By Mike Davenport, EAA 89102, Langley, BC
The house phone rang early in the evening — a rare event as most calls come in on my cell. My wife answered the call and then handed me the phone with a puzzled look. I looked at the number and it came up with a 204 area code that I knew to be Manitoba. A Dr. Jill Oakes was on the line and apparently tracked me down through EAA, having read me in Bits and Pieces. As you’ll see below, she’s no ordinary “doctor.” She was looking for someone to do a pre-purchase inspection on a 1956 Cessna 172 — one of the original “fastback” models that was for sale here in Langley. One thing led to another and I was able to direct her to someone with the skills required for the task.
In closing the call, I half-jokingly suggested if she needed a ferry pilot, I would be happy to perform that duty. I had been to Winnipeg in 2019 en route to Oshkosh so I knew the way and was familiar with flying in British Columbia’s mountains, something that seems to intimidate flatlanders.
She took me up on the offer and later modified it to be just as far as Okotoks in southern Alberta. A couple of members of her Ninety-Nines group volunteered to look after the flat part of the trip from there to Lyncrest on the eastern edge of Winnipeg.
After carefully planning two routes through the mountains with one ending early in Okotoks and the other in Winnipeg, a blanket of sorts got thrown on the project. Travel bans were in place between some of the provinces due to the pandemic. Although I had had my first shot, there remained concerns around hotel stays and an airline flight home. The aircraft had a couple of minor snags and an oil leak that had to be dealt with prior to the trip and I needed a checkride since my last flight in a 172 was in 1981. The single radio was also suspect so I would take my portable Icom just in case.
The checkride was completed on the Wednesday morning with no major snags with the help and guidance of Yvonne Smith. I had forgotten how comfortable a 172 could be. With the little wheel on the front, it was easier to see the runway than from my Stinson. The rate of climb was not quite as good but I found the airplane to be solid and stable in the air. The manual flaps were familiar and located on the floor similar to my Stinson. The trim was easier to reach, also being on the floor beside the flap handle. The plane was in good shape and had been thoroughly inspected by both Geoff Guest and Werner Griesbeck, both licensed and experienced with classic aircraft.
Yvonne’s story is interesting. A former cabin crew member at West Jet who wanted something more from her flight experience, she became a commercial pilot and a Class 3 flight instructor and one who brings a pile of people skills to the task. She made the check simple and stress free.
The flight to Alberta was around 500 miles whether by the northern scenic route through Revelstoke or the more open southern one through Cranbrook. As things turned out, my planning skills were for naught. Family health issues intervened at the very last minute and I was unable to go. Jill took only moments to solve that problem and quickly found a qualified alternate.
23-year-old Zoltan Kondakor leaped into the breach on very short notice for the flight to Regina. He is very familiar with mountain flying, having had his first light plane ride in a PA-38 Tomahawk in Creston. An immigrant from Hungary at the age of three and a self-confessed airplane nut, his first reported word was neither dada nor mama but ”repulo” (airplane in Hungarian). He subsequently learned to fly in the Fraser Valley and earned his commercial licence with night, multi, IFR, float, and instructor endorsements.
Zoltan knew this particular 172 very well. While still a new flight instructor, one day two of his students bought this old straight-tailed Cessna and insisted that he complete their training on this, their newest possession. Once he got checked out, he then checked out the new owners and then took them through solo to PPL in their classic Cessna.
An early departure from Langley was necessary in order to complete the trip to Regina in one day. Heading east out of the valley with Mount Baker off to the right in Washington, sunglasses were mandatory flying into the sunrise. With perfect weather, a rarity in the spring in British Columbia, his first stop was in Creston. This was fortuitous as Creston not only had the cheapest fuel around but just happened to be where his family lives. After refueling the 172 and having an early lunch with his family, he headed east towards Cranbrook and into the flatlands to Medicine Hat.
As a pilot who trained and flew extensively in the mountains of British Columbia, Zoltan was unfamiliar with the prairies and the fact that the horizon was so far away. He stated his profound respect for flatland flyers, his ForeFlight, and his ability to fly IFR (in this case I Follow Roads) over Hwy 1.
Prairie pilots well know that wind can be an issue there and indeed it was at the Hat with 15G32 and “crossways to all runways.” As this was a no-go, he changed his plan and extended to Swift Current. The winds at “Speedy Creek” were just as bad at 17G30 but fortunately were right down runway 22 as a pit stop for fuel and a second lunch were the order of the day.
The last leg into Regina went well and the Regina Flying Club went above and beyond with tie-downs, taxi, and hotel information. The next morning Zoltan returned to Vancouver via Air Canada. His route west had solid undercast except for one brief clear spot over Kootenay Lake and Creston that allowed him to see where he had gotten both fuel and family time the day before.
Jill Oakes arranged to pick up the 172 at Regina and have it taken the rest of the way to Winnipeg and eventually to its new home at Lyncrest.
Dr. Oakes is a force to be reckoned with and for her, all things are possible. I have come to believe that neither “no” nor “can’t” have any part in her extensive vocabulary. Besides earning a commercial pilot’s license in 1982, Jill is also a Full Professor of Environment and Geography at the University of Manitoba. When asked what are you researching and what excites you about it she replied “I am studying ways to eliminate barriers in order to increase the number of women working in the field of aviation from 6% to 50% women. It is extremely exciting to meet women who are paving the way for the next generation of aviators.” She has numerous books and over 100 publications to her credit and is highly thought of in that area of her life.
More to the aviation side of her career, she is very involved in the Ninety-Nines, successfully encouraging young women to seek a flying career. One of the ways she does this is to arrange for donor money to buy an aircraft and then rent it out to aspiring female pilots at very nominal rates that allow them to build hours without accruing significant financial woes. Proof of her success lies in the fact that some of these same students now have careers with local airlines such as Fast Air and Perimeter Air. To promote gender equity in aviation, Oakes has established a number of flight training scholarships for interested young women.
For this particular acquisition, by my count she involved over 31 people in the purchase and transportation of the 172. The list included pilots, mechanics, insurance brokers, and many others. It was quite a privilege to watch her in action monitoring the flight by Google Messenger. Because of her efforts, this “new” C172 will go a long way towards allowing many more young women to build hours at minimal cost.