Challenger Owners Winter
Fly-in: Growing fast!
By Claude Roy, Director, ICOA Canada
The flat growth encountered in General Aviation these past few years
does not seem to affect any of the enthusiasm around the Challenger series
of aircraft. On the weekend of 2-3 February 2002 a record 146 Challenger
enthusiasts, up 32% from last year's event, joined in a festive mood for
the banquet at the 12th annual Challenger Owners Association Winter Weekend
In addition to a large crowd from Ontario and Quebec the happening
attracted a sizable contingent from New Brunswick and even two people from
British Columbia. Challenger owner General Maurice Baril, who recently
retired as Commander-In-Chief of Canada's Armed Forces, flew in from Switzerland
for the banquet! (No, he did not cross the Atlantic in his Challenger ultralight!)
This year's Rendez-Vous, organized by the Canadian Branch of the
International Challenger Owners Association, was held at the magnificent
Chateau Montebello in Montebello, QC. The theme for 2002 was 'Networking'
and all attendees wore colourful Challenger ID Discs throughout the weekend
to invite interaction with each other.
In February 2000, the 10th annual Rendez-Vous saw 24 Challengers
on skis parked in front of Chateau Montebello on fresh white snow under
calm blue skis. In 2002 though Old Man Winter did his absolute best to
get even! Heavy snow, freezing rain, and winds of 80-100 km/h the two days
prior turned the usual flocks of long distance flyers into long distance
drivers. In a follow-up punch, unflyable quantities of snow were forecast
for Sunday through Wednesday so most local flyers who work weekdays also
Nevertheless, at least 9 owners did fly to the festivities, demonstrating
yet again the all-season capabilities of the Challenger and its pilots.
The arriving hum of their engines caused a mass exodus from the dining
room as people finished their sumptuous breakfasts and rushed out to greet
By weekend's end, the airplanes were indeed snowed in, but all pilots
agreed that there is no better place to be 'stuck' than Chateau Montebello.
Touted as the largest log structure in the world, Chateau Montebello has
an abundance of charm and a casual 'après-ski' atmosphere. Guests
are usually found outside milling around the airplanes or inside congregating
in the circular lobby, chatting around the 60 foot high, six-sided stone
fireplace. A number of events of international importance, for example
a G-7 conference, have taken place under the Chateau's imposing roof.
Better still, in the eyes of the winter flier, Chateau Montebello
is the friendliest and safest winter destination you can find. Bounded
on the north and west sides by high terrain covered with mature 60-foot
pine trees, the harbour area with its docks left in position all winter
is the perfect natural shelter for airplanes to slip in to port and use
the marina's docks and hooks as tie-downs.
With a very experienced and knowledgeable staff in place and a worldly
crowd using the premises, Chateau Montebello makes any and all flyers feel
safe and comfortable, both for the airplanes, for themselves and for their
loved ones. It is no wonder why ICOA Canada, the biggest and most active
winter-oriented flying group in this Country, has adopted Chateau Montebello
as most worthy of their business and patronage.
For the 12th edition of the fly-in, ICOA Canada had three top-notch
sessions lined up for the Saturday afternoon. The first was given by Eric
Tucker, from ROTECH Research Canada Ltd, in Vernon, B.C., distributors
of ROTAX aviation engines in Canada. Eric is North and South America's
foremost expert on these engines. He flew in Friday from the Bahamas in
direct defiance of Mr. Winter!
Eric gave a most enlightening presentation on Rotax - its corporate
history and the aircraft division with its separate design and manufacturing
facilities. Founded in 1920 in Europe and now wholly owned by Bombardier
of Canada, Rotax manufactured its 4,000,000th engine in 1996! As an indication
of where aviation is headed, Rotax produces 2 to 3 times more new aircraft
engines per year than leading GA engine providers Lycoming and Continental
Eric carried on with a technical discourse on the ROTAX 503 Dual
Carburetor / Dual Ignition aircraft engine which powers most Challengers.
During the last portion of his presentation, Eric opened himself to questions
from the floor. Everybody there reveled in the knowledge cast upon them!
After a pause for café and commercial announcements Frank
Hofmann took the podium. Frank is the COPA Director for the Quebec Region
and Secretary of COPA's Executive Committee. He is also the delegate of
the International Council of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associations (IAOPA)
to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which is headquartered
Frank gave to the assembly some of his views on where Canadian recreational
aviation fits into the global picture. As an aircraft owner Frank has a
perspective that most other delegates do not have. In fact, Frank confirmed
that very few ICOA delegates have ever owned a personal aircraft or and
that most countries do not show any interest in furthering private or recreational
aviation. Frank reaffirmed that Canada is a beautiful exception around
the world, with the airspace, the knowledge and the resources available
to make recreational aviation a sizeable part of the overall aviation activity
in this country.
The third learning experience of the afternoon was a bilingual presentation
on Aviation Safety by Sylvie Perreault from Transport Canada and Claude
Roy from ICOA Canada. Entitled 'Risk Factors and Decision Making', the
focus of this presentation was on the risks associated with ultralight
flying and the importance of pre-flight planning.
The session stressed the fact most accidents have a human cause and
originate from poor decision making. The presenters recommended the use
of a personal checklist to supplement the usual mechanically-oriented check
lists. The mnemonic 'PAVE' was used to step through Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment
and External factors. Such a checklist is a great way to help pilots evaluate
human factors and therefore prevent human-related accidents.
On the mezzanine outside the session hall there were exhibits by
National Ultralight, the Canadian Challenger distributor, as well as Turbulence
Aviation, producers of numerous Challenger accessories, and Five Aces Enterprises,
which entered the market with a combination wheel/ski for Challengers.
The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association set up their booth and distributed
copies of COPA's monthly Canadian Flight publication. A PC running Microsoft
Flight Simulator allowed people to fly the VIP Group's virtual Challengers
and was a huge hit!
In contrast with the afternoon's more serious tone, the evening banquet
is a perfect blend of gala and relaxation. Of course the Chateau's chefs
outdid themselves with a most delicious buffet. The weekend's theme being
'Networking', people were encouraged to engage with each other and exchange
as many business cards and email addresses as possible. As was repeated
by many, this particular event is the very best opportunity for Challenger
enthusiasts to gather information and acquire or renew friendships.
Challenger owners present ranged from those who had never flown at
all before acquiring their Challengers to many who have thousands of hours
logged in everything from light aircraft to airliners and even supersonic
fighters. These owners mingled freely with the many non-owners who were
there to discover.
When a Challenger owner said that there were only two kinds of people,
Challenger owners and Challenger wannabes, a non-owner observed that there
were actually three kinds: owners, wannabes and gonnabes. At some point
dreamers have to become doers to turn their visions of flight into reality!
Following the superb meal, Bryan Quickmire and Ian Coristine, co-owners
of National Ultralight, presented an overview of the business side of the
Challenger. To date 2,756 Challengers have been manufactured! In Canada
alone 74 new Challengers were sold in the last two years, bringing the
Canadian ownership base to over 400 and clearly making the design the most
popular by far in this country. In spite of September 11th, sales are so
strong now that the factory backlog is 14 weeks! National Ultralight also
took the opportunity to introduce two new full service dealers: High Flight
Ultralights in Ottawa and Aviation Récréative du Québec
The Awards ceremony started with recognition of those Challenger
owners who flew in to the event. (Webmaster's Note: The ever modest Claude
Roy did not mention it in his report but at this point in the cermonies
he received a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd not just for flying
in but also for his many years of dedicated service to the Canadian Challenger
Then there was the customary presentation of ICOA trophies to convey
accolades to two worthy owners from their peers. The 'Farthest Flown' Award
was presented to Bob McDonald who flew his Challenger II C-IMCD from Cobden,
Ontario knowing full well he would be 'stranded' by snow at Montebello.
The 'Best Show Plane' Award went by popular vote to Madeleine and Philippe
Guénette from Hawkesbury, Ontario for their cute-as-a-button yellow
Challenger II C-IBUG, appropriately nicknamed 'Lady Bug'.
ICOA Canada's most prestigious Award is the 'Maurice Vinet Memorial
Award'. This Award honours a Challenger pilot who exemplifies the passion
for flight of the late Maurice Vinet whose company Puddlejumper Floats
opened up new realms of pleasure for Challenger owners worldwide. Patrick
and André Vinet, Maurice's two sons and now co-owners of Puddlejumper
Floats Inc., were on hand to present the Award to Gord Ekstrom from Woodlawn,
Gord's story is one of boundless energy, going from nothing but a
dream to building his own Challenger along with a hangar and runway in
his own backyard, PLUS flying 200 Challenger hours in a span of one single
year. Gord is also an enthusiastic source of help and encouragement to
numerous other new Challenger owners.
Gord's immense enthusiasm was further demonstrated as he was one
of three Challenger flyers who participated in the ICOA 2001 Float Flying
Adventure. Gord in formation with Conrad Watters and Claude Roy traveled
from the Ottawa area to the Great Lakes, overflying Georgian Bay, Lake
Huron and Lake Erie. Gord carried on alone to visit Niagara Falls from
the air and went south around Lake Ontario to explore each one of New York
State's Finger Lakes before returning to the Ottawa area.
Together, the three flyers - Gord, Conrad and Claude - gave a spellbinding
slide presentation of their trip. It was evident that the float adventure
would stay in their hearts and minds forever as one of their life's most
The banquet attendees were left inspired to have such adventures
themselves! Opportunities will arise this coming summer on the Challenger
float tour to Canada's east coast as well as in February 2003 at the Winter
Rendez-Vous and in July 2003 on the float tour to Kill Devil Hill in North
How can we best sum up this 12th edition of the Winter Weekend Rendez-Vous?
It is fair to say this event is growing fast, is filling a need and has
a momentum of its own. Truly, the ICOA Winter Rendez-Vous represents the
best occasion for winter flyers to congregate and mutually show their love
for flying. The high quality of the presentations and the relaxed atmosphere
go hand-in-hand with the quality of the site and the rugged beauty of this
Canadian phenomena we call Winter.
Since there are large numbers of Challengers all across our country
it is hoped that this success in Central Canada will be the template for
similar gatherings in Western Canada and the Atlantic Provinces.