I Took The Challenge

by Peter O. Walpole

COPA / Canadian Flight

I couldn't stand it any more. Every month I'd read another story about the fun of flying on skis or floats, of soaring thousands of feet over Barrie, of boaters waving along the St. Lawrence. In each story a simple fabric and frame Challenger was the "star". On downwind to Barrie airport I'd imagine the author, Bryan Quickmire, looking up at me muttering that I was not really experiencing truly fun flying. So I took up the challenge.

Following a quick phone call I set a date to fly with Bryan. The plans for an early morning trip were shelved due to a mechanical snag that needed a visit to Canadian Tire. So we met later, that evening. Pulling the beautiful red and white craft from the T-hanger was easy since the plane is very light. I received a thorough pre-flight briefing on C-FXSL itself and procedures like how to get in. Imagine a short, narrow canoe. That's the cabin. The pilot sits up front with a large plastic canopy giving super visibility. The sides of the cabin are very light, flexible transparent panels that lift for access, or can be removed in seconds. The passenger slithers over the 'gunwales', into a high backed seat and positions his legs either side of the pilot. So I donned my compact life vest and reclined in a surprisingly comfortable position with my feet up (just like watching TV!)

Bryan fired up the modified 2-stroke snowmobile engine behind my head, warmed up, and headed to the runway. We had headsets and intercom to make conversation easy. Bryan uses a portable Nav/Com radio for communications and a GPS to help navigate. This plane is sophisticated.

Take off was brisk and short and the noise level, with headsets on, was comfortable. At the point that I usually reach 200 feet and drift south to avoid overflying a farmhouse at the end of the runway, Bryan turned right crosswind. The plane climbs quickly and easily.

We left the circuit and headed to Little Lake. On the way Bryan lifted the nose high to demonstrate a full power stall. With a slight stammer the nose dropped a fraction and just kept flying - no dropped wing or lurching spin.

Over the shoreline at about 700 feet he turned the engine off and we drifted down for a water landing. With wheels locked UP we were a little high for the selected landing spot. Easily he lost altitude with a forward slip, corrected into the wind and stopped in a couple of hundred feet. That was easy. With full power we accelerated across the wavelets and were soon climbing into the sun. "Would you turn towards the shore at this height?" asked Bryan. We were a few hundred feet from trees, at about fifty feet. The C172 I fly could not clear them safely. The Challenger swung round in a climbing 180 in half the distance to the trees!

Next we flew along the shore of Kempenfelt Bay. Here we encountered the Wave. At every home, cottage or mansion we passed (below the tree tops) we were met by waves from people on the dock or in the water. The Challenger sliced through the slight turbulence as the evening breeze burbled over the hillside down to the water. This was fun.

We cut a mile or so across the bay at about ten feet then returned a few miles back along the south shore - waving all the way. We landed in the rougher water of Lake Simcoe then enjoyed a high speed taxi across the bay at about three feet, hitting every seventh wave crest. We climbed up to pass around the cruise boat on its evening trip (that will be something the passengers talk about next winter). Next we circled round a sailboat and I was invited down for a drink. The engine sound prevented me hearing the invite but I can read lips and the body language of an offered Golden.

Back towards the airport we circled the new hospital helipad, staying almost in its circumference in a tight, steep turn. The plane was as stable as one could want. Finally Bryan gained some altitude and demonstrated a wing-over. I'm not into aerobatics, and I'd just had a delicious catfish and stir-fry supper. The plane pulled no exceptional Gs, was fully coordinated in every turn, and I was having the time of my life.

As we headed into the circuit Bryan asked, "Is there anything else I can show you?" Instantly I thought I'd ask for a quick cross country, a spiraling climb to 8000 feet, a landing into a short, grass field, a trip along the St. Lawrence, .... But time was up.

We landed easily on 25 Barrie, a little shorter than my most recent "short field technique" attempt. I had used full braking, Bryan used no brakes. An hour of fun was over so quickly. We shut down and secured the airplane in the hangar. Then we replenished the gas supply as we talked about flying in general and the Challenger in particular.

While a C172 or similar plane demands a formal method of flying, a light weight, but powerful plane like the Challenger allows one to explore flying in new directions. Everything about my demonstration flight was professional and carefully planned and flown by an experienced pilot. But at the end of the evening I knew I'd seen a side to flying that I've missed so far.

You might get taunted to do some real flying by yet another Challenger owner. Thanks Bryan for a great flying experience!

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