Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Ultralights in Canada!
In February 1909 the Silver Dart flew off the ice on Bras d'Or Lake
at Baddeck, Nova Scotia.
This the 19th annual Challenger Winter Rendezvous was situated as is our tradition at the fabulous Chateau Montebello. Located mid way between Ottawa and Montreal on the Ottawa River, the Chateau Montebello is the world's largest and most spectacular log cabin. It is known around the globe for its facilities, food, rooms and ambiance. It is, in a word, magnifique!
There is no better venue for a mid-winter escape from cabin fever. In addition to the Challenger people and planes there's a plethora of ways to enjoy yourself indoors (spa, fitness, swimming, tennis, squash) and outdoors (skiing, snowshoeing, skating, dogsledding). All very stunning!
Attendees converged on the 2009 Rendezvous from the edges of North America. Peter Niklaus headed east from the left coast (Vancouver/Seattle) while Scott and Debbie Travis and Larry and Janet Wamback headed west from the right coast (Nova Scotia). In spite of going in the opposite directions they all ended up in Montebello, which just goes to show why navigation confuses some people! Bill Pettigrew airlined south from Whitehorse while Henry and Yvonne McKinlay drove north from Florida, in a car with no snow tires! As usual there was a good sized delegation from Alberta plus of course a mob from Ontario and Quebec.
This year the gathering of the clan was mostly via four wheels rather than three skis. The weather on Friday grounded even the local flyers while the weather on Sunday guaranteed that anyone who flew in Saturday would not be back home in time for work on Monday. Saturday had an amazing blue sky but the temps were -20 and the winds were +20. Calculate the chill quotient and you'll understand why pilots would not want to step out of their planes!
In addition to the hardy Challengers who flew in, Saturday saw a good number of classic skiplanes. There was not one but two Fleet Canucks dating back to the 1940's! The pilot of a 1946 Stinson displayed great aplomb when he landed with one ski upside down due to a broken cable. A group of onlookers lifted the wing, he flipped the ski right-side up, and off he went with nothing more serious than a slightly dinged gear fairing. Much quicker than the old bush pilot trick of carving a new airplane from a birch tree! Or was it just props they carved? Hmm...
The warm inside of the Rendezvous kicked off Friday at sunset when attendees gravitated to the lobby bar to greet old friends and meet new ones around the magnificent three-story six-sided granite fireplace. Once appetites were whetted the group dispersed for dinner. Most dined in the Chateau at Aux Chantignoles on fine French cuisine or at La Seigneurie on bistro fare. A few folks strolled into the nearby village where the local plates are excellent.
After dinner, the early risers headed off to their rooms to don nightcaps while the rest rose to the occasion and headed to the lobby bar to down nightcaps. A rambunctious few were late to bed after dancing until 1AM to the music of Gerry Courville and the Chateau band. A long time institution at Montebello, Gerry has a copy of the Challenger video for his home DVD player. Once per set throughout the Rendezvous he can be counted on to perform Wonderful World in a very credible Satchmo voice. Gerry is clearly a man who knows his target audience!
On Saturday morning after a leisurely breakfast at the Chateau or in the village folks gathered on the mezzanine for the first scheduled session of 2009. At 11:00 Bryan Quickmire of National Ultralight, Challenger distributor for Canada, provided an update on Challenger developments and fielded questions on all aspects of owning and operating the Challenger. Bryan reported that the 582-powered Challenger had replaced the 503 version for operations demanding maximum thrust: amphibious floats, heavy loads and/or ops at high density altitudes.
Two new models were introduced - the Challenger 103 and the Challenger II Light Sport Special. The Challenger 103 is a single-seater targeted at the United States market where it meets the requirements of FAR Part 103 so no licence or registration is required. Canada hasn't had an equivalent category since before 1983 so the Challenger 103 will not be imported.
Most of the discussion focused on the Challenger II Light Sport Special which incorporates numerous design enhancements, many driven by customer inputs. The goals of the LSS were to make the plane easier to fly, faster in cruise, more rugged, more ergonomic and easier to build - all while keeping the price under US$25,000. This model with the midsize 503 engine will appeal strongly to flyers looking for speed on wheels and skis. For further details click here.
After the Chateau's diet thrashing lunch the crowd returned to the mezzanine for the four afternoon sessions. Mike and Tracy Hughes of Challenger West in Alberta, did an entertaining "show and tell" about flying their newly acquired Challenger C-IROC home to Edmonton from the Challenger 25th Anniversary celebrations in southern Illinois.
This little junket required Tracy to drive well over 5,000 km in their motorhome which weighs 50,000 lbs - the equivalent of 50 Challengers loaded to the hilt. On the way to the fly-in Mike sat in the back of the bus tapping away on his laptop. On the way home he sat in the front of the Challenger tapping away on his GPS for 2,300 km through weather that was all over the map.
Kathy Lubitz, President of the Ultralight Pilots Association of Canada (UPAC), informed the audience on the rationalization of the various aircraft categories and the ongoing reviews of airspace in major metropolitan areas. Frank Hofmann, Eastern Vice-Chair of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), and Canadian Representative at the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA), described how the United States since 9/11 is gradually increasing security requirements beyond airline operations to the point where they are starting to encroach significantly on general aviation. Frank exhorted COPA, UPAC, ICOA, IAOPA, EAA and all the other alphabet soup organizations to be ever vigilant in defending our freedom to fly unhindered.
During the mid afternoon refreshment break attendees had an opportunity to view the various vendor displays on the mezzanine and to chat about products and items of interest.
After the break the sessions restarted. Patrick Gilligan, Vice President of Operations at COPA, reviewed the new 406 MHz Emergency Location Transmitters and GPS-equipped Personal Locator Beacons as well as the new technology SPOT satellite tracking service. Patrick also emphasized the need to support the COPA Special Action Fund which is directed towards defending the rights of aviators to have airstrips on their private property.
LCol (Ret) Carl Mills representing the Canadian Aviation Historical Society celebrated the past as he talked about the beginnings of aviation in Canada. In an impressive slide show of about 140 archival pictures, he showed the early Canadian aviation participants and their machines. He started with the lighter-than-air machines from the 1880's then described at length the success of flying the first heavier-than-air aircraft, the Silver Dart, at Baddeck, NS on February 23rd 1909. Carl completed his presentation by showing pictures of the so-called Early Birds - those Canadians who built and experimented with flying machines before the First World War.
After the afternoon sessions there was ample time before the banquet to view the Challengers outside for purposes of voting for Best Showplane and also to enjoy happy hour in the lobby.
The Saturday evening banquet was held in the Chateau's private dining hall. As is customary there was continuous chatter before, during and after the superb meal. Once the tables were cleared and drinks were freshened the program began with recognition of notables present.
Claude Roy and Joan Armstrong received a huge standing ovation for their efforts in organizing the weekend for all to enjoy. Then the pilots who flew their Challengers in to the event were introduced and lauded.
Brent Thompson of Orillia, ON won the Farthest Flown Award for his nearly 1,000 km round trip. Brent made the strategically brilliant decision to fly in on Thursday and out on Monday, thus missing the nasties that thwarted those with fewer days off. To ice the cake (instead of the wings) Brent's wonderfully crafted Challenger C-IXTX was voted the Best Show Plane Award!
Brent's story is not uncommon - many years ago he started on his Private Pilot Licence but the attempt fizzled due to money and time constraints. He ordered his Challenger in 2004 and since he has neither garage nor basement he assembled the kit at a friend's place. A few months later Brent was taking flying lessons in his own plane. Now he has experience on wheels, skis and amphibious floats plus a Passenger Carrying Endorsement. Life is good!
An interesting technological aside: Brent's Challenger is equipped with a SPOT satellite tracking device. Every ten minutes his exact position is posted on a web page which can be viewed in real time. There's no concealing where Brent stops for fuel, food or etcetera!
The Maurice Vinet Memorial Award was founded in 2001 to honour the late Maurice Vinet who passed away from cancer in 2000. Maurice's company Puddlejumper Floats opened up new realms of pleasure for Challenger owners around the world and it is now run by his son Patrick Vinet. The Vinet Award is presented to a Challenger pilot who exemplifies Maurice's passion for flight.
The 2009 Maurice Vinet Award went to Mike and Tracy Hughes of Edmonton, Alberta who are also known as Challenger West. Mike and Tracy have attended every Winter Rendezvous since ordering their first kit in November 2004. They fly hers and his Challengers and are assembling another. In addition to flying all over Alberta they made an epic Challenger voyage from Illinois to Edmonton. They also own a Cessna 182 which they say doesn't get much air time since they prefer to be aloft in their Challengers! Mike and Tracy had a Challenger on display at the 2005 COPA Annual Convention at Wetaskiwin and they organized and hosted the 2007 and 2008 Western Challenger Owners Rendezvous. They will again host Westebello in 2009 from July 10 through 12. It's hard to imagine more passion than this!
The Dave Allan Memorial Award was founded in 2007 to be given each year to a member of the Challenger community who has made a substantial contribution of a technical nature. Dave was an extremely talented and knowledgeable Challenger builder and inspector. He gave freely of his time to owners across Canada who called for advice and he welcomed visitors to his workshop. Dave passed away from cancer in 2006.
The 2009 Dave Allan Award for technical contribution was awarded to Greg Klemp Sr of Sheer Technologies. Greg designed, tested and perfected the 582 engine cooling and cabin heating systems together with the mounts that make feasible widespread use of this more powerful engine in Challengers. The additional 30% thrust afforded by the 582 puts sprightly performance back into Challengers operating in trying conditions with floats, heavy loads and/or high density altitudes. The 582 Challenger has achieved landslide popularity since its introduction in Canada in 2005 and the pilots owe Greg a debt of gratitude!
Next on the evening's program was the visual entertainment. John Sutherland led off with his latest video "Challenger Magic" which he created for this 2009 Challenger Winter Rendezvous. It's a sequel to the "Montebello Magic" video he put together live at the 2008 Rendezvous. To see where John's journey has taken him so far click here. Stay tuned for more in 2010!
Then the grand finale - the slide presentation of the 2008 float tour was narrated by the participants. Five Canadian amphib Challengers flew in formation to Illinois to join in the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Challenger line of aircraft. Of course tripping Challengers rarely go to the destination in a straight line the shortest way - that's for airliners! As the presentation proved, our goal is to maximize pleasure not minimize time in the air!
Four of the five Challengers flew over 2,000 miles on a great counterclockwise circle around the Great Lakes. Erie Airpark in Illinois is conveniently located about halfway round the circle. Pilots Patrick Vinet from Montreal and Claude Roy from Ottawa rendezvoused north of Toronto with Henry McKinlay from Honey Harbour and Keith Robinson from Go Home Lake. The fifth Challenger departed Edenvale with Bryan Quickmire at the helm to rendezvous with the four on Georgian Bay and fly with them to Illinois. After the 25th celebration Mike Hughes took over the fifth Challenger and flew it northwest to Edmonton while the other four headed back east!
Usually these expeditions consist of pilots heading off in planes, flying all over the place and eventually returning home to the (hopefully) welcoming arms of spouses. This expedition gave new meaning to the term spousal support! Yvonne McKinlay and Gwen Robinson traveled the highways and byways in an SUV meeting up with the flock each evening to shuttle them twixt airport and hotel. Joan Armstrong rode her Harley from Ottawa to Illinois to give Claude a lift from Erie Airpark to Moline on Friday night. Not to mention the 5,290 km of bus driving by Tracy Hughes in support of Mike! Elaine Vinet and Alison Quickmire weren't able to make the trip due to career commitments - after all, someone has to bring home the bacon!
Henry, Keith, Claude, Patrick and Bryan gave a most entertaining account of their pilgrimage. For those who missed Montebello - quel dommage - there was excellent coverage of the adventure in the January 2009 edition of COPA Flight which is online here. As well, the May 2009 edition of Kitplanes magazine, online here, had coverage of the 25th Anniversary celebrations at Erie Airpark in Illinois. Also online there is an overview on the Canadian pilgrimage here.
The pictures and anecdotes gave the audience a good sense of the adventure and camaraderie to be enjoyed on such voyages. They no doubt motivated some members of the audience to think seriously about enlisting in the 2009 tour which will be to Baddeck, NS to honour the Silver Dart. This adventure will begin Saturday August 15, 2009 at the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottawa, Ontario and then stretch over 2,000 miles to Baddeck, Nova Scotia. There the flock will respectfully dip their floats in Bras d'Or Lake and take time to visit the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Plans are already being made to meet up along the way with other Challenger owners in Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
After the banquet the crowd poured out into three streams once again: the sleepers, the sippers, and the slippers - dancing slippers that is! There is another long time musical institution at Montebello - on Saturdays for one set only Gerry Courville and the Chateau band are joined on stage by Richard Roy. (No relation to Claude Roy!)
Richard is a waiter in La Seigneurie and once a week he doffs his waitorial garb and dons cape and leotards for a super high energy performance. Close your eyes and you'll be convinced you're at a live session with Mick Jagger, Little Richard and other high voltage superstars.
This spawned one of those "it's a small world" moments: after the set Richard and Bryan Q were chatting and realized they had both been skydiving at Saint-Antoine-des-Laurentides in the early 1970's. Needless to say they didn't recognize each other nearly 40 years later! The Challenger and other passions keep us feeling and acting young but the hair follicles tell all!
On Sunday morning after partaking of the Chateau's top notch buffet breakfast there was much congregating in the lobby as people said their goodbyes. Drivers prepared to head home in their cars while pilots prepared to wait out the weather. There are worse places to be stuck!
Attendees all expressed the same sentiment: in spite of the combined efforts of Old Man Winter and Old Man Economy the spirit of the Challenger community is indomitable! It was wonderful to relax and enjoy an upbeat weekend in the midst of like-minded people, passionate about aviation in general and the Challenger in particular. The world class venue didn't hurt either! It makes you wonder why the cable news networks don't cover good news events like this!
Make plans now to join us at the Western Challenger Rendezvous on July 10-12, 2009 at the Wetaskiwin airport near Edmonton and at the 20th Annual Challenger Winter Rendezvous on January 22-24, 2010 at Chateau Montebello. A complete list of upcoming events is online here.
Join us at the 2010 Challenger
Owners Winter Rendezvous!
Photographs courtesy of Jean-Pierre Bonin, Bill Fawcett,
Peter Handley and Pierre Langlois.
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