West by Northwest

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by Stu Simpson

I could tell this was going to be fun. The day had adventure written all over it. And you’ve just gotta know the day is ok when Don Rogers shows up early instead of late.

He and Fred Wright were on a long downwind for Kirkby’s runway 16 when I first heard them. I had just started my pre-flight when I caught the distinctive whine of their 503’s to the south. Don landed first, settling gently to the grass. Freddy took his time, the Chinook’s big wing coasting in ground effect until just before the intersection. Then he too settled to the earth and became mortal again.

The three of us were going exploring today, heading to Dave Forrester’s place. Forrester is the big cheese at the local R.A.A. chapter. He lives north of Cochrane about a mile off highway 22, half way to Cremona. He gave me a hand-drawn map to his place when we met at the October CUFC meeting. I don’t know what Forrester does for a living, but he ain’t a cartographer.

Still the map was the only way we were going to find his place. I’d checked on the Calgary chart to see if I could match up his symbology with the government’s. If my calculations were correct, I was reasonably certain we could find the place.

The only thing that worried me was a note that Forrester had put on his map. It read, “Strongly suggest an overshoot before landing – center is 20′ higher than the ends & runways undulate”. I could only imagine what “undulate” meant.

When everyone was sure of where we were going and how we’d get there, we all saddled up and turned north. I had been elected leader for the day so Don set up off my left wing and Freddy off the right. I must say, we cut an impressive figure in the afternoon blue.

It wasn’t too long before we drew close to Jim Creasser’s place. I looked for him on the ground as we flew by, but he was nowhere to be seen. A few minutes later we crossed highway 2 and I began scanning for landmarks to navigate by.

We had to follow the highway west from Airdrie to it’s intersection with highway 22. None of us had been this route before and we were very pleasantly surprised at the landscape beneath us. The bald prairie changed quickly to a very uneven texture of small hills and knolls covered with autumn’s brown grass and scrub. Its not what you would call pretty, in fact it looked rather alien, but it sure was interesting.

Then we saw the most surprising thing of the day. About halfway along 567, 100 meters north of the road was a fort. No kidding. Someone had simply built a log fort in the middle of nowhere. It was just like one from an old cavalry movie, complete with guard towers in the corners. How or why it’s there is a complete mystery to us.

The moonscape quickly changed to more hilly country. We watched as Nose Creek cut an enormous gorge northward through the area. Then we came to another river, whose name I don’t know. Looking at the map though, I noticed if we followed this river, it would take us very close to where we wanted to be. And it would even save us a few minutes travel time.

We followed the creek to the next intersection that Forrester had drawn. Then we were over a spot that looked just like his map. Sort of. It had the fields in almost the right place. And if you looked hard you could kinda see a path in the field that looked like it might have been a runway. At one point anyway. And there were some buildings that looked big enough to house an airplane.

I decided to do a fly-by to check the place out. I told Don (Fred’s radio wasn’t working) my plan and began descending. I was just turning in for the left-hand downwind when a wind sock caught my eye. Then two runways became clearly visible, one north/south, the other east/west. Only the strip was in a different field. I had completely missed the mark. I might add, in a futile effort to save face, that my wingmen also missed the correct field.

Fortunately, I was set up perfectly to turn to a right-hand downwind for a landing to the south. Let me tell you, Forrester wasn’t kidding when he mentioned the hill in the middle of the strip. He did get the height right, about 20 feet higher than the end. Now I know why I got picked to go first.

My wingmen were visible in the circuit as I coasted in on final. It occurred to me that I’d never made an uphill landing before. But with the wind blowing right on the nose, and the ground coming gently up to meet me, my touch down was a beauty. I dodged a few badger holes on the roll-out and cleared the runway near a fenced cow pasture (since my last pasture landing, I keep a pretty close eye on where the cows are).

Don was on short final, slowly sinking toward the ground. It was just plain eerie to watch the Chinook disappear from sight. I kept expecting a column of smoke and fire to erupt from the other side of the hill, like in the movies, but of course the Chinook came trundling over the top of the hill a few seconds later. Then Freddy touched down and we all went exploring on the ground.

But no one was home. Either somebody had squealed and told Forrester we were coming, or we just flew in on the wrong day. So we just hung around on the ground and checked out the Forrester homestead’s hangar. There were three planes in it. One was a beautiful old Luscombe in immaculate condition. What a sweetheart. There was also a homebuilt in there, type unknown. The front end was in pieces because of work being done on the engine. The last plane in the shack was Forrester’s Kolb Firestar. A pretty, yellow single-seater that looks like a lot of fun.

It was time to bug out. These fall days run notoriously short of light in a hurry and we didn’t want to take any chances. We ambled out to the hay-field/airstrip. I suited up and swung the prop. And swung the prop. And swung the prop again. But nothing wanted to light. The motor would gargle and struggle for a few seconds, then it would just kind of croak. Don and Fred both shut down and came over to help. We tried everything, changing the plugs, switching the plugs, and fooling with the carb. Nothing was working. Then Don suggested we check the sparks and sure enough we found our problem. The PTO plug wasn’t getting anywhere near the spark that the mag side was getting. We decided to give it a few more tries and, fortunately, it caught.

We each did our first uphill takeoff, which was fun. It’s on days like this you appreciate a good climb rate. We all formed up and turned back to the southeast. We had spent a fair amount of time trying to get the Beeve working again and it had cost us some daylight. With the wind on our noses at about 7 – 10 knots, we we’d be cutting it close to make the home ‘drome before dark.

Then my radio died. I figured that since Don was the only one of us who had an operable radio he should take the lead. So when he was in a safe position, I peeled off to take up the left-wing slot on him. He didn’t get it. We flew on like that for a few minutes with me waving my arms like an idiot trying to signal him that he was now number 1. I don’t know what he thought I was doing, maybe airobics (pun intended) or something, but he soon peeled off to take up his original slot.

Poor Fred. God knows what he thought was going on.

We soon made our way back to highway 2, about halfway home. Don had been very careful watching our altitude so near the Calgary control zone, and we’re very glad he did. Just as we passed over the highway, a Cessna Citation sailed over going at about 150 knots, missing us by only 600′ as it turned final for YYC‘s runway 16.

Our formation turned south when we reached the east end of the control zone. Home was only a few minutes away. Good thing too, because we were running out of daylight and I was running out of body heat and bladder space.

A mile north-east of Kirkby’s I peeled off to the east and entered my base leg for runway 16. The Chinooks continued southbound to Indus as Don bid me farewell on the radio, which was sort of working again. I cleared the runway and climbed out to watch them silhouetted on the evening sky. It was truly a beautiful sight and a post-card ending to a great day of flying.

I guess that will likely be our last major cross-country flight until next spring. Unless, of course, we have a mild winter, or a really good destination and a warm day, or hot chocolate waiting at the end of the line, or….. Well you get the picture. I’ll let you know how it turns out.


The Last Explorers

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by Stu Simpson

I think ultralight pilots are among the last true explorers. I say this because every time an ultralight jock wanders off into the blue, looking for some place he’s never been, he is off on a small scale version of a grand adventure. He’s left the earth and left behind the places and things familiar to him in order to find something beyond. Something new and different, and maybe a little strange.

Here’s what I mean. Random House says exploring means “to traverse a region for the purpose of discovery”. I don’t know any ultralight flyers who’ve gone exploring and come back empty handed. Sure, a guy may not have found what he was looking for, but at the very least he came back with a tale of true adventure. One he can tell at the next hangar flying bull-session and build on every time he repeats it, until it turns out he really did discover Mars one morning in his ultralight.

I have to admit I really enjoy exploring from the air. Its so much more fun than just hopping in the car, reading the road map and setting the cruise control for Wonkatonkwa. And up there I can’t just stop and ask directions. Its not like exploring from a spam-can either. I don’t have VOR/DME, Omega, LORAN, or G.P.S. (To be honest, I don’t even have a compass – I only know two guys who do.) No, we poor ultralight pilots are left with only our wits, our charts, and our eyeballs to use on these voyages. And let’s not forget plain ole’ dumb luck.

I was flipping through my log book the other day when I realized that some of my fondest flying memories arise from flights I made to find places I’d never been to. One flight in particular stands out.

I was hangaring my airplane near Black Diamond when I decided I wanted to fly to the High River airport. Since I’d never been to that area before, I dug out my trusty, battle scarred, bug smeared sectional chart and pored over the route. It looked like it would be a comfortable enjoyable flight. And it was. The wind was light from the south and the air was pretty smooth. High River quickly appeared on the horizon.

I entered the circuit and wheeled my Beaver around to line up for runway 14. On final I noticed the runway surface was an odd shade of black. No matter, just concentrate on the approach. I crossed the threshold and looked down at the runway as my plane settled for landing.

I suddenly realized what the odd black stuff was – oil. In fact, it looked like the Exxon Valdez had come aground on runway 14. I had a vision of my unfaired wheels throwing black goop all over the wings and me until we looked like an oil soaked seagull. Just before touchdown I firewalled the throttle and made a missed approach. I guess I discovered more than I’d bargained for on that trip.

Navigating, and thus exploring, on the prairies is much more difficult than in regions with more trees or hills. The landmarks all tend to look alike, and at the low altitudes UL’s occupy, airports can be particularly hard to spot. It makes it even more satisfying to meet that challenge and find your destination. Such was the case on the morning I set out to find the Airdrie airport.

The trip to Airdrie airport was quite exciting. The route from Kirby Field, east of Chestermere, skirts right along the Calgary control zone. I was constantly eyeballing spam-cans and heavy metal through the a.m. haze, some of them passing only 500′ over me. Added to that was a wicked and unpredictable wind-shear that would sneak up and clobber me when ever it thought I wasn’t paying attention.

And I couldn’t seem to spot the airport. The closer I got to the area where it was supposed to be, the more things I found that didn’t look like an airport at all. I was only a mile and a half out before I finally zeroed in on the runway. It was right where the chart said it was, but I couldn’t see it until I nearly tripped on it. We explorers have to learn to trust our maps.

Here’s my favourite exploring story.

I was at work one day when I overheard two guys talking about a Clint Eastwood western, called “UNFORGIVEN“, being filmed somewhere south of Longview. Apparently the film set‘s location was a very closely guarded secret. The producers, so the conversation went, had built an entire western town out there.

I thought this was all pretty interesting and it’d make a great hanger flying story if I could fly out and find this little movie set on the prairie. I estimated that by the time I’d repeated the story ten times, it would have grown to the proportions of Clint asking me to co-star in the movie but me having to decline because I had to get home for dinner. (They asked me to be in “TOP GUN”, ya know.)

Anyway, I blasted off the next day to discover the secret location of the movie set. My first guess was that the set would be located in the scenic Eden Valley, which runs west and south from Longview. I flew the length of the valley at about 1000’ AGL, sometimes burning tight 360’s, and examining every little building I found. But it was clear the movie set wasn’t there. I then crossed the eastern ridge of the valley and meandered back out over the flats. I still couldn’t see anything that looked like a movie set; only ranches, grain bins and cows.

Flipping a coin in my head, I banked away to the south.

Several minutes later I spotted something on the prairie about 10 miles away. I adjusted my course a few degrees and was rewarded a few minutes later as a small group of buildings began to take shape in front of me. It was the town of “Big Whiskey”. I’d found it.

I approached the set from the north and hoped that my buzzing around wouldn’t interrupt the shoot. I figured on a quick pass overhead; if they were filming I’d bug out to be polite. But I couldn’t see anything like a camera down there, and no one was shooing me away. So I just circled overhead, memorizing the layout to compare it with the final movie. The people on the ground even waved at me as I circled. A few minutes later I peeled off and headed back north to home, feeling very pleased at having found the secret set. What a great flight that was.

I’m not naive enough to think ultralight explorers have opened up any new frontiers or trade routes, or made the world a phenomenally better place to be. (But on the other hand, we haven’t displaced entire cultures of people either.) It’s mostly done in the name of fun. So I encourage any UL jock to get up there and fly to a place you’ve never been. Become one of the last explorers.

What you discover when you get there is entirely up to you. But what ever you find, it’ll be something worth remembering.

The Kingdom on the Horizon

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by Stu Simpson

My God, that tree was close!

I sailed the Giant over a tall, jagged pine with less than ten feet to spare and snapped my attention back to the runway ahead. Over the button and still twenty feet up, I chopped the throttle, nosed over and headed for the grass. Still a bit hot on the speed, the Giant touched down hard and I danced on the rudder pedals to dodge the mole hills that dotted the runway like chicken pox. Luckily, the mounds were soft and squashed easily away beneath the tires.

Gustafsson was on the radio, now, emphatically warning Botting and Clarke to beware of the pines. I taxied all the way to the end to give my wingmen some room. I turned around just in time to watch Glen Clarke, the last of our troupe, bring his J-3 Cub in for an unusually rough landing. My heart nearly stopped when the Cub’s left wing came within inches of the ground as he fought to control the plane on the strip’s uneven surface. But Glen, who’s one of the best pilots I know, got things back under control quite nicely and we all trundled over to the shut-down area.

All in all, just another routine landing at the Highwood-Adderson airstrip.

I quickly began refueling with the extra gas I brought along. The Giant would need it for today’s flight. The Dragonflies would leave this strip in the foothills and fly to the vast and mysterious kingdom of the west, called the Rocky Mountains. They sit next to the sky, only a few miles west of Calgary. Their blue-grey silhouettes are always just out of reach for the average ultralight pilot. Castled with granite ramparts that sometimes tear the very clouds from the air, the Rocks form a legendary, forbidden place. They’re notorious for their meteorological treachery and have dangerously few places for emergency landings. All aviators must be cautious in this domain.

I knew these facts, but felt we could successfully challenge the mountains today. And I figured such a flight probably wouldn’t be as dangerous as our landing at Adderson’s.

During our time on the ground we met Royle Adderson, a successful businessman who owns the ranch and airstrip; and Bob Purkess who looks every inch the tough and ready cowboy that he is. Purkess runs the ranch for Adderson. Both were very welcoming and helpful, especially when Botting had trouble with his engine. He‘d somehow fouled a plug on start-up when we were ready to leave.

Despite an hour’s work, and having all the supervision he could handle, Botting couldn’t get the engine to run satisfactorily. He wisely decided to scrap the mountain trip and go home. Clarke volunteered to escort him. Gustafsson and I would continue on.

Soon after takeoff, the mountains ahead loomed high and sharp in the near distance. It was difficult, as we drew closer, to think of the surrounding peaks as anything other than alive. Like ancient monarchs of the earth, they projected absolute authority and practically dared us to make a mistake. They‘d be merciless if we did.

The mountains are the undisputed kings of the world here. They know it, and with complete arrogance, they don’t care who else knows. Hell, they can even control the weather. Like all kings, they jealously guard their power, being wholly unwilling to share even a bit of it. One can visit their kingdom, and even stay a while. But in the end, the mountains will always endure, always rule. Understand that, they seemed to say, and we’ll get along fine. My heart beat a little faster as we reached the first northward turn into the Highwood Valley.

We banked our planes to follow the highway below and I’m not ashamed to say I stared open-mouthed at the spectacle before us. Here, the Highwood is broad and inviting, stunning and daunting. The lush green slopes give way to sparse grass further up the mountain sides, and then become bare rock for the last couple thousand feet to the summits.

And the height of the peaks! Gustafsson and I were in a continuous, shallow climb from the point we left Adderson’s. But no matter how high our brave chariots took us, there was never any shortage of jagged spires ascending even higher. At one point, we were at 9200 feet and still craning our necks to look up and see the mountain tops. Ultralight pilots rarely see such dizzying numbers on the altimeter. We’re unused to looking up at the earth as we fly. It was a startling refresher in humility.

As we continued north, the valley walls featured cuts and gaps between the peaks. These openings led to who knows where. Each portal was a tantalizing temptress, promising adventure and wanton pleasure for the senses, if we’d only give in to our lust and explore them. And we were tempted! We’d have dearly loved to be seduced by those secret chambers in the sky. But we also knew that succumbing to the wiles of such harlots could easily lead to our deaths. Instead, we stayed our course and clung to the fragile illusion of safety with the road below. In our fidelity, though, we selfishly felt cheated.

The valley once again turned west for a few miles, and then back north. The terrain here, approaching the Highwood Pass, was much narrower than the area we’d just left. The slopes were steeper, too. Thus, a good deal of vegetation had been torn away by avalanches and rock slides. One broad cut in the eastern wall opened to another valley that sheltered a small and incredibly beautiful lake. The water covered only a few acres of the valley floor and was reached via a small trail from the highway. Many hikers would visit this little Shangri-la, and some would even scale the surrounding mountains for a look at it. But only a very few men would ever see it as Gustafsson and I did then.

The Highwood Pass was nowhere near as high as I thought it’d be. In fact, at only 7200 feet, it was about a thousand feet lower than anticipated. But it was tight and thus made a wonderful backdrop for the photos and videos we shot.

There was one, last summit on the left as we exited the Highwood. Craggy and endlessly fissured, it possessed remarkable character and seemed to watch us very carefully as we flew past. Perhaps it worried that we’d made off with some of the palace treasure.

Kananaskis Country was next. One glance in the space of a heartbeat, and we were left breathless. To the west, the Kananaskis Lakes held us spellbound, while the glacier-topped mountains beyond forbade any but the most foolish aerial venture in that direction. The forests of the lower elevations covered the valley floor like a thick carpet, which, from our height, looked positively luxurious.

In turn, K-Country’s various recreation areas passed beneath us. There were campgrounds, ski hills and vacation resorts. All the while, K-Country’s summits passed beside and above us. One unusually shaped mountain looked like it had oozed, barely molten, from God’s granite-pouring ladle and simply been left to harden like a nine thousand foot tall slag heap. Others nearby seemed to have their tops snapped off like pieces of hard candy. They were then abandoned, rough and broken and ugly. And in that ugliness lay their beauty, unblemished by the incessant human pursuit of symmetry, efficiency and straightness.

By unwelcome contrast, the TransCanada Highway, with its carefully surveyed boundaries and arrow straight lanes, soon came into sight. It conveyed thousands of hurrying people who cared nothing for little airplanes or broken mountain tops.

Gustafsson and I weren’t yet ready to leave the Rocks and join that mob. So, we followed the cut-off road through the Stoney Creek region, just to stay in the wilderness a little longer. All too soon, the mountains gave way to the foothills. And they quickly descended to become the prairies, from where we’d always wondered about the far off kingdom. We radioed to one another our sadness at having to leave. We wanted more excitement and unease, not comfort and familiarity. We wanted more mountains. Our spirits paralleled the diminishing numbers on our altimeters.

Yet, for all our sadness, we had no regrets. For we’d been to see the kings and the grand palace they all shared. True, we’d only strolled through a single, beautifully appointed corridor. But we’d glimpsed a few of the dazzling and magnificent chambers adjoining it. And even if we had to leave then, I know a couple of airborne voyagers who’ll someday be back.

Running the Gauntlet

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by Stu Simpson

It was 6:20 a.m. when I yanked the starter cord on my RX-45 Beaver. I had been awake more than an hour as the Rotax sprang to life and warmed up. A few feet away, Bob was just strapping in to his Renegade bi-plane. We had to hurry if we were going to keep our appointment with Todd. We were slated to rendezvous with him in the air south of Bob’s strip.

The wind was light, but gusty, from the north-northwest. I silently wondered if it was the same upstairs and if it would cause any problems for the adventure we’d planned.

I blasted off first and made a right turn to the south. As soon as I lifted the wing, I was catapulted downwind. The winds aloft were 15-20 kts. Too bad we weren’t headed for Florida today.

I watched Bob takeoff and form up on me and together we headed south for Indus.

Todd wasn’t quite ready for takeoff as we fired past Indus airport. So Bob and I simply turned our noses into the north wind and just kind of hovered over the field, waiting for Todd.

Soon enough he taxied his float-footed 2-seat Beaver to runway 28 and lifted into the early (God, it was early!) morning air. We all turned westward and began a one-and-a-half hour battle with the breeze.

So, with a whopping ground-speed of 30 mph, and a crab angle of 30 degrees, we watched the Rockies inch steadily closer. For better or worse, our Rocky Mountain adventure had begun.

The Dragonflies were in the air again, headed this time for Radium Hot Springs. It was supposed to be a proof-of-concept flight, to practice for our journey to Abbotsford later in the summer. We hoped this trip would give us a glimpse of what mountain flying is all about. Better to find out now than learn it the hard way en-route to Abbotsford.

Our plan was to fly to Banff, meet our ground crew, and refuel there. Then, we’d follow the highway to Eisenhower Junction, hop over the Vermillion Pass and fly south to Radium. Sounds pretty simple, right?

I was beginning to think it wasn’t quite so simple as we flew past the south-west corner of Calgary. We had been in the air more than 45 minutes and had only traveled about 20 miles. I began to think about canceling the trip and trying another day.

But the weather looked much better in the mountains, so we decided to press on. We would make our go/no-go decision at the mouth of the Bow Valley.

In the meantime, we radioed Springbank Flight Service and told them our plans. The flight service specialist who answered suggested we file a flight plan. I spent the next few minutes giving him the information he required and he opened a plan for us.

We continued on toward Banff feeling a little more secure knowing that someone else was looking out for us.

It took us more than ninety minutes to reach Bear Hill, which is essentially the mouth of the Bow Valley. I radioed Todd and told him I would make a turn into the valley toward Banff and see what the wind was like. Then we’d make our decision about continuing or going home.

As I crested Bear Hill, I banked left to follow the valley. I’m not sure why, but our head-wind was gone and had actually turned into a slight quartering tail-wind. I knew then we’d have good weather to Banff, and probably beyond.

I radioed my wingmen.

“Dragonfly flight, this is Dragonfly 01. The wind here has really dropped off. I recommend we continue on to Banff.”

“Dragonfly 03 copies. Uh, roger that.” Todd replied.

“Dragonfly 02 copies,” said Bob.

The Bow Valley was beautiful that morning. The sun was shining, the sky was clear blue, and the mountains were a jagged mixture of deep green and stone grey. Who could ask for more?

We finally landed at Banff where our ground crew was waiting. Bernie Kespe had graciously volunteered to haul our gas and tools for the weekend in his pick-up truck. His wife Ida, and my wife, Tina, completed the ground crew roster. They had been waiting at the Banff airport for nearly an hour and were beginning to worry.

After 2.5 hours in the air, we were quite relieved to land at Banff. But we knew the toughest part of the trip, the flight from Storm Mountain to Radium, still lay ahead.

We spent the time at Banff snacking on fruit and refuelling the airplanes. Then Bob discovered a broken bracket on his engine. He and Bernie spent about half an hour on field repairs so Bob could go on. Just as Todd and I fired up again, Bob had another problem. A cable on his electric starter had broken. That required another fifteen minutes to repair.

As a result we didn’t leave Banff until 10:15. The weather was still good though. In fact, it was getting better as a layer of high cloud was quickly forming. This would help keep daytime heating down and make our ride a little smoother. When you’re flying the Rocks, every little bit helps.

We were all pretty tense as we lifted off from Banff and turned westward. The flight to Banff, while a little long, had been relatively easy. But we didn’t know what to expect beyond there. The Vermillion Pass is quite high, about 5800′. We had all heard horror stories about gale force winds coming down from Storm Mountain and we were worried.

Still, it was really the only safe route we had to cross the continental divide. We flew on.

About five miles east of Eisenhower Junction, as I flew along the south side of the valley, I looked over to keep an eye on Bob and Todd on the north side. Suddenly, to my amazement, I saw an Armed Forces C-130 Hercules go screaming up the middle of the valley at our altitude. I frantically called Bob.

“Dragonfly 02 you have a C-130 coming up on your left!”

I heard Todd call the same warning. Bob calmly replied he already had the Hercules in sight. I quickly began scanning my tail for any other “Herky-birds” that might be looking to snack on some Dragonflies. Fortunately, there were none, so I turned my attention back to getting past Storm Mountain.

Bob was up at about 7500′ when he shot the pass. He reported the air as quite bumpy, but still manageable.

I went in next, at about 6500′. I’m sure I had a death grip on the stick as I watched the highway go by underneath me. The ride was bumpy, with most of the gusts coming in the form of cross-winds. I’d be warned first by the wind on my face, then feel the tail being kicked around back there. The wind was unpredictable, coming from every direction. A couple of times it wanted to stand me on a wing tip, but I worked the controls, stayed level, and continued on.

I was suddenly awe-struck by our surroundings. I felt like we had strayed into some sacred chamber of the gods. Holding absolute power, they seemed to peer down, grey and unflinching at these three puny Dragonflies who dared to challenge them. I knew they could squash us with just one mighty blow from a stormy fist. I silently hoped we hadn’t pissed them off.

Todd was last into the pass. He was flying a few hundred feet higher than I, about a half mile back. I don’t think he was too busy because he had time to take some great pictures.

Once we got by Storm Mountain the ride really improved. I recall one high valley that was simply incredible. It had an entire gamut of colors. Stunning green meadows, dark green pine trees, white snow, and a baby blue glacier. I could hardly believe the spectacle. This was scenery you just don’t see unless you’re flying.

Then I heard a surprising call on the radio.

“Dragonfly 01, this is Canadian 667 heavy. Do you read?”

What could the big boys possibly want with us, I wondered.

“Canadian 667 heavy, Dragonfly 01, go ahead,” I replied.

The jet crew had been asked by Springbank to contact us and relay our status. I told them we were doing fine and expected to arrive at Radium at 12:30 local time. Canadian 667 confirmed our information and relayed it to Springbank. I thanked the jet crew and signed off. I smiled to myself, thinking how nice it was to have such guardian angels. It was also neat to be able to play with the big boys, even for a short time.

We soon made Kootenay Crossing and I noticed the huge contrast between the Vermillion Valley, that we had just left, and the Kootenay Valley we were now in. This valley was wide and spacious, while the last one had been narrow and seemed to scrape our wing tips.

Bob had been circling at Kootenay Crossing waiting for us. He’d gone on ahead because he needed to run his engine at a healthier RPM and Todd and I just couldn’t keep up.

From there, we cruised the next 20 minutes to the Radium Pass. I spent a fair amount of that time climbing so I could make the pass. I had no idea the next five minutes would be the most exciting of the day.

The pass into Radium is narrow. I mean really narrow. It’s only about half a mile wide and there are simply no emergency landing spots along the highway. (I suppose Todd could have landed in the Hot Springs pool, but it would have been a bit embarrassing.) We were really sweating as we wiggled our way past the tight peaks. But we could see the Columbia Valley on the other side and we knew we had just about made it.

Waves of relief swept over me as we popped out the other side of the pass. I could see Bob spiraling down to land. Then I noticed he wasn’t really circling. I started looking for the airport and knew why he wasn’t circling. He couldn’t find the airport!

I wondered if the thing had been abandoned and nobody told us. Just as I thought about diverting to Windermere, I looked down and spotted the strip. Bob had spotted it also and was now on downwind. Todd must have been laughing at us because he could land on the Columbia River if he had to. But, he landed after Bob and quickly cleared the runway. I landed last, at 12:15 p.m.

All of us were extremely relieved to be there. I think each of us was a little surprised that we had made it at all. We were also pretty pleased with ourselves. We had faced the unknown, had run the gauntlet, and had come out unscathed.

Bernie, Ida, and Tina arrived a few minutes later and helped us tie down. Then we went into town and found a motel for the evening. Next, it was time for some grits.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Radium Hots Springs pool relaxing and talking airplanes. We had a nice dinner together and headed back to the airfield to prep the airplanes for the return trip in the morning.

We turned in early because we had a 5:30 wake up the next day, and planned to be in the air at 6:30.

That’s exactly what happened. We fired up and blasted off right on time. We had to start this leg of the trip with a climb from 2650′ to more than 7000′ to clear the Radium Pass.

As we circled upward, I noticed how perfect the morning was. Cool and clear with hardly a breath of wind. That’s what I thought anyway, until Todd called with some weather news. He reported that the winds aloft were pretty strong from the north. I worried it might really slow us down as we headed home up the Kootenay Valley. We’d just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, we each used the north wind to help our climb.

Finally, we could delay no longer. We turned toward the pass. Todd went in first, with me a quarter of a mile behind, and Bob following with a bit more altitude. The winds in the pass were quite turbulent compared to those in the valley. Fortunately though, the bumps were mild and easy to handle. We eased out the other side and turned north.

Mysteriously, the north wind had disappeared and again had turned into a tail wind for us. Maybe the mountain gods were on our side after all.

I gazed north looking for the pass into the Vermillion Valley. It was then that the unbelievable beauty of the day hit me. In all my life I have never seen a sight so breathtaking. The morning sun made the mountains actually seem alive. It was a view so spectacular that I will never forget it.

The morning air was like glass. It was cool and smooth, as only morning air can be. I was very glad we had dragged our butts out of bed so early and that we could enjoy such utter perfection.

The flight north to Eisenhower Junction was uneventful, except for the amazing scenery. We stayed to the west side of the valleys to exploit any sun-warmed, up slope air. Bob was regularly making 360’s to keep from getting too far ahead of us, and we even had the chance to line up so Todd could take some pictures. Life just doesn’t get any better than that.

As we cleared the Vermillion Pass and turned into the Bow Valley, we could clearly see the last bend before the town of Banff. Todd reminded us all to keep a sharp eye out for C-130’s and even talked to a helicopter pilot flying in the area.

We coasted into Banff at exactly 8:30, after holding a few minutes to allow a Mooney to take off. We even managed to arrive ahead of our ground crew.

The hardest part of the trip was over. The rest would be a piece of cake. We took off again at 9:15 after refueling and thanking our ground crew.

We absolutely could not have made the trip without Bernie, Ida and Tina. It was an added bonus that Bernie is an experienced ultralight jock and really knew how to help. The trip was just as much their adventure as ours.

The air was still rock steady from Banff to Calgary. We felt only the occasional bump, as if the air above the hills were yawning, just coming to life. We simply couldn’t have asked for anything better.

As we passed the southeast corner of Calgary, Bob radioed that he was going on ahead to his strip a few miles away. I would follow in a few minutes, and Todd would fly on to Indus, a couple of miles east.

I looked over at Todd off my right wing and gave him a thumbs up. Since his radio battery had died, he replied the only way he could. He gripped the stick between his knees and gave me two thumbs up. I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I gave him a final salute and peeled off to the northeast.

I landed a few minutes after Bob and thought about the adventure we’d had. We’d done what some said was crazy. We’d flown ultralights in the mountains and done it safely. We’d logged nearly eight hours flight time in two days without so much as a hiccup. And we had a ball!

Still, it sure was good to be back. As I taxied down the runway, Bob called on the radio.

“Dragonfly 02 to Dragonfly 01, welcome home,” he said.

I simply replied, “Roger that.”

Of Dragonflies and Thunder

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by Stu Simpson

A swarm of tiny shadows danced in unison as they raced northward across the sun-charred fields east of Calgary. The airplanes were ultralights, six of them in all, no two the same. The pilots called themselves Dragonflies, the unofficial call sign of the Calgary Ultralight Flying Club. Their destination was the Red Deer International Airshow.

We had just rendezvoused in the air near Chestermere Lake. And what a terrific array of planes we were. Todd led the formation in his float equipped 2-seat Beaver. Rounding out the Indus contingent was Ron in his Crusader, Larry in his Merlin and Don in his Chinook. Bob Kirkby in his pristine Renegade, and me in my single Beaver completed the formation after launching from Kirkby’s strip.

Our only worry was a pair of thunderstorms ahead of us. The larger storm, to the northwest, was a huge bugger. To the northeast was another, smaller cell that was growing quickly. There was a slot between them that looked just right for our flight to sneak through.

As we passed abeam Airdrie, I suggested to Todd that we divert to the west and see if we could sneak around the west side of the larger cell. So the formation swung to a westerly heading for about five minutes. It took that long for me to realize that I had goofed. The storm was much larger than it appeared and there was no way we were going to get around behind it.

We all swung north again. As we tried to out-run the western cell’s trajectory, we also had to stay clear of the other storm’s growing intensity. We were seeing lightning at regular intervals and the air was getting rougher. A massive swath of hail pounded the earth below the big storm. Frankly, it just didn’t look like much fun.

We took about five minutes of rain as we finally threaded the needle and dodged Thor’s hammer.

The air on the other side of the cells was cool and calm. We droned on, chatting back & forth on the radio, and just enjoying flying together on a beautiful evening.

Soon, Todd made the call for the Dragonflies to switch to Red Deer’s frequency and we got back to business.

He arranged a straight-in approach for us on runway 34. A few of us had to make 360’s to properly space ourselves in line for landing. But one after the other we touched down and cleared the active. I imagine that for about ten minutes, Red Deer, with six planes on final, and more lining up, was one of the most congested airports in the province. We taxied to our designated hangar and shut down for the night.

Walking toward the terminal, we couldn’t help but notice a pair of rather unique jets sitting on the ramp. They were twin-engined, twin-tailed, and pained blue and gold. They were MiG-29‘s of the Ukrainian Air Force.

We had a golden opportunity before us. Since there were no cordons around the airplanes, it seemed only natural that we examine them close up – which we did.

As I peered into the wheel wells and exhaust nozzles, as I examined the wing roots and tail surfaces, I marvelled at the incredibly sturdy structure of the MiG-29. And I couldn’t help but think how five years ago it would have been impossible for MiGs and Dragonflies to be standing there on the ramp beside each other. As I said, it was a golden opportunity.

We spent the rest of the evening getting settled in at the hotel and chowing down.

We were beginning to worry about another ultralight jock who was supposed to be joining us, but hadn’t shown up yet. Gord had planned to fly his two-seat Beaver up the west side of Calgary, re-fuel at Olds/Didsbury, and fly on to Red Deer. We eventually learned that he had landed in the middle of a vicious hail storm at Olds/Didsbury. If it was the same storm we had narrowly avoided, he was lucky to have landed at all. Gord had to spend the night on the couch at the O/D clubhouse. But he arrived in Red Deer in time for breakfast the next morning.

The next two days were a mix of frenzied activity in the mornings, and pleasant sun-soaking in the afternoons. We had practiced a routine for this year’s show, based on a takeoff from the taxi-way, as we’d done in past years. But the airshow officials wouldn’t allow a taxi-way takeoff and we had to move our takeoff to the main runway. This meant our planes would be further from the crowd and harder to see. It was no big deal, just a little disappointing.

Our routine, basically a large “S”-shaped pattern with a pitch-out to downwind, then landing, went off quite well both days. Many thanks go to Bob in his Renegade for an excellent job of leading the flight.

We spent the remaining time on the ground exploring the airshow, hangar flying with other pilots, and answering questions about our airplanes.

I was amazed this year at the large amount of interest generated by the flock of ultralights. We spoke with a lot of conventional pilots who were disgruntled at the high cost of flying Spam-cans. Most figured our machines were definitely the way to fly. Todd’s airplane was especially popular and he was kept busy all weekend with inquiries about it. It was the same for Bob.

Ultralights made an awesome showing at Red Deer, with a total of 10 different types on display. Paul Hemingson, president of the C.U.F.C. deserves much of the credit for this tour de force, as does Gord Tebutt. Hemingson arranged everything so the guys were able to participate in the show. Tebutt was really busy hawking club hats and brochures. Both he and Paul did a beautiful P.R. job for our club and for U.L. flying.

After we’d flown our show on Sunday, I noticed a large amount of gear oil dripping from my gear box. Before I could say “Holy Rotax, Batman!”, Bob and Don had ripped the gear box off, located the problem, and found a way to fix it. Things were back to normal in less than an hour. Thanks guys.

Sunday also turned out to be a day of frustrating indecision. Gord had come up with the idea of leaving at noon. It looked like there were going to be major thunderstorms developing by late afternoon. Gord, understandably gun-shy, wanted to bug out before the weather closed us in. Some guys thought it was a good idea, and some guys didn’t mind the idea of another night in Red Deer.

In the end, Gord was the only one who did leave at noon. He had a safe flight home, and as later events would show, he guessed right.

The rest of us stayed another night. The forecast called for T-storms all night and clear skies in the morning.

The forecast was wrong.

The next morning dawned cold and grey. The ceiling was about 1200′ overcast and the temperature had dropped to about 15 degrees. Reports in Calgary indicated a higher ceiling, with a more broken cloud layer. In other words, it appeared the weather was better as you went south.

We’d decided to depart in two groups; guys who wanted to go earlier, and guys who didn’t. Todd, Larry, and I would be the early group. Tony would join us in an S-10, which he’d flown up on Friday for static display. Bob, Don, Paul and Ron would follow a bit later. It looked like it’d be pretty routine.

The first group blasted off at about 7:00 a.m. and headed for home. As soon as we were in the air, we saw an entirely different weather picture from what we’d been told.

All we could see was a low, broken cloud deck. It appeared to bottom out around 500′ AGL, so we thought we could ace it. After all, we could fly low and slow enough to easily avoid any tall obstacles with plenty of time to spare.

We began following the power lines that would lead us straight to home. We stayed over the lines as much as we could. But the cloud was getting lower and thicker with every mile.

We dropped our altitude a bit to keep the ground in sight. Soon it became rather obvious that we couldn’t follow this path much longer. The ceiling ahead was lower still. We had to make a deviation and soon.

We’d lost sight of Tony by this time. His faster S-10 just couldn’t fly slowly enough to stay with us. His plane was NORDO and he was out there somewhere in the soup. But we could do nothing for him.

We heard a familiar voice on the radio. It was Paul, who had apparently left Red Deer on his own.

Now, he sounded worried and a bit confused. He’d run into the same low cloud layer we were in and he’d decided to find a place to set down. But he was several miles west of us and also on his own.

Then I saw a hole, a way to slip through and make it home. Off to my 11 o’clock ran a small creek. It coursed through a valley in a southeasterly direction. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, the ceiling was better above this valley and to the east of it.

I called Todd and suggested we follow the valley. I figured it would put us somewhere near Beiseker. From there, it’s an easy jaunt to home. Our little formation turned southeast.

We’d only gone a couple of miles when Todd called Paul on the radio. Paul sounded even more worried this time and his transmissions were getting weaker. It felt like we were listening to the last, desperate calls of someone lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Paul’s last transmission left me with chills.

“I’m very low now. I’m circling around, looking for some place to land. I just hope I don’t run into a tower or something.”

That was the last we heard of him. We tried for a few minutes more to contact him, but height and distance were against us. We simply flew on, hoping for his safety.

The valley that looked so promising had turned ugly. We were down to 300′ off the deck and still dodging thick cloud. A few miles west of Torrington, the valley turned south again and we thought that was a good sign. Trouble was, the valley quickly disappeared into flat prairie again.

We discussed the option of trying for the Three Hills airport. But a quick look at the eastern sky quelled that notion.

We were totally winging it at this point, flying strictly by the seat of our pants. We had maybe 150′ of altitude, half a mile visibility, and only dirt roads for land marks.

Then it started to rain. Just a light sprinkle at first. But it quickly graduated into a steady down pour, during which my radio died. That’s when I saw the lightning. We had flown into the middle of an embedded thunderstorm.

Again and again the lightning flashed, just barely bright enough to see. It seemed to smirk at us, to gloat as if we were prey unwittingly drawn into the storm’s hidden tentacles.

There was nothing we could do but fight it out and hope to win. The wind was throwing us around so badly that it would have been disastrous to even attempt an emergency landing. I had lowered my RPM’s to try and save my wooden prop from rain damage. I found out later that Todd nearly stalled as he tried to slow also.

We were lower than 100′ and I could hardly see. My windscreen was a kaleidoscope of water, my helmet visor little better. This was definitely high adventure.

We scraped through the storm only to find the same bleak horizon ahead of us. I had a rough idea we were north of the town of Linden, but no way of knowing for sure. I figured we would simply continue south and eventually cross the Trans-Canada highway.

I checked my wingmen and was delighted to find they were still welded in a tight echelon off my right wing. We had to fly that way to keep each other in sight in such dismal visibility.

A few tense moments later I spotted something that looked familiar. I motioned to Todd and Larry to follow and I started a gentle turn to the east.

Just barely visible, was the town of Acme. I knew then we were only a few miles from Beiseker. We followed the highway between those towns like it was the last trail out of hell.

We finally landed at Beiseker at about 9:30 a.m. and spent the next three hours there. We were able to phone my wife, Tina, and learn that the other group was trying to get to Olds/Didsbury. Tina was doing an excellent job of coordinating information on the ground. She had received disjointed information that two planes had landed at O/D and the pilots were out looking for another one. Exactly what that meant, we weren’t sure. We also learned that Paul had landed safely at an Air Cadets glider strip north of Olds.

Two more thunderstorms passed over Beiseker during our stay there. We decided to get out before a third one arrived.

We blasted off at about 12:30 p.m. and headed southwest for a hole in the overcast. About five miles from Beiseker we popped out into good weather. The ceiling was back up to 2000′ and the visibility was 15 miles or better.

As we droned toward home, Todd called my attention to the ground. A spam-can, it looked like a Cherokee or similar, had made a forced landing in a grain field directly below us. The crash was obviously recent as the RCMP was still there, along with a few other vehicles. We had to wonder what the Piper driver though as he watched three ultralights buzz by.

Thirty minutes later I peeled away from the formation to land at Kirkby’s, where I hangar my plane. Todd and Larry went on to safe landings at Indus.

We learned later that Tony had landed at Springbank and the other Dragonflies had made it safely to ground in the Olds area, though at two separate airports, and not without their own hair raising story. (See Bob Kirkby’s article elsewhere in this issue).

I think I know how barnstormers in the 20’s and 30’s felt. It’s a great feeling to have conquered such overwhelming odds in an airplane and to have true tales of adventure to recount.

The Dragonflies will go on to other flights, other destinations and other adventures. But that weekend, with it’s MiGs, it’s thunderstorms, it’s danger, and it’s friendship will always be remembered.

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My Idea of Fun

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by Stu Simpson

“Well Bob, what do you figure?”, I asked.

Kirby had just landed after flying a circuit in his Renegade to check the flight conditions.

“It’s pretty bumpy up there from all the thermal activity.”, he replied. “You’ll have more trouble with it than I will.” He was referring to the light wing loading of my Beaver.

“Aw, what the hell”, I said, “Let’s give it a try.”

Ten minutes later I was rolling down runway 16 at Kirby Field. The Beeve lifted easily into the afternoon sky and I turned to the southwest. I soon settled in on course and waited for Kirkby to catch up. Which he did a few minutes later, perching off my left wing, the Renegade glinting in the afternoon light.

I drank in the sensations of the day and smiled to myself. The sun was high and bright in a spring-time blue sky. The wind scooted out of the south at eight to twelve mph, warmly tickling my face as it passed by. My leather jacket flapped in the slip stream. The earth was still blotchy black and tan, not yet awoken from a long, hard winter. The ground was casting thermals up at us like thunderbolts. The hot rising air tossed us around like a juggler tosses bowling pins. But I’ll tell you, there wasn’t any other place else we’d rather be.

As our little formation drew near Indus I radioed my wingman with a question. “Dragonfly 02 this is Dragonfly 01. How do you read?”

“Dragonfly 01, I read you loud & clear,” replied Bob.

“Good. Be advised you’ve got a radio tower at your twelve o’clock for three quarters of a mile”.

Kirkby whipped his plane into a hard left turn. I think he was having flash-backs to his flight from Red Deer last summer where he very nearly hit a similar tower. He thanked me for the warning and veered to the east to avoid the tower completely. No sweat, it was the least I could do.

We passed over the Bow River a short while later and watched it meander out toward Saskatchewan. We saw cars traveling the roads below us and I marveled for the thousandth time how they, and the rest of the world’s possessions, seemed like toys beneath our wings. I knew we didn’t belong to the earth though. We belonged to the wind.

About five miles north-east of Okotoks we switched to 122.8, the local frequency. After listening for our traffic, I radioed our position and was pleasantly surprised to hear a reply.

“Dragonflies”, the caller stated, “conditions at the airport are; wind from the south at about 8 knots, favouring runway 16. The only traffic is a Cessna 172 taxiing for takeoff.”

We entered the circuit as I watched the Cessna takeoff. I’m only guessing, but I’ll bet the pilot was having nearly as much fun as us. We landed a few minutes later, cleared the active and walked over to the hangar building.

When we walked into the airport office, we were greeted by a grey haired fellow whose voice I recognized from the radio. His name was Mac Arbuthnot, the chief pilot at the Okotoks Flight Center. He’s been flying airplanes since girls have had garters. He spent several years bush flying in Ontario and then instructing all over
the place. Bob and I spent an enjoyable half hour hangar-flying with Mac and swapping lies–uh, I mean true stories. I even bought myself an official “Chicks-Dig-It” Okotoks Flight Center ball cap.

Checking out the wind sock, it seemed the breeze was picking up a bit. So we decided it might be a good time to split, bug out, vamoose, and go home. Especially since Mac was starting to ask for more details about those “stories”.

Bob waited patiently on the taxi-way while I strapped in. I usually takeoff from the intersection at Okotoks and this day would be no exception. I fire-walled the throttle and the Beeve was up and flying again after only a forty foot ground roll. I made an immediate left turn out and listened as Bob announced his takeoff. A few minutes later, we were formed up again and heading north to home.

Our trip back was quite a bit smoother and faster than the flight down. We had the wind at our tail and we rode with the bumps instead of against them. As we passed over Indus airport, I was disappointed to see the place deserted. I figured there’d at least be some guys out doing circuits.

Kirkby Field quickly appeared as a tiny dot on the horizon and I felt a twinge of sadness that our flight was nearly over. All too soon I watched from my downwind leg as Kirkby made a perfect touchdown on his grass runway. I had to fight my way down through the thermals just to get on the glide path. A light wing loading can be such a pain.

My landing wasn’t one of the greatest, but at least I didn’t break anything. Bob grabbed a strut and helped me taxi in the cross wind.

I shut down and we talked a bit about the flight and the bumps and the wind and just how much fun the whole thing was. Then we each put our planes away, said goodbye and went to the next place we had to be.

I guess for me, the end of a flight is the end of an adventure. I regret that it’s all over, but I’m still happy I had a chance to be there. And I know I’ll be back for more.


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by Stu Simpson

In aviation’s low-level VFR arena pilots can choose between several different maps with which to navigate. We use maps (actually, the correct term here is chart) published by the government, by aviation groups, and even by auto clubs. Granted, not every flight you’ll make is a cross-country flight. But no matter what you fly, sooner or later, you’re going to stray from the familiar turf of your own airport’s backyard, and you’re going to need a map.

So which map is best? Which has the most detail, the best scale and will be easiest to read in a busy, possibly windy cockpit? Simple questions with a not so simple answer; it depends.

It depends, among other things, on where you want to go, how fast you’re going to get there, and what toys you have to play with (VOR, ADF, GPS, and such).

The three most common charts used in the Calgary area are the 1/500,000 VFR Navigation Chart (VNC), the 1/250,000 VFR Terminal Area Chart (VTA), and the Alberta Aviation Council’s map that has scales of both 1/500,000 and 1/1,000,000. The first two are put out by the federal government. Let’s look at the AAC‘s first.

The AAC puts out a new map every five years, the most recent one being the 1993 version. One side of the page covers the entire province in the one to a million scale. The other side, in a one to half-million scale, only covers the area south of a line through Bonneyville, and east of a line through Exshaw. Oddly enough, the Council has been one of the strongest supporters of the Banff and Jasper airports, yet those strips don’t appear on their most useful chart.

It’s clear from the outset that this map was designed purely for conventional pilots flying with electronic nav aids, which is fair, because those are the people who fill the AAC’s roster. VORs figure prominently in these maps and the compass roses that accompany each of them are large and easy to read. The symbology for the VORs is the same as on the government’s charts, but not so for the NDBs. They’re indicated as small black triangles and their identifier boxes block out all the features beneath them. The government’s identifier boxes are printed to leave the underlying features visible.

The one shining feature of the AAC’s map (and one reason why so many are sold) is that it lists dozens of farm strips that aren’t shown on the government’s maps. Each of the Council’s maps comes with a guide book giving pertinent information on each airport that the map displays, including those out-of-the-way farm strips. One can simply read the lat/long coordinates from the guide book and then transpose the location to another map.

Another feature unique to AAC maps is their display of section, township, and range lines, which can be useful in some remote areas.

But unless you’re flying an airplane with a VOR receiver or an ADF (which tunes and points to the NDBs) the AAC’s maps are almost useless as serious navigation tools. The only features that are readily visible are large bodies of water, large population centres, major highways, and electronic nav aids. Important things like towns, roads, railways, and topographical features are either excluded or printed in such light color as to be almost unreadable.

Let’s make a huge leap in scale and look at the VTAs. VFR Terminal Area Charts are printed in 1/250,000 scale and depict a relatively small area surrounding major airports and their accompanying population centres. A key notion here is congestion. Just as these areas tend to be cluttered on the ground, they’re almost as much so on paper, especially in one to half-million scale.

Ergo, the VTA, with a better scale that defeats the clutter. These maps are especially good if you’re unfamiliar with the area depicted on them. They clearly show airspace restrictions, reporting points, significant landmarks, and all the information needed to use the airports shown. The level of detail is, quite simply, wonderful.

Calgary has a VTA chart (Edmonton’s is on the reverse side) and you might just think this is the answer to your navigational nightmares. Maybe, maybe not.

You see, the large scale that makes the VTA’s so easy to read also makes them a bit cumbersome, particularly over longer distances, and especially in an open cockpit. The VTA must be folded rather largely to be of any significant use.

The problem is twofold (pun very much intended). First, folding the map to have your course showing leaves you with a |–(TRY TO BE MORE PRECISE.)–| fairly hefty chunk of paper in your cockpit. If it’s an open cockpit, that means more paper flapping in the wind, and in the worst case scenario, a hefty chunk of paper leaving your cockpit.

Secondly, the folds might hide significant nav points along either side of your course. If you’re well prepared though, you’ll have your map arranged so that the folds complement the route. But if you’re covering a significant distance, you might find yourself doing some in-flight folding.

The speed of your airplane might be a factor in deciding whether you use this map. Faster planes will eat up the distance depicted on the VTAs in very short order, and if you’re navigating from point to point, you might find yourself getting behind the flight. Obviously, with ultralights this is rarely a problem.

Which brings us to our remaining map, the 1/500,000 VNC. VNCs are the standard VFR chart and show just about anything you could ask for. All the topographic details are there, as are roads, powerlines, obstructions, and of course, airports. The detail makes for very accurate navigation, even at lower altitudes where far-off nav points might not be visible. The scale is perfect and it allows a pilot to pick his points in advance and plan ahead.

The scale also lends itself well to long distance flights at any speed. When the map is folded it’s small enough not to be a bother, yet allows plenty of distance on either side of your course line. The VNCs cover tremendous territory. The Calgary chart, for example, covers all of southern Alberta, most of southern B.C., and a fair chunk of several American states. That’s pretty good navigational value.

The main drawback, and the only one as far as I can see, is the VNC’s clutter in congested areas. Naturally, a pilot who’s familiar with a congested area will have an easier time flying there. For one who’s not familiar with the area, a VTA might be just the ticket, provided one exists for that area.

So which map is best? In my mind, the one to half-million VNC gets the nod. It combines the best of all possible features for VFR point-to-point navigation. It’s easy to read, and therefore easy to use. To be fair though, if I were planning a flight to the lower mainland of B.C., my first purchase for the trip would be the Vancouver VTA.

My next purchase would be a GPS so I wouldn’t have to deal with all those maps in the first place.