The Simple Things

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by Stu Simpson

The shadow was just where he promised it would be – behind and to the right of mine. A few seconds later I saw the airplane that made it. Don Rogers‘ red and white Husky Norseman slid into position off my right wing as we climbed out northbound from Kirkby Field.

It had been 18 months since Don and I had flown together. That last jaunt, with him in his Chinook and me in my Beaver, was in March of ’94 to a farm strip near Vulcan. Back then, our airplanes looked exactly like what they were – ultralights.

Not that there’s anything wrong with those types of planes. Nope, not a darn thing. It’s just that I couldn’t help wanting something a little more, well, conventional looking. I’d spent nearly three hundred hours in open cockpit ultralights, and frankly, I wanted to be warm again. I also wanted something with the engine out front and a wheel way out back. So I built a TEAM Himax, a nice, simple, wooden tail-dragger.

Don was also looking for a change. He too wanted something a bit more conventional. He eventually flogged his trusty Chinook and bought the Norseman, a nice, simple, metal tail-dragger.

You’ll notice that neither of us had any desire to leave the ultralight fold. No, sir. We like it down here in the weeds. In our minds, this is where the real flying is.

And this day, we were flying to where the real pie is. Or so I’m told. The village of Linden is about 40 miles north of Kirkby’s. The airstrip is right in the town limits and just down the street from a coffee shop that serves absolutely scrumptious pie. At least that’s how the legend goes.

Don’s gone to Linden on a few occasions for the pie and often times told me we should go there together. So today, the last day of September, would be the day. And we were doing it in airplanes that look like airplanes. That means something to us.

It was late in the afternoon and the air under us hadn’t quite settled yet, making it tough to keep a close formation. Heck, with all that convective air, it was tough to keep an altitude. But we did our best.

Each of us was also keeping an eye on the sky. There was a squall off to the northwest that was slowly getting bigger, but it didn’t seem to want to move anywhere. A smaller cloud, east of the big storm, was the focus of our attention. It looked pretty rambunctious, spewing rain and such from it’s underside. Unfortunately, it was heading straight for our destination.

The sight of Linden on the not-so-distant horizon made my mouth water. But I knew it was not to be.

We were three miles directly west of the Beiseker airport. Checking my six, I found Don perched a few hundred yards back. So I made what military people call a “command decision”. I chickened out.

I turned hard right for Beiseker and Don followed.

We taxied in just as a Cessna 206, loaded to the rails with skydivers, taxied out. We hopped out and surveyed the airport from the ramp, talking easily, as old friends do. The sky to the north got slowly worse, confirming our choice in diverting to Beiseker.

Meanwhile, the 206 had departed and was droning higher and higher with it’s load of jumpers. Listening carefully, Don realized we were actually hearing two planes. Sure enough, directly over the airport was a cross-shaped speck that quickly started spewing crazy people. They’d have to be crazy, wouldn’t they?

Five chutes soon blossomed with five live bodies hanging underneath. The jumpers hollered joyously as they floated the last few hundred feet to earth, which was probably the last place any of them wanted to be right then.

We spent another half hour on the ground relaxing and swapping stories with the drop pilots. Checking the airport log, we found Todd MacArthur’s name, Larry Motyer’s, and mine in an entry dated early August, 1992. That’s when the three of us flew back from the Red Deer Airshow, barely making it to Beiseker after trudging through low cloud, rain, and thunder storms.

Rogers and I bugged out a few minutes later with me taking off first. But I slowed passing the town of Beiseker so Don could take the lead. The air was considerably smoother now, allowing us a tighter formation than on the flight up. I formed on the Norseman’s left wing, near enough to see the rivets outlined beneath the plane’s fabric.

As we neared Irricana, Don began slowly descending. Then I saw why.

South of the town is a large slough, that’s where he was headed. Rogers is a bit of a rascal and loves to do a good buzz job, especially over water.

I stayed up high as Don scooted down over the pond. Startled by his approach, a flock of birds took off, splashing their wings and feet, spoiling the calm surface.

Don was having a ball. He banked gently one way, then the other. The Norseman became a silhouette, an outline of a simple airplane caught in the sunlight bouncing off the water. What a thoroughly beautiful sight.

Once over land again, the Norseman dipped it’s nose for a few seconds, then pulled up sharply, climbing for height. I slowed the ‘Max to compensate for Don’s lack of forward speed. He quickly resumed his lead and I my wingman’s slot, and we continued south.

I moved in tighter now, marveling as I always do at the pure magic of this type of flying. It’s these times when I shake my head, absolutely amazed that everyone else doesn’t want to do this.

I spent the next thirty-five minutes or so glued to Don’s wing, straying only once when we angled eastward to avoid flying over Kirkby’s neighbors. I admired the big, rugged Norseman and recalled from years ago the few hours I’d spent in one.

We separated north of Indus, Don opting for the straight-in to runway 16 while I elected to try my cross-wind technique on 28. I stayed on the ground only a few minutes, chatting with Don and Gord Tebutt. I invited Tebutt back up to Kirkby’s with me, but his time wouldn’t allow it.

So, I checked my fuel and clambered back into the ‘Max. Don swung the prop for me, repeating a ritual as old as powered flight, and to pilots like us, just as sacred.

The trip home allowed for some time to reflect on the day and entrench it in my memory. My thoughts ambled happily through images of tail-draggers, formation flying, and grass runways. Then I smiled to myself and silently thanked God for the simple things.

A Linden Excursion

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by Stu Simpson

The airfield was nothing more than a swath of cut grass running north to south near the coulee. It had a windsock at one end, and some power lines too. It was pure and simple, the way those strips are supposed to be. It’s not even on the map. Which isn’t really surprising since the Linden airfield, and the town itself, really belong to a time long past.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here, jumping to the meat before I’ve served the potatoes, so to speak. The potatoes part begins at Kirkby Field.

I was in my hangar pre-flighting my Beaver when I heard two ultralights approaching from the south. It was Larry Motyer in his Merlin, and Wayne Winters in his Easy Flyer. And Bob Kirkby (the guy for whom Kirkby Field is named) was rolling his Renegade out of its shack. Yup, we were in for some serious fun this morning.

The day was terrific. The morning had dawned clear and warm with just a whisper of wind from the north. The breeze played in the grass bordering the runway while gophers chased each other in circles. It was the perfect setting for a trip back in time.

Larry and Wayne landed and the four of us chatted as Bob and I readied our airplanes. The Calgary Ultralight Flying Club had been invited to fly in to Linden, a small village an hour north of Kirkby’s, to participate in their summer fair day. The townspeople were holding a pancake breakfast, a parade, and fun and games all day long. It’s rather flattering to be invited to a party, so if the people of Linden were inviting us, we were darn sure going to show up.

We were just waiting for Don Rogers to make an appearance. But no one had heard from him. He’d said that he might not be able to make it so we assumed he wouldn’t.

The four of us saddled up and took off into the morning air. Turning north, I took the lead as Larry settled off my left wing. Wayne then formed up on the Merlin. Because Bob’s plane is so much faster than our bug smashers, he took a position out to the right and flew slow circles so he wouldn’t get too far ahead of us.

I felt myself drifting back through time. Watching the world going by beneath us, I realized it looked more or less the same as it did in the 1930’s. Tractors plowed dirt fields leaving huge clouds of dust to fend for themselves. The seeded grain fields, newly green and growing, created a beautiful contrast in the morning sun. Grain elevators rose up from the prairie like prophets of fortune. Towns surrounded them, like a congregation seeking salvation in the elevators offering.

Our small flight was a flying circus , a group of barnstormers in colorful, rag-tag airplanes that had been assembled in garages and hangars. Each plane was as unique as the pilot flying it. We were vagabonds roaming the summer sky until we reached our destination. Once there, we’d over-fly the area, just like the flyers of old, the noise of our motors attracting the attention of those less fortunate souls on the ground. The townspeople, drawn by the spectacle, would no doubt rush out to the nearby airfield in hopes of getting a closer look at these unusual craft and the courageous men who flew them.

As we passed the town of Irricana I heard a familiar voice in my earphones. It was Don. He said he was about 15 minutes behind us. I assigned him a call sign and smiled to myself, pleased that he’d made it after all.

We continued northward as we watched the world unfold. Bob called to let me know we were near the Beiseker airport. He said he’d switch frequencies and let any local traffic know about our position and destination. He did the same thing a few miles later as we neared the Acme strip.

By then Linden was visible in the distance. My heart raced with the anticipation of landing at a strange and new airstrip. I had driven through the town as a child and seen the strip beside the highway, but I’d never seen it on any maps. Hopefully it would be in the same place it was years before.

We approached the town from the south and I spotted the field immediately. It was beautiful. A long strip of grass set right inside the town limits. A rare prairie gem. A two-seat Beaver and something that looked like a Challenger sat off the end of the runway. And across the road the townspeople were gathered for their pancake breakfast.

We entered the circuit for runway 16. I landed long to give my wingmen some spacing. As I taxied clear of the runway I noticed another airplane in the circuit behind Bob. It was Ken Johnston in his Renegade. He hangars at the Acme strip and occasionally drops into Kirkby’s as well.

I climbed out of my Beaver and pulled it clear of the taxi way. I smiled to myself as I watched the other members of our troupe, including Don, land one after the other.

The plane that looked like a Challenger was in fact a Thundergull, a high-wing pusher similar to a Beaver but a little less draggy.

We were met on the ground by a very friendly fellow named Dennis Wickersham. Dennis was responsible for organizing the aviation end of Linden’s summer fair. He said he was really glad we’d made it and was very pleased with the number of airplanes we sent. He handed each of us a lapel pin and some info about the town, and even offered us a ride over to breakfast.

I’ve never been one to refuse a free meal (or for that matter a free ride) so we hopped into the back of Dennis’ pick-up for the short jaunt to the food.

I must say the people of Linden treated us well. They filled us up on flapjacks and O.J. and invited us to watch their parade and generally hang out with them. They are simple, warm, and down-to earth people. You just don’t find their kind of hospitality anymore these days. But in Linden it’s as common as cows in the coulees.

I had to get home for work and would have to miss the parade (though I did have another helping of flapjacks). Wayne, Bob and Larry decided they’d fly back with me, but Don decided to stick around and watch the fun. We made our way back to the airfield where a large crowd had gathered around our planes. They were milling and peering and probably envying our toys. I chatted for a few minutes with Don Westersund who had flown in from Three Hills with a Piper Cherokee. I also talked to John Page, the owner of the Thundergull, as we took a closer look at his bird. And just as I was taxiing out, a beautifully coloured red and yellow Piper landed and taxied past. I live for days like that.

The four of us blasted off and did one more quick circle of the town. We watched the parade, complete with fire trucks and floats, meander through the streets as people waved from the curbs. As we turned reluctantly homeward, this time with Wayne in the lead, I knew what I’d say if I were flying an airliner over the town right then.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out your left window you’ll see the village of Linden. Please set your watches back about sixty-five years. You’ll be glad you did.”