Airplane GEEK

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Airberta Air Rally Day 3: August 27, 2020

By Dennis Fox, EAA 1030810

Another CAVU day and it will be a long one as we’re headed to our most northerly airport destination of the rally at Manning in the Peace River country. I got an early start at 7:45 and headed for Parkland (CPL6) just northwest of Edmonton. A direct course took me through Edmonton International (CYEG) airspace and they are very accommodating with only a minor heading change to avoid traffic. One hour of flight time and I’m on the ground to check things out. CPL6 was built in 2013 about the same time that the Edmonton Muni was closed. The Edmonton Flying Club relocated to CPL6 after being at the Muni since the beginning of time (when it was first called Blatchford Field). I wandered around but didn’t find anyone. It looks like all the flying club airplanes are out this morning.

Back to the RV and I waited my turn for departure following a 172. Next stop is a short 25-minute flight northwest to Barrhead (CEP6). It’s located right beside the golf course but no time for that today. I’m greeted by a very enthusiastic group from the flying club, the first actual live welcome of the rally. Thanks Barrhead, makes for a great start to the day. I happened to mention that I forgot to wear my cap today and the sun was very bright under the RV’s greenhouse. A friendly local aviator made a quick dash to his hangar and presented me with a brand-new Commemorative Air Force cap from his collection. Thanks ever so much, very much appreciated.

I departed at 9:53 and headed northeast for Athabasca (CYWM). As I’m outbound, a familiar voice came over the com and I recognized Mel inbound to Barrhead. A 35-minute flight put me on the ground at CYWM with time for a quick visit to the FBO maintenance facility and some friendly aviation conversation.

Time to make time, so I’m off at 10:36 for High Prairie (CZHP). The course is northwest and takes me along the south side of Lesser Slave Lake and the town of Slave Lake. There was a devastating wildfire in this area in 2011, which forced evacuation of the residents of Slave Lake and damaged much of the town. Today the area looks very green as regrowth of the forest is hiding the scorched earth. 

High Prairie Airport comes into view after a 55-minute flight and it’s busy with traffic arriving. I hear Doug from High River in his Flight Designs light-sport. He is a long way from home. I join in the fun and fit into the lineup to land. High Prairie is rolling out the red carpet today with a barbeque and open house at the airport. The word got out because there are about a dozen aircraft on the ramp as well as a parking lot full of cars. 

Great hospitality, thanks. I was enjoying a burger when Mel and Allan showed up. They are riding together today but not in an RV. They decided that with the distance they had to cover, they had better have something faster. Mel just happened to have a faster airplane, a Glasair III. It’s a good thing I got an early start, and I had better get moving if I’m going to stay ahead of them.

With fuel and stomach both topped off, I’m off to the north country as I head to Manning (CFX4). A direct route will take me over nothing but forest and water and I prefer more hospitable ground below so I followed the highways northwest to Peace River and then north to Manning. There were a few clouds as I turned north and as they got thicker I decided to descend from 8,500 feet to below the base of 6,000. These were the first clouds in three days. The shade under the clouds was a pleasant reprieve from the sun. Into Manning at 13:34 for a quick stop.  Lots of farming in this area and the spray planes are busy. 

As I left Manning and headed back south to Peace River, I heard Mel call inbound to Manning so I know he is hot on my trail. From Peace River, a slight turn to the southwest gets me headed to Grande Prairie. The track is close to Fairview (CEB5) and I decided to land for a photo op with the Fairview farmers’ Canso. The winters are long, dark, and cold in northern Alberta. They decided they needed a project so they retrieved an abandoned Canso from the high Arctic and restored it to flying condition. It took a few years but they got it done in 2017. I was at the Fairview airport for the public debut of the Canso, and it was a great show. A quick pic with the grand old lady and then on to the next stop.

Restored Canso at Fairview

airberta air rally day 3 august 27 2020 Airplane GEEK Airberta Air Rally Day 3: August 27, 2020

Grande Prairie (CYQU) is the largest airport in the northwest and would normally be quite busy except this year things are rather quiet due to COVID. I met up with Claude in his RV-9 out of Red Deer. He is doing the same trip except going the other way around and this is just his first stop. He will probably log some night time before he gets home. As Claude and I are chatting, Mel and Allan arrive. That means it’s time for me to get moving. 

Next destination is Drayton Valley (CER3), which is southeast about 200 miles over nothing but trees and hills. I like to stay closer to civilization so my plan was to keep the highways in sight. This makes the route longer than if I went direct. The sky is clear above a layer of scattered puffy whites and wind is favorable so I decided to climb up to 11,500 for some fast, efficient cruising. Mel and Allan are soon airborne and as we compared ETA’s, it became apparent that my indirect route is not going to be a winning plan. After a few moments of contemplation, I consider the options — follow the highways or direct over the green carpet of forest?  Hmmm … the sky is clear, good tailwind, high altitude, engine is smooth, what could go wrong? So with a quick change of the magenta line, I engage the autopilot and I’ve just reduced my ETA. It looks like it will be close now. A little tweak of the power setting and it looks a little better. Airspeed was nudging 175 kts, groundspeed was creeping towards 185. A quick call to Mel and he is up even higher. My distance to go was less but his airspeed was considerably faster. It looked like we might have a race, so the challenge was offered and accepted. Over the com I heard Claude (on his way to High Prairie) put his money on the Glasair, much to my disappointment! I considered climbing higher in search of more speed but decided against it. With 100 miles to go, I trimmed a little nose down to pick up a little extra speed as I planned a long, long, very long descent into Drayton. Fast forward to mid-downwind at Drayton and Mel was already on final. Close, but today he wins.

Drayton Valley Flying Club has rolled out the red carpet with refreshments and a barbeque for the rally aviators, a big thanks to Jerry and Rose for the great welcome. The turnout was good with about a dozen aircraft on the apron. I did a quick walk of the flightline and I spotted another RV-8. My registration is RVU and it is RVW, almost twins.

The last leg of the day and (for me) the last of the rally is home to CEN3. A short 50-minute flight and that’s the end of three great days of flying. A quick calculation revealed 25 different airports, 28 takeoff/landings, and 13.1 hours of airtime. The final event wrap-up was on Saturday, August 29, at Red Deer Regional (CYQF), however the great weather didn’t hold up as the ceilings lowered and the air was chilly. In spite of the poor weather, a small but enthusiastic crowd enjoyed the displays and presentations. A big thank-you to the Harvard Historical Aviation Society for their great effort in putting on this first annual Air Rally, and I look forward to a bigger and better event for 2021.

Find Part I of Dennis’ story online here.

Find Part II of Dennis’ story online here.

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