Airplane Finds Man

by Ray McBain

COPA / Canadian Flight

May finds me looking at retirement (voluntary). In September I will be turning my companies over to my daughter and her husband. What to do?

For a long time I've been wanting to return to flying for fun. I trained with the R.C.A.F. in 1957 on Chipmunks and Harvards, but haven't renewed my Private Pilot's Licence since 1975.

June 12th I pass a complete medical and renew my Private Pilot's Licence. At the Sainte-Foy, Quebec, airport I pass my Certificate of Proficiency in Radio and prepare for dual time in a Cessna 172, in which long ago I have previous time.

Then fate takes hold! I find myself in the Laurentian Mountains, about an hour and a half north of Montreal, playing in a golf tournament. This is the first week of August and we take the chair lift to the summit of Mont Tremblant. At 3800' ASL on a beautiful day, we can see for miles. From there I spot, about 10 km away to the south, what appears to be a small airport with a grass runway.

I return to the base of the mountain, jump in my jeep and start home toward Montreal and eventually Quebec City. Approaching Saint-Jovite, I see the small plane sign indicating the airport I had spotted from the summit of Tremblant earlier. Curiosity (and the call) takes hold and I turn off Autoroute 15, and drive in to the tiny Saint-Jovite airstrip. I park beside the one (and only) building which turns out to be the hangar, tower and home of the airport operator.

There, lined up on the apron of the runway, are four aircraft of a type I have never seen before in my life. A tall, lanky, gray-haired type, about my age, is ambling towards one of these beautiful Iooking aircraft. I stop him and introduce myself to John Millette, a retired Canadian Pacific Airlines captain. He explains to me that these fascinating aircraft are Challengers and that, after some hours of love labor, the one in front of me called L'il Empress is his.

We are conversing back and forth in English and French when along comes a charming young chap (much younger than us) who introduces himself as Jean-Marc Côté, the airport manager and flying instructor. He quickly understands that I have never seen a Challenger, much less flown in one, and asks if he could take me up in his for a flip about Mont Tremblant.

I say "yes", John Millette says "too bad", and Jean-Marc and I fly away, doors off. Half an hour later, after flying over mountains and landing on lakes, we return to the Saint-Jovite grass strip. Now I know why John Millette said "too bad". I'm hooked!

Jean-Marc explains that he is a Challenger dealer and that these are kit planes which take a couple of hundred hours to build. I explain to him that I am totally enchanted with the Challenger, but that I would never fly something I had built. If anyone ever saw me with tools in my hands, it would be because I'm selling tools. (Not handy okay!)

Jean-Marc says "come with me". There, in his hangar, is a brand new Challenger II, about 85% completed, including wheels, skis and Puddlejumper floats.

This is Sunday. I give Jean-Marc a deposit to reserve this Challenger for a while, allowing me time to go home to Quebec City and decide what to do. Monday I buy the plane and Jean-Marc promises delivery for August 30th. I put in for registration letters to include my name if possible, and luck in with CF-MCB (McBain).

September 5th Jean-Marc is making all kinds of excuses for not being able to deliver on time. Saturday, September 9th I'm driving north of Quebec City to an annual corn roast. As I arrive in the country plains and approach my daughter's home, the road is blocked by a bunch of people.

This turns out to be a surprise birthday party for me, a bit early as I turn 60 on September 30th. Well, there are about a hundred people out in the fields plus an open bar, dining tent, and a méchoui - two lambs roasting on spits over an open fire.

About one hour after my "surprise" arrival, it gets all of a sudden very quiet and my granddaughter, six year old Kaylee, tugs at a pant leg and says "look grampy its your plane". Sure enough, overhead circles an aircraft and I say "not today Kaylee, but soon". Then I take a second look.

Guess what!! Those people had fixed up an airstrip right there in the fields. And Jean-Marc had flown three hours from Saint-Jovite to Valcartier to deliver my birthday gift, from me to me, at my surprise birthday party. What a shock! Well the party was a total surprise and a total success.

Jean-Marc flies back to Saint-Jovite the next day. We've made arrangements for me to go there for my flight training in ultralights and, for the first time ever, on floats.

September 28th I solo at 6:00 p.m. after 8 hours of dual instruction in the Saint-Jovite / Mont Tremblant area.

September 29th at 8:00 a.m. Jean-Marc is in his Challenger, his wife Suzanne in the back seat and five extra gallons of gas strapped to the float struts. I am alone in my Challenger with five extra gallons of gas strapped in the back seat. Together we take off for the COPA Fall Fest, a fly-in at Huntsville, Ontario.

Suzanne is receiving an award and so has to be there, a great excuse for us to make the trip. Not a bad cross country after only 8 hours total in my plane! The weather is unreal, in the positive sense. On the way we fly over small towns and villages at low level. Twice we stop for gas after locating service stations from the air and landing nearby on the lakes. This is real recreational flying! We take 5.1 flying hours to reach the Deerhurst Resort near Huntsville.

When we arrive at Deerhurst, Jean-Marc and I land on the lake and taxi to the shore. With the wheels on our Puddlejumper floats lowered we proceed to drive right up on to the beach. While other people who had arrived in "ordinary" floatplanes are being brought ashore in small boats, we Challenger people - Jean-Marc, Suzanne and I - simply unload our bags into a nearby Bentley owned by Mr. Claude Michaud who drives us to check in.

Saturday, September 30th, Jean-Marc and I move our Challengers from the beach to the airstrip, where the majority of the fly-in aircraft are parked, in order to share the beauty of our craft with other, less fortunate, flying folk. Here we leave our babies and start celebrating, as today is my 60th birthday. At the evening banquet Suzanne receives her "Award of Merit" and we have a great time celebrating this too.

Sunday the two Challengers take off on a beautiful morning and depart Huntsville for Saint-Jovite. We have a tail wind and Jean-Marc figures we can make the return trip with one gas stop instead of two.

Over the Ottawa River we are running on the smell of a grease rag. However, Jean-Marc with wife and baggage, is heavier than me and his grease rag runs out first. He does a deadstick onto the Ottawa River, right in front of Davidson, Quebec, with me, still under power, right behind him.

Jean-Marc has the extra five gallons lashed to his float struts and does a fast mid-stream refuel. Meanwhile, I taxi ashore. It is now 2 o'clock on a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon. The local population had both seen and heard the two aircraft overhead. When I taxi ashore the locals are there to watch. Jean-Marc follows me in. We are treated as Sunday afternoon entertainment. Four wheel drives pick us up, fetch extra jerry cans and off we go to the nearest, and only, service station, about 5-6 miles away.

We return and fuel up, then our driver wants to know if we are hungry. His sister has a snack bar about a hundred yards or so from our planes. We go there and she is happy. The lady says that with our two planes on the beach she will have a good afternoon. I offer to rent her my Challenger as a sign.

We have lunch and, after good-byes all round, take off in formation for Saint-Jovite. Our total flying time from Huntsville to Saint-Jovite is 3.8 hours.

Monday it's another beautiful day and I'm off to bring Challenger CF-MCB to its new home base, Saint-Lambert de Lévis, 15 minutes south of my home in Sainte-Foy. Jean-Marc said he would fly with me to Trois-Rivières. The two Challengers are in the air again, heading east.

The owner of the Saint-Lambert Airport, Daniel Sasseville, knows we are on the way. When we arrive at Trois-Rivières, Daniel is awaiting, having flown in with his Rebel. At this point, Jean-Marc decides to escort us to Saint-Lambert, so the three aircraft head east together.

Exactly 2.5 hours flying time from Saint-Jovite, the Saint-Lambert Airport welcomes home its first Challenger.

From September 28th to October 2nd the Challenger and I have flown 21.5 hours together. The aeroplane has found its man!

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