“I Could Do This Forever”

by Stu Simpson

Me & the Beeve were at 700′ AGL, having just blasted off from Kirkby Field. We had no particular place to go. There was no one to meet, no appointments to keep. Just a blue sky and light, warm winds to dance around in all afternoon.

I decided to head south toward Indus and see if anything was happening there. But one of my character flaws is that I’m so easily distracted, this time by Bailey’s Field. It appeared a few miles away, looking pristine and gorgeous, as it always does.

Bailey’s Field holds a special fascination for me. It’s a beautiful 4500′ strip in the middle of the prairie about six miles north-east of Indus. There are a few hangars on the property and a huge house with a swimming pool in it. In fact, you can see right into the pool room when you do an over-shoot on runway 16. I’ve seen a few airplanes on the strip, but the one that stands out is an old Beech 18 done up in RCAF colors. It’s a beautiful round-engined bird that looks like it could tell lots of great stories. In short, Bailey’s Field is the airstrip of my dreams.

So it seemed only fitting that I shoot a couple of circuits there on my way to Indus. I crossed over the field and entered the left hand downwind. The runway was covered with a skiff of snow completely untouched by aircraft or man. I landed long, the Beeve’s wheels settling gently onto the endless white ribbon of runway. As soon as the nose gear touched, I fire-walled the throttle and raced off for another circuit. I noticed on the downwind leg the runway seemed spoiled now that it had gear tracks on it. But to any passing aviator, those gear tracks would tell a little story of their own.

I was on my way again after one more circuit. The Beeve felt wonderful in my hands, quick and nimble, responding without a moment’s hesitation. We wheeled and turned and laughed our way through the sky.

Indus looked shamefully deserted from a couple of miles away. But as I got closer, I could see people and airplanes moving around down there. I crossed over the field and started doing circuits on runway 28. I have to tell you, my landings that day were some of the best I’ve done in a long time.

The runway had been well used since the last snowfall, as was evident from all the gear tracks. But there was a small area right at the button that had no tracks in it anywhere. This was my target. It was a great way to practice spot landings. After every touchdown I could see my tire tracks in the snow and improve the next landing. Shooting circuits is a great way to spend your time, isn’t it? There’s nothing like the feeling of greasing an airplane back to earth. The type of touchdown that, if you didn’t hear the rumble and rattle of the gear, you might not know you’d landed.

I wasn’t alone in the circuit though. Fred Wright had waited for an opportune moment and taken to the sky in his green Chinook. Wayne Winters had done likewise in a miniMAX. We three shared the airport for a while until I noticed Freddy peel off to the south. I turned the Beeve to follow him, just to see what he was up to.

About a mile south of the field, Freddy turned to the east, went about half a mile, and turned back west. Suddenly he was pointing straight at me. Now, Freddy’s not blind, so I took this to be just what it was. A challenge.

I maneuvered easily out of his way, but before I could say “Holy hammer-head, Batman!”, he had jumped me. That sly dog was going for my tail like a puppy goes for puppy chow. But he didn’t have the angle to get his nose pointed at me. I racked the Beeve into a hard left turn and lost sight of the Chinook. I kept looking back over my shoulder but I still couldn’t find him. I was pretty sure I was out-turning him, because there ain’t much that can turn with the Beeve.

After about two and a half 360’s, I levelled out heading west. I spotted Freddy about 600′ away, at my 9 o’clock, going the opposite direction. I yanked the Beeve left at the same time Freddy saw me comin’. He put everything he had into a tight left turn, but there was just no escape for him from that point on. He was as busy as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest as he tried to get away. But I just sat up about fifty feet higher than the Chinook, throttled back, and followed him around. Whenever the moment was right, I’d dump the nose, roll onto his tail from six-o’clock high, and waste him. At least that’s the way I remember it. Freddy might have a different version of events.

After the carnage was over, we formed up and headed back toward Indus. I followed Freddy in and made a full-stop landing on runway 28. He was all smiles and charged with adrenaline as I climbed out of the Beeve. We spent the next few minutes re-hashing the dogfight over and over again, like pilots have done for decades.

Then I met Knute Rasmusen, owner of the mimiMAX that Winters was flying. The three of us chatted as we watched Winters in the circuit. After a few minutes of hangar flying, Freddy decided he wasn’t going waste anymore of the day on the ground. I liked his attitude so I invited both guys to fly back up to Kirkby’s with me. They thought that was a splendid idea.

Winters was on his last go ’round so Knute said he’d join us after he fueled up. Freddy and I decided to wait upstairs shooting some more bump-and-runs, and when Knute was ready, we’d head north together.

Freddy and I took off and by the time we’d shot two circuits Knute was pulling onto the button of runway 28. I turned north for home and slowed so my wingmen could catch up.

Knute quickly established himself off my right wing. Freddy perched a little further back, forming on the miniMAX. I could almost see the smiles on their faces as we coasted along up there. Occasionally I’d lose sight of Knute as he wandered toward my six, and I found myself trying to make like an owl to find him again. My neck muscles got a good workout.

All too soon the shiny sheet metal of Kirkby’s hangars appeared and I set up for a long, straight-in approach to runway 34. I touched down and slowed just in time to make the turn at mid-field. I taxied the Beeve to the hangar and jumped out to watch Freddy and Knute land. But they decided to drag the field first.

I wheeled the Beeve into the shack as the Chinook and the MAX set up their approaches. Freddy put down first and taxied clear. The two of us watched closely as Knute hung the miniMAX on the fine edge and brought it in slower than I thought possible. He’s a guy who knows his airplane.

“Ain’t this the life, Freddy?”, I asked as Knute taxied in.

“Man”, he replied, “I could do this forever.” I nodded agreement and silently wondered what the rich folks were doing.

Once settled, Knute graciously showed us around his airplane. He even let me sit in it. I have to admit, I’m quite impressed with the design. Think I might get one.

After about half an hour Freddy was getting understandably restless again. So the two of them saddled up and bugged out, taking off the same way they’d landed. As they turned south Freddy’s words kept running through my mind. And I thought, I too could do this forever.

A Bushmaster Adventure

by Stu Simpson

This isn’t going so well, I thought. I was rolling down Runway 07 at some grass strip I’d never heard of just west of Edmonton in an airplane I’d bought just minutes before. Only I wasn’t rolling anywhere near fast enough because the engine just wasn’t cranking the prop the way it should.

A few seconds later I staggered anemically into ground effect and reluctantly realized I had to do something different if I was going to get this airplane back to Kirkby’s.

I cut the throttle and trundled over to the side of the runway where everyone was watching me. Then I tried to remember how I’d gotten myself into this.

A Ten Year Airplane

I’d reached the point in my recreational flying career where I needed a new airplane. I’d simply outgrown my wonderful little Himax. Besides, I wanted a second seat to carry people and stuff. I’ve been mighty envious of Glen Bishell when he carried another pilot on the big cross-country flights we’ve done. My wife made it clear that my next airplane was going to have to last me 10 years. Trouble was, shopping around made me realize that either buying or building a second seat was going to be be really expensive!

So following Bernie Kespe and Guy Christie’s lead I started looking very seriously at building a relatively cheap Volksplane VP-2. I even acquired a set of plans.

My lovely wife, on the other hand, started looking very seriously at divorce lawyers. She’s always been very supportive of my flying pursuits, but she drew the line at me constructing another plane. So, building was out of the question. I’d have to find something already built and flying. And cheap!

We decided on a fairly loose budget and I started poking around a bit more enthusiastically.

For instance, I sat in Ed D’antoni’s very solidly built Avid Flyer, one of the earliest models of that line. I was definitely too big for it; the cockpit ceiling scrunched me over so much my neck hurt for two days afterward. I had to reach into the right seat to move the stick because there wasn’t enough room on my side. It’s a great plane, but not for someone built like me.

I took a day to drive to Edmonton to see a Sylvaire Bushmaster that I learned was for sale. The owner, a true gentleman named Chris Barre, found it in a barn and with professional help from Dan Pandur’s Snowbird Aviation, completely restored and rebuilt it.

Then he painted it green. Camouflage green. I loved it!

To make a long story short, I bought it. The price was very fair and it included a set of skis, a headset and an intercom.

I’m a bit embarrassed to mention the Bushmaster also came with a GPS. For years now I’ve pooh-poohed GPS, saying they were for girlie-baby nav-sissies. “Real men use maps,” I told them all. Then someone hands me a GPS for free. Carl and Bernie haven’t let me forget it, though to be fair, I’ve not used it in an airplane yet.

Getting It Home

Bernie was kind enough to agree to drive me to Edmonton to pick it up, then act as my ground crew on the way back. Carl, bless his heart, jumped in, too. Carl’s participation means all that much more to me because he sat in the jump seat of Bernie’s truck for more than half the way there. I sat there the last half and I know how sore MY butt was. Carl’s my hero forever.

We showed up at the field where Chris kept the Bushmaster at about 11:30 a.m. He was nowhere to be seen but the plane was out of the hangar with the prop off, just like I’d asked. Chris left a little note on the plane saying he’d be back shortly. The plan was to throw my Ivoprop on for the flight home because I thought I’d get better performance than the plane’s wood prop would give. Wrong.

It was kind of a neat airfield, where we were. Some of the hangars looked about ready to collapse, they were so derelict. But one was about as modern as could be, being a quonset style with fabric taughtened over a tubular aluminum frame. It had a nifty looking little biplane inside. The other planes on the field included an assortment of spamcans, homebuilts and ultralights.

Evergreen and deciduous trees lined the taxiway and barely left enough room for a plane’s wings to scrape past. The runway was also surrounded by trees. I sort of envied the guys flying from there for the constant challenges the field must offer. Without a doubt, the place had character.

Chris returned as we were attaching the Ivoprop. He and I did the deal while Carl and Bernie did the prop. I was a pleased as punch with my new plane.

I noticed the weather was starting to close up a bit with towering cumulus building in every direction. I was anxious to get out of there.

I flew Norsemans (derived from, and nearly identical to, the Bushmaster) for a summer when I lived in Saskatoon many years ago. Nonetheless, Chris’s preflight briefing was a nice refresher of what I remembered from those days. He showed me how to start the plane with the electric start and I discovered what a treat that was after more than 15 years of yanking and cranking! We ran the engine up and saw we needed to back the Ivo’s pitch off a bit to get the right RPM.

Bernie and Carl and I fiddled with that for a bit until we figured it was correct, then we fired it up and tried again. The tach showed we had it right.

I got all my maps and snacks ready and took another look at the sky. Things were building quicker now, it seemed. Chris guided me out to the runway so my wings wouldn’t prang a tree.

And then there I was, ready to go.

To say I was nervous would be about right. I was going to fly a new plane, from an unfamiliar field, surrounded by trees, on a 200 mile cross-country trip home. Why should I worry?

Try and Try Again

Taxiing out, it all started coming back to me from the Norseman days. Steering was very precise and positive, and the ride was a bit smoother than the Himax’s. I U-turned at the button, double checked everything and went ahead with full throttle.

Remember at the start of this yarn when I said it wasn’t going so well? The thing wouldn’t accelerate. I looked at the tach and it was barely making 6000. For some reason the engine was bogging and fighting itself. I got into ground effect about a third of the way down the trail, then pulled the power and headed back to the taxiway.

We ripped the spinner off and dialed the prop back a bit. Then I gave it another run. Same thing happened. Looking at the sky, I knew we didn’t have much time before the CBs would be upon us. We decided to throw the old prop on, the one with which Chris had been flying successfully for all his hours.

I was really nervous when I got to the end of the runway, but the 503 revved up beautifully this time. There was a noticeable increase in thrust as I started moving. After a few seconds I pushed the stick forward to get the tail up. Nothing. Then I remembered this isn’t the Himax. I left the stick a little forward and about the same time the tail came up the plane felt like it was ready to fly.

I kept it on the ground a few seconds longer and then let it slip into ground effect. We stayed that way for a little while longer, building up speed to help get above the trees and their inherent mechanical turbulence.

The climb rate was definitely less than the Himax, but at least it was steady and constant around 300 feet per minute. I saw the high tension lines off to my right and knew I could clear them with no problem. I turned south and into the wind, slowly clawing my way upward. My destination was Lacombe.

After I cleared the power lines I got my bearings and started figuring how to stay clear of both the Edmonton International control zone and the thunderstorm directly ahead.

We rejoin the author during the quest to fly his newly acquired Sylvaire Bushmaster home from Edmonton to Kirkby Field.

The weather office had quoted a 10 knot tailwind for my trip home. Instead, I found a headwind stronger than 10. There was a thunderstorm ahead with more building along my route. And my fuel gauge seemed to be slipping a little quicker than I expected. I wondered how I was going to get out of this one.

The only saving virtue was the Bushmaster. What a great plane! The handling was superb. It felt as good or better than my Himax despite being so much bigger. The controls were light, smooth and precise and it had great response to turbulence. I know the Himax’s cockpit is big and comfortable, but the Bushmaster’s seems the size of the average living room. I immediately felt right at home and was loving every minute of it.

Now, about that thunderstorm. Things were looking up a bit. The storm was moving directly east and appeared to be on a track to take it south of Edmonton International. It looked like the Bushmaster and I would be able to sneak around behind it. I decided now would be a good time for a sandwich.

After my inflight meal (no movie) I found myself well south of the control zone, but the headwind was really slowing me down. Chris said he usually planned for no more than two hours of flying, which gave a comfortable reserve of half an hour. I did some quick mental arithmetic looking at the map, figuring my ground speed and counting the miles until Lacombe. It was sure going to be tight; more so because of another thunderstorm off to the west headed for the same place as me. It meant there would be more pressure at Lacombe to get refueled and headed south again.

Three things seemed to be headed to a simultaneous convergance point; my steady, but slow progress toward Lacombe, the next thunderstorm’s steady, but slow progress toward Lacombe, and the fuel gauge’s steady, but somewhat quicker progress toward empty. I was determined to win the race.

The Lacombe airport finally came into view and before long I was overhead for a left-hand downwind to Runway 16. Runway numbers have rarely looked sweeter to me than those ones did. I taxied to the south end and shut down. Peering into the tank, I realized I was nearly on fumes. That one was a little too close.

Well, no sense worrying about it now that I was down and safe. Best to concentrate on getting fuel and getting back into the air. Bernie and Carl showed up a few minutes later. Bernie scooted me down the road to a gas station, then we zipped back and filled up. The 8 gallon tank took nearly 8 gallons.

The Biggest, Blackest, Meanest Monster

Firing up again, I decided I could really get used to this electric start thing. I taxied all the way back up to the button of 16 and pushed the throttle forward. The takeoff run was a bit less on the pavement than on the grass and in short order the Bushmaster was airborne and climbing south toward Bishell’s strip near Carstairs. I figure I beat the storm by 15 minutes.

Red Deer appeared a few minutes later and I noticed the wind had eased off just a bit. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying this. After all, who doesn’t like a good honest aerial adventure?

Peering ahead, it looked like more adventure was headed my way. There was yet another thunderstorm growing like blazes southwest of Innisfail. I could tell right away that this one could be a crusher. Sure enough, as I passed the east end of Red Deer, I was seeing lightning and an unbelievable downpour from the storm’s core. It was the biggest, blackest, meanest monster I’ve seen while flying. Naturally, it was headed right for me.

I knew getting to Bishell’s was going to be a bit tight fuel-wise, so I had to plot my course to get the most direct route while remaining clear of the storm from hell. As it happened, I just managed to clip the southeastern edge of the cell. I felt like a guy who’d jumped a subway car just as the doors slammed shut. I saw some lightning and had a short blast of turbulence and rain. I silently thanked Chris for getting a prop with leading edge protection. Most unnerving though, was actually hearing thunder over the noise of the Bushmaster. I even had ear plugs in!

South of, and well clear of the storm, I discovered the wind direction had switched. Now it was from the west at about 15 knots. So with the southwesterly course I needed to get to Bishell’s, the wind now had exactly the same effect as the southeasterly breeze I’d battled to that point, only from the other side of the plane. I resolved to stop cursing and taking the weatherman’s name in vain once I got home.

Navigating to Bishell’s was an additional challenge. It had been a number of years since my last low level ultralight flight north of his place, so I was really depending on my map. I didn’t have the sissy GPS because I didn’t have time to learn how it worked before leaving Chris’s strip. Besides, there was the seed plant near Bishell’s, just over there. Good thing I didn’t miss it. See, real men don’t need GPS.

I dropped into the circuit at Glen’s with the fuel gauge on my mind and a crosswind on the ground. I put the Bushmaster down just right though, even spending a quarter of a mile on one wheel with the left wing down into the wind. The Bushmaster is that good.

Glen Bishell couldn’t wipe the grin off his face as he examined my new plane. I knew darn well he was comparing it to his own Bushmaster, and frankly, so was I. We pilots are like that. I think Glen was pleased that there was someone else on the block with a plane like his.

Bernie and Carl beat me there, and I spotted Carl lugging a can of gas out toward me. Boy, was I lucky to have those two along. Thanks, boys.

The Bushmaster didn’t use as much fuel as I thought on this leg, so I was pleased to still have a bit left over in the refueling can. The shortest and easiest leg was next; the one home to Kirkby Field. The northwest breeze at 15 or so would make a perfect tailwind.

Last Leg

I launched out of Bishell’s with a smile on my face and the anticipation of the wind finally blowing my way. Even the thunderstorm ahead couldn’t dampmen my spirits. I was going to dodge it easily by going around the back side.

I used a radio for the whole trip, but only in receive mode because the Bushmaster didn’t come with an antenna. I had mixed feelings about having it now. As I approached the Beiseker highway I tuned in Calgary International’s tower frequency. Turns out the wind had shifted. Again.

This time it was a whopper. The tower was reporting winds of 250 at 20 gusting 35. To hell with my newly made vow of verbal chastity toward the weatherman. This was just dirty pool. I started cursing everything meteorological I could think of, including forecasters, their ancestors and the next three generations of their offspring!

Then the wind booted the Bushmaster’s tail to the left and I snapped back to the job at hand. I fed in a healthy amount of right rudder and started crabbing (yawing, this time) to keep from winding up in Winnipeg.

The ride was surprisingly smooth and in due course I was over top the home ‘drome. Kirkby Field looked as good as it always does and I said an out loud prayer this time, thanking Bob for putting in the east-west runway.

Lining up on final, I was immensely impressed with how my new plane was handling the hurricane we were in. There was quite a jolt as the wind fought through the trees near the end of the runway, then I greased it on at nearly a crawl. I rounded the corner heading north along runway 34 and threw the stick into the wind. The Bushmaster’s big slab-sided fuselage felt the crosswind a lot more than the Himax ever did, but it was still easily controllable. Yup, I’d found me a winner.

I tied the Bushmaster outside for the night and came back the next day to rip the wings off. With Bernie and Bob helping, the wings were soon hanging above the Himax and the fuselage was safe at home in my garage. There was no hangar at Kirkby Field big enough to house it.

I soon found out why the engine was sucking so much fuel and bogging with the different prop. The bottom end of the float needle valve had worn a notch in the float lever. This meant when the lever rose with the floats to close the needle valve it’d would catch on the needle and stick open. It created a situation where fuel was entering the carbs almost completely unchecked and spilling over the side of the float bowls. A bit of sanding and filing solved that problem.

So what’s next? A new engine is definitely a priority. The Bushmaster really needs 65 horsepower, or so. Maybe one of the new auto conversions would work. I have to sell my Himax, too, because my wife says I can’t be an airline. Bob and I will be building a new hangar soon, and hopefully I’ll be back in the air in no time.

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Me & The Beeve – The First Year

by Stu Simpson

Well, it’s been a year now. A little more really, but who’s counting? It’s been my first year as an aircraft owner. But I don’t own just any airplane. I own The Beeve.

Sure, The Beeve’s a little rough around the edges – the fabric has seen better days, the wind screen needs replacing, the prop too – but it’s got it where it counts.

Where it counts most is in the engine. Which happens to be a Rotax 447.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I should tell you what my airplane was before it was The Beeve.

It started out as just another one of Spectrum’s single-seat RX-45 Beavers, serial number SB122. The guys at Spectrum thought the single-seaters would do alright on 28hp. And they were right. Then they thought, “35hp would be even better.” They were right again. Then they thought, “40hp would be the best.” They were really right about that one.

When I first decided I wanted The Beeve, it had been sitting, in large pieces, for three years in a hangar at Indus airport. There were 3 hours flight time on the airframe.

I made a deal with the owner that I could tear the wings apart to fully inspect them, and the rest of the airplane, before buying it. If everything checked out I’d fly it away.

So, after a two month delay, I finally took possession of my airplane. But it went to it’s new hangar on a flat-deck trailer, still in large pieces. It took another month, and the help of some good friends, to get the engine overhauled, everything put back together, tested, and flight-ready.

Then it happened. I pushed the throttle to the stop and blasted off. Blasted is the only way to describe it. I had never flown a plane with so much power at hand. What a treat!

I buzzed around for a few minutes, well within gliding distance of the field. It was much like shaking hands with someone destined to become your best friend.

Then it came time to land.

It was my first landing at Black Diamond. And it was very hairy. I hadn’t realized how severely the trees bordering the runway would affect the wind. But we made it anyway.

At that point my airplane was no longer just another ultralight. It became The Beeve.

Me & The Beeve have really gotten around since then. Two weeks after our first flight, I installed a cargo deck and a three gallon fuel tank behind the cockpit. A few days later we flew to Red Deer to be in our first air show.

On the trip home, we ran into some really strong headwinds. That flight turned into one of the toughest I’ve ever had. But the Beeve got me home safe and sound.

I spent the rest of the summer getting to really know my airplane, finding out what it could do. For instance, my Beeve loves to climb. About 1000′ per minute, I think. Even more in a good headwind. It also likes turning. Left turns seem to be the favourite because the prop turns toward the right. It’ll do a 360 in a radius of about 40 feet. Pretty tight, huh?

We enjoy doing stalls of course, and the odd chandelle too. It doesn’t do much for spins though, just prefers to toddle off into a mild spiral after I push the rudder pedal. I have to admit, The Beeve is quite stable in any flight regime.

Me & The Beeve won’t win any speed races either. Cruise speed is a comfortable 60 mph. A little slower than the new ships, but still quicker than Grandpa Pokey-pants in his ’73 Buick. And it sure beats walkin’.

As I said, me and The Beeve get around. Obviously, most of our flights are local ones. We go to little airports, like High River, Okotoks, and Airdrie. Airports that enjoy our company and always have a smile ready for us when we drop in.

We’ve been to lots of other airports too, of course, and some nifty out-of-the way spots. Last winter we flew up and landed on Ghost Lake. And we made some flights in the foothills last fall where the autumn colors left me breathless. We’ve also flown the mountains. We’ve been to Banff and even as far as Radium, B.C. and back. What adventure we’ve had together, me & The Beeve.

And we haven’t done all this adventuring by ourselves either. We have friends who think like us, who like to go exploring from the air. The best flights happen when all of us go together. We fly in formation and talk back and forth on our radioes, and peel off to see something nifty that catches our eye and we have more fun than is probably legal. I just hope we never get caught.

The Beeve’s a tough little bugger. I’ve made a few landings after which The Beeve would have been perfectly justified in stopping cold, kicking me out, and smacking me right on the noodle. We’ve been bounced and jerked and pounded by turbulence that would make Chuck Yeager toss his ‘right stuff’. But The Beeve just flies on, always willing to forget as we scoot along to the next little airstrip.

Numbers supposedly speak volumes. So I checked the numbers and found out it’s true. For instance, in the year I’ve been flying The Beeve, we’ve spent more than 65 hours in the air. That’s more than three times what I flew in the previous year. You’d have a tough job finding Spam-can drivers with that much time in a year.

I wonder where we’ll go next. I want to make a trip to the Red Deer Forestry strip and camp out for the weekend. I’ll bring some covers for The Beeve, in case it rains. And there are still lots of friendly little airports to explore.

I guess the bottom line is this: Every time me & The Beeve blast off together, regardless of where we’re going, it’s the start of another adventure. And that makes us pretty lucky.

I’ve got a confession to make. Sometimes, after we’ve landed on a perfect summer evening, when I’m ready to close up the hangar, I’ll just stand and look at The Beeve. I’ll give it a little rub on the nose, maybe fuss over some bug guts. Then I’ll just quietly whisper, “Thanks”.

About Time

by Stu Simpson

Time plays a crucial part in nearly everything we do as aviators. Most critically, of course, it tells us when we have to land, because there will come a time when the fuel gauge reads empty and gravity will forcefully remind us of our own mortality. I like the old Transport Canada poster that gravely proclaims “That’s time in your tanks”.

Time is also a way for pilots to keep score, a way of measuring who has the biggest, uh,… log book. It often seems he who dies with the most hours wins. Other things being equal, we seem to naturally respect pilots who have a higher number of flying hours. Of course, it’s important to remember that anyone with 10,000 hours at some point had 10.

Time is important to our airplanes, too. The number of hours an airplane has under its wings tells a lot about it; things like how the airplane’s been flown, and maybe by whom. Alternatively, an airplane’s age may also give it a certain value. The date it was built might cause a pilot to stare misty-eyed into the sky and dream of a different, simpler time when Cubs, Vagabonds and Taylorcrafts ruled the lower regions of the sky. Time tells whether I need to change the oil in my airplane’s engine. Time tells if a helicopter’s rotor blades need replacement. And like it or not, time tells each of us when we’re used up, too.

But to me, time is so much more than just a measuring stick. When it comes to airplanes, I think of time as a gift. The more time I get in the sky, the more cherished the gift.

For instance, some guys I know love speed. There are few things that excite them as much as 200 mph. They want to get into the sky, go as fast as they can, and get there, all in the shortest possible time. After all, speed is really just a function of time.

I subscribe to a different logic. For me, speed just isn’t where it’s at. I don’t need a lot of speed with my airplane. Fact is, I prefer to go slow. If I go too fast, I get there too soon and I don’t get to fly as long. I don’t really have any place to go, anyway. I’ve no family far away that I visit regularly (though I did fly a few hundred miles to see my folks, recently). Nor do I use my airplane for business travel. For me, and most of the guys I fly with, the journey really is the destination. And the destination is always an adventure. Wherever I end up is pretty much where I want to be, as long as I flew there. If I have at least some airspeed I’ll be content.

I miss too much if I go fast. I don’t get time to see the fields beneath, or the rivers, mountains or clouds. When I fly Merl I get to really see the world. I see where people live, what their towns look like, where they’ve built roads and water towers and gardens. I see the things I want to see. Going any faster I might not have the time to watch and enjoy all that.

Yup, Merl and I cruise along at about 80 mph, and I do get to fly a little longer. Oh, I know it helps to have a little extra go when the sun’s getting weak and the wind’s getting strong. But if I went any faster I’d lose time and flying would just be too easy.

I like to truly appreciate each second I’m aloft, to enjoy where I’m at, what I’m doing and the people I’m with. On each flight I look at the world in a new light, looking for things I’ve never seen before. I take time to enjoy the subtle shades of sunlight bouncing off the Rockies during a winter inversion. I look for the beauty in the planes flying off my wing, to see the sun dazzling off their fabric, or throwing tiny shadows past their rivets. And yes, we really do fly close enough to see all that.

I also use the time to enjoy Merl. I try on each flight to cement in my memory the feel of the controls, the way I pull the stick when we climb. I absorb the gentle bounces and the minute sensations of each flight. I take time to feel what it is to fly, to have Merl at my whim, to sense the tilt of the wings – to really feel it – as we bank into a turn. Indeed, I try to get the absolute most out of the time in my tanks.

You see, I know that someday this will all be gone. There’ll come a time when I can’t fly, when Merl, whose engine dates from before the middle of the last century, will be no more. I know there’ll be a day when I look up at a plane in the sky and say “I used to do that”. And young people will stare at me and wonder what it was really like to go up in machines that burned 100LL and took thrust from propellers, of all things.

Time, in fact, is one of the main reasons I write of flying. It’s my feeble attempt to actually capture some time, to harness it and hold it back so that far from now I, or someone else, can read my scribbles, return to this time and know again how it feels to fly – not merely drive – a small, simple airplane around the sky.

And, too, many years from now, the writing will help me remember after they’re gone, the men and the airplanes with whom I’ve flown. It gives me a chance to say now that I’m glad I’ve known you; glad for all the time I’ve spent just off your wing; glad that I’ve shared with you the wind and known what it truly means to fly; that I’m glad for this gift of time.

A Ticket To Adventure

by Stu Simpson

No doubt about it, an airplane is a ticket to adventure, and an ultralight airplane is the ‘E’ ticket. Ultralights are airplanes that you fly, not just drive around the sky like two-winged family sedans on automatic pilot. If you’re interested in growing some honest-to-God stick & rudder skill, step right up.

Ultralights have evolved into proper airplanes every bit as tough and reliable as a Chief or a Cub. Fact is, most of them are built identically to those types, matching and often exceeding their performance. Best part is, they can be had and operated for a fraction of a conventional plane’s cost.

There’s no question ultralights have their limits, just like any aircraft. Most cruise between 60 and 90 miles an hour, so a weekend trip to the coast and back isn‘t very likely. But a smooth evening flight to your buddy’s strip certainly is. Or maybe it‘ll be an airborne exploration flight with other planes on a Saturday morning. No, they’re not the fastest machines in the sky, just the most fun.

I’m on my fourth airplane, and all of them have been ultralights. There’s no way I’d miss this.

My first plane, bought in 1991, was a Spectrum Beaver, the single-seat model with 40 horsepower. It was a true stick & rudder plane with an open cockpit and only a tach and airspeed indicator for instruments. It maneuvered beautifully and quickly, responding to my every command. I had more fun and adventure in the 130 hours that I flew that plane than I’d had in my whole life.

In the summer of 1991 several CUFC members flew to Red Deer for their annual airshow. We got to mix with all the airshow performers, look at their planes up close and show off ours. Best of all, we got to perform each morning in the show, giving a formation display the crowd really enjoyed. Major fun.

The next summer three of us flew our ultralights through the Rockies from Calgary to Radium, B.C. and back. Along the way we chatted by radio with each other and an airline crew, and nearly got run over by a C-130 Hercules on a mountain flying exercise. And the beauty we saw! If you think looking out from a mountain is spectacular, you’re going to love what you see from an airplane.

For a while, I thought I couldn’t have more fun in an airplane than I did in that one. But its open cockpit was starting to be a bother in winter, even on warmer winter days. I eventually sold the Beeve to a farmer near Trochu. To tell you the truth, sometimes I still miss it.

My next aviation adventure came in building an airplane. I built it in my basement, one component at a time, from a pile of lumber, some metal parts, and a good set of plans. I’d never built anything before, so this was really a challenge. But the job was much easier than I expected. It only cost me about 9 grand and 16 months to get it into the air. Building and flying the Himax ranks as one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, or ever will do. The feeling of building and actually flying your own airplane is indescribable.

My Himax was a magnificent creature, having all the Beaver’s fine virtues with a closed cockpit. It was my first tail-dragger, resembling a Cessna Bird Dog that shrunk in the wash. The Himax cruised a little faster than the Beeve, at about 70 mph. Not as fast as a Cessna 172, but quicker than Grandpa Pokey-Pants in a beat up Buick. And loads more fun than the Buick, too.

The Himax and I really got around. I flew it all over southern Alberta to farm strips and controlled airports, alike. In 1999, me and several other CUFC members flew around north central Alberta on a trip that lasted 4 days and included a stop at a CF-18 fighter squadron in Cold Lake. The next summer a group of four of us went back to the Rockies, this time to Castlegar in south central B.C. That was an absolutely unforgettable adventure.

For a while, I thought I couldn’t have more fun in an airplane than I did in that one. But after about 7 years and 300 hours I started to get a bit bored with the Himax and began looking for something a bit different. I latched onto a sweet looking little plane out of Edmonton called the Avenger, another wooden tail-dragger, but with a low wing.

The Avenger didn’t really work for me. As you know, there are some people we just don’t get along with. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with them, but they somehow irritate us and just don’t quite click. That’s how the Avenger was for me. I’m a fairly big guy, and the Avenger just didn’t fit me well. I thought I’d enjoy the low wing, but it turns out I didn’t. The plane flew well, but just never felt quite right for me.

I eventually sold it to another club member who fell in love with it. I was pleased that he did.

Now, I’ve got the Giant. The Green Giant, that is. It’s a big old Sylvaire Bushmaster painted camo green. I love it!

It’s got two seats so I can take another pilot along, a tail-wheel, and a 65 hp liquid-cooled Rotax engine with dual electronic ignition. Very cool. It‘s also got a big wing that gets me in and out of just about any place I want to go. The Giant actually started out as the factory demonstrator built in 1985. So, since ultralights have only been around since the early 80’s, the Giant might just qualify as an antique.

I’ve been flying the Giant for nearly two years now and the adventure with it started on the first flight home from Edmonton. I dodged thunderstorms, battled unexpected 25 knot winds, and fought with abnormal fuel consumption and faulty carburetors. But the Giant got me home.

I remember the time in February ‘02 when a group of us landed to see another guy’s ultralight at an 800’ long strip high in the Porcupine Hills south of Calgary. It took two tries to takeoff again in the snow there, which was as deep as my wheel axles. But the Giant got us out with just enough room to spare.

The Giant has proven to be a great cross-country airplane, too. In the spring of last year Glen Bishell and I escorted Bob Kirkby and his Renegade biplane to its new owner in Cold Lake. Due to weather considerations we had to stay low the whole way, which made map reading and navigating really tough. Flying up and back, we covered more than 700 miles at about 700 feet. Major adventure, there.

And last summer the CUFC and a few other ultralight guys traveled to Dawson Creek, Slave Lake and back just for the hell of it. We had 15 planes along, and the Giant performed wonderfully. Sometimes, I think I could never have more fun in an airplane than I’m having in this one. But we know where that can lead.

I like to look back through my log books every now and again just to remind myself of all the pure stick & rudder joy I’ve discovered in these airplanes. I remember the gentle evenings drinking in the smell of a wheat field from 10 feet up, or the satisfying kiss of a perfect 3-point landing. I’ll recall the lost memory of a short field approach into an uphill strip only a few hundred feet long, and perfect formation maneuvers with my wingmen.

Then I’ll stare longingly at the Giant, wondering when we can fly again, wondering when I can next use my ticket to adventure.