A lot changes in a year
It has been a year to the day (if you are reading this on july 25th) that I posted my final text entry to the Cross Canada Solo Challenge blog. Over the past year a lot has happened, I will try to highlight the most important stuff here.
The aircraft that I flew across the country, Cessna 182 C-FIUE, was sold to my uncle, Richard Ross, whom I checked out in the aircraft. He was a fairly new pilot and wanted some tips from me, since I had flown by far the most hours on FIUE of anyone other than previous owners. In the fall of 2012 we went out for a few flights, mostly going to and from water, but we went over to the Sudbury airport a few times as well. This was a fun experience, I had never played the role of instructor before.
In late winter of 2013 I began flight training for the practical test of the Private Pilot Licence. At this point I was training on C-FIUE with a new instructor. After many difficulties with aircraft documentation, weight and balance, and general flight test knowledge I passed the test. I am now officially a Canadian Private Pilot! (During the last two years I was a recreational pilot).
By far the biggest, most tragic event of the year happened on July 4th. It started as a day full of flying, I was planning on logging 5+ hours that day. The first flight of the day was a short cross country trip which was fairly uneventful. For the second portion of flying I departed Sudbury, specifically Ramsey Lake, with two passengers. We were enroute to Griffith Island. Over the radio I heard Richard, my uncle, who was also flying to Griffith Island. He was making his routine radio calls on the appropriate frequencies. We heard him take off of his home lake, land at my Grandfather’s camp, and depart en route to Griffith. Little did I know these were the last words of his voice I would ever hear.
When I arrived at Griffith I dropped off my passengers and headed down to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to pick up more guests. The flight to toronto was uneventful, but when I got there my supposed passengers informed me of the accident. At first I did not know who had crashed, since two airplanes were both approaching the Griffith strip at the same time. However I had a good guess as to who it was. Richard had by far the least flying experience and a bigger load. At this point I decided not to fly myself home. After I had booked a porter flight home my father told me that it was, in fact, Richard’s Plane that had crashed; furthermore all 3 passengers had perished. These three men were my: grandfather [Riki Gougeon], uncle [Richard Ross] and second uncle [Jamie Gougeon].
As a pilot who has flown the approach to Griffith island many times I know how the incident happened. I have heard a few news outlets reporting things like they were trying to land on the water with the wheels down, however this is not true. The bottom line is that the wing stalled on approach, causing a rapid loss of altitude. Since the aircraft essentially fell out of the sky it had lots of energy when the impact happened, from what I have heard all three were killed on impact.
This incident will have an impact on my life forever, at first I thought that I may never fly again. Over time I realized that flying is something that I thoroughly enjoy, my father asked me, “Do you really love flying?” My response was along the lines of, “I don’t know, all I know is that I like flying more than anything else.” Another thing that helped me get over the newfound fear of the airplane was my aunt Judy (Richard’s wife). She told me that she did not get mad or sad or upset at all when an airplane flew overhead, it gave her a sense of wonder. I believe her words were “it could be them up there.” These two factors helped me get back into the cockpit.
I am glad to say that in the last month I have logged about 5 hours in various airplanes (See attached picture), and will continue to fly for the foreseeable future.
Thankyou to everyone who supported the Cross Canada Solo Challenge.
P.S. I have an extra redcanoebrands Cross Canada Solo Challenge hat for anyone who beats my record!
It ain’t over till it’s over!
When we arrived in Halifax I was relieved… I was ready to go back home. After a few days of visiting Halifax we flew to Moncton to see some cousins. By Monday we were leaving to come back to Sudbury. It was only then that I realized just how lucky we had been in terms of weather. On that day there were huge thunder storms.
I took off from Moncton with the intention of making it to Quebec city in a single flight. I had to fly north of the border because of my restricted Recreational license, but when I got to the St. Lawrence river I could see dark clouds on the other side. The weather radar also showed heavy precipitation that way. I had to turn around and fly north up the river to find a spot to stop for a few hours.
On the ground I waited for a few hours, periodically checking the weather. Eventually I found an opening, to the North West and South West there were rain pockets, however directly west there was nothing. I took off and headed West, immediately crossing the river. The clouds were low, almost minimum for VFR flight, however I was in constant contact with Montreal terminal, they were advising me of weather. Closer to Quebec city, about 30 miles out, I was informed of a major storm cell that was directly over the airport, and ATC advised we turn around. I found a small airport about 30 miles North East of the current position and flew there.
Not 30 minutes after we landed the storm cell hit us, heavy rain and lightning. After over 4 hours of trying to wait it out we made the decision to stay the night.
The next day the weather was not great, at times almost minimum for VFR flight, but after about 100 miles the overcast clouds were behind, and I was thankful to leave that stressful situation behind!
Finally in Halifax
Well we just landed in Halifax. My entire family was at the airport, well almost all of them.
This morning we woke up bright and early, 5:50. by 6:50 the planes were being loaded and we were off the water at 7:10. The flight down south to Collingwood was a short one by this trip’s standards, only just over an hour. Landing at Collingwood was easy, as I had been training there for 3 years. I enjoyed seeing friends and teachers from my past 3 years of highschool.
CTV news was there, they took footage of my landing and takeoff, and a few other reporters were there as well, though nothing was unexpected about those interviews.
Taking off from Collingwood was easy, and we were on the
road again towards Sherbrooke, Soon we were over Quebec. The approach into Sherbrook I tried to check the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service), a computer system that plays airport information and weather on a continuous loop, but being quebec it was in french! I only managed to get a few numbers out of it, but nothing important that I really needed. I flew over the airport to get a good idea of the winds and made a smooth landing. Our planes full of gas and our bladders empty we headed for Halifax.
In halifax I was met with a big challenge, the maximum crosswind limit for my plane. It is the biggest crosswind I have landed in in a while, but I was not nervous, I knew I could do it, and if something went wrong I could always just overshoot and come back around. The first go I had to overshoot, not because of something I did, but a big Air Canada jet was approaching behind me, it was a combination of my airplane going slow, him going fast, and it being easier for me to overshoot and go around, so ATC told me to overshoot. The second approach I had the perfect mindset, I was going to land the plane, no doubt, I knew I could do it, but I was not going to risk myself or the plane in the process. I had done near max crosswind landings in the past, they always ended, “well” (admittedly a bit bumpy). Yes I was a bit nervous, but as mentioned in my Science North Speech that is not a bad thing.
I must say it was a great landing, I came in at the perfect altitude, a bit high for safety, faster than a normal approach because of the intense crosswind and crabbing into the wind to keep the plane over the centerline of the runway. At the last second I corrected the crabbing, made the nose point straight down the runway, and landed nicely. Once the wings stopped generating lift I had another problem, staying on the runway. Since the wind was so strong from the right it wanted to push my plane off to the left, with a little differential breaking I kept it in the center of the runway. It was definitely one of the hardest landings I have ever done solo.
So we made it to halifax in one piece, we were extremely lucky with respect to weather and our aircraft having no difficulties whatsoever. I don’t think the sense of accomplishment has set in yet, but consciously I know it is a huge journey.
I still have more pictures, videos, ect to come… so stay tuned, it’s not over yet!
P.S. The fundraising effort for the COPA Neil Armstrong fund has just begun. An extremely generous aviation family in Sudbury has offered to match any donation you make up to $10,000. So please, if you are able, a donation to the NAF would be much appreciated and will now go twice as far!
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you do make a donation please mention my name or the CCSC so that we can track the donations generated by the Cross Canada Solo Challenge and your donations will be matched!
Sudbury at last!
I know I didn’t make a post yesterday, I stayed at the friends cottage in lake of the woods because of the timing. If we tried to get home we would have still been flying by 9:00, there are a few things wrong with that: I have no night rating, you can’t land on water at night, and after 3 full days of flying we were tired. Therefore we decided the best course of action was to split the leg up into two days, no big deal.
Let’s start with the yesterday.
When we got to the Regina airport it was about 8:00 local time, the ramp helper had not shown up yet. He arrived a few minutes later, only to discover their fuel tank was almost completely empty, they only had enough to fill a few jerry cans. We had to wait for about an hour for the esso fuel truck to arrive, and by 10:00 we were taking off.
We headed for Lake of the Woods once again, the weather this day was not as great as the three previous days, but VFR (Visual Flight Rules) nonetheless. The approach and landing was exciting to say the least, Video to come in the next few days. By the time we landed on the lake it was 1:30, after lunch and a quick swim it was 2:30. At this point we would have been another 6 hours in the air and at least 1 on the ground in Thunder bay getting fuel, bringing us to 9:00 landing in Sudbury. At that point the decision to stay the night was made.
This morning my dad was up at 5:00 fuelling the planes, I managed to sleep until 7:30. After a quick breakfast and goodbye and we took-off for Thunder Bay. In Thunder bay we had a short bathroom break and fuel up before we went enroute to Sudbury. The first part of this flight was over the water; This part was cool because I could see the water (remaining VFR) but the haze and/or smoke made it so there was virtually no horizon, a few times I felt as though I was flying straight and level, when actually the plane was in a turn one way or the other. After passing lake Superior we met with some low clouds that I had to duck under. And a little closer to Sudbury we threaded the needle between a few big clouds. After landing I did a quick update interview with CTV and that was that.
We made it all the way to victoria BC in only 2 days, and since the weather is good we will be departing Tofino today. However the fog seems to be a problem around here, the locals call it faugust, if we can’t make it to land at Tofino we will fly over the airport and take some pictures as proof that we have been there. I am hopeful that we will be able to fly another 7-8 hours today and make it back to Regina by tonight.
Now for yesterday’s story time.
Breakfast was good old Canadian tim hortons, pretty uneventful if you ask me. We took a cab to the airport, and I managed to do a phone interview whilst inside the vehicle. Taking off from Regina was uneventful, 3 hours in the air and we landed at an airport just south of calgary. There we fuelled up and took off again. From studying the map I could tell the rockies were close, but the way they appeared was so cool. The horizon looked like it was fog or smog, and as we approached the rockies they slowly emerged from the mist. Our planes struggled to climb up to the 10500 feet ASL that is required to safely fly over the mountains, any less altitude and you must fly through the mountain passes.
Since the air is thin at that altitude the engine looses power, and it must be kept at full throttle, even to maintain altitude. We were extremely lucky in the sense that flying over the rockies yielded almost no turbulence because the slightest bit of turbulence could cause a loss of altitude, potentially leading to a dangerous situation. Usually when mountain flying turbulence is a given. Flying over such rugged terrain was a very neat experience, and I look forward to doing it again today.