|Since 1990 Canadian members of the International
Challenger Owners Association (ICOA) have expanded their horizons by promoting
and organizing long distance group flights to interesting and unusual destinations.
In 2008 Quad City Ultralight Aircraft Corporation, manufacturer of the
Challenger line of aircraft, celebrated its 25th Anniversary so there was
no better place in the world for Challengers to congregate than in Moline,
Illinois, birthplace of all Challengers.
(Webmaster's Note: You can click on the pictures below to see enlargements.)
Five Challenger pilots comprised the Canadian contingent. From Ontario, Henry McKinlay of Honey Harbour, Bryan Quickmire of Bluewater Beach, Keith Robinson of Coldwater, Claude Roy of Ottawa, and Patrick Vinet from St-Jovite, Quebec. Ground support was a welcome addition this year with Yvonne McKinlay and Gwen Robinson joining the team in a comfortable sport utility vehicle. Joan Armstrong, Claude's wife, also participated by riding her Harley-Davidson motorcycle and meeting the group at destination.
Claude took on the task of preparing an initial group flight plan, which was approved by all as a template, subject to modifications as required along the road. As three of the participants are from the Georgian Bay area and two others are from the Ottawa region, the plan called for Patrick and Claude to meet en route at the Cobden Airport, up the Ottawa River Valley and then fly from Cobden to meet the rest of the group at Henry's place in Honey Harbour. From there, the group of five aircraft will generally fly west on a wide counter clockwise pattern around Georgian Bay to cross the US Border at Drummond Island, MI, and carry on along the north and west side of Lake Michigan to destination.
The return trip will bring the group south to Indiana, then east to Ohio to visit the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. From there, the Georgian Bay group will split north to hit the western edge of Lake Erie and clear Canadian Customs at Pelee Island and carry on home. In the meantime, the Eastern Ontario group will head east and eventually north to complete a full circle around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The tour will officially finish once Patrick gets back home to the St-Jovite/Mont Tremblant (QC) Airport.
Overall, the group safely covered over 2,062 air miles (3,318 kms) in 14 days, landing on 29 occasions while visiting great places and meeting with many old and new friends. Here is a brief account of each one of these 14 days of adventure.
ADVENTURE TAKES FLIGHT
Day 1, Saturday, 13 September. Cloudy, temp 22C, wind north 5 kms.
The weather is uncertain. There is an enormous cold front sitting over the Great Lakes, coming eastbound and it is expected over Georgian Bay by supper time. Aware of all this, Patrick makes a hasty departure from St-Jovite/Mont Tremblant (CSZ3) as soon as the morning fog lifts off. Just before taking off, he calls Claude, who is standing by in Ottawa, so that Claude can time himself to meet Patrick two hours later at Cobden (CPF4).
This works perfectly and the two aircraft find themselves two miles apart in the Cobden circuit. On the ground, Bob McDonald, a resident Challenger fellow, is standing by with fuel and food for the two adventurers. A quick turn around is done and both Challengers get back in the air towards Haliburton/Stanhope (CND4).
The straight line flight is made over mountainous terrain and at low level, due to a complete cloud cover at 3,000 feet. All goes well and, once in Haliburton, the two flyers have a chance to consult an Internet station to see where the rain is situated exactly. The Doppler radar screen confirms they can make it through to Honey Harbour before the rain gets there. They land safely on floats around 17:00 hours local, to be warmly greeted by Yvonne and Henry McKinlay. Just minutes after the airplanes are put to bed, the rain starts.
Day 2, Sunday, 14 September. Rain, temp 20C, wind northwest 20-40 kms.
Little can be done today because of rain and high winds. The three flyers have a map session, adjust their GPS routings and discuss the weather. With Bryan still at the Edenvale Airport (CNV8), Keith is also standing by at his cottage just north of here on Go Home Lake. With rain plus high winds announced for tomorrow, a decision is easily made to forget about tomorrow morning for a possible getaway. The upshot is that everybody stops worrying and gets a good night's sleep.
Day 3, Monday, 15 September. Rain, temp 20C, wind northwest 20-50 kms.
The rain stops mid-morning, opening the door for Bryan and Keith to fly to Honey Harbour for a group departure later on that day.
It takes some time to get the right weather and some effort for Henry and Keith to get their engines going, but the group gets underway towards Killarney (CPT2) around 15:30 hrs. With gas on the back seat and a stiff wind on the nose, it is felt prudent to find a spot and refuel after an hour's worth of flying. The chosen spot is the beach at Killbear Provincial Park where a curious crowd gathers to watch the proceedings around this unusual array of colourful floatplanes.
Once all are topped up, the group gets airborne again in very windy conditions. The remainder of the flight to Killarney is bumpy but manageable. Once landed, a transportation vehicle brings the group to the Killarney Mountain Lodge, for an excellent supper and a well-deserved night's rest.
Before going to bed, plans are firmed up for Yvonne and Gwen to meet the flyers at the Drummond Island Airport (KDRM) the next afternoon.
Day 4, Tuesday, 16 September. Mostly cloudy, temp 18C, wind south 30-50 kms.
The sky is clearing, but winds are not letting up at all. No matter, the guys have enough experience to handle these blustery conditions. So a bumpy flight brings the flying armada to the Gore Bay Airport (CYZE) where a less-than-elegant crosswind landing is made by all.
Drummond Island is only one hour away from Gore Bay, but the US Customs need a two-hour prior notice before dealing with any international arrival. This gives the group a little reprieve to do the phone calls, get their own papers in order, get the airplanes refueled and get ready to go at the announced take off time. This is executed in a textbook fashion, except maybe for the take off which is done from the taxiway into a 30+ kms/hour wind right on the nose. Nobody else is around to complain, so why not?
As expected, the landing at Drummond Island is rough, but all make it OK. Yvonne and Gwen are there already and take several pictures of the group's arrival. Minutes later, the US Customs Officers arrive and formalities are easily dispensed with. In two short hops, Yvonne provides transportation to the Drummond Island Resort, a very nice hotel where a joyous evening reunion takes place and Claude gets the best score bowling after dinner.
Day 5, Wednesday, 17 September. Few clouds, temp 20C, wind northwest 20-40 kms.
The weather has improved, but the flight is still facing headwinds today. From Drummond Island, the group flies westbound over the water to Mackinaw County (83D). On departure from there, with the Mackinaw Bridge in view, Keith says on the radio that he has a gear problem. His gear is up but not locked. He knows what the problem is and he reassures everyone that it can easily be fixed upon landing at our next stop, the Manistique/Schoolcraft Airport (KISQ).
As expected, Keith's problem is dealt with easily in Manistique. Once fed and refreshed, both men and machine get back in the air, westbound again towards Lake Noquebay, MI. Patrick has a friend there, Jim Halbrook, who has kindly invited us all to join him at his lovely property which has a ramp and enough spare space for five Challengers and their crews.
The GPS coordinates are precise and the floatplanes are soon bobbing in the waters of Lake Noquebay, busy putting their gear down and climbing the cement ramp to a pristine lawn between the two family cottages. Minutes later, the ground crew also shows up in the driveway.
Rooms get distributed, Patrick searches the lake for his camera and cell phone, drinks and appetizers suddenly appear and a great BBQ meal soon follows. The crowd is treated to a beautiful sunset and a restful sleep. Many thanks go to Jim Halbrook for his generous hospitality.
Day 6, Thursday, 18 September. Sunny, temp 20C, wind southeast 20 kms.
The morning is spent refueling the aircraft and visiting Jim's hangar at the nearby Crivitz Airport (3D1), where he flies his pristine RANS S-6 Coyote on which he plans to install PuddleJumper Floats.
Around noon, all get airborne, but Claude suddenly remembers that he left his camera on top of the fridge in the guest cottage. So he lands again, with Bryan staying airborne and waiting for Claude to be airborne again. This effectively splits the group in two, but everyone is able to maintain radio contact.
Today's destination, Oshkosh, WI, is only one flight away. As most of you know, Whitman Field (KOSH) is home to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and to AirVenture, the biggest annual gathering of airplanes on earth.
But what many people don't know is that you can land at Oshkosh and taxi right to the Hilton Garden Inn by the threshold of Runway 09. The group has overnight reservations there and it is quite a treat to walk from your aircraft right into a plush hotel's lobby.
There is enough time left in the afternoon for the group to have a quick bite and go to the EAA Museum for a peek at the famous experimental planes gathered there.
Upon return to the hotel, the pilots get their aircraft refueled and ready for the next morning. Later on, everybody walks over to the Charcoal Pit for dinner and to celebrate Yvonne's birthday. The evening is stretched a bit with a nightcap at the hotel's lounge and, one by one, people tell the group good night.
Day 7, Friday, 19 September. Sunny, temp 22C, wind southwest 20-30 kms.
In everyone's mind, today is the big day, where we arrive in formation at our destination, Erie Airpark (3H5), just north east of Moline, IL. It will happen, but it will prove laborious.
It starts with Patrick having some carburetor issues before taxiing out of the Oshkosh Hilton parking lot. As the winds are from the south west, a departure on Runway 22 is approved by Oshkosh ATC, straight out towards Black Hawk Airport (87Y) in Madison, WI.
Once landed there, the group learns that, due to a local dispute, there is no gas available. After measuring what gas is left in the tanks and looking carefully at the maps, the plan is revised to spread out the remaining gas equally and all fly to the Monroe Municipal Airport (KEFT). Once there, the guys get a taxi to town and eat.
After a late lunch the flock is airborne at about 16:00 hours, with enough time and fuel to make it to Erie Airpark. Upon arrival, the plan is for the "Canadian Reds" to do a left-hand fighter break maneuver at 1,400 feet ASL over the threshold of Runway 18 to come in for a staggered formation landing on Erie Airpark's 200-foot wide grass runway.
The formation is now in Indian file, six miles back, on final for Erie Airpark's Runway 18. They are just about to switch frequency, with Claude in the lead. All of a sudden, Keith, who flies in no. 4 position, says: "My engine is losing power". The next thing we hear is Henry asking: "There is a bog just below us". The third communication is from Bryan, flying at the tail end of the formation. He sees the drama unfolding, so he says: "I'll stay back" and also reminds Keith to ensure his gear is back up for his anticipated forced water landing.
This helps Claude tremendously. So the next transmission from Claude is: "All three others, we continue. We land and we come back via ground transport. So let's switch to airport frequency now."
The remaining three Canadian Reds land smoothly on Runway 18 and quickly park all three aircraft. They are very brief on introductions and quickly get a ground search party organized which includes Yvonne and Gwen who had arrived 45 minutes prior to the pilots. On the way there, they get in touch with Bryan, who is still doing top cover for Keith. He directs the group to the spot by radio and then darts towards Erie Airpark, his fuel getting really low.
The ground party finds Keith quite relaxed, by the side of the peat moss bog where he landed on floats. For those who don't know, peat moss is normally cultivated in water areas big enough and deep enough for a floatplane to land on and take off from.
The good news is Keith's aircraft is undamaged. The bad news is Keith's aircraft has a fuel flow restriction. The consensus at this point is, with darkness coming, that a repair party will be organized early tomorrow morning to find and eliminate this fuel flow restriction, so Keith can fly his airplane to the airfield.
By the time all get to their hotel, it is at least 22:00 hours and it does not take long for this bunch of tired people to sleep deeply.
Day 8, Saturday, 20 September. Partly cloudy, temp 24C, wind calm.
This is a planned resting day, but the rest will come only after Keith's plane gets rescued from the peat moss bog. This gets done promptly and it requires emptying and cleaning the gas tank, replacing the fuel filter and cleaning the two carburetors. Many thanks go to Jim and Brian from Erie Airpark for their tireless efforts in the rescue of and repairs to Keith's plane. With all the engine hesitations gone, Keith has no difficulty flying the last six miles between him and all his friends at Erie Airpark.
Then, the real festivities begin for the Canadian contingent at Jim and Sue Robinson's Erie Airpark. They have a beautiful property where they hosted the 25th Anniversary Party for Quad City Ultralight Corp. Fifty-four Challengers and 9 other aircraft participated in the Fly-In activities which included flying demos, BBQs, campfires and music.
Day 9, Sunday, 21 September. Partly cloudy, temp 25C, wind south 10-15 kms.
Today again is an "R&R" day, where rest and relaxation are the order of the day. A bit of local flying is done by Bryan and Claude, the ladies go shopping, and the rest of the day is spent talking to people at the Fly-In. The only duty the guys have on their plate is to get their individual planes ready for the return trip.
Day 10, Monday, 22 September. Partly cloudy, hazy, temp 24C, wind southeast 10-20 kms.
First thing in the morning, the group gets a tour of the Quad City Ultralight aircraft Corporation manufacturing plant. Many thanks go to Dave Goulet and his wife Sandy, Karen Oltman, and many others for helping put together a wonderful Fly-In.
Today, the group officially goes from five members to four, with Bryan losing his Challenger ride to its new owner, Mike Hughes, who came from Edmonton, Alberta, to pick up C-IROC.
It takes a while to get through all the goodbyes. All of us express our gratitude to Jim and Sue Robinson for the wonderful Fly-In they hosted at Erie Airpark. The guys finally get airborne around 10:30 hours. The flight in a south eastbound direction gets to the Morris Municipal Airport (C09) without any problems. The ground crew meets it there with plenty of Subway sandwiches.
From there, the second leg brings the group in Monticello, IN (KMCX). Once there, they refuel rapidly, reconnect with the ground crew and all depart again for the last jaunt of the day towards Marion, IN.
The flight, once again, is without any hiccup. Once on the ground at Marion (KMZZ), the group is offered the airport's courtesy car to a hotel downtown. Once supper is done, everybody retires early.
Day 11, Tuesday, 23 September. Hazy, temp 23C, wind southeast 5-10 kms.
Today's objective is to fly to Dayton, Ohio, and visit the US Air Force Museum, considered by many to be the best military aviation museum in the world. The morning flight to Xenia, OH (I19) is very smooth. On landing, Keith's left wheel rolls a bit and then retracts into the float, leaving a fair amount of fiberglass on the asphalt runway.
As soon as he can, Keith puts the aircraft into the grass, stops the engine and waits for his companions to come and give him a hand. The airplane is lifted, the lock is put into place and Keith taxies the airplane to where the others are on the ramp.
A visit to the USAF Museum has to be a highlight for anyone interested in aviation. This gets done during the afternoon. Later, after a quick stop at an AutoZone store, Keith, with Henry and Patrick to help him, goes back to the airport to install a first coat of fiberglass on the bottom of his left float. Claude stays with Yvonne and Gwen to get the hotel rooms sorted out. He comes back later to pick up all three guys and bring them to the chosen hotel.
A great steak supper serves as a last opportunity to have a meal all together. The decision is still to split the group in two, with Keith and Henry going straight north towards Sarnia, ON. Claude and Patrick will stay south of both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, to fly towards Kingston, ON.
Day 12, Wednesday, 24 September. Partly cloudy, temp 22C, wind southeast 5-10 kms.
Claude and Patrick are the first ones to get airborne shortly after 8 AM. They enjoy a tail wind to their first stopover, in Wooster, OH (KBJJ). From there, they fly to Youngstown, OH (4J4).
During lunch at the local Chinese restaurant, Patrick gets all excited when he sees a weird but familiar name on the map: Punxsutawney, PA. Two weeks ago, Patrick had watched a movie, Ground Hog Day, with his kids at home. The film takes place in Punxsutawney, home of Punxy Phil, the celebrated ground hog.
So the destination for the night gets changed. Two hours later, the fellows land at the Punxsutawney Municipal Airport (N35) where Dick, a local aviation man, brings them to see the different locations the town is so famous for. Later, he drops them at the historic Pantall Hotel, just across from where Punxy Phil, the ground hog, actually resides during the summer months.
Meanwhile, Henry and Keith had an enjoyable tailwind-assisted flight to Sarnia, clearing customs at Pelee Island en route.
Day 13, Thursday, 25 September. Partly cloudy, temp 20C, wind northeast 10-15 kms.
Another great flying day is in store, except maybe for the headwinds expected all day. Claude and Patrick depart 'Punxy Town' east towards the mountains and Lock Haven, PA, home of the Piper Memorial Museum. They get there and land on the original grass runway at the Piper Memorial Airport (KLHV). Of course, they also take time to visit the museum.
The day's second flight is to Harris Hill, near Elmira, NY. There, after a good landing on Runway 19, on the top of the hill, they visit the adjacent US National Soaring Museum. The Museum staff is quite excited about the unusual visit of two amphibious airplanes, something rarely seen because of their very short 1,900 ft runway. They take lots of pictures and promise the aircraft will be featured in the next edition of their monthly newsletter.
To cap the day off, the two flyers get airborne, contact the Elmira Terminal Area controller and get a clearance through to Hammondsport, NY, home of the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. About an hour later, they land downtown on Keuka Lake, the exact place where Glenn Curtiss flew the world's first boat-hull seaplane in 1911.
After such a historical journey through time and space, the two flyers find private accommodations near their beached airplanes, enjoy a good supper at the local pub and refuel their aircraft before turning in for the night.
Keith and Henry arrive home after a leisurely flight north from Sarnia along the shoreline of Lake Huron to Kincardine and then east to Collingwood for fuel. Gwen and Yvonne arrive a few hours later, having put 4,300 kms on the car.
Day 14, Friday, 26 September. Mostly cloudy, temp 20C, wind south east 10-20 kms.
Rain is about two hours south of Hammondsport and heading this way, so Claude and Patrick decide to forego the planned visit to the Curtiss Museum to stay in the dry; they are now on the stretch home. If all goes well, everybody should be sleeping in their own bed tonight.
The first stop is Seneca Falls, NY (0G7), soon followed by Fulton, NY (KFZY). From there, Patrick makes the necessary phone calls, first to the Canadian Customs, then to the US flight planning folks to register an international flight plan from Oswego to the Kingston Airport (CYGK), via the shores of Lake Ontario. The flight goes without a hitch and the two airplanes are soon pulling up at the pumps in Kingston.
The best strategy is to stay ahead of the rain. So the guys lose no time, get into their cockpits and fly north east to Smiths Falls (CYSH). Once there, both aircraft get fuel, the two friends shake hands and in succession, they get airborne on their last journey home.
Claude goes directly north to the Carleton Place (CNR6), while Patrick keeps flying towards the north east to the St-Jovite Airport. They keep in touch via radio until Claude gets near the circuit in Carleton Place. Finally, Patrick closes the loop by phoning Claude to confirm he is home, safe and sound. The trip is officially over.
All told and not counting any individual or local ground travel, this adventure to Quad City involved 29 group flights and covered a minimum straight-line distance of 2,062 statute miles (3,318 kms) in 14 days. The trip was done in 47 flying hours for an average speed of 44 miles (71 kms) per hour. The trip's average leg length was 69 miles (111 kms) while the longest leg was 115 miles (185 kms) and the shortest was 26 miles (42 kms).
What conclusions can we draw from such an adventure? First and foremost is the fact you can travel long distances in a well-equipped ultralight. Sure, you fly slow, you fly short legs and it takes long to get anywhere, but this should all be viewed as a positive, especially if you value time aloft.
In addition, you quickly realize there is no correlation between the actual size of your aircraft and the amount of fun you derive from it. We may be biased, but we sincerely think ultralights offer the biggest "bang for the buck", as they provide you with the best and biggest flying thrills for your money. And value for money is always a good thing!
Also, group flying is a wonderful experience. You will be amazed at the cumulative amount of knowledge, skill and support a group offers to its own participants. Invariably, the group acts like an insurance policy against trouble that otherwise would impede one's progress.
As a testimony to the above paragraph, since these yearly group flights started back in 1990, no ICOA-run expedition has ever left a pilot or a machine stranded behind. This trip was no different. It speaks volumes about the quality of today's Challenger ultralights. It also says a lot about the careful preparations of all the participants over the years.
It should be mentioned that we, as Canadians, were welcomed by friendly, curious and helpful people wherever we landed in the US. A pleasant reminder of the wonderful neighbours we have south of the border who share our passion for aviation.
Let us leave you with one final thought: the vast majority of life's limitations are self-imposed. You owe it to yourself to extend your own personal limits. Big or small, your aircraft is a wonderful "personal development" vehicle to extend your physical as well as your mental horizons. What are you waiting for? Let's go flying!