Return of the Giant

by Stu Simpson

In case you haven’t heard, the Giant is back. And this time it’s better than ever.

I’m talking, of course, about the Green Giant – my Sylvaire Bushmaster II that I’d previously re-engined at the turn of the century with a Rotax 582 (up from a 503). Well, I re-engined again, this time with a Continental A-75.

I’d been toying for some time with the idea of an upgrade, and actually had plans to begin the project in the spring of this year. A bearing failure and subsequent forced landing in November of 2004 precipitated the start of the project a little early. In the end, it was excellent timing, for I’d have otherwise lost all the 2005 summer flying season to the project.

With the help of quite a number of people, chief among them Gerry Theroux, Bob Kirkby and Ken Beanlands, the Giant is back in the air with a new look and a new sound.

After several proving hours on the engine with some short and medium length hops, it was time to really put it to the test with a long cross-country flight on July 1st. Former CUFC president Ed D’Antoni suggested a trip to Castor, a distance of about 115 miles. He suggested it largely due to the airfield’s proximity to one of the town’s restaurants.

I was all for it, and so was Al Botting, Bob Kirkby and Ken Beanlands. Strangely, though, D’Antoni bowed out at the last minute. Hmmmm….

We set out on a perfect morning with hardly any wind on the surface, and a 15 mph tailwind at 6000’. We soon soared past Beiseker and the Red Deer River Valley and arrived over top the moonscape prairie south of Stettler. It’s wonderful land to see, comprised of small, well-rounded hills that are rarely more than 20 feet high. It appears to be the effluent of an enormous geological sneeze.

Once past that region, we flew past many huge sloughs that somehow got listed on the map as lakes. These muddy troughs were full to their brims after the recent rains and served well as landmarks for those of us navigating by map. Actually, I was the only one navigating by map.

We landed on Castor’s pristine paved runway and taxied in to make our way to the food. Botting arranged a ride to a nearby restaurant with a very kind local gentleman named Bill. Bill was a sharp contrast to the waitress in the café who treated us like we were the biggest pain in her day. Good thing the food was okay.

Bill kindly shuttled us back to the field after lunch and we soon set out for Three Hills and more gas. Now, the thunderstorms were building around us and we were anxiously watching the sky as we went.

On the ground at Three Hills we looked east to a huge cell sitting directly in the path we’d taken less than an hour before. We got out of Dodge just in time. Another massive cell was laying a whoopin’ on Drumheller, and a third storm was handing it to the area north of Bishell’s, where Beanlands shelters his Christavia.

We decided to escort Beanlands as far west toward home as the weather would allow. Once airborne, we saw the storm had moved well north of Bishell’s strip and that Ken would have no troubles with it. On the other hand, another cell appeared to be brewing near Kirkby’s. We thought it prudent to quickly turn for home.

We finished the flight with no problems and the cells we worried about didn’t amount to much. I was ecstatic over the Giant’s and the Continental’s performance. I logged 3.5 hours and all temps and pressures were right where they needed to be. Fuel consumption was the same or less than the Rotax. We should try this again sometime, I decided.

Sometime arrived a few days later when Botting and I coerced Andy Gustafson into a flight south with his Merlin. Bob Kirkby needed an aerial photo of the High River airport for a COPA brochure he was building. What better excuse to fly than a photo recon mission for COPA?

We set out from Kirkby’s on another perfect morning. We soon got the shots of High River and decided to head west to the scenic terrain of the foothills. We over-flew the Turner Valley Ranch strip, Butler’s strip and the flood-ravaged hamlet of Priddis. Coasting along next to the Rocks, I couldn’t help but recall the fantastic flight Andy and I made to that magical, mysterious kingdom last fall.

Then it was time to turn for home. We turned east along Highway 22X and eased off the altitude so as not to bust Calgary’s Class C space. One feature that caught my eye was Red Deer Lake, another over-sized slough that actually had water in it again. It’s been nearly dry for more than 15 years. We set course to pass over Glen Clarke’s strip and I peered intently down trying to spot his Cub. No joy there. Boy, did he miss a good one this time.

Since Andy was kind enough to join us at Kirkby’s, Botting and I decided to return the favour and escort him home. Besides, with our photo recon mission complete we needed an excuse to stay aloft a bit longer.

Our flight lasted exactly two hours, and again the Continental ran flawlessly. I don’t have a moment’s regret about switching engines again and I know the A-75 will give me a great many great years. So bring ‘em on, because the Giant is back!