Now, That’s Flying!

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by Stu Simpson

I was, as the saying goes, right on the ragged edge. It was the toughest approach I’d ever made in 25 years of flying, right at my limits, and it was fun! I fought turbulence and wind shear like I’ve never seen. And for a few seconds I was actually frightened in an airplane; a very strange feeling for me.

And I did make it, but it was ugly. I touched down beneath the trees on my first bounce just as a three-point buck wandered onto the last third of the strip. But by the end of my second bounce, I knew this just wasn’t meant to be, nor did I want to subject my wingmen to such a beating. I powered up, still coursing with adrenaline, and left that backwoods airstrip behind.

Now, that’s flying!

And then there’s Darren Scarlett, who owns an RV-7. It’s beautiful and powerful. It has a 180 horsepower engine and a constant speed prop. It’s fast, too. I mounted a video camera in his cockpit once and recorded him as he did three rolls and then pulled up into a Cuban Eight. I watched by the runway as he shot a low inspection pass at high speed. I could see his smile flash as he zoomed by in the sunlight.

Now, that’s flying!

How about Geoff Pritchard? He’s got this pristine, and I do mean pristine, 1946 Champ that he recently rebuilt from the ground up. It’s gorgeous in red and white. When that Champ is on the taxiway silhouetted against the evening sun, or in the sky against the deep blue, the effect is simply mesmerizing. Geoff and the Champ float along up there thumbing their noses at age and time, making the most of every minute they’re in the sky.

Now, that’s flying!

Wade Miller has what some consider a dream job. He’s an airline captain. He pilots a 737, worth around $70 million dollars, probably more. It has stuff in the cockpit that comes straight out of Star Wars. And Wade gets to work with it all. The plane’s capabilities are simply amazing. It zips along at about 500 mph, climbs beyond 40,000 feet, and still lands on runways only a mile long in nearly any weather. And 737’s make money.

Now, that’s flying!

Barry Davis flies a homebuilt airplane now, but he used to fly a Cessna 182. A great deal of that flying was done at night. He’d cruise over the city and watch the world sleeping below. He’d see cars and trucks scooting along beneath the endless cones of street lamps. A million or more lights of all colours would dazzle as they reflected from the glass of the downtown skyscrapers. Red and green fireflies would race through the blackness above the horizon as other planes came and went at the airport. And an uncountable number of stars would twinkle overhead until an errant cloud would scrub them away for a few moments.

Now, that’s flying!

And Bob Kirkby. Bob has a terrific airplane – a Piper Super Cruiser. It’s a flying piece of history that looks like it just rolled out the factory door. It did, of course, back in 1947, but you’d never know to look at it. Bob loves to get up in the Cruiser with one of his grandkids, or another airplane buddy, or maybe just by himself. He’ll go about half an hour away to where there’s a restaurant that serves pie almost right next to a grass airstrip. Bob and the Cruiser love grass runways.

After pie, he’ll take-off to who-knows-where and cruise along at, oh, maybe a thousand feet over the ground. He’ll watch as the land changes color in the season, maybe getting greener, maybe browner. Bob will feel the stick as the wind tugs on the ailerons every now and then, checking to see what it can get away with. He might snag a thermal and then ease off some power as that small burst of heat floats him along a little bit faster on a little bit less gas. Bob will smile at that.

And soon he’ll make that last turn onto final approach at his own grass airstrip. Bob will set the Cruiser down so smoothly that for the first few seconds he’ll wonder if he even landed. Really, I’ve seen him do it.

Oh, ya. Now, that’s flying!

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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.

Flight of the Shadow Dancers

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by Stu Simpson

It was as close to perfection as I’d ever seen. Our two ultralight planes floated along in a rare harmony that could have been a beautiful dream. Except this reality was much better.

It was an early September evening as Don in his Chinook, and me in my Beaver, made our way gently southward toward the Bow River. The air was warm and velvety, offering a faint breeze to any and all creatures of the sky. Below us, the summer was making a final, gallant stand against the inevitable autumn and the landscape seemed caught in the middle. Acre after acre of harvested grain fields were quilted together, glowing in the golden sunlight.

Don led the way. I placed my ship off his right wing in an easy echelon formation. Both our planes are yellow with blue trim and the early evening sun seemed to give each plane its own halo.

Neither of us carried a radio, meaning there was nothing to distract us from the pure, simple magic of flying.

I looked down to my left and watched our shadows dart and flit over the earth. They too kept perfect formation with one another as they raced along, occasionally assuming some distorted shape while passing over a ditch or a building.

Every now and then I would see the Chinook’s control surfaces move just a little and the plane would go exactly to where Don wanted it to be.

I was overwhelmed with delight. No one who has been there, in a faultless sky, with a trusted wingman, comes away untouched by the moment.

A few minutes later we had reached the Bow. The Chinook dropped its nose and began a steady descent toward another, adjoining river valley, the Highwood. My Beaver followed obediently.

We felt a few bumps in the air as the wind wiggled it’s way over and around and through the valley. We passed over a campground with trailers and tents. Campers and fishermen stopped what they were doing and gazed up at those glowing airplanes. The people exclaimed to each other that it sure looked like fun and that they sure wouldn’t mind trying it. Only a few announced, “You’d never get me up in one of those crates!” And for a few seconds, for better or worse (mostly better), we had an audience of a few dozen fascinated souls.

While the flatlands above the river were starting to look like fall, the Highwood Valley was still firmly entrenched in summer. The trees still held their deep green shades. The grassy meadows looked luxurious, calling out to any person who wanted to run through them, inviting any airplane to land in them. Though tempted, we politely declined and flew on.

Once away from the campground, we flew even lower, the Chinook still out front and me right behind. We continued to explore the valley, finding surprises like a twin Cessna, an old railway bed and a herd of cows that simply ignored us.

I pushed my throttle lever and moved the stick to the left. A second or two later I pulled along Don’s left wing. I waved to him “Follow me”. I pulled the nose up and banked away from him, heading for the flats above the valley.

We left the valley behind and crossed the top of the cliffs with twenty feet to spare. I pushed over and headed earthward again. What I had in mind was some nap-of-the-earth flying. That’s where an airplane buzzes along only a few feet above the terrain following the exact contours of the ground.

The whole world zipped along just inches below us, our shadows now near and large. My adrenaline surged. It’s such a paradox flying that close to the earth, because it magnifies the separation from it and gives a pilot the purest sensation of flight. A slight tug on the control stick, and the airplane is bound for the heavens. A tiny push to the left or right, and you go there too. It is simply the ultimate freedom.

I looked over my right shoulder and watched Don a few feet away. I could see a huge grin on his face. I turned forward and noticed a grove of trees a few hundred metres ahead. I dropped even lower. 75 mph of airspeed ate up the distance quickly and I pulled the nose up, missing the tallest tree with just enough daylight between us. I looked back and watched Don do the same.

We nosed back over together and continued on, making shallow turns here and there and climbing slightly to clear any barbed-wire fences.

Then I spotted some familiar shapes on the ground ahead. It was a small herd of deer. I looked over to Don and pointed. He gave me a thumbs up indicated he’d spotted the deer also.

The leader of the herd was a huge five-point buck. He wasn’t even afraid of us. He just looked up, kind of curious I suppose, but he didn’t move. We wheeled around and made another pass just to see watch him a bit longer. This time the animals seemed a little nervous and jogged a few meters as we neared. We decided to let them get back to their dinner and continued on back toward the Bow.

That’s when it happened. Don had just finished buzzing a row of small trees and bushes. He banked left, well in front of me. I turned left also to stay with him. I watched in utter amazement as our two shadows lined up and overlapped. They stayed that way for several seconds, moving with each other in a way that looked like they were dancing. It was a beautiful, unforgettable, image as the sun and two airplanes – our airplanes – aligned in a manner so rare.

We passed by some farmers next. They were in a field with a truck and a tractor. We waved happily as we whistled by and they waved back.

We crossed the river again and just continued to make the most of the evening’s unusual magic. We started chasing each other around, getting on one another’s ‘six’ until something else distracted us. Then we’d zoom down to see what it was. We saw some more deer and even a coyote. We followed the shape of the earth from five feet up and we hopped over fences and trees and power lines. We watched as the sun sank lower too, telling the world to get ready for bed. Life just doesn’t get much better.

But we were quickly losing our daylight. I followed Don as he reluctantly turned for Indus airport, his home-drome.

We pulled up and entered the circuit and made a pair of greaser landings. Nothing was going to spoil this flight.

We taxied over to Don’s hangar and shut down. We talked excitedly for a few minutes about the things we’d seen and how much fun it all was. I happened to notice that Don had a permanent smile tacked onto his face. I noticed I did too.

We soon ran out of things to discuss about the flight, so I saddled up again and took off for home.

I felt like Don and I had been granted the keys to a magic kingdom that day. A place where only the lucky and the skilful get to go. And even though we were only allowed a short visit, I knew we had certainly made the most of it. I wonder what our next visit will be like.

Captain Kirk And The Eye In The Sky

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by Stu Simpson

The voice on the car radio sounds like it came from a program director’s wet dream; smooth, polished and well projected. The only thing less than perfect about it the continual “whop-whop-whop” in the background. But that can’t be helped.

“RCMP and fire crews have begun clearing that major accident involving a semi-trailer on Highway 1, just east of the city limits. Traffic is flowing normally again and is no longer being re-routed onto Highway 1A. So it looks like the road won’t be closed until nine o’clock after all. Elsewhere, motorists can expect normal delays and buildups on their way into work this morning.

“For Cantel AT&T, I’m Captain Kirk in Calgary‘s ooonly traffic helicopter, Chopper 960.” And so begins another morning rush hour in Canada’s third largest city, a place where people are hopelessly addicted to their cars.

Captain Kirk, whose real name is Al Molnar, has been guiding drivers through the snarling maze of Calgary’s morning and evening rush hours for the past eight years. He’s one of the lucky few who’ve been able to combine two of the greatest loves of his life – radio and flying – into a profitable career.

Molnar works for Rogers Broadcasting, a communications giant that owns radio stations CFAC 960 AM and CHFM 95.9 FM. The AM station operates on a country and western format, while it’s higher frequency sister puts out light rock and easy listening tunes. The FM operation bills itself as “Lite 96” (in radio, you can say you’re located at 96 even if you’re really at 95.9). So depending on what your musical tastes are on any given morning, Molnar is either in “Chopper 960” or “Chopper 96”.

Chopper 96/960 is actually an immaculately kept Robinson R22 that flies the two stations’ colours. Molnar, who has his fixed wing commercial ticket, doesn’t fly the helicopter. He leaves that to Jess Henderson, a pretty and professional Vancouver transplant. Molnar’s just the voice these days, but it wasn’t always that way.

In The Beginning

Al Molnar started in radio back in the mid 80’s in Lethbridge. As often happens in that business he got a break a few years later and moved to a bigger market in Calgary. By 1990 he’d convinced the powers that be to have him up in the air in a Cessna 172 doing rush hour traffic reports. At the time there was one other station in Calgary also using a Cessna for the same purpose.

Doing traffic reports alone in the Cessna was remarkably stressful for Molnar. “I’d be in the middle of a report,” he says, “while the tower would be constantly breaking in with instructions. And this was all going out over the air.”

In the extremely competitive world of big city radio, having even a slight edge is a major advantage. Molnar went looking for his edge. Soon, he decided to switch to the Robinson.

By using the R22 Molnar could accurately claim to be in “Calgary’s only traffic helicopter”. It was all he needed to shut the competition down. “The other station’s fixed wing operation folded almost immediately,” he says.

The Robinson gave Molnar the ability to be in the air more often since helicopters can operate at lower weather minimums. He could also get closer to the ground; YYC‘s controllers allow Chopper 960 to perch at 1000′ AGL, and to occasionally dip down to 500’. In the Cessna, Molnar was restricted to 1500′ all the time.

The lower altitude now allows him to get a better look at what’s going on, to see exactly where trouble is, and exactly what it is. And, of course, he’s got Jess Henderson to worry about the flying, other air traffic and the tower. That leaves him free to concentrate on getting out the traffic reports.

The Helicopter

Vancouver Helicopters actually owns the Robinson that Henderson and Molnar use. Henderson started flying for the company in Vancouver four years ago doing the same type of work. The daughter of an RCMP officer, she studied criminology while earning her helicopter pilot’s licence.

I chatted with her one morning as she pre-flighted the R22. I asked her what she thought of the Robinson. “Do you mean sometimes, or all the time?” she smiled. She went on to say how the R22 gives her fits in strong and gusty wind conditions. “It’s too easy to over-control,” she reports. Nonetheless, she labels the R22 as a good and very reliable helicopter.

Henderson exudes professionalism from the instant one meets her. She’s got 2300 hours under her belt now and is looking forward to her future. “I want to fly some bigger equipment, like that,” she says pointing longingly to a Jet Ranger across the hangar.

Tired of minus 40 degree winter mornings, she also wants to get back to Vancouver. “They fly a lot more out there. Here we can be grounded for up to a week at a time with fog, snow or chinooks.” On such days Molnar takes to the streets in a vehicle, while Henderson finds something else to do.

A Typical Day

Molnar and Henderson arrive at YYC, where the chopper is based, each day at 6 A.M. Henderson readies the helicopter while Molnar gathers intelligence on what’s already happening on the city’s roadways. He taps his sources within the police department, with transit, and with the streets department. He also monitors other radio stations that broadcast traffic information called in by their listeners.

Over the course of the next hour Molnar uses his cell phone to file five live and taped reports for the two stations outlining what he knows. Then he trots out to the ramp where Henderson is ready to fire up the Robinson. They’re airborne at 7:00 sharp.

The next two hours keep both of them hopping. Henderson’s constantly negotiating with the the controllers while trying to get Molnar close enough to the action that he can, at the very least, use binoculars to assess a situation. Molnar uses a cell phone wired into the chopper to file live reports every ten minutes on FM, and every twenty on the AM dial. There are also a few that have to be put to tape simply because live hits won’t fit conveniently into the show.

They’re down again by 9:00 a.m. But at 3:00 p.m. they meet once more to repeat their ritual, taking to the sky an hour later.

Molnar and the controllers have agreed to divide Calgary into three areas to make things easier for everyone. The tower might clear the chopper to operate in Area 1, for example. That means Molnar and Henderson have pretty loose clearance to cover the west side of the city.

The other zones are Area 2, taking in the east and southeast parts of town, and the Northwest Corner, which is self-explanantory. Molnar says in the eight years he’s been doing this he’s been allowed over the northeast only once. The northeast end falls right beneath the approach path for the airport’s runway 28.

Calgary International’s location also causes another major headache for the chopper crew – Deerfoot Trail. Deerfoot is Calgary’s major north-south freeway, running the length of the city. Sadly, for Molnar and Henderson, anyway, most of Deerfoot lays beneath the airspace south of runway 16/34.

Thus, several important factors come into play. Deerfoot Trail typically has the highest volume of traffic during rush hour, coming almost to a standstill at times. 16/34 is YYC’s equivalent to Deerfoot, being the busiest runway at Calgary. And don’t forget, the airport’s volume is such that Calgary ranks as the third busiest airport in Canada. Frankly, it would seem anyone who gets clearance to occupy the airspace between the heavies and the ground has been granted a miracle.

A Reluctant Star

I asked Molnar why this job appeals to him so much. “I’ve always loved working in radio,” he replied, “but I never wanted to get into the ratings battle. I just wanted to do a good job without all that pressure.”

He’s proud of the fact that what he does sometimes makes a real difference. People regularly approach him to say thanks for his help up there. He also has a police radio in the chopper and often assists police units by providing traffic accident information and by spotting the occasional fleeing criminal. But mostly, Al Molnar just helps the average guy get to work in the morning, and back home at night.

Molnar figures it’s not such a bad way to make a living. After all, he gets to be a radio star, however reluctant, and he gets to go flying in a nifty little helicopter with a very pretty pilot. True, this Captain Kirk may not have the Enterprise, but he’s definitely got it made.

And Lived On the Wind

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by Stu Simpson

It’s tough to believe but I was the only one there. On a nearly calm morning with a high, cool overcast and promise in the wind, I was the only guy on Kirkby Field. Admittedly, this was because the others have day jobs. But some of my flying mates are retired, and so I was puzzled. I resolved not to concern myself over it, though, and instead set about readying the Giant to fly.

Linden would serve well as a destination. I’d have breakfast and buy a pie for my wife. One of the immutable truths for married pilots who fly for fun is that it never hurts to have a few extra air miles in the bank.

Once aloft and climbing strongly, the Giant felt sure and solid as it always does. It’d been too long since I’d had the controls in my grasp, nearly a week. That was when some of us wound up at a rancher’s strip in the foothills southwest of Calgary. The rancher’s name is Butler.

I love places like Butler’s for a number of reasons. They’re often set in beautiful places, in Butler’s case a shallow but narrow valley running roughly northeast to southwest. Airstrips like these practically throw a gauntlet at a pilot’s feet, so blatant is their challenge. But a pilot must be cautious answering the dare because such strips’ approach regimens require care and imagination to defeat any obvious and less obvious dangers.

The biggest problem at Butler’s is how the west end of the runway abuts a road. Naturally, the road has power lines beside it – lines without marker balls on them. Thus, the pilot bears the responsibility to see the road, spot the lines and take every pain to miss them on landing. If you’re unwilling to shoulder such a burden you’re well advised to fly to another, less demanding runway.

As testing as places like Butler’s are, the real reason I like them so much is that I’ve never been there before. I must now confess to a barely contained aeronautical wanderlust. I’m constantly at odds with myself over flight. Part of me wants to load a few belongings and tools in the Giant and just fly away to places where I’ve never been before, and then keep going. Of course, my logical side recognizes the folly of such action and keeps me on a reasonably satisfying, though occasionally chafing tether. Places like Butler’s, and other treasures that few pilots know of, turn up close to home with just enough regularity to keep me here.

Wegerich and I found Butler’s strip last summer, but declined to land. I returned on my own one winter day to locate it again and mark it on my map. I considered a landing then, but I was alone and didn’t want to alight when there were no other friends with whom I could share the adventure.

As I drew overhead of Butler’s this time, I spotted the road and power lines and thus warned my wingmen, Huzzey and Bishell. Huzzey piloted his Challenger II carrying his lovely wife, Chris; and Bish was in his Bush Caddy. It’s a shame Wegerich wasn’t around.

I cleared the power lines and set down on the surprisingly smooth runway. I knew I’d very much like any man who keeps a runway so well. After my wingmen landed we met Pierce Butler and I did like him. He was very down to earth in his muddy rubber boots and flannel work jacket. He built the airstrip to harbour his Cessna 182, a suitably capable craft for such a locale. Butler mentioned how he enjoyed reading my stories in a national aviation newspaper and I immediately liked him even more.

Our takeoff from Butler’s was exciting as we clawed our way up between the heavily treed hills from his runway’s 4200’ elevation. The Giant handled it well but I’d be reluctant to try it on a hot day at gross weight.

The memories of Pierce Butler and his airstrip brought a smile to my face as I steered the Giant a bit to the right for Linden. It seemed the wind was pretty hefty aloft and a quick check confirmed it to be about 17 mph, but right on the nose. Good, I’d get to fly a little longer.

The village of Irricana peeked into sight ahead. I’d stay west of there and consequently of Beiseker, too, about 5 miles further up the road. That would leave sufficient distance to clear Beiseker’s ATF because there’d be training flights landing there for sure.

A few little rain drops splashed onto the windscreen and skittered back in the propwash, leaving tiny droplet trails. But the clouds, benign in their appearance, showed no sign of spewing more. Perhaps a breeze had simply dusted these drops from a cloud the way someone sweeps crumbs from a table top.

Irricana passed beneath my right wing with its toy-sized houses, streets and cars. One house was oddly arranged, clearly defiant of the village’s architectural conservatism. Triangular in shape, like an alpine chalet, it was also canted at a rakish angle to the perfectly squared property boundaries. It would take some courage to build a house like that in Irricana. All the other houses nearby were much less adventurous being staid, square and parallel with the streets and each other.

I wouldn’t have seen that house if I flew higher or faster. I’d have never known for sure there’s at least one person in Irricana who likes things a little different than his neighbours. And I wouldn’t have admired the owner’s bravery like I do now. You come across interesting people when you’re flying low and slow, even if you never meet them.

I avoided the power lines landing at Linden. They have balls to mark them, which is very considerate of whoever hung them there. A beautiful young Mennonite girl served me breakfast. Then she sold me a banana cream pie to take home to my wife, who loves them, and hopefully me, for bringing them.

I turned sharply right once airborne again from Linden’s runway and headed for some land to the east that I wanted to see before I turned for home. Presently, the farm my uncle owned when I was a boy was clearly visible. Adventure then was riding dirt bikes with my cousin Byron through pastures and coulees, and camping among the gigantic poplars out back of the farm house. We’d fish from a row boat on a small reservoir nearby. I suppose when you’re twelve most things are an adventure, but even then I couldn’t wait to be up here.

Things have changed down there since I was a kid, but not everything. The farm house has been painted and the trees cut down, but the reservoir still bears trout. And I still can’t wait to be up here.

My ground speed was measurably higher heading home. From east of Linden the route back to Kirkby’s would certainly impinge on Beiseker’s airspace. On Beiseker’s frequency a young Asian-sounding man in a C-172 stated he was approaching from the southwest. He sounded a little unsure, but still brave in his efforts to conquer the Cessna at Beiseker, or perhaps Beiseker in the Cessna. Either way, he seemed admirably determined.

The student inadvertently keyed his radio mic on final so that anyone listening heard his instructor patiently talking him through the landing.
“Bring the airspeed back to 60 knots for final approach and adjust the …”. He suddenly released the mic button, maybe as he stretched his fingers trying to relax. The instructor, apparently a young woman, sounded forgiving and tolerant as she shared with him her gift of wings.

I envied the student for the challenges ahead and silently wished him well. I wanted to radio and tell him so, but thought it might distract him in his conquests.

Where will he go with his flying? Will he be one of so many who learn to fly and then get bored and quit? Can he even afford to keep flying after he achieves his license? I hope so. I like pilots and would like to see more of them.

I sailed the Giant back to Kirkby Field completely enraptured with airplanes and flight. Occasionally, I’d giggle to myself just from pure joy. For a couple of moments I could hardly believe my luck being up there flying – and in my own airplane, too! Grinning incessantly, I hauled the Giant around Kirkby’s circuit a couple of times, telling myself I needed the practice. Truth is, I just didn’t want it to end.

My first approach was way too fast and I touched long, but with barely a tremor from the landing gear. Very pleasing, that. Ultralight pilots, though, admire short landings more than smooth ones. It’s neither vanity nor exhibitionism. At the places we land such skill might one day separate a pilot from his demise. There’s never been a runway that’s too long.

My next landing was a peach. I set the Giant down firmly and still made the intersection turn-off a few hundred feet from the button. I remained completely saturated in satisfaction and contentment as I taxied the Giant in.

It dawned on me for the millionth time – this must be what it was like. This has to be how the barnstormers felt as they cast themselves to the clouds and lived on the wind. They’d have revelled in the absolute wonder and freedom of just being up there flying. They’d feel giddy and thrilled, knowing they’d just lived a whole minute in the sky and were about to do so all over again. And every breath they took aloft would be the most precious they’d ever drawn. I just know they felt that way. My God, how could they not?

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