The First Time

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by Stu Simpson

A strange coincidence occurred a few days ago that caused me to remember a long passed and very important day.

I was driving to an appointment and looking at the sky. I was judging the weather as I often do, as to it’s suitability for flying. The ceiling was high overcast, the temperature around +5 degrees, and the winds were light. In short, an excellent day.

Here’s the strange part. The conditions were exactly – and I do mean exactly – the same as the day I soloed. Sensing something of the dramatically weird, I later checked my log book and nearly fell over when I discovered the day in question was the seventh anniversary of my first solo flight. Bizarre, eh?

March 23rd, 1986 was a day I’d dreamt about my whole life. Or so it seemed. I arrived at Indus airport that spring day with more than a few butterflies in my stomach. This was the day I was scheduled to take an airplane up all by myself. If everything went well I would also land the plane and walk away afterwards. I was both excited and scared.

I walked toward my mount – a bright yellow single-seat Beaver with a 35hp motor – and wondered if it was as anxious as me. I forced myself to calm down and began my pre-flight.

When the pre-flight was finished my instructor, John Reed, came over to offer some last minute advice. He suggested I get away from the field after take-off and get used to the airplane. He warned it would handle more aggressively than the two-seat trainer version. I should do some basic manoeuvres, he said, and return to the airport for a few circuits. He even told me to have fun.

I fired up and climbed in. I secured my helmet and straps and began my taxi. A few minutes later I found myself at the button of runway 10 with 1900 feet in front of me and no excuses left.

I eased the throttle ahead and the little Rotax screamed happily. The ride was rough as the Beaver’s wheels pounded at the runway’s ruts and holes. Everything became suddenly smooth as the wings finally bit and yanked me skyward. I was flying – alone.

My heart soared as I realized, with concrete certainty (and no small amount of pride) that I could fly. The dream was now reality.

I angled to the right to avoid some power lines, pleased to be applying a lesson learned in training. I climbed out eastward to clear the circuit. Reed wasn’t kidding when he’d mentioned the control discrepancies. The two-seater had sluggish, mushy controls. But this plane, with it’s push-pull tube activated ailerons, was a fireball – sensitive and snappy.

The air remained perfect, with only a hint of wind. I practiced climbs, descents and turns. Then I went through the pre-stall checklist and gritted my teeth. If I screwed this up and wound up in a spin there would be no one to help me, no one to blame.

Ease the gas back, come back on the stick – tap the rudder to keep it straight, don’t want to depart – there’s the nibble…and the break! Stick forward, add power, and pull out gently. Piece of cake, I said to myself. I was gaining confidence and competence every minute.

I did a few more stalls and became acquainted with some of the plane’s idiosyncrasies.

I re-entered the circuit a few minute later and flew it as though Reed were still in the back-seat. I recited the pre-landing checklist to myself (something I still do): “No aircraft in the circuit, none about to enter it. Seat-belts are secure (I gave the straps a tug). Wind direction is from the south-east. Nearing key position”.

A couple more descending turns and I lined up on final to runway 10. The glide path looked good. I eased the throttle back as I coasted over the fence, then the numbers. The Beaver floated for a few yards as lift slowly surrendered to gravity. The mains kissed the grass smoothly – no, perfectly – and the plane settled gently on it’s springs.

To tell the truth, that first solo landing was a work of art. I can’t really remember another one that was better.

I blasted off again and performed two more touch-and-go’s before packing it in for the day. Reed was there to shake my hand and congratulate me when I shut down.

A pilot’s first solo quickly becomes a memory as his flight learning curve arcs sharply upward. His log book fills with tales of cross-country flights, group flights, and many more adventures found only among the heavens. But the first solo is a moment a pilot never truly forgets. Maybe because he can never repeat it.

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.”

Return of the Giant

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by Stu Simpson

In case you haven’t heard, the Giant is back. And this time it’s better than ever.

I’m talking, of course, about the Green Giant – my Sylvaire Bushmaster II that I’d previously re-engined at the turn of the century with a Rotax 582 (up from a 503). Well, I re-engined again, this time with a Continental A-75.

I’d been toying for some time with the idea of an upgrade, and actually had plans to begin the project in the spring of this year. A bearing failure and subsequent forced landing in November of 2004 precipitated the start of the project a little early. In the end, it was excellent timing, for I’d have otherwise lost all the 2005 summer flying season to the project.

With the help of quite a number of people, chief among them Gerry Theroux, Bob Kirkby and Ken Beanlands, the Giant is back in the air with a new look and a new sound.

After several proving hours on the engine with some short and medium length hops, it was time to really put it to the test with a long cross-country flight on July 1st. Former CUFC president Ed D’Antoni suggested a trip to Castor, a distance of about 115 miles. He suggested it largely due to the airfield’s proximity to one of the town’s restaurants.

I was all for it, and so was Al Botting, Bob Kirkby and Ken Beanlands. Strangely, though, D’Antoni bowed out at the last minute. Hmmmm….

We set out on a perfect morning with hardly any wind on the surface, and a 15 mph tailwind at 6000’. We soon soared past Beiseker and the Red Deer River Valley and arrived over top the moonscape prairie south of Stettler. It’s wonderful land to see, comprised of small, well-rounded hills that are rarely more than 20 feet high. It appears to be the effluent of an enormous geological sneeze.

Once past that region, we flew past many huge sloughs that somehow got listed on the map as lakes. These muddy troughs were full to their brims after the recent rains and served well as landmarks for those of us navigating by map. Actually, I was the only one navigating by map.

We landed on Castor’s pristine paved runway and taxied in to make our way to the food. Botting arranged a ride to a nearby restaurant with a very kind local gentleman named Bill. Bill was a sharp contrast to the waitress in the café who treated us like we were the biggest pain in her day. Good thing the food was okay.

Bill kindly shuttled us back to the field after lunch and we soon set out for Three Hills and more gas. Now, the thunderstorms were building around us and we were anxiously watching the sky as we went.

On the ground at Three Hills we looked east to a huge cell sitting directly in the path we’d taken less than an hour before. We got out of Dodge just in time. Another massive cell was laying a whoopin’ on Drumheller, and a third storm was handing it to the area north of Bishell’s, where Beanlands shelters his Christavia.

We decided to escort Beanlands as far west toward home as the weather would allow. Once airborne, we saw the storm had moved well north of Bishell’s strip and that Ken would have no troubles with it. On the other hand, another cell appeared to be brewing near Kirkby’s. We thought it prudent to quickly turn for home.

We finished the flight with no problems and the cells we worried about didn’t amount to much. I was ecstatic over the Giant’s and the Continental’s performance. I logged 3.5 hours and all temps and pressures were right where they needed to be. Fuel consumption was the same or less than the Rotax. We should try this again sometime, I decided.

Sometime arrived a few days later when Botting and I coerced Andy Gustafson into a flight south with his Merlin. Bob Kirkby needed an aerial photo of the High River airport for a COPA brochure he was building. What better excuse to fly than a photo recon mission for COPA?

We set out from Kirkby’s on another perfect morning. We soon got the shots of High River and decided to head west to the scenic terrain of the foothills. We over-flew the Turner Valley Ranch strip, Butler’s strip and the flood-ravaged hamlet of Priddis. Coasting along next to the Rocks, I couldn’t help but recall the fantastic flight Andy and I made to that magical, mysterious kingdom last fall.

Then it was time to turn for home. We turned east along Highway 22X and eased off the altitude so as not to bust Calgary’s Class C space. One feature that caught my eye was Red Deer Lake, another over-sized slough that actually had water in it again. It’s been nearly dry for more than 15 years. We set course to pass over Glen Clarke’s strip and I peered intently down trying to spot his Cub. No joy there. Boy, did he miss a good one this time.

Since Andy was kind enough to join us at Kirkby’s, Botting and I decided to return the favour and escort him home. Besides, with our photo recon mission complete we needed an excuse to stay aloft a bit longer.

Our flight lasted exactly two hours, and again the Continental ran flawlessly. I don’t have a moment’s regret about switching engines again and I know the A-75 will give me a great many great years. So bring ‘em on, because the Giant is back!

Adventures To Remember

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by Stu Simpson

It’s November. I don’t much care for November because it’s hard to get flying time. November steals more and more sunlight from each day, and the weather’s no fun at all, often being cold and drizzly and generally miserable for days on end. Ya, I know, it happens every year. But I don’t have to like it.

November often reduces me to perusing logbooks and photo albums to get my aviation fix. Instead of actually getting up there doing it, I’m stuck at home in a comfortable chair with a tasty beverage, left to merely reminisce about past adventures aloft. My wife calls it pouting.

But sometimes, if I try really hard, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can smell my leather flight jacket; I can feel the roaring drone of the Rotax; and I can hear the tinny, electronic voices of my wingmen.

Tonight, as I sort gently through some memories, I recall a recent and very exciting aerial adventure, though it was admittedly much more exciting for Freddy than for me.

We were southbound in our Himaxes from that jewel of an airstrip called Kirkby Field. Freddy Wright was supposed to be in echelon off my right wing. To be honest though, I didn’t really know where he was in the formation. We eventually found ourselves a couple of miles south of the Indus Airport.

It was a grand October day; sunny and warm, with virtually no wind. A truly wonderful day to fly. Well, wonderful so long as your airplane keeps all it’s pieces. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Freddy’s radio was pretty scratchy, maybe on account of his antenna installation, and I wasn’t really hearing him that well. Suddenly, his voice filled my earphones:

“Bam, bam, bam. You’re going down, Stu!” he said. Or, rather, that’s what I THOUGHT he said. I pictured Freddy back at my six lining me up like he was the Red Baron, or something. But there was an anxious note in Fred’s voice when there should have been mischief. Somewhat concerned, I asked him to repeat what he’d said, and he did. It sounded just like the first time. I eased into a gentle right bank and asked him where he was.

“I’m right behind you,” he replied, “I’m going down.” It was all instantly clear. Freddy hadn’t said “bam, bam, bam”, he’d said “pan, pan, pan”! He was in the litter box up to his neck, and I thought he was playing Top Gun.

But I’ll tell you, Freddy’s got stones. Not once did I hear even a hint of panic in his voice. He was confident and controlled, and he put that Himax into a damned rough field without so much as a nick in the paint. Even on the ground he was cool as a cucumber.

Turns out his prop came off. Yup, he was just bombing along when the ol’ fan decided to take a left turn for Albuqurque. Freddy made a mistake when he installed the prop and left out a few reinforcing studs on the prop flange.

I beetled back to Indus after Freddy radioed he was alright. There, Don Rogers hitched a flat-deck trailer to his truck. Fred Beck jumped in with us and the Great Himax Rescue was on.

Getting the ‘Max onto the trailer and back to the hangar was a snap. Freddy found the prop the next day, almost perfectly intact, with only one blade cracked. He stuck the two good blades into a two-blade hub and was back in the air a few days later.

Here in my easy chair, I glance out the window and see the November fog has closed in. The house across the street is barely visible. I know with sad certainty that Andy Gustafsson and I won’t be pushing the sky around tomorrow. Hey, that reminds me of the last time Andy and I flew together…

“Dragonfly One to Dragonfly Three,” I radioed Jim, “can you set up off Andy’s right wing so I can get some pictures of you guys?”

Both Andy’s Challenger II and Jim Corner’s float-footed Kitfox were ahead of me and to my left. Andy was just done taking his own inflight snaps of Jim’s plane, and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity.

Jim slipped the ‘Fox expertly into position to the right of, and just behind the Challenger. The Highwood River coursed crazily through the autumn prairie below us, making an excellent background for the pictures.

I spent the next few minutes bopping around the formation taking what pictures I could. Then I heard Fred Beck calling us. But I think I’ve gotten ahead of myself again.

You see, I forgot to mention that we were at Indus a few minutes earlier. Jim, Andy, and I landed there to pick up Freddy Wright for our trip to High River. Jim’s plane was the hit of the day. Gustafsson and I, and our planes, are found at Indus fairly regularly. But Jim’s plane isn’t seen nearly as often and he gets a lot of attention wherever he takes it, especially now the ‘Fox floats.

We chatted with Wright and other members of the Indus Rat Pack for a while, and invited a few Rats along to HR. Fred Beck decided he’d make the jaunt, as did Dave Bolton.

You know, those guys couldn’t own two more diverse airplanes. Beck‘s little yellow Chinook is a single-seat, 28hp, wing-warping, weed-hopper true to the pure form and spirit of ultralight flying. He’s lucky to hit sixty going downhill with a tailwind. Bolton’s plane, on the other hand, is a Quickie. It uses the same engine as Beck’s Chinook, but the tiny Quickie is all fiberglass, and all fast. It screams along faster than a hundred miles an hour.

Everyone agreed that if these two were going to rendezvous with us at High River Beck ought to have taken off yesterday, and Bolton should give the rest of us a couple days head start. In the end, Beck left right after the pre-flight briefing, and Dave promised he’d try to be patient.

Fred Wright, Jim, Andy and I scooted out of Indus. Just after Wright took off he announced his engine was having some minor conniption fit. Freddy was certain he’d make it back to land without any problem. After his grand performance the other day, I didn’t doubt him a bit. He’d try to fix the problem and catch up with us later.

The three of us continued on and soon slid into a an easy ‘V’ formation for the trip south. After we’d all taken each other’s pictures over the Highwood is when we heard Fred Beck calling. And now I’ve got the story back around to where it should be.

Andy and I answered Beck time and again, but he was having radio problems and was only getting part of our transmissions. Suddenly, a white streak flashed by off our right side. It was Bolton showing us the limit of his patience.

Dave, who didn’t have a radio, satisfied himself by making wide 360’s off to the right. Meanwhile, Beck was still receiving us intermittently, but we somehow managed to get a fix on his position. Andy spotted him first, at our 11 o’clock, when we were 9 miles out of HR. He was a bright yellow speck bopping along over the dark, summer-fallowed fields. Our planes steadily overtook the Chinook a couple of miles later.

“Dragonfly Five to Dragonfly One,” called Beck in his cheerful Dutch accent, “where are you guys now?”

“One to Five, we’re just passing high off your left wing,” I replied.

There was silence for a few seconds, then: “Okay, I see you now. You guys really look good up there.” He can be such a charmer.

A few minutes later we switched over to 123.0 and I called High River.

“High River traffic, be advised ultralights Dragonflies 1, 2 and 3 are currently 6 miles north-east of the field at 4300 feet, inbound to cross over mid-field for landing at High River. Over.”

I was surprised to hear someone reply, and equally surprised at what he said.

“Dragonfly 1, the airport is closed. There’s a painting truck on runway 24, and runway 14 is being oiled. It’s your discretion.”

Where does discretion come into it, I wondered? If the airport’s closed, the airport’s closed. Not much need for discretion, just stay away. I could barely make out the trucks working away in the distance like little dinky toys. So much for High River.

I thanked the radio man for his help and called for the Dragonflies to switch back to our enroute frequency. We did try to warn Beck, but just couldn’t reach him with his errant radio. I had no idea where Bolton was.

Fortunately, we had a back-up plan for where to go next. Andy wanted to head west and grab a few aerial snaps of a friend’s acreage about five miles from the airport. Jim and I circled high while Andy immortalized the place on Polaroid. He said later he didn’t want to get too low on account of the buffalo herd in the adjoining pasture. That’s quality planning, if you ask me.

Dave and his Quickie reappeared. He buzzed us a couple more times as we headed north for Okotoks, then he vanished again. Freddy Wright managed to meet up with us in the circuit there and our four planes made an impressive arrival just ahead of a local training flight.

On the ground, we had some munchies and tried to figure out what happened to Bolton and Beck. Andy said he heard Beck call that he was heading back to Indus. We figured Dave likely headed home, too. Then the conversation turned to Bolton’s strip, and it turned out neither Corner nor Wright knew where it was.

“No problem,” said Andy and I, “we’ll show you.” So we saddled up and flew west toward Black Diamond. Once clear of Okotoks, we switched to 123.4. The sun was out again, and it was busy wringing the last few drops of colour out of the foothills before everything turned white.

“Well, fellas,” I radioed happily to my wingmen, “I wonder what the rich folks are doing today.”

“Actually,” said an unfamiliar voice, “the rich folks are wondering why you’re on our frequency.” It was the Black Diamond glider guys, and I think that comment pretty much sums up their whole arrogant attitude.

“Because we’re heading into your area,” I responded. I gave him our position, altitude and intentions. Then we listened and watched as a Cherokee left the airstrip and flew past us on the right.

The gal flying the Piper took a long glance at us and said we “sure look pretty”. Being manly men, of course, each of us would have preferred a more manly adjective, like sexy, or studly, or something. But we sure appreciated her courtesy and class. I hope the glider guy was taking notes.

As I led the flight into the circuit over Dave’s strip, I couldn’t help remembering the time Bernie Kespe got slushed-in there. It was a day last spring, and I landed first. I’ll tell you, hitting the deep, sopping slush on the runway was just like catching a wire on a carrier. Bernie didn’t have his radio so I couldn’t warn him off. Later, on takeoff, I barely made it out, even with the Himax’s tall, skinny wheels. Bernie tried six times to get up to flying speed, but the Renegade’s big, fat tires just wouldn’t let him. He flew it out a few days later.

On the ground at Bolton’s the four of us all enjoyed hearing how Dave had a bit of drama at HR. It was only when he was on short final that he realized the runways were under repair. He goosed it just in time and caught up with us again on our way to Okotoks.

It was time to go home, so we headed back northeast. Once we got north of the Bow, Freddy broke right and made for Indus. Instead of going straight back to Kirkby’s, I decided to stick with my wingmen, at least as far as Andy’s strip, near Delacour. Passing Chestermere, just outside YYC’s control zone, I remarked to Jim how the water must look awfully tempting. Chuckling, he admitted it was so.

We each went our separate ways a few minutes later when we got to Andy’s street. I turned back south, peeling off high and right in a graceful climbing turn. Over my shoulder, I watched Jim follow Andy down; he wanted to see where the Challenger lives. Then, he too headed for home, at Airdrie.

Well, the November fog is even thicker, I’ve run out of stories, and my beverage cup is empty. But even if I don’t have good weather right now, I know I’ve still got things good. Because I know I’ll fly again soon, and I know there’ll be lots more adventure to remember.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go check the forecast one more time.