Stu and Geoff’s San Francisco Air Adventure is over. The last day of our trip was laden with plenty of adventure and challenge.
We left my house at 0700 Saturday morning headed back to Cranbrook in our borrowed truck. The wind was howling, and was forecast to be substantial in the Crowsnest Pass for the entire day. I knew we wouldn’t be coming back through there.
The sky was still plenty clear, though, and forecast to be that way throughout southern BC and western Alberta. The wind plagued us all the way from Calgary right to the Cranbrook airport. In fact, we had a pretty good scare at the end of our 4-hour drive. We were traveling up the road to the airport and noticed dozens of huge pine and spruce trees that had been uprooted and toppled like tooth picks by extreme winds from a storm the night before. We really started to worry about our planes. The ground at the airport where we sunk our tie-down stakes is pretty rocky and sandy. I wondered how much purchase our spikes would have.
I needn’t have worried about that, though. The planes appeared to be untouched by the wind. That is until I got to my plane. I started examining Merl and saw the windshield was now two very distinct and separate pieces! It broke right at the curve in the front left corner. I don`t know if it was from the wind or from the extreme temperature changes over the past while. I was devestated and thought my trip would end quite ignominiously with a bus ride home for me and a trailer ride back for Merl.
I brought Geoff over to have a look and as we examined things more closely, Geoff thought we could tape the windshield together for the trip home. I’d considered it myself, but to hear him voice the same idea gave me a lot more confidence in the idea.
I always carry tape in my plane, which has proven invaluable very often in the past.
I pulled out a roll of the stainless steel foil tape I use for the leading edge protection on my prop. We set to work and within half an hour had the windshield back together and in what we thought was good enough shape to fly. I figured I`d know within seconds of starting the plane.
After our very extensive pre-fligt inspections we started up. As soon as my engine caught I checked the windscreen and knew I’d be alright to get home. It was solid.
We launched from Cranbrook and turned north for Invermere. Barry Davis was waiting there for us. He was unable to make the trip south but wanted to join us for our last leg home. It really meant a lot to us that he was able to do that. Ken Beanlands tried to join us, too, but got held in Carstairs due to mechanical and weather issues.
It was really nice to have the wind at our backs for this leg. We were seeing a ground speed anywhere from 85 to 100 mph, which gave us a very short ride to Invermere.
Landing at Invermere proved to be a bit of a challenge as we landed with the full expectation of having to fight runway thermals. But they never materialized and I ended up with a rather rough arrival. Geoff had trouble with his tail wheel, too, which was barely holding together. The two steering control arms were bent up nearly 90 degrees from their correct positions. Fixing it would have to wait until we got home, but we only had to make one more landing, and that would be on grass. Our adventure has certainly taken its toll on us and our very tough little airplanes.
It was sure good to see Barry and his Zenair again. It really brought back the memories of when the three of us flew to Spokane for a weekend last fall.
We quickly fueled and after a pre-flight briefing returned to our planes to start up. Only Barry’s plane wouldn’t start. We spent half an hour trying to fix a vapour lock issue before his engine caught and tumbled to life.
Our next challenge was simply leaving Invermere. We got airborne easily enough, but there was no wind to speak of. I lifted off the runway into 25 degree heat at 2800 feet ASL, got thirty feet into the air, and pretty much stayed there. The 50`trees ahead worried me, I had anticipated this. I simply slid my airplane a few feet to the right so I was over the highway. Just like magic, the heat from the highway gave me the lift I needed. Aided just enough from the little thermal, Merl started climbing well toward the high terrain ahead. We continued working the thermals and mechanical updrafts as we made our way toward the pass east of Radium.
The three of us entered the pass, which is easily the narrowest pass I`ve ever seen, and continued our climb eastward. We cleared the 4800`summit several minutes later and turned north up the Kootenay Valley. We again made a turn at Kootenay Crossing to enter the narrower Vermillion Valley and steadily worked our way up to 6000`or better. The Vermillion Pass, which grants us passage into the Bow Valley, sits at 5700`.
We cleared the Vermillion Summit and popped out into the Bow Valley. We finally had our planes back into Alberta! Familiar landmarks appeared left and right, welcoming us onward toward home. I spotted the Sulphur Mountain and the chateau on the top of it where people could get a view almost as good as the one we three had just then.
Banff and Canmore appeared right on time and it was in this portion of the valley we really started taking a beating from the string wind at our backs. For about 20 minutes in the valley we fought some pretty strong turbulence until the valley widened out near the Kananaskis Highway.
We sailed the next half hour over the foothills and prairie, descending steadily as we watched Calgary get bigger in our sight. We finally entered the circuit for Kirkby Field and home. My landing was terrible with the gusty 20 – 25 knot west wind that was blowing. Fortunately, Kirkby`s runway 26 had plenty of room for my trangressions. I gratefully taxied up to my hangar and shut down.
Geoff clearly had some trouble with the turbulence on his approach and landing but managed to use his brakes to make it safely back to his hangar. Barry landed safely, too.
Thus, we closed the last chapter on the biggest adventure of our lives. Our San Francisco trip was over, but utterly unforgettable. I wonder where the next one will take us.
Today’s photos show my busted windscreen; Our repair job on it; Launching from Cranbrook as the windshield holds in place; ashot of Barry off my wing as we approach Calgary; and Geoff landing with a barely operable tail-wheel in winds gusting to 25 knots.