In the summer of 2012 two pilots set out to fly their small airplanes – a homebuilt ultralight and a 66 year-old-classic – from Calgary, Alberta to San Francisco, California and back. It was an aerial odyssey that would cover more than 2700 miles and take more than two weeks to complete. Fighting mechanical problems, mountains, deserts and incorrigible wind and weather, Geoff Pritchard and Stu Simpson challenged the sky and temped fate to pull of the adventure of a lifetime.
Flew home from Vegas Wednesday. We left around 10:30 Calgary time and cleared customs at 19:00. It was windy again in Vegas. Kids kept loosing their hats so we had to keep a hold of everything while loading the plane. The wind was out of the north so we settled in or a long light to Idaho Falls. With all the wind came all the bumps. It was a fun ride. Snow showers in Salt Lake through to Idaho falls. Approach warned us about moderate turbulently below 10k. We had been in it the whole flight, no different in Salt Lake. The plan was lunch in Idaho falls, found out the restaurant was closed so we settles for beaf jerky and muffins from the terminal store. Next stop was Cut Bank for the last cheaper fuel. Had to drop to 6500 to get out of the mountains around Helena. Bumps and headwind persisted until on final into High River.
It was a great trip with over 2500 nm flown. We seen way more scenery than anyone sitting in a tube at 40 thousand ft and had lots of fun doing it. Kids are great flyers, the bumps do not bother them and never once asked how much farther on a 3.5 hr flight. Well maybe once;-
Landed at Fullerton today. We left Redding direct to the Golden Gate Bridge. Once past the bridge we got approval for a climb. Shortly after we were told to stop the climb and turn to 240. We headed out to sea. He soon turned us south bound. A minute later we had to turn to 270. That was basically a 180. There was a heavy with flap problems and basically wanted everyone out of the way. I finally got going south and back over land. The ride got rather bumpy until we got back over the valley. We got really beat up passing the last pass before the LA basin. We stayed clear of the Bravo and worked are way through with SoCal approach. Wow is LA ever big. I was glad to land, as it was a long flight with several high work load portions. I think we were airborne for about 3.5 hrs. I have to check. 3 days here then off to San diego.
In Alberta, ultralight airplanes crashed near Ponoka, Indus and Lloydminster in the summer of 2012. That’s three accidents in as many weeks – one fatal.
Aviation enthusiasts say ultralight aircrafts are well-built machines. They point to Transport Canada, saying the required training hours are not always enough.
How safe is the hobby? What causes accidents? Mechanical problems or pilot error? How can “rules” be balanced with the public’s freedom to fly?
Alberta is a hub for this hobby, and we get the discussion on life and death issues off the ground with three experts. Mike Hughes, from Wetaskiwin, owner of Challengerwest – sales and support for advanced ultralight aircraft in western Canada; Shane Daly is President of Innovative Wings Inc., which offers building and maintenance service for amateur-built and home-built aircraft; and Norm Vienneau, President of the Calgary Recreational and Ultralight Flying Club.
The first day of the trip is under our belt. It was a hell of a day of flying, for sure.
We decided to cross the Divide via the Crowsnest Pass route to Cranbrook. We scraped through between the clouds and some convenient saddles between mountain peaks. Luckily, the clouds were building, but not dropping. Very exciting mountain flying, but not dangerous. We got to chat with Darren Scarlett a bit, too, because he was up flying high west of Calgary.
We each had crappy landings at Cranbrook. We had trouble with the pumps at Creston, but we got that sorted out and then hopped he 3.5 miles to the border strip at Porthill where we entered the US. Really easy crossing, and the border people were excellent.
The flight down the Creston Valley, over Sandpoint, and into Coeur d’ Alane was terrific, even though we had a pretty strong headwind at altitude. Lots and lots of flooding in that valley, same with the Kooteney valley near Cranbrook.
The scenery we’ve seen today has been indescribable. From the Cowboy Trail to the high mountain peaks, to the fertile valleys, it’s been simply spectacular. I really think it’ll be hard to match anywhere else on the trip. Got lots of good video and I’m really looking forward to putting the video together.
Tomorrow, we’ll do two hops; from here to Richland, Washington, then on to Bend, Oregon. We flew nearly 5 hours today with the longest leg being Kirkby‘s to Cranbrook about 2:20. Hopefully, tomorrow won’t be as long. We’re both knackered.
We met guys in Cranbrook who’ve heard of the CRUFC and are pretty interested in the trip. At Creston we met some guys from Lethbridge, too; namely Ron Janzen and his partner. They bought Troy’s RV-7 and both know Darren Scarlett. It was nice to see them again. They’ll be coming up to Kirkby’s breakfast next weekend.
This is a truly terrific adventure, already. Both Geoff and I have been this way before, but tomorrow we’ll be venturing into places we’ve not been yet. Luckily, they won’t be so humid as some of the places in BC were today.
Gotta get ready for tomorrow. I’ll try and do a daily post to keep you up to date.