From my cheery office at the Chilliwack airport I rode herd over a couple of King Airs , two hard working Navajos , two Cessna C177s that served as ab-initio trainers , rental aircraft and light duty charter aircraft. Our Cessna Caravan on amphibious floats was based up the coast and was the final link into the floating logging camps that we serviced.
Some camps like Kimsquit and Taleomy River had short , challenging gravel strips , into which we flew both King Airs and Navajos. Kimsquit was 2000 feet long acording to the Flight Supplement but it at least had an uphill slope to arrest a charging , fully loaded King Air.
We had high flotation landing gear on the King Airs and this was invaluable on these rough strips.
The technique was that as soon as the wheels touched , full reverse was actioned slowly to affirm directional control then eased out so that at 60 knots flight idle was selected and the props pulled into feather on the run , still going slightly uphill to come to rest at the top of the hump with hardly a touch of the brakes and props slapping around harmlessly. This way we could coast downhill slowly on startup and turn back 180 degrees for take off.
Yep! Crew change day. Logging equipment operators , fallers , drivers , scalers , road builders , cooks , tools , spare parts , chain saws , personal gear, food and so on.....
They'd all spill out of the airplane and amble along the stony road up to the mess where top quality food was scoffed , a sort of bonus to the job.
Sometimes , hard , brutal flying at only hundreds of feet , in the rain was required. Low level in the grey crap , hugging the steep shoreline of the fjords and inlets , flanked by steep , unseen , menacing mountains. They threw down boiling , turbulent winds that scatterd on the rough inlet waters. And wet snow , freezing rain to be thrown into the cauldron.
On other days , direct flights in the clear blue at sixteen thousand descending down over ice fields and glaciers and streaking over mini paradises of azure lakes and down amongst the not so menacing mountains that now shed their obscurity. This was one of those days.
Lunch in the mess on crew change day was always a boisterous affair as incoming crew told tales of their days at home and the weary outgoing crew became bouyed with enthusiam for their coming days off.
Aviators were generally very popular as they made this event happen. Well , most of the time anyhow. Weather delays were commonplace and many a day was spent pacing the Flight Service station with other skunked pilots ... Terry Shields of Kwatna Timber , Paul from Nechance Logging , Pierre from PASCO and Bella Coola pilots from Wilderness.. they were a very capable bunch... we have a common enemy .... summer fog or vicious inlet winds that often blew the wind measureing equipment over.
But not today. The outgoing crew eagerly await us at the airplane , ever so willing to help load so they got home one minute sooner. Now it's time to pay attention.
Headset on ... to muffle the excitied chattering in the cabin. A couple of deep breaths , just to go into aviation mode. Engines start. Take off checks comple even though we are facing away from our intended runway.
We rest on the hump. Brakes release as the prop levers are moved out of feather to full fine and as the props grab enough air she slowly moves off the hump , slightly downhill now. When ahead of the gravel and rocks the right engine is brought up towards full power , turning the aircraft in as wide an arc as possible , careful to keep it moving , always ahead of the rocks.... now the inner engine is brought up , gathering the right power lever in the process and full power is applied just as the airplane is aligned with the take off run and we accelerate slowly up hill , over the hump and hurtle down the strip towards the inlet with the wing tips only feet away from the willows. Willows from which a bear or a deer could , and often did, amble.
Time to assess all possible emergencies is denied me.
The book does not quite address the required take off speed for these conditions. Lets see ......
I estimate that I am at gross weight ... but then again , those hockey bags look bigger that 60 lbs ... some even smell of huge salmon. Gravel and rocks ... full power is not obtained here until hundreds of yards down the runway... uphill for a ways then downhill ... the wind appears to be blowing above the trees but gusty below..
I feel the familiar tug of the sandy patch on the right main but we are through now ....
She knows when to fly ... I have unlocked that secret through experiment that is now called experience.
She obeys me , like the loyal Beech that she is.
So I reward her by tucking her wheels away as we leave the Kimsquit strip astern with room to spare.
Over the past few days as I have struggled with morphine induced constipation which would result in my sitting on the toilet , white knuckes clenching the sides of the bathtub , teeth clenched down on a rolled up newspaper , eyes bulging from a bloated , straining face as I shoot out a ball bearing sized turd with a resounding "plink" ...and all this after two hours of sitting reading about J Lo , Ben Affleck , Operah's fat problems and the two headed alien pimp.
Today is a good day so I'll get busy.
These were the glory days alright , the early nineties.
I'd flown my hundred or so hours of fire bombing in the Yukon and was in the nine months R and R mode that was required to return me back to normal life..... only to go do it again.
So I get a call from my friend , Sir Cumference (Big Howie), a man of ample girth with opinions to match. He tells me of our two collegues , Loui and Milt , who had returned from an auction in the US having bought an old Navajo that they had convinced themselves that Walter , of Walter's Bulldozing needed. This was a surprise to Walter , especially at three am from two drunken varmints in the centre of the USA. Well , friends are friends , so Walter coughs up the seventy grand and goes back to work in the bush.
So the Navajo sat at the Chilliwack airport until it was revealed that there hatched a plan to do crew changes up North to Bella Coola , for Walter's road building company , about a two hour trip maybe once a week. Well , nobody knew how to go about it. But , Big Howie did ... so he phones me. Yep! I'm interested so Walter's Mrs phones me and told me to go check out the airplane and tell her what I thought of the plan. Howie and I studied the manual , finished our coffee and took her for a burn. I liked it very much and accepted the part time job. I guess I would meet the boss on the first crew change up North. We spent some time together in Bella Coola while the crews were taken in to the floating camp by Beaver and it became quickly evident that once a week wasn't enough , especially when we discussed the possibility of flying spare parts and dynamite too. I immediately found the flying to be fun and very challenging especially since I had no current instrument rating and these wet coastal mountainous conditions were not a place for a tenderfoot. Besides , I sure want to get to know this airplane before I try the deadly concoction of an IFR/VFR mix.
The Bella Coola airport, flanked by rocky , slabbed sided mountains up to ten thousand feet , was Wilderness Airlines territory , always had been. In fact , it was they who flew our crew in on the Beavers and upon whose Navajos and King Airs , our crews used to travel.
The Duke was the new kid on the block and about as popular as a pork chop in a synagogue to the Wilderness Airline management. But Hey! A buck is a buck and Walter has his rights.
And poof! There went my nine months off a year. This was now a full time job that I had a passion for , given that I played a huge role in the business planning and execution. I learned a whole new industry in a matter of months and quickly gained an efficient relationship with parts suppliers , logging management and so on.
It quickly became evident to all the other contractors in camp that we were DIRECTLY involved with the industry that was rapidly becoming our specialty. We already flew direct to camp from Vancouver Island too. We were a private operator up until now so in order to legally procure their business , an operating certificate would have to be put in place.
I was so busy flying that Walters Mrs hired an expensive consultant to slog through the paperwork but he was ex government and worked so slowly that rigor mortis set in.... so I punted him and quickly discovered that paperwork was the weakest skill in my otherwise handsome inventory.
Once again , I survived this emergency by dealing the Jack from the back of the pack.
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Or was it the challenge that encompassed more that my flying skills?. This challenge required fiscal sense and discipline comensureate with the banking industry. My resume would have read : Grade 10 Education but schooled by Hector Stone (for whom I worked at the dog track).
I would forgo the priveledges of a privateer for this tempting full time job right out of my home airport. I bargained the freedom of being a contract pilot for a wad of cash. But I made one last bleating request of Walter that I could do six weeks (half a season) of fire bombing , just to wean myself of the addiction to both the A26 and fire bombing itself. He agreed so I quickly checked out Gordon , our very capable contract maintainence engineer and went on a mini adventure.
Upon my return , I would build an airline.
So instead of paying for an expensive consultant to draw up the application for the Operating Certificate , I cunningly diverted that money towards the hiring of an assistant. So Honest Ken , our local aircraft broker highly reccommended a young local lad who had flawlessly completed some photographic missions out on the praries and sold me a plane while he was at it.
This young chap , also called Ken , was a little shy of the flying hours I was looking for but he possessed two items I could use , an instructor rating and a university degree.
Ah ! It was like Flying Scorcery the way I played my magic..... and a little flying school appeared.... with a Cessna Cardinal as the trainer and future light charter and rental aircraft.
Now with my new access to a university education the slogging paper war was waged to a successful conclusion and Timberline Air Ltd began operations. I was the operations manager , chief pilot , maintainence co-ordinator , dispatcher and pilot. Ken was an instructor , secretary , dispatcher , safety officer , pilot and swamper. The generous owners , Walter and Mrs W were well respected , hard working people.
Whilst awaiting the certificate , we got the nod to install the latest in Navigation technology .... Loran C. We were so excited at the chance to escape reliance on a distant VOR/DME position when trapped on top of cloud pierced by jagged peaks above ten thousand feet. We would search for a hole and auger down VFR, gear and flaps extended so as to keep power on , only to lose the VOR below the peaks and then transition to rainy , foggy map reading and local knowledge to scud run into the narrow valley where your destination tried to deny you access. And Vortex Generators too. We put them on as soon as we heard of the benefits to doing so and thereby saved their cost many times over especially with tires and brakes.
We were swamped with work right out of the gate and thankfully , under the excellent maintainence performed by Firkus Aircraft , the old 'Ho rode some rough and tough ground in bad conditions at full gallop. She carried crews , tools , spares , explosives , large 1000lb hydraulic cylinders , truck radiators saws , beer and so on ....in and out of short gravel strips carved into hillsides and valley bottoms only to be asked to perform the ballet of an IFR approach in rain , fog and ice ... right down to the numbers at home.
And the Christmas bonus ... wow ....
It just doesn't get any better than this.
..............then , one day .....
It was our first winter off as the deep snows had choked the loggers out of the mountains , inlets froze up and road building ceased. There was a slackening of the pace so the old 'Ho was sent to the barn for a makeover and lots of catch-up maintainence , after all she'd been ridden hard all summer and fall. Ken kept our small flyiong school busy producing eager young students that saw a future right here at our home airport.
I had to produce,
We spent enjoyable times shopping for a King Air while at the same time working the financial sorcery required for a million dollar purchase , made simpler with Walter's sound financial history. I , too , had a hand in this magic with promises of contracts to support helicopter logging operations as far away as Alaska. You see I had many friends from the old wild days who were now Operations Managers of these companies and the like.
We found a beautiful King Air 100 in Witchita the colour of which matched our stationery so we bought her.
Since she was now my new steed , I trained Ken on the old 'Ho and it soon became obvious that we required the services of a dispatcher/secretary so Walter's daughter was appointed.
It was time to piss on my own territory.
This did not meet with my approval as more family creeping into the equation meant a danger of loss of automy so I refused. However , I would be delighterd to HIRE her with clear view as to who was the lead dog. Remember , the lead dog has the best view.
So she worked for me , not her parents.
Well she sure was purty and she sure was perky.
As soon as we launched into a very busy season it became evident that Denise was super efficient and a comfortable working bond was formed fuelled by success.
The whole family was hard working , successful , honest and very generous.
In the King Air I soared higher , faster and further but I became a victim of my own success. Stress.
Even though I learned to deal with it , it stalked me nonethe less. The difficult scheduling of numerous logging companies became unwieldy but I soldiered on.
One dictatorial camp superintendant , who far too often indulged in the cups , challenged me. You would have to know how foolish it is to throw down the gauntlet in front of the Duke and he tried to change the way I do things.
So quite late on a Friday night , long after I'd hung up my spurs , I got a call from Walter on the radio phone from Taleomy River. "I want you to get in the Navajo tomorrow early in the morning with Denise , bring the flight schedules , pick me up at Taleomey and we will go to Kimsquit and sort this out."
"Piss off!" says I as I had already coaxed one petite breast from its security and had plans for the second. I had already determined that the post coital rest period extended into my next duty period.
"Tell you what Walter ," says I , "You phone me at 8am tomorrow and I will tell you if this job is worth it or not. Is it really worth the stress ... hell! I've flown my bag off ten days straight. And by the way ..I will not change anything anyhow... no way .!" I hung up.
She squirmed and giggled as the second popped free.
True to form , Walter phones me at 8 am and informs me that he understands how busy I have been but not to worry , he will have Ken fly the Navajo up with Walter, his wife , Denise and her husband and they will make a day of it since the weather was perfect.
WOW! You gotta love this company.
The phone call that jangled into my life at 3 PM that day was chilling .... chilling indeed....
His voice , a monotone but spiced with an undertone of fear , related the story ....
The meeting had gone well up North in Kimsquit and the cantankerous old superintendant and Walter came to an agreement but still , nothing changed. And Bud , another road building company owner took the oppurtunity to get home on a Saturday and happily boarded for the trip to Taleomey where Walter was to be dropped and fuel taken on.
We had built a fuel shed with a barrel pump on one side for the Jet fuel and another on the opposite side for avgas. About a dozen or so barrells are stored inside and we had appropriate grounding straps and "no smoking" signs. Each pump had a go/no go filter ... we spared no expense.
Ken fueled while Walter and Bud were having quite a discussion while Walter changed the pump to another barrel and at the same time , Denise and her mum , Mrs W , walked away up the strip for a cigarette and returned. Denise was eager to learn her new job and went into the shed and looked about. She came back outside and said to Ken , "Hey this may sound like a dumb question , but does the Navajo take Jet fuel?"
Ken froze and released the lever. Pale and ashen he went into the shed and there it was , the last barrel had been Jet B.
You see the barrels are coloured blue , both Jet and avgas. No colour difference at all. Tiny stencilled white lettering is the only way to determine which type of fuel.
Whoever loaded the drums into the shed had not sorted them.
So there we were with two drums of Jet B in the Navajo ,
I had come within an atom of losing the whole family , a pilot and another CEO.
A simple question had turned the tide on fate
Just to correct my story , it was determined that the first barrel pumped was Avgas because Ken smelled it and looked at the colour before putting the nozzle all the way in.
Anyhow , here is a post that should also make us all sit up and pay attention. It was in answer to the same story I told on another site.
That last one hit a little too close to home for me....
About 4 years ago, I had my first flying job with Sundance Air, a 135 freight dog outfit in Denver. At one of the 0-dark-thirty show times I was a little sluggish in waking so my perception wasn't the most fine-tuned. I sluffed my way through the pre-flight thinking that everything was checked to my satisfaction. It wasn't.
It seems the Ronnie the Rookie was driving the 3rd shift fuel truck and hadn't fueled a Navajo yet. The "pristine" airplanes that we had weren't equipped with "100LL only" stickers by the fuel caps. Ronnie tried to jam the Jet-A nozzle in the 100LL hole and eventually decided that a slow, thin stream of fuel was the correct way to fuel the good ol' "Ho".
Seeing that the airplane had been in for maintenance, the fuel levels were quite low prior to getting the erroneous refuel. There was just enough 100LL in the bottom of the tank and the fuel lines to get me out to the runway and up to 60 knots before the engines quit, subsequently burning out the turbos and dumping thick, black smoke out the exhaust stacks. About 40 more knots and a "positive rate" would have seen me at the other end of the runway in a heap. Talk about dumb luck. I now watch the line guys rather closely when getting fuel. Lesson learned...
She sits there , all folorn and devoid of soul. . her wings spread wide and as ready as they could ever be.
But alas! She would never fly again.
She is settled down to the axles in the soft ground , all alone , outside the aviation museum in Victoria B.C. I see the captain's window is left wide open to the weather. It is empty. The window does not frame a face, the face of the last man to fly her .... me.
Her bulbous gear doors look like her bloomers have slipped down to her ankles as the deflated oleos allow her to squat in the mud.... her tailfeathers overgrown by tangled blackberries .
A retired old "queen of the skies" you may ask. .... sadly ... no.
She is an ugly old bird whose carcass has been pecked clean by her sisters ... the three other not so glamourous members of the flock as they struggled for survival by robbing her of body parts until her will was gone and her inventory empty. She is a bag of bones.
But did they steal her soul?
Allow me to share with you , her final flight. It sure was interesting.
May she RIP
Our communications package consisted of a hand held radio and a cell phone. Instruments? Well .. I only needed an airspeed indicator for flight but I insisted on ALL engine guages so I had to make a fast flight to Victoria in the Baron. A light rain was falling as I landed back in Nanaimo and I saw the engineers tidying her up and lockwiring everything that needed it while Inspector Dick Head sat in his car pretending to rumage in his brief case. The engineers seemed to be smiling ... and waiting for something to happen ....
I did not dissapoint them.
I had wandered over to the big aluminium beast when I spied something amiss. There they were ... sticking out like dog's balls.... the gear pins IN ... flagged and everything. They were RED. So was the bull in me. I flung those pins at the government car but they fell short but I kept coming , frothing vehemence. The window went up. "Is that sweat on his lip , .....or snot? " thinks I.
He had made a poor decision to attempt to overide mine. He must have been confused when I respectfully asked for my ferry permit. Now he wanted to "inspect" the airplane. It didn't take him long to see the hole where the stall speed lever was , something we had forgotten to tape over ... but he blurts out.... "You have to have a stall speed indicator " he gleefully blubbers on ...."and ... and y "
I know you are playing for time , thinks I. He is off at 3.30. I know you don't have to have a stall horn but he can stretch this out.... think fast.... I look at the Baron. I may have to speed to Victoria ... I may but the egineer who walked me to the plane had a screwdriver and quickly removed the one on the Baron with nary a chance it would fit the curvature. He took it nonetheless and was installed on the DC3 .... heh! Heh! Heh! ..... upside down.....it did fit the curve that way.
It was enough to fool a fool. But , permit in hand it is time to aviate...
For the last week I have drifted in and out of bouts of pain that the morphine fails to arrest completely but I promise I will finish the tale.
But I must share something with you all.
I am indeed the luckiest guy alive. As far as my health status goes , I now have a chip light. Yes , the big C is overtaking my innards but as it states in the checklist , you do not shut down the engine on account of a chip light and you proceed to destination while monitoring all other guages.
Today was a good day. A young pilot insisted he buy me a beer so off to the pub we go only to run into people that were concerned that they haven't seen me for a while.
Friends.... wow! ... what a resource. I am truly blessed. I am talking about all types of friends. Its is amazing. Some of the rougher/tougher blokes can show clear emotions , some touching me , some hugging and some glassy eyed. But all had the same message.
So over ambles my mate Teddy. I guess a whole bunch of my other mates from the past came up with a plan and Teddy was the messenger.
They want to have a pre-funeral pissup in a hall with a band and everything, some thinking this would be macabre and spooky but the general consensus was that I could handle it.
I sure can.
It seems that my friends want to say stuff now , not while I am in the box with my arms crossed and a blank look on my face.
It doesn't get any better than that , does it?
I just got home a couple of days ago and should be here until next week, you coming over this way?
After over a half a century of flying no one ever died because of my decision not to fly.
I had flown his Yak before and had carressed this lithe beauty into some smooth aeros and so I settled into the familiar back seat for the thirty minute trip that took me to the Mecca of aviation. You see people at their best at these events and even the customs clearance was both friendly and enjoyable.
We parked in the warbird section next to the Mustang , two Grumman Wildcats , T28's , T6 Texans , 2 L39 jets , Beech 18's , more Yaks, numerous ultralights , homebuilts and restored classics ... hundreds of motor homes , tents and thousands of people with some camped for a week or more.
We then made our way to Camp Sea Bee , a group of outlaw aviators and performers on the fringe. They are the true Rat Pack in the aviation world and yet were always visited by the top performers and aviators and even some aviation loving Transport Canada inspectors on their own time.
They had circled the wagons way off in the far corner but failed to be invisible to the lawmen whose visits bacame more frequent as the week rolled on. And sure enough , there were many of my friends at this den of iniquity where the overwhelming presence of His Immenseness , Jerry Janes , presided. The party was in full swing with a background of tumbling Sukhois and Yaks , snarling ballets of John Mazurecks T6 , Mustangs and all manner of antics but I was most impressed with the gasoline powered marguirita machine that produced two gallons a minute and I was soon to become one of it's victims. The mix of morphine and marguritas felled me like an ox after a brief period of laughs and tales of daring-do so I rested in one of the motor homes only to be awakened later by some bagpipe music that tempted me to rejoin the meelee..
The grandson of His Immenseness at the tender age of fifteen or so was the piper and his younger brother was playing the kettle drum with much flourish and were joined by a young sixteen year old princess with enormous talent. They played with such beauty and finesse that even the oft harrased neighbours couldn't resist to come and enjoy this pleasurable example of youth. I had a bad case of the shakes and couldn't stand up so I settled into a chair with the lovely Donna comforting me. Bud Granley , probably the best living airshow performer (he does a snap roll just after take off in a T6 that defies logic) wrapped my old bag of bones in his jacket as we enjoyed the pipes. I shook like an old radial engine with a bad mag and three plugs oiled up.
Bud wanders off to the pipers ... I sense something going on ...a quick glance at grandpa Jerry ... he is in on it too.
Bud speaks as the crowd hushes. He draws attention to our friends and fallen aviators and suggests we sould never forget them and I am touched.
But then .... " and to them we pay tribute , but also we should pay tribute to those amongst us who will soon pass on ... (a powerful pause) ...and this is now dedicated to Duke Elegant."
First one piper .... Amazing Grace ... the haunting , powerful wailing of the pipes..... and then the second piper kicks in.
My cancer , the pain , the shakes ... all displaced by a joy hitherto unimagined..... hands on by bony , wasted shoulders ... Bud , Mark , Paul , Donna. And a glance at Big Jerry so proud of his grandkids ... this beauty awash in tears of joy.
And all I could say was "It seems like everything is OK."
The "pre funeral pissup" is 25th July at the Transwest Helicopter hangar in Chilliwack and starts early afternoon with a roast pig , BBQ salmon and a band later. So far there are 150 people and all aviators are welcome.
My family including grandchildren and daughter from Montreal will be here for the afternoon festivities.
I sure have wierd friends eh?
I would love to come, however I have to go back to Amsterdam on the 21st.
I will see you when I return and please do not get drunk and ruin your reputation..
After over a half a century of flying no one ever died because of my decision not to fly.