Nanton: More than 50 aircraft hit the runway at AJ Flying Ranch’s annual fly-in breakfast
By: By Tammy Rollie – Okotoks Western Wheel | Posted: Wednesday, Aug 01, 2012 01:53 pm
Eyes were to the sky as dozens of aircraft landed at the AJ Flying Ranch runway east of Cayley for the Joe English Memorial Fly-In July 28.
This year marks is the third anniversary of the event being dedicated to the late Joe English, a WWII Lancaster Bomber pilot, who passed away three ago and was instrumental in getting the fly-in off the ground 13 years ago.
English’s granddaughter Rachel Ramos of Toronto attended the fly-in with family, including five of English’s seven children.
Having grown up in Nanton, Ramos knows how important flying was to her grandfather and is honoured the event is named in his honour.
“They do such an amazing job hosting this,” she said of the AJ Flying Ranch and Bomber Command Museum of Canada. “It’s growing and growing.”
What makes the fly-in distinctive this year is its dedication to Denny Loree, one of the pilots killed in a mid-air collision near St. Brieux in Saskatchewan last May.
Ramos said Loree, a Nanton native, used to take her grandfather flying in his later years when he was no longer able to fly on his own.
“It’s so hard not to see his big smile,” she said of Loree. “He was a real pillar of Nanton.”
AJ Flying Ranch owner Alex Bahlsen said close to 50 aircraft landed at his airstrip last weekend and many of the pilots and passengers enjoyed a pancake breakfast served by the Nanton and District Lions Club.
“It’s just something to do on a Saturday,” he said. “Airports are getting bigger and smaller ones are dying out.”
Bomber Command Museum of Canada volunteer Dave Birrell said the fly-in is an opportunity for the young and old to view a variety of aircraft in one location from Harvards to home-built planes.
“We are attracting lots more vintage aircraft,” he said. “The more historic and vintage aircraft we can attract the better.”
In the past, the Joe English Memorial Fly-In had as many as 85 aircraft from across southern Alberta and British Columbia.
“It’s a way our museum can focus on flying,” he said. “We usually focus on airplanes parked in the museum.”
The number of aircraft hitting the landing strip is often weather dependent and this year was no exception.
With thunderstorms forecasted for Saturday morning some pilots decided against making the trip and only one out of four hot air balloons lifted off, said Birrels.
Luckily, the weather cleared and the temperatures increased as the morning progressed.
For pilot Murray McArthur attending the Joe English Memorial Fly-In was like taking a trip down memory lane.
McArthur was in the air force during in the early 1960s where he flew Harvards and Chipmunks.
“They are heavy and quite challenging,” he recalled. “Seeing them again is like remembering the past.”
McArthur made the short distance from the Okotoks Air Ranch in his lightweight Sport Cruiser.
“When I got out of the air force I didn’t fly for a few years,” he said. “Then when I retired I bought a new plane.”
Nanton resident Beryl West said he has attended the Joe English Memorial Fly-In from day one and this year he brought friend David Dalzell along for the ride.
What West enjoys most about the fly-in is the camaraderie among the pilots.
“It’s just a bunch of airplanes together with like-minded people and like-minded hobbies,” he said.
West does not limit his flying to Canada. He has flown to various airports in the United States and met many interesting pilots, including actor John Travolta.
Calgarian Mark Oliver has been making the fly-in a priority for the past four years.
Oliver said he enjoy the opportunity to meet other pilots and look at a variety of airplanes including his favourites the Harvards and home-built aircraft.
Calgarian Brian Douglas flew in with Oliver in his AcroSport bi-plane on a 20-minute ride from Calgary.
“The best part is I get to sit in the front seat and I get the best view,” he said, adding he was in Air Cadets as a child. “I love it.”