Wings & Wheels event in September is its biggest.

harvards in the sky

Airworthy Planes

In its collection, the Harvard Association has eight “yellow birds” – amicably named after their signature bright yellow colour -- and one Yale, another type of training aircraft. They are not all in flying condition, but all have the potential to be. Some of the Harvards are more than 80 years old, and are maintained with the same love and care they had when they were brand new. Yet, replacement parts and maintenance are costly. An overhauled engine costs $75,000 in U.S. funds and one hour of flying time consumes approximately $300 in fuel.

It’s a labour of love to keep these aircraft in airworthy condition, allowing them to participate in air shows, do fly-bys on Remembrance Day, and take guests on once-in-a-lifetime flight experiences of their own.

“If you were to ask any volunteer if all this time and effort is worth it? They would respond with an unequivocal ‘yes’,” says Scott.

Get involved as a Visitor or a Volunteer

Visitors are always welcome when volunteers open the doors on Tuesday and Saturdays. No admission is ever required to explore the Harvard Association’s two hangars and talk to the crews who pour thousands of volunteer hours into maintenance and restoration, buy a souvenir from the gift shop, or book a flight!

bob and harvards

The Harvard Association also always welcomes new volunteers. There’s a role for anyone with an interest in these remarkable planes. You don't have to be a pilot. You can be involved in fundraising, membership activities or our special event Fly Days. You can be part of our maintenance crew if you can turn a wrench. Or you can even take a rag and polish up the aircraft. Whatever you can do is a valuable asset for the association.

Another way to support the organization is by becoming a member. There’s even a category for youngsters -- a Harvard Hawk membership.

It all starts with a visit to the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association in Tillsonburg. You’ll understand quickly why so many people have a deep appreciation for the Harvard aircraft and its role in Canadian history.  

It deserves to be preserved and that has never been more crucial as we are losing many of the vets who have firsthand knowledge and stories about the Harvard. It is what has inspired the Harvard Association to capture their interviews and memories on video, in photos and in written accounts for future generations to appreciate.

All of these things make the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association a hidden gem worth discovering – right here in Oxford County.

For more information on the Harvard Association's events, memberships, flying opportunities and how to make a donation, visit www.harvards.com or email info@harvards.com.



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