The passionate world of aviation holds within its arms many breathtaking moments for those who seek its charms. Many have felt the seismic power of a B-1B Lancer in afterburner at an air show; a few have flown upside down with their hair on fire at Maple Flag, while others revel in the nerdy science of collecting aircraft registrations. But perhaps the most sublime of aviation’s gifts is the country airfield on a sunlit day in June. The cool close-cropped grass of the strip rolling away in gentle undulations, the cicadas buzzing, a wind sock creaking in its pivot, the smell of lilac, avgas and toolboxes – these combine to slow your blood, free your mind and to ease you back to a gentler time. Your walk will slow to the pace of the day, your hands will slide easily into your back pockets while discussing the finer points of fabric doping and you will once again feel how wonderfully delicious and drawn out an unhurried day is. Grassroots aviation is good for your soul.
So what better place to tell our story than to take an airplane like the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver that longs for the feel of dewy Kentucky Blue beneath her Dunlops and spend a sunny Saturday morning wending your easy way down the historic Rideau Valley. On June 9th, Carolyn and Tim Leslie bundled a couple of Vintage Wings display banners into “Papa Mike”, the comely Beaver and climbed aboard for the short but scenic half hour flight to the bucolic Kars Airport and their Annual Fly-In. On final approach to Kars, Tim and Carolyn crossed low over the cool waters of the Rideau with the sun behind them, chased their shadow up and over Carter Road throttled back and then settled softly on freshly mowed and rolled grass. Rolling out, they rumbled past tilted gliders and white boxy trailers on their left and past a row of simple single-aircraft hangars along their right.
The airfield at Kars is a meeting place for those who love their aviation on the easy-going side. It’s home to gliders, remote-controllers, kitplane builders, ultra-lighters, farmer pilots and family aviators. Just the place for the likes of Tim and Carolyn Leslie who love the country life. Shutting down the steady Pratt and Whitney, they stepped down onto the field along the northern side of the runway, broke out the information banners and welcomed all comers. It was a beautiful day to spend with the greater aviation family and soon folks gathered round to read the banners and ask the questions.
When most people think of Beavers, they bring immediately to mind images of oily duct-tape covered workhorses - a flying pickup truck some say - smelling of fish and gas and the beery breath of fishermen returning from a week in the boonies fighting walleye and blackflies. But Papa Mike is not so much a pickup truck as a luxury SUV - a flying Escalade if you will. From spinner to tail wheel, she is immaculately turned out in laquered clear coat, soft dove gray leather seats and birdseye maple door panels stained to match her custom paint. Needless to say, she attracts attention where ever she lands.
Carolyn set up one of the banners under each wing, strapped to the strut. This allowed people to read the information without the glare of the sun while standing in the shade of the wings. She and Tim soon learned that this set-up was perfect and made a mental note to pass this knowledge on to the rest of the Vintage Wing crew upon their return.
But the sun was getting high and like nomadic barnstormers it was soon time to pack up Reverend Leslie's Travelling Aviation Salvation Show and head to the next stop on their journey to preach the word of flight - the Canada Aviation Museum.
The Beaver was soon bound for Rockcliffe Airport and the Canada Aviation Museum, with sun high overhead. Though not a country airstrip, the former RCAF base was a close approximation with a field of light aircraft, a relaxed atmosphere where families are especially welcome and another approach over a river and a blanket of trees and plenty of grass to frame the masterpiece that is the Beaver. After a few hours it was time to strike the show again and hit the road... or rather the sky. Though Vintage Wings has the fighter power to thrill the most jaded aero-geek and to reach round the world with our message, it is days like this we should embrace - where we simply reached round the next bend in the river and touched the lives of children and families - one at a time. Grassroots aviation is indeed good for your soul.