Dear Diary

I wish I could say, “I planned it like this,’ but I can’t. It just happened this way.

This Thanks Giving weekend started with a lovely Sunday family get-together. The grandchildren, our daughters in law, our sons, and Sherry and I, we all did what everybody does on Thanks Giving – we ate a lot. It was a delightful evening.

As we were about to leave for our homes I noted, “What a beautiful weather we are heaving.” Tuesday is my birthday, and I thought that going for a flight would make for a great birthday present. I remember asking Sherry one day if she wants to go flying with me, it was not a good time for her then, but she said, “Ask me again,” so I did. We had a plan. We decided to go to Rowena’s.

Rowena’s is one of my favorite destinations. It has everything: the SandPiper Golf Course in its breathtaking riverside setting, the Rowena’s Inn on the River with its charming little cottages to stay in, and my personal favorite, the River’s Edge Restaurant. You have to try it, the food and desserts are – well, culinary treats.

It was a beautiful autumn day. Our flight from Boundary Bay to Rowena’s was a short 35 minutes hop, filled with vistas of changing landscape. Majestic cedars perched on hillsides, trying to mimic the exploding colors of their deciduous brethren, by showing off their own rusty patches of foliage that will soon fall to the ground – simply breathtaking.

On the downwind leg for Rowena’s landing strip, I noticed several planes on the ground. After we landed, we counted eleven of us pleasure-seeking air travelers, who flew in on a variety of aircraft. It was clear to us that the restaurant would be hopping busy, so we decided to skip the planned meal. We strolled around the grounds and I took some pictures for you.

Now here is the kicker, the “Dear Diary” part. No, I do not keep diary, but as a pilot, I do keep a detailed logbook of my flying adventures. In all my flying days, Sherry only flew twice with me. January 1, 1973, and October 14, 1973. You have it right. That was 40 years ago to the day.

No, I did not plan it this way, it just happened.

Sherry on arrival

Sherry and my Colt at Rowena’s

Proshop

On the way to the restaurant

Resort Cottage

One of the resort’s cottages

On a swing

Relaxing on a swing

Grounds view

The golf course

Visiting aircraft

The visiting aircraft ramp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memory Lane

Violet at Bear Creek Park

Tuesday’s are my date days with my granddaughter Violet. Violet is five and a half, and one of our favorite hangouts is the Bear Creek Park. Last Tuesday, as she was sitting on a saucer-like swing, she pointed at the sky and said; “Look at that cloud grandpa, it looks like a bunny. Can you touch the clouds when you fly in your plane? ” At that instant, I became a kid again.

When I was just a tad older than Violet, I use to spend hours looking at the skies, being entertained and mesmerized by their constantly changing cloud formations. I too could see bunnies, doggies, and even faces, as the clouds rolled overhead. Later, when I got a bit older, I would go to the local airport and lie in a shallow ditch, overgrown with tall grass, and watch the yellow gliders and the white Zlins come to graceful landings – just a short distance from my secret nest. Could they touch the clouds? It seemed like they could. I wanted to touch them so much.

It would be many years later, but only a scant eight months after I immigrated to Canada, that my dream of flying amongst the clouds would become a reality. On June 13, 1969, forty-four years ago today, I took to the skies for the first time as a student pilot. The plane was a Cherokee 140 CF-TRB; the instructor was Mr. Millbank. Just over one month later, on July 22, and with 14.6 hours in my logbook, Mr. Millbank decided that I was ready for my first solo. I did not expect to solo that day at all – I was quite surprised – no, I was shocked.

I called the Pit Meadows Tower; got my clearances; did my run-up; lined up on 26; advanced the throttle, and seconds later, I was in the air. It was a routine event. I turned down wind; reached for the mike; looked to my right at the airport tower, and for the first time I realized that Mr. Millbank was not in the right seat. I went completely nuts. I started to yell, or sing, or I am not quite sure what it was, but I was ecstatic. For the first time in my life, I was the phentermine “Pilot-In-Command.” I calmed down quickly, as it was time to call the tower. I am not sure if the controller understood my two months out of the language school version of English. I think we both must have guessed – he guessed that I wanted to land, and I guessed that it was OK for me to do so. I made one of the nicest landings. I chose to believe that Mr. Millbank’s smile was the endorsement of my accomplishment, and not a “thank good he is safe on the ground” thought.

Money was tight. Even at $25 per hour, which may seem reasonable today, flying was not cheap. I was earning good wages, $2.85 an hour. It took me three years and one month, and 66.5 hours of on-and-off flying lessons, before I earned my Private Pilot License. The airport was once again Pit Meadows. The 1.4 hours flight test took place on July 29, 1972, and the aircraft was a Cessna 150, CF-YUB.

After my test flight

Now, as I am approaching my 69th birthday, I sometime wander why I am still so enamored with flying, and why so few youngsters look up to the sky and dream of the adventures flying represents.

Is it because as a kid I had to make my own crude toys – mostly planes – from sticks and such, which looked nothing like today’s store-bought perfect miniatures of life around us, leaving very little left for the imagination? I hope not.

Is it because when I was growing up, advancements in technology were not ever-so-present in my life, leaving more fuel for my imagination and dreams, than what today’s iPhone generation of kids have to work with? I hope not.

Is it because parents of kids today take charge of their kids’ lives from dawn to dusk, leaving them with precious little time for their own dreams? I hope not.

I have my answer now. Last Tuesday, at the Bear Creek Park, Violet dispelled my worries. Despite of today’s fancy toys, iPhones and such everywhere, and “helicopter parents,” kids do dream. While I did not see the same bunny Violet pointed out to me, I could see the same beautiful sky in my own way, full of fluffy, early evening, clouds.

Clouds over Bear Creek Park

Life is good. Two generations apart, and both, Violet and Grandpa can still dream.

Thanks for listening – gone flying. After all, today is precisely forty-four years from my first flight, and yet, at times it still feels like a dream.

Reflections

Yesterday my good friend Daniel and I went flying. We go as much as we can, because we both enjoy the amazing rush, which comes with every liftoff. We instantly get to experience, courtesy of my trusted Colt, the amazing feeling of freedom from the Earth’s gravity. Suddenly, we too enjoy the ultimate freedom of life in a three-dimensional space, an environment in which only our feathered friends know how to play in.

As I was entering another 2.3 hours of a pure enjoyment into my logbook, I realized – today is Mother’s Day. I paused a while, thinking. What will it be, chocolates, a store-picked card, flowers? Somehow, today, none of the “traditional” solutions would fit the occasion. After all, if not for my mom and my dad, I would not be here to enjoy my love of flying; so this one is for you mom.

My reflections on this Mother’s Dayrose
May 12, 2013

Over the years, many accused of many things, amongst them being selfish, but I do not recall ever anyone calling me a pessimist. I always seem to see the glass half full, and the light at the end of the tunnel is always shining brighter and brighter – perhaps I am insane.

Behind the vale of insanity and the selfish label, and as I look back over my life, I end up in times of an incredible sorrow and despair for many. Hitler, Nazis, concentration camps, millions killed, World War 2; yet, the optimist in me finds a flicker of a positive even in all this evil.

Without the war, my dad would not meet you in Korosten Ukraine, and without you two, I would not be here. No, I am not thanking Hitler here for the carnage of millions of innocent people, but there is one thing as sure as life itself, it is very unlikely that without all of that horrible suffering endured by others, I would be here today.

So thanks for being my mom; for protecting me under the bridge while the bombs were falling; and for all your worries and thoughts – which sometimes drive me crazy. Maybe this is where my insane “glass half full” attitude comes from.

Thank you with all my love and Happy Mother’s Day.

What dreams are made of

As a growing boy, back in what was then Czechoslovakia, I was always dreaming of flying. It took many years before I realized my dream, and another forty years before I got my first plane. There are things in life I would not even dare to dream – and then it just happens. This year my Christmas present came a bit early. In fact, it was December the 6th when I got it. If I did not have a well-documented proof, I would think it was just a dream; but I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.

When my boys were growing up, I was too busy trying to get rich. What I did not realize then was that being rich does not have to involve money – not at all. To be close to you children tops money any time. God knows I tried, but I failed. I desperately wanted my boys to like planes. I tried to introduce them to building models. Unfortunately, the perfectionist in me would take over. I just had to fix their perfectly fine creations. In doing so, and without ever realizing my mistake, I permanently extinguished their possible flicker of interest in aviation. I lost an excellent opportunity to nurture my love of flying in my boys. If I had just remembered how crude my first models turned out when I was their age, the outcome could have been different.

Theoren and Grandpa Flying the RC Simulator

Theoren, age two, and Grandpa enjoying time together on RC Simulator

Now that I am a grandfather, life gave me an incredible gift – another chance of sort. My grandson Theoren, in his very early age, I think he may have been less than two years old, started to point to planes flying overhead. He did not miss even one. Then one day I sat him on my knee and fired up my RC simulator. Theoren would fly the left stick, while Grandpa would try to keep the model upright with the right stick. Theoren would fly the simulator for hours, that is if I could endure it. Whenever we have a Grandpa/Theoren day, it is always his first request when I ask him what he would like to do.

Theoren in DA-20 Katana

Theoren in DA-20 Katana with Grandma observing

There is no doubt that Theoren is interested in planes. One summer day we took him to the airport, I was flying DA-20s then from Sea Land Air. Theoren knew instantly where the master switch was. We had a hard time getting him out of the plane. Only when I pointed out some other planes to him, he reluctantly climbed out to go investigate. The day was nice and the “tire kicking” lasted at least an hour. I knew right there that we had a pilot in making.

Fast-forward two years.

Sunday, December the 2nd, I got en email from Theoren’s mom. It was coming up on to his fourth birthday, and he requested as his birthday present to go flying with Grandpa in Grandpa’s “big plane.” It must have been tough on mom and dad to even consider it, but as his mom put it: “he is a very persuasive little fellow.”

Getting ready for the big flight

Getting ready for the flight of our lives

The weather was not great on the morning of his birthday. It was raining all morning, but then around noon we got a break. It seemed like due to some divined intervention the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and other than some stiff wind, the weather started to cooperate. It was clear; Theoren would get his birthday present.

Theoren and Grandpa after takeoff.

After the takeoff, Theoren navigating

My little co-pilot, as I explained to him step-by-step the start-up procedures, followed my actions with focus and concentration. After flying Microsoft Flight Simulator for some time now, things must have look familiar to him. After our takeoff, he immediately pointed out the ocean to me. I did not realize it then, but it down on me later, that his favorite plane on the MS simulator is a Beaver on floats, which he flies from the Friday Harbor seaport.

Birthday cake

The happiness continues at the birthday cake with Dad

Night before the big day, Theoren’s mom slaved late to the night on his birthday cake, which of course had to look like Grandpa’s “big plane,” complete with the proper registration markings. As I reflect on this amazing day, it occurred to me that Theoren is the first family member who had flown with me in my “new” plane.

When I first bought my Colt, I knew that a 1961 vintage plane would need some tender loving care before I would consider it up to my standard. The measure of my standard was a simple question. Is it safe enough to take my grandchildren up in it? It clearly is.

As much as I felt competent to do the flight as a pilot, and knowing that my plane is safe, I am very grateful to Theoren’s mom and dad for giving me this early, unbelievable, Christmas gift. Judging from Theoren’s grins, we both had an unforgettable day. Thank you Morgan and Geof.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and may the soon to be here 2013 keep you in good health, bless you with happiness and harmony in life, and provide you with the prosperity to enjoy it.

Rowena’s

We just finished our regular Saturday breakfast at the airport’s Skyhawk Restaurant. The weather was clear but very windy. We considered going flying, but then Daniel suggested that a good strong coffee would finish off the, always-satisfying, breakfast quite nicely; Starbucks would be our next stop. On the way back to the hangar, I glanced at the crisp outline of the North Shore Mountains, and quickly concluded that we must go and have a closer look. Daniel, under my supervision, performed a thorough pre-flight check, quick radio contact formalities, an engine check, and soon we were bobbing in the gorgeous blue, but very gusty skies.

We did not have any specific destination in mind. I just knew that wherever we would end up going, it would be spectacular. On the way out, we climbed to two thousand feet, gave a courtesy call to the folks at Langley Tower, and aimed for the Mission Bridge.

On our way east

On our way for Rowena’s

Chilliwack, one of our possible destinations, was busy with local traffic, so I decided to press ahead. I thought this would be a good time to show Daniel where the jewel-of-a-destination, the much talked about Rowena’s airstrip on a golf course, with its fabulous restaurant, was. This idyllic destination for golfers, vacationers seeking quaint spot to relax at, and pilots in the know, is located just a short flight northeast of Chilliwack, on the northern banks of the Harrison River. Did I say short flight? I quickly glanced at our GPS ground speed, and I have to admit that even a 1965 VW Bug, running on three cylinders, would beat us to the destination. It sure was blowing. The wind was from the east, so if I decided to land, it would have to be west to east.

Coming in from the west, meant descending rather steeply over some very tall trees, then stay clear of a row of trees hugging the runway to the right, and once clear of them, gently slip it in for a landing on a rather narrow gravel runway. I remember Lloyd, Sieg’s filming buddy, flying this approach with Sieg and me in his 172. It seemed quite – well – challenging. I always envisioned that my first time landing there would be coming in from the east over the river, a much easier and shallower approach. It was a split second decision, and I was committed to land. It was quite uneventful landing after all.

Daniel in front of the Colt at Rowena's

That narrow gray strip is the runway

Rowena's restaurant

The clam chowder was excellent, and so was the coffee

Daniel admiring the view

It was a crisp, cool and a spectacular day to be flying.

The treas show a hint of ottum

Who would not love this place?

We fired up our Colt, and soon we were over the river heading for Harrison Lake for some more sightseeing.

Harrison Lake Resort

Flying over Harrison Lake, Harrison Lake Resort to the right.

Size of Harrison Lake visible here

It sure is one big lake.

We did not have quite enough of these spectacular vistas yet, so I suggested that we go to Hope. The last time I landed there was in the early seventies in a Cessna 152. It seemed like a great idea to reacquaint myself with this lovely grass strip, which many local glider pilots call their home. In fact, on the way in, we noticed a glider in tow heading for his ridge soaring fix.

My Colt and me at the Hope field

After many years at the Hope field again – this time with my own plane.

Daniel insisted that after such a long time, my first landing there in the Colt warranted a picture. Inside the “terminal”, as it is customary in many airports and aerodromes, hanging on the walls are paintings, photographs, and other memorabilia documenting special occasions in their history. OK, this is a grass strip, so what is a Boeing jetliner doing here? We learned from the description that an early model Boeing 737 once landed there, to demonstrate its grass surface landing capabilities. I am not quite sure how they pulled it off. There is no other way to get the plane out of there, so they had to fly it out somehow. Then again, the crazy Boeing pilots have been known to do stunts like rolling a 707 front of a crowd of potential airline customers, while almost giving a hard attack to their boss. Those were the days, which shell never be repeated.

The trip back home was a short one. With a 20 knots wind helping with the ground speed, it would have been tough for any car to beat us now. I elected to go for the Alex Fraser Bridge arrival. The tower cleared us for 07, and after a routine touchdown, we exited on “Charlie.” We bid the tower good day and with a sense of accomplishment, I added another 2.3 hours to my logbook.

It was one very satisfying day.

 

Sechelt

I woke up to another lovely, sunny, November morning. All of a sudden, the prognoses for a solid day’s work in the hangar were not so good. OK, I thought. I quit smoking cold turkey many years ago, so I should be able to resist the temptation for going flying. How difficult can it be? After all, it is not an illicit substance I am hocked on, it is just flying I am talking about!

I have a proper door on the hangar, but for some reason I reached down, unlocked the padlock, and pushed the sliding door full open. There he was, my flying friend. Even the half-polished spinner, the ugly paint, and other signs of his age, could not take away from his cheerful disposition. I managed to quit smoking, but to resist going flying – impossible. I topped of the tanks, and soon we were on the way. Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast seemed like a good destination.

Cleared over the Alex Fraser Bridge, I wanted to stay low. The folks operating the Vancouver Harbor tower are a very friendly bunch, while over 2500 feet, I would be under the Czar of main Vancouver control zone. I tried that once before. They told me to climb to 6500 feet, and then minutes later I had to come down for landing. Flying at a comfortable 2000 feet, at least I could enjoy the view much better.

Port Moody Harbor

Port Moody

Here is Port Moody. I lived there once; in fact, I found my wife there. The Vancouver Harbor Tower has a jurisdiction from the Second Narrows Bridge, barely visible at distance, up to Point Atkinson Lighthouse.

Capilano Water Reservoir

Capilano Water Reservoir

Hugging the North Shore Mountains I had a great view of the water reservoir. It looked quite full, spilling its water over its dam. This is from where the Vancouverites get their drinking water.

West Vancouver Hosing Community

West Vancouver Hillside Housing Development

Just a bit west from the reservoir, I was amazed to see the expanding residential developments of West Vancouver. Yes, I knew that there were houses there, but seeing it from the air, and how far up the hill they extended, was a bit of a surprise.

West Vancouver

West Vancouver – ships waiting for entry to the harbor

To my right was the entry to the Vancouver Harbor, filled with cargo ships waiting their turn to get to the dock. I marveled at the view for a moment, remembering the meandering coastal road down below, and the memories of driving there in my 1958 Pontiac Stratochief, many years ago. In a jiff, I was over the Point Atkinson Lighthouse, leaving my distant memories behind.

Sunshine Coast

Nearing the Sunshine Coast

With the last of the mainland disappearing quickly to my right, I could see the Sunshine Coast Ferry carrying its passengers and cargo to their destination. I made this trip many times as an Earthling  on my way to visit relatives in Garden Bay; how much more satisfying it is being up here. I noticed something, slightly above and to my right – about two-o-clock position. It was approaching fast. I wish I had my camera ready. A majestic eagle soared just over me – what a splendid site.

 

Once past Gibbsons Landing, it is only a short distance to Sechelt. I listened to the airport radio frequency for a while, and soon realized that there was not much going on there. I flew over the airport with a good margin of altitude safety, looking for the wind direction. It looked like it was blowing from the sea. OK runway 11 it is. My approach would be from the north over the descending hill. It is amazing how deceptive approach like this can be, if you are in an unfamiliar area. My approach was a bit too high, so I elected to go around. My second approach was just right – I touched down right on the numbers.

At Sechelt Aerodrome

At Sechelt Airport

I parked my plane, on what I determined to be the main apron, shut down the engine, and went searching for a bathroom. There was not a living soul to be seen anywhere.

RAA Clubhouse

Recreational Aircraft Association Clubhouse

I walked towards a building that look like may have the desired facilities. I looked inside, but this was not it. It was a meeting place for a local chapter of Recreational Aircraft Association. The sign in the windows called for a Saturday meeting. I carefully avoided the frost on the deck, and went to search some more. There must be a bathroom somewhere, I thought, or better say I had hoped.

Sechelt airport terminal

Sechelt Airport Terminal

Ah, here it is, I found it, the airport terminal. The sign over the door informs visitors that the local aero club runs it, and that everybody is welcome to use it. It was cozy inside; I took a beeline to the washroom first. It was very clean, with ample supplies of toiletries at hand. There was a desk with a computer, and a telephone – the essentials for a visiting pilot to file a flight plan, or get information on the town’s offerings. Oh, did I mention that the coffee was on.

Ready to go back

Ready to go home

I heard some distant voices. A quick look around, and I noticed two men readying a Cessna for a flight. These were the first souls I encountered at this quaint sleepy aerodrome. Then as I was walking to my plane, I noticed a man walking towards me. We exchanged a few words, he urged me to come again, and wished me a pleasant flight back home. He assured me that in the summer there is much more activity there. He suggested that on my next visit I should go for a hike in the hills, and definitely visit the town. What a friendly fellow, I thought.

Approaching Stanley Park

Stanley Park Ahead

We departed on runway 11, and soon we were back under the watchful eye of the friendly folks of Vancouver Harbor Control Tower. The tower cleared us to fly over the Third Beach, towards Simon Fraser University. I requested 2000 feet, and the tower obliged.

North Vancouver Harbor

North Vancouver Harbor

Within minutes, the beautiful Stanley Park slipped underneath of our flight path. In some distance to the north lies the busy North Vancouver Harbor, with its mountain of bright yellow sulphur – a picture I remember from many years ago. It looks like this heap of yellow substance is the only thing that did not change over the years. It is still gleaming in the sun, as I always remember it. I am quite sure that even the size of it is the same.

Vancouver Bridges

Vancouver Bridges

It always amazes me to see the spectacular growth of this beautiful city from the ground, but from 2000 feet above, it is simply breathtaking. I remember the day I first arrived here. The tallest buildings in the city were the old BC Hydro building and the Hotel Vancouver, both dwarfed now by much taller buildings, peppered all over the downtown peninsula. The bridges connecting the downtown to the mainland Vancouver, no longer span the unsightly industrial lands of my memories. These lands are now vibrant living spaces, with parks and amenities to play in and enjoy.

Vancouver Stadium

Vancouver Stadium

Recently, the ever-evolving skyline of this metropolis got its new face. The old pillow-like air-supported roof of the stadium, gave way to a new retractable one. When closed it almost resemble the old pillow – the supporting masts of the new roof are the sure giveaway. I am not sure why they had it closed on this bright sunny day; I suppose old habits are hard to break.

Once out of the Vancouver Harbor airspace jurisdiction, it was time to descent to 1100 feet for the Alex Fraser Bridge arrival for Boundary bay. The friendly controller cleared us for right base arrival of runway 25. Exit on Charlie, I bid “good day”, to the controllers, and pushed my happy Colt to his usual position in the hangar.  Some bookkeeping, 2.1 hours of cross-country to my logbook, and I left grinning for home, with the thought that I must return to Sechelt soon, spend some time exploring there, and hope to meet some more people.

Going Home

Sometime, as I am working in the hangar, I look at my Colt with such a pride – my very own plane – my first. I am not sure why some think that it is ugly. I happen to think that it is a nice looking plane. I guess it is little like a parent/child relationship for my Colt and me. This morning I thought I heard a faint voice, “Colt Go Home”, coming from the direction where my Colt patiently awaits for me, hoping that I will take him somewhere to play. How could I not?

November in Vancouver is usually not very kind to weekend aviators. Rain is the normal order of the day, but this morning was different. I woke up to a rising sun, with not even one cloud in the sky. I knew right then that I would be taking my Colt to play somewhere – but where will we go? “Colt Go Home”, rang in my ears. I got it. My little friend would like to go and visit his friends back home at CYPK. Pitt Meadows here we come.

I asked for a departure clearance over the Alex Fraser Bridge. The tower informed me that there was a police incidence there, and gave me some special instructions for the departure. I decided to take the King George departure instead. I like life to be simple. The Pitt Meadows tower cleared us for the left base of runway 26 left. My Colt must have been a bit excited on arrival at his old stomping grounds, because as all Colts do, he skipped once happily before settling down – but then again, it may have been the rider.

Colt at Pitt Meadows

Visiting Old Home at Pitt Meadows

We parked ourselves on the main apron; I left my little buddy with his friends, and went to investigate, hoping to run into someone I may know. Once in the terminal, I looked around. Not much has changed since my last visit there. The friendly faces in the restaurant clearly explained why my Colt was longing for going home. Until about two years ago, and before I bought him, this is where he lived.

Pitt Meadows Coffee Shop

The Home of Home-made Cookies

The young woman behind the counter told me that she is about to go and make some fresh chocolate chip cookies, and that they will be ready in about half an hour. “Can I get you some coffee, they are really good, worth the wait.” I politely declined, told her that I must be leaving soon, and a bottle of water would be just fine. “Where are you heading?” Chilliwack. “Then don’t forget to get a slice of their fantastic apple pie there,” she advised me. On the way out, I just could not help from taking a picture of this happy fella. He must have been excited about the fresh cookies.

Customer at Pitt Meadows Restaurant

Bring on the cookies

As I was walking back to my friend, it crossed my mind. I did not see anyone that I knew, yet, it felt like I just left a bunch of friends. I must try the cookies on my next stop there.

My Colt was patiently waiting for me, right where I left him. How could one not like a friend like that?

Colt at Pitt Meadows

Ready to go and play

I was not quite sure where to go next. I had to be home around five, and it was almost two already. The apple pie sounded good, so we left for Chilliwack. Tower advised me of skydivers in the vicinity, and we were on our way. I recall from previous flights that the busy Glen Valley corridor is a place to be extra vigilant. As we were heading east, I would frequently let others in the area know of our position. We came across two or three other planes, and a helicopter traversing the corridor. As we approached Chilliwack, I decided to forgo the pie for this time. I am sure that they will make some more.

Approaching Chilliwack

Near Chilliwack

One place I have never flown on my own before, is the famous Rowena’s Inn, and the Sandpiper Golf Resort, with a nice little landing strip, nestled just on the north banks of the Harrison River. We must go there. We rounded to the north, and followed the river for a while, until I could see the familiar cluster of gleaming greenhouses – a sure sign that we are heading in the right direction.

Over the Harrison River

On course to Rowena’s

It was a bit bumpy ride. I decided to descend to a lower altitude. I put my camera away, so I can pay attention to flying, and heed the popular saying: “Aviate-Navigate-Communicate.” One glance at my watch told me that landing at Rowena’s is out of the question today. I elected to do at least a low over flight, and pretend. Oh well, there is always the next time. I waved our wings for the golfers, the ones who were watching waved back, and it was time to go home. We landed back at Boundary Bay just after three. I wrote another 1.1 hours in my logbook, and went home to help my son Ryan to bring home a new mattress for Violet’s new grownup bed.

 

License to learn

The other day, I was contemplating on doing some work in the hangar, with my friend Daniel helping. After a brunch with Wei, my old friend from Seattle, it was time for some serious work. Daniel and I decided to hit Starbucks first, before rolling out the proverbial selves, and attack the mess in the hangar – read we were procrastinating. It was pouring buckets all morning. When we got back from Starbucks, we noticed some clearing happening over the airport, and more of the blue stuff forcing its way in from the west. Forget the hangar work; it is flying time. With the Colt out of the hangar, and the preflight done, we were ready to go flying. OK, circuits only, since the thick cloud cover extended well to the east.

A small jet, Eclipse I think, was practicing landings on the active runway. A twin departed for an IFR flight. It was quite blustery; the cheerfully bobbing windsock supported this quite vividly. Only the jet was braving the winds. The weather was officially VFR, the Colt was out of the hangar and ready, so I had no excuse. The ATIS wind information was not exactly an invitation for flying. Winds from southwest, a bit of a crosswind at 12 knots, gusting to 20 knots, scattered clouds all over, not another soul in the sky, and the Eclipse finally gave up – perfect flying conditions eh? We spent about half an hour doing circuits. The gusts were for real all right, but Daniel was grinning so all was good. I noticed more clearing to the east, so I decided to go and have a closer look. The tower cleared us for a Nickel departure, and we were on our way.

Flying at 2000 over Langley control zone, we heard the tower telling someone about the unidentified aircraft overhead. I called the tower, introduced ourselves and told them that we will turn some more of our lights on for them to be able to see us better. The tower acknowledged, and suddenly we had a name. I intended to go further east, but the cloud cover did not look good over the Mission Bridge, so I decided to turn back. While having fun dogging puffy clouds, trying to stay clear of them, and heading due west, I looked to my right and felt an uncomfortable tension in my gut. We were at 2000 feet, and to my right, and below, was Pitt Meadows Airport. Yeah, we busted the control zone. While I was dodging the clouds, the wind from the southwest did its thing, and pushed us in. I called the tower and apologized, which seemed to have helped the situation, but will they report me to the Czar, a nagging question that stayed with me for the rest of the flight.

I elected to descend to 1100 and head for the Alex Fraser Bridge. The Boundary Bay ATIS broadcast the winds at 15 knots, still from southwest, but now gusting 24. The tower cleared us to left base as number one to runway 12, no other aircraft around. I trimmed my approach for extra speed margin, appropriate for the gusts, and after some very real jolts on the final, made a quite nice lending. Right wheel touched first, left immediately thereafter, and with full aft stick we slowed down, exited “delta”, crossed 07, with the blessing from the tower of course, and in a few minutes, we were back at the hangar.

I am glad we went. I learned some more about my little plane. I will say again, Mr. Piper had this one right; it is a sweet plane to fly. I am a low time pilot, but the plane pitched in to make me look good, and especially in the gusting conditions. I also like the short wing. I learned that coming in with some power makes for smoother landings, and once down the plane stays put. It will be a nice plane for shorter fields, no floating tendencies. Once I get a few more hours in it, it will be one sweet plane to fly almost anywhere – unless you are on a hurry. Oh yes, Daniel is going to get his own license, a further testament to the plane’s fine behavior, even in the hands of a rookie aviator flying in less than perfect flying weather.

The discomfort about busting the Pitt Meadows control zone dissipated somewhat only after I phoned the tower to apologize once more. They were very good about it, but I will be much more vigilant about this sort of stuff from now on. Someone once told me that the Pilot License is only a license to learn, right on, I just learned something. Wind can get you into a trouble more than one way. I wrote 1.1 into my logbook, and with a satisfying feeling of a good day’s fun, I went home to look after my granddaughter. Violet’s parents were out for her dad’s, my son’s, birthday dinner. We built Lego castles all evening.

All is well again

It is mid morning October 8th; we are heading out for another test flight. Today we have two objectives in mind. We are going to make sure that the deficiencies from the previous flight are no longer there, and I needed my type check ride done to be legal for solo.

This time all went well. We still have to reroute the wiring for the fuel instruments, but everything else worked as expected. Once again, we were amazed how nonchalantly the plane behaves in a stall. It just descends at around 500 feet per minute, nose high, straight down, no tendency to drop its wing. Michael decided to get the plane really angry with him, and pulled it into a 45 degree aggravated stall turn – nothing. The plane just leveled itself off, and entered into the customary, and leisurely, stall descent. At this point Michael pronounced the plane to be very boring, and an old man’s plane. I am not sure if he had me in mind or not, but I guess since I will be 68 in a few days, I kinda qualify.

On the check ride, and under Michael’s watchful eye, I performed the prescribed manoeuvres, including a forced landing approach. On the approach, I discovered why Mr. Piper decided to omit the flaps from the Colt. They are simply not required. This plane is smart enough to know that when you pull the power, you want to go down. I must have done OK, because Michael signed me off, and I am now legal to fly anywhere I want. Charged up, and being legal for solo once again, I went up in the afternoon for some airport work, and again the next day.

Not being use to fly high wing planes any more, I am having a bit of a problem on
approach. Since I do not see the runway in a turn, due to the wing being in the wrong place, sometime I turn wide and overshoot. Compared to the Katana with its bubble canopy, and to which I am more accustomed to, sitting in the Colt feels like having an oversized baseball cap on. In addition, the Colt is definitely not a floater. I fly my landing approaches with some power, and at about 60 knots. This seems to work for me now, but I may be a bit too fast. I will work on the speed as I get a better feel for the plane. After some circuit work, my landings are getting definitely better, also the overshoot of the runway is rare now; however, I think I should recover the wing with Plexiglas – or not.

The Test Flight

The big day for the test flight of my “new 2012 model” Colt finally arrived. The test flight was a short one. We had a few gremlins to deal with, a couple of potential show stoppers, but we went anyway. Original plan was to have me checked out – again – insurance you know, but when we discovered that we had some issues, we stayed over the airport looking for what else may be going on.

Actually, the flight started with what looked like problem with COMs. I attempted to request a taxi clearance, but could not hear myself. Michael, my check-ride instructor, had the same problem in the right seat. As it turned out, a reversed wiring in the overhead console caused the problem. When I keyed the mike switch Michael heard me, and when he keyed his, I heard him. This was a simple problem, we just switched our headset positions in the jacks in the overhead console and all was fine.

As we were proceeding to runway 25, we had an oncoming aircraft in our path. We gave him a blink with taxi lights, letting him know that he can go ahead. That is the time when we noticed that as soon as we switched the lights on, the fuel tank indicators went to zero fuel. We tried other lights, and noticed that the strobes would also affect the fuel gages by lowering their reading a bit. By the way, the fuel gages may not be reading correctly and may need some adjustment. They are showing less fuel than there actually is. I am not sure if there is a way to adjust this on the gage. I will have to check on this, but if not, I can always cheat. Since resistive floats/probes in the tanks feed the gages, I can always add external adjustable resistor pots in series or parallel for the fine-tuning.

On the run-up, we noticed that the magneto check would not result in a change in rpm. We then turn the switch to off position, but the engine was happy to go on. The engine was running just fine, and the engine running parameters were all OK; however, to be on the safe side we decided to stay over the field instead of going for the check-ride. We leaned out a bit; the barometric pressure was 30.28 inches, which was easy procedure with the engine analyzer. The fuel flow works like a charm as well, 5.5 g/hr fuel flow at about 1700 rpm. With all the engine gages in green, we requested departure clearance. On the roll out, we noticed that the airspeed indicator went to 60 mph and stayed there. From there on our GPS became our reference speed indicator, giving us at least the ground speed reading.

With the tower’s blessing we climbed to 1900 over the field looking for other potential anomalies. It seemed that we got them all on the ground. Since we installed the vortex generators on the plane, we were interested to see the stall performance. With the airspeed indicator not working, we would not be able to tell the exact speed, but we would be able to feel the effect. The plane was always gentle in the stall, but with the vortex generators, it will simply go nose high, and then it would just settle in about 500 feet per minute descent – no drama. It sits there just coming down slower than a parachute. I actually checked this, because I was interested to compare the data. Depending on a canopy size, and the weight of the skydiver, parachutes are descending at the rate of 600 to 900 feet per minute. There was no tendency of a wing drop either. One could hold the yoke to his chest, and come down like in an elevator.

Another noticeable behavior, and this is to be credited to the previous owner who did the tweaking when he installed the new lifetime struts, was how well the plane behaves when trimmed out. We trimmed it out to a slow flight, 70 knots GPS indicated, to see a fuel flow of 3.7 gal/hr. I could just leave the controls alone, and the plane would fly like on an autopilot. When it was time to get back, we did the navy style, wide, 180-degree, turn approach. We trimmed the aircraft to what felt like the right approach speed, and took our hands off the controls. The plane stayed in the gentle turn until we had to level off to enter the final. Once lined up with the runway, we guessed the speed since we did not have the airspeed indicator working, and very likely we came in a bit faster than would be needed, but to a perfectly uneventful landing.

Overall, it was a good flight. One should expect some stuff not working right after all those changes we made. The unexpected would be the switch and the airspeed instrument. I took the plane back to the shop. Sham switched the COM plugs to their correct positions, the switch is working fine now as well, but the airspeed indicator is a toast. It seems that it sprang an air leak somewhere. It is an old instrument, I suspect the original equipment, and we had it in and out so many times, that we may have helped it a bit. The fuel level indicators will likely need shielded wires, or some wire re-routing, but that is not a big deal.

The Colt really is a sweet plane to fly. I thing Mr Piper had it right. It really could have made a nice trainer. Too bad, it never made it as such in larger numbers. In the mean time, and as a temporary fix, we installed another airspeed indicator, so we have a flying aircraft until the new instrument shows up. This will likely take a few weeks, since the supplier has to do the custom markings first.