The Boys of Autumn

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by Stu Simpson

The weather guys owed us this one. And they had paid up with interest by giving us perfect conditions for flying, a sharp contrast to the rest of the season, which had been absolutely crappy since April. So, like any sensible ultralight jockeys, we were taking advantage of it.

There were three of us. Don Rogers, call sign Dragonfly-01, had the lead. I was 02, and Gerry MacDonald in his two-seat Beaver, was number three. Don led us westward from Indus. We headed for the hills east of Priddis so Don could take aerial pictures of a friend’s acreage. We hadn’t discussed where we’d go next. I like that.

The air was like satin, caressing us gently as we droned toward the Rocks. I didn’t know what the day held in store for us but I wasn’t going to let this moment pass uncaptured. I had my own camera along, so I pulled it out and started snapping. The Chinook and the Beaver contrasted beautifully with the October blue sky.

I spent about ten minutes bobbing around the sky flying with my knees. But I’d managed to grab some decent pictures before returning to the formation. In the meantime, Don had found the landmarks to point him to his buddy’s house. He peeled off to the south and began his descent. That left Gerry and I at about 4700 feet to practice our formation flying.

We ambled lazily over the hills, flying circles to get the hang of formation turns. Gerry welded his airplane to my left wing as we alternated between a gentle left bank, and straight and level. What a pleasant surprise to find yet another pilot who likes flying formation, and is good at it. I wondered what else would surprise me today.

We were chatting with Don about where to go next when we overheard some chatter from the Thompson’s Ranch glider strip. They sounded pretty busy over there, launching gliders every few minutes. We decided that strip would be our next destination.

Don was nearly finished with his low altitude photo passes so he told Gerry and I to start heading to Thompson’s. He’d start climbing after us and catch up. We radioed our intentions to the glider riders and their tow plane and turned our noses south. I recalled from my training days that unpowered craft have the right-of-way in the circuit and I began scanning for the thermal jockies’long wings and slim bodies.

Just as Gerry and I passed over mid-field, I spotted a glider about three miles away. He was on a long downwind for runway 25, while the tow plane was yanking another one off the ground. We extended to the south of the field and Gerry slid back to my six for the circuit. As soon as the glider was past us, I turned in for the downwind. Don was just crossing over mid-field. But by the time Gerry and I were on short final, he was ready for his base leg.

Upon landing we were immediately set upon and welcomed by members of the Cu-Nim Gliding Club. We spent some time talking about our planes and theirs, each group wondering what the other’s craft were like to fly. We watched several gliders get towed aloft by a Bellanca Scout, and I even managed to get a few more pictures. I live for days like that.

Half an hour later we were getting itchy wings again. We batted a few destinations around and finally settled on High River. We didn’t feel like landing at the airport, so we’d just head to the north end of the town, then turn back for home. All in agreement, we saddled up and fire-walled it down runway 07, impressing the hell out of the glider guys. At least they should have been impressed.

The colors of autumn were a firey spectacle in the trees below us. We laughed and joked on the radio as the day continued to unfold it’s magic. Don spotted another friend’s house-in-the-country. The best I could do was be the first to notice the wonderful, unmistakable, aroma  f a nearby feed lot. Gerry seemed content to just park himself off my wing and smile. Then a series of perfect circles appeared in a grain field below which began a flurry of jokes regarding UFO’s and peanut butter cups.

When we reached the town of High River we noticed an abandoned WWII training field whose runways were still barely visible in the grass. It would be nice if the field was still there, allowing us to drop in every now and again. But it’s long since overrun with grass and buildings and power lines.

We crossed the #2 highway and made our turn to the north. Don assigned me the lead before we left Thompson’s and had taken my right wing. So instead of making the wide turn from the outside, he elected to cut across the rear of the flight to take the outside of an echelon left.

We coasted along for the next twenty minutes just staring at the world below and the unlucky souls who weren’t up there with us.

Occasionally I’d lose sight of one of my wingmen as he drifted into the blind spot above my wing. But all I had to do was glance down at our shadows to know where he was.

We began our descent for Indus when we reached the South Calgary airport. Three planes, acting as one, nosed over and throttled back. We levelled out on the other side of the Bow and set up to pass east of the field to enter the downwind for runway 28. We passed over the airport with perfect spacing, once again, impressing the hell out of the people on the ground.

Don and Gerry peeled off, one after the other, in beautifully executed turns. I bid them farewell and continued on to Kirkby Field, smiling deeply to myself and letting the last few minutes of the flight wash over me.

What an absolute joy it was to fly that autumn day, with the sun shining, my leather jacket flapping in the wind, and two great flyers to share it with.

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