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