"An adventure that changed my whole perspective about flying."
1,500 miles of beautiful countryside
Five o'clock in the morning is usually a most disagreeable time to wake up, however, this morning as my alarm clock beeped I jumped out of bed rather quickly. ...
I immediately ran downstairs to get the latest terminal area forecast and of course tune into the weather channel only to find my father, Robert Fleck, had beaten me to it.
After he handed me the TAF's I slowly worked my way through the script deciphering in my mind just what all the letters and numbers meant and trying to remember just how far away we are from Greenwich.
As I finally began to understand the weather for CYOW (Ottawa) was not expected to be great, I was immediately disappointed at the thought of having to postpone the departure of our journey another day.
However as I waded my way through the Toronto TAF's a flicker of hope ignited. Although the weather in Ottawa was expected to close in later in the day, the Toronto weather indicated that it would be clearing.
As we slowly worked our way along the Toronto VNC punching in all the identifiers we could find between Ottawa and Toronto we got the bigger picture that there was some weather moving through. We calculated we would be able to cross through it before it got too bad (nobody minds flying out of bad weather towards good weather). Our plan however required that we leave immediately.
Our airplane, a Challenger ultralight 2 equipped with skis for winter operations, is kept about an hour and a half drive north of Ottawa on our family farm near Kazabazua. To further complicate matters, the road that leads into the farm is not maintained during winter months and therefore requires us to park the car and walk the last couple kilometres in order for us to reach our airplane.
Having had a pretty good start we were able to reach our airplane, fuel, preflight, and drag the airplane out of the hanger for warm up by 9:00 hours. We had a long day ahead of us, as we wanted to get our adventure started, so we slipped the surly bonds and set a heading of south.
About an hour flight time later, we were overhead Mississippi Lake and our good friend Keith Sabiston's house. After topping up our fuel, a quick cup of tea and a couple minutes admiring his beautiful de'Havilland Beaver on floats that he was storing for the winter just in front of his house, we took of once again.
With full tanks and warm toes we set our sights west and began the first big leg of our journey, as well our first time exploring this new countryside.
After another hour of flight time the tea consumed earlier began to work its way through our systems and we were becoming very anxious to get rid of it. Since our plane is equipped with skis we simply picked a remote lake did our business and were soon on our way again.
Having crossed some very isolated areas we were a little more comfortable once we began to reach some civilization again. We picked up the Trent Severn water system near Stony Lake and followed it up to Bobcaygeon, were we happened to find a very suitable lake for landing right beside a gas station.
Once we landed and walked over to the gas station, we found out the only jerry can they had to loan us was a cute little 1/2 gallon one. Having no other choice we made numerous trips back and forth between the airplane and the gas station until we had a satisfactory amount of fuel.
Airborne once again, we continued along the canal system to Lake Simcoe. Flying over the lake was an experience I will not soon forget. There was numerous ice fishing houses littered across the ice surface - made one wonder how the fish survive.
Once across Lake Simcoe we followed highway 89 to Mansfield, where our friends Ralph and Margaret Chambers were waiting with a mouth-watering dinner.
Upon arrival, the field which was deemed suitable for landing a Challenger untralight was suspiciously smaller than previously described and at the approach end resided many large deciduous trees.
After several low approaches I decided it was indeed possible to make a safe landing on the field. I set up on final and came in low. Once passed the trees I executed an aggressive front slip to drop us down into field. The slip however proved to be slightly too aggressive and the underside of our left wing just clipped a stray branch I hadn't seen.
We landed successfully although sometimes one wonders if there isn't a way to put some sort of braking system on skis, as it may sometimes prove advantageous in giving you a comfort zone.
Once we taxied and shut down, closer inspection revealed the branch I had hit caused a minor tear to the fabric on the underside of the wing. A little aluminium tape and all was fixed.
We fueled and put all the covers on the plane, then enjoyed good food and great company thanks to our friends Ralph and Margaret who have devoted their lives to the world of aviation.
I rolled out of bed the next morning around 9:00 and looked out the window to see clear blue skies. After a hearty breakfast cooked up for us by our hostess, we dressed up in our flying clothes and headed out to the airplane, only to find it was covered in thick frost.
We dragged the airplane into the sun and after lots of scraping and rubbing we deemed the aircraft ready for flight. We took off from the field without incident and headed back towards Lake Simcoe.
We rendezvoused with my sister Heather at Jackson Point where she met us with gas to top off the tanks. We did a quick crew swap; she jumped in the front seat, I in the back this time, and we took off leaving my dad on the ground to ponder what adventures we might have.
As my sister steered us north, I sat in the back feeding her all the navigational information needed to get around Muskoka airport. Once clear of their zone we dropped down to view all the spectacular cottages on Lake Muskoka and the surrounding area.
Once we were on the northern tip of Lake Rosseau we landed and took a short break to stretch our legs. I then climbed back in the front seat and my sister in the back. We flew back down around the Muskoka control zone and headed east for Lakefield where another good friend of ours, and long time Air Canada pilot Larry Dugan lives.
Since he lives right on the canal system we simply picked up the river and it led us right to his place. The ice in front of his place was solid, but a short ways down from his house was open water since there is quite a current in that particular area.
Although I was at all times within easy gliding distance of a safe landing spot the idea of side slipping over open water in a ski equipped plane still has a very unnatural feeling to it.
After landing we taxied towards shore where our father and friends were anxiously awaiting our arrival. Once the airplane was tied down and all the covers put on we went inside to quench our thirst and listen to old military stories told by my father and Larry.
We awoke early the next morning to drag the airplane into the sun to help melt off all the frost and then headed into town for breakfast. Afterwards we said goodbye to Heather who had to return to Toronto to attend class and then began to prepare the airplane for the long day of flying that lay ahead.
We had decided we were going to try and make Timmins by nightfall where good friends and warm beds awaited us. The first leg was to Parry Sound where we would stop for gas.
We took off from the river and headed east only to work our away around the Muskoka control zone for a third and final time and up Lake Muskoka. Since dad had not yet seen all the cottages on the lake he was anxious to view them and get some ideas for our cottage.
Once we reached the north end of Lake Joseph we headed west to Georgian Bay and followed the shoreline north until we hit Parry Sound. The one thing that we did not have completely figured out was our gas situation in Parry Sound.
We were not sure if there would be an appropriate field to land in that had a gas station near by, we figured however, there must be something that would work rather nicely. We were wrong.
The only gas stations we saw seemed to be right in the middle of town and seemed miles away from any suitable landing spot. We finally decided to pick a lake that was about a kilometre away from the nearest gas station.
Once we landed we realized that right beside the lake were train tracks and as soon as we were ready to head to the gas station a never ending freight train sauntered by. Our mood was beginning to deteriorate.
When the caboose finally rolled by we trudged up the huge embankment that was between us and the parking lot of the nearest store, in waist deep snow. We then paced to the gas bar only to find they didn't have a jerry can they could lend us due to insurance reasons.
We were left with no other choice but to buy one. We filled up our new jerry can and began our journey back to the plane. After our fourth trip and a large delay, we had enough gas to reach our next stop.
We had to get moving if we wanted to make Timmins by nightfall, so we hopped in the plane, warmed it up and took off. Once in the air we simply followed the shoreline north. On this leg of the flight we witnessed some spectacular scenery, and incredible cottages I will not soon forget.
Before we knew it, we were upon the French River and it was time to leave the rugged and majestic shore and have our first real taste of the great Canadian wilderness. We trudged along north until we ran into Sudbury. Again, our predicament was the same, nowhere to land that had adequate proximity to required fuelling services.
Having circled over Sudbury and surrounding area for well over 30 minutes I began to feel the need to choose a spot and commit to it, but dad begged to me fly north a little to Azilda where there was a float plane base.
It was a long shot as all the waterdromes we had passed so far in our travels had been closed for the season, however, I agreed that it was worth a try.
On arrival in Azilda we were completely blown away at what we found. Two marked and groomed runways along with several ski planes and a very distinct gas pump complete with fuel hose. Best of all there were people there! To us this was a godsend.
We landed and taxied up to the pump. Once we shut down and got out, a smiling face that turned slightly to shock when he learned we had come from Ottawa in that little rag covered ultralight greeted us.
Nonetheless he seemed very happy and quickly pointed out who to talk to about fuel. It was not until later that we learned this man was not only happy to see us, but he had just completed his first solo flight earlier that day. Imagine, a place where you can learn to fly without ever going to an airport.
Once inside we met a pleasant man who again was slightly shocked to learn where we had started from, but mostly happy to help us. We filled up our tanks and had a quick look at the map, then at our watches, then again at the map, and finally one last look at the watches.
We had two and a half hours flying to do in only two hours of daylight. All the extra time spent refuelling in Parry Sound and the time we spent flying around Sudbury looking for a place to get gas had really hurt us.
After trying to justify racing the clock into unknown and might I add extremely isolated territory, we finally realized it just wasn't a good idea to push Timmins today. We opted instead for New Liskeard. A more safely attained goal.
We powered off into the evening feeling confident in ourselves about the decision we had made in the name of safety, and excited with a sense that we were now becoming ever closer to being real bush pilots.
After flying over seas of green crested with white, we approached our destination just as the sun was saying its last goodbyes to the horizon. We flew over New Liskeard searching for a convenient place to land and sleep.
As luck would have it, there just so happened to be a nice little hotel right on the lake shore. We landed just as the center of the suns disc was approaching six degrees below the horizon. We taxied up to the hotel and put the airplane to sleep, checked-in and had dinner at the local restaurant.
I was lulled out my dreams of clear blue skies to awake to the idle chatter of the weather channel. I found dad staring into the TV screen studying the maps of the weather moving across the country.
Through a small opening in the curtains I could just make out the colour of white. It was low overcast and lightly snowing. Not only is this bad weather for flying VFR, but also it is especially fertile grounds in which you can very quickly find yourself in white out conditions.
We lazed around for a while watching TV and waited for the weather to clear. We got dressed and went to breakfast, by the time we were finished the weather was getting better and we decided it was good enough to fly.
We got the airplane ready and fuelled it with the help of our new jerry can. We took off and since the weather wasn't the best and the territory unfamiliar we decided to follow the highway up to Timmins.
We were starting to get far north now and the temperature showed it. As we left New Liskeard the temperature was around -8C and as we reached Timmins the temperature had dropped to about -20C. We were determined, however, and as we got closer excitement grew.
We finally located our destination of South Porcupine Lake. The lake was especially distinguishable due to the large group of people standing in the middle of it and waving to us.
We landed and were greeted by another good friend, Bob Childerhose and his family, who were in turn, visiting their family. We tied down the airplane and were rushed inside for a warm cup of coffee and some baked goodies.
That evening after a wonderful home cooked meal, it was decided we were to be introduced to the world of snowmobiling. We were suited up in the latest flashy wind resistant gear and seated upon the newest fastest snowmobiles.
We then proceeded to scream down trails at excessive speeds with reduced forward visibility. It may sound scary, but it was a most thrilling experience.
By the time we returned it was quite late and I was seriously ready for some sleep.
I was awoken far too early for my liking, but we had a long day ahead and some serious miles to put behind us. We went out for breakfast and then returned to the airplane to pre-flight and fuel.
After some careful flight planning and few phone calls our plan was in place so we jumped into the airplane and thundered off into clear blue skies.
Our first stop for fuel was Temagami, so once we were airborne we set off directly for it. We covered some beautiful countryside flying through the heart of the Canadian Shield. For a brief two hours we discovered this great land of ours and learned what it must feel like to be a real bush pilot.
We landed in Temagami only to crawl out of the plane and realize it was exceedingly warm. Having acquired local knowledge before hand about fuel we were happy to see there was a gas station not more than 50 metres from the ice.
We refuelled and enjoyed the sun for a few minutes before getting back in the plane. We lifted up into perfectly clear skies and set a course east for the Ottawa River. We flew down the river and admired a new side of it that we had never before experienced. The only slightly concerning thing was the lack of ice on the surface of the river.
Having flown down the river for some time, Dad was getting a little restless in the back and wanted to stretch his legs so we landed for a break in Deep River. We explored the town for a bit before grabbing a cup of coffee and quick bite at a local restaurant.
We returned to the plane for our final leg of our journey. We rose above the trees and continued down the river, a short while later we began to find ourselves in familiar countryside.
As we turned east near Fort-Coulonge, we found ourselves back on our own turf. We knew every stream, lake and town as we headed cross-country and it felt good to be home at last.
As we crossed the last ridge our little haven, which is our farm, emerge from the sea of green. After a couple quick passes of the farm to absorb its beauty, I set up on a very familiar final. I executed a slip down in between the trees that I could have done with my eyes closed and straightened out just at the precise moment to arrest my rate of descent and have the skis kiss the snow as if they were lovers once parted and now returning to each other's arms.
I taxied back to the hangar and shut down. This truly marked the end of our voyage. We pushed the plane back into the hanger and put it to bed. With the door closed we said goodbye to our eager craft with which we touched the face of god and promised it we would soon return to fly again.
We walked the distance back to our car and began the drive back to the city. Only then did it really sink what we had done. I thought a lot during that car ride. I thought of what we had seen. I thought of we had done. I thought of all the good lessons I had learned.
Flight planning is as essential as execution, no matter what the situation the PIC is responsible for the crew and craft. Don't push a situation you're uncomfortable with, it's ok to say no, and you must always have utmost respect for the weather.
But mostly, on that long drive home, I thought about the opportunity I had been given. The idea that I, a mere 17 year old, had the chance to first of all obtain a pilots license, use it to fly our very own ultralight and then use that ultralight to have an incredible adventure that took me across the province.
An adventure that changed my whole perspective about flying, perhaps even how I perceive the world. I know when I returned to school and exchange stories; it was be impossible to explain to my friends just what I had experienced.
When it was all said and flown, I logged more than 23 hours of flight time, covered more than 1,500 miles of beautiful countryside, visited old friends and made some new ones.
But most importantly, I had an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
Webmaster's Note: Doug and his father Rob started their winter flying adventures on a modest scale - working up from local flights around cottage country to flying to the last several Challenger Winter Rendezvous at Chateau Montebello.
This recent March Break trip obviously elevated them to a higher plane (pardon the pun). Our spies tell us they have a worthy summer flying adventure in the works - stay tuned!
Webmaster's PS: This photo of the Fleck's Challenger II C-INEW was taken at Montebello and reminds us of the view of a 747 from head on! Okay, we admit to an active imagination!
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