Last year at the Challenger Owners Association annual ski-plane rendezvous at the historic Chateau Montebello resort hotel on the frozen shores of the Ottawa River, Vintage Wings of Canada launched the 2011 Yellow Wings trans-Canada Tour with our first-ever winter mission. Last year, we tried it with only our de Havilland Tiger Moth, and the response was jubilant and positive. So, this year we are running the Yellow Wings tour eastward to our Atlantic region - a less ambitious affair, but this year we got the program off to a much bigger start, launching three of our BCATP training aircraft along with staff aircraft down to Montebello to check out the runway situation and assess whether we could land to take part in the event. Tiger Moth pilot and blog-stud Blake Reid led one two-plane group and reports back on the day's flight.
For a better understanding of the Montebello event and the kind of aviators it attracts, click here. To see last year's Tiger Moth kick off of Yellow Wings at Montebello, click here
Yellower at Montebello - by Blake Reid
This year was the 22nd Annual Challenger Winter Rendezvous with over 30 Challenger Ultralight aircraft expected. One can imagine that potential challenges for the Challengers include, overly cold temperatures, wind, general weather condition and the landing area. Despite the endless bad possibilities, the weather was perfect - achingly blue skies, light winds, and perfect ice conditions for ultralight aircraft operations
Located on the Ottawa River half way between Ottawa and Montreal, Montebello is a short 20 minute flight from the Vintage wings facility also located along the Ottawa. Vintage Wings has participated in the rendezvous last two years with Second World War BCATP aircraft. Last years participation by our Tiger Moth attracted much attention. This year, we upped the ante with the addition of the Cornell and Harvard.
It appears that in this age of warmer winters and unpredictable thaws intermixed with cold snaps and strong winds, mother nature once again looked favourably down on the Challengers. A large high pressure system settled in over eastern Ontario with not only light winds to go with the clear skies, but moderate temperatures as well with a high of -5°C.
With varying reports of the landing surface at Montebello, an actual landing was considered a possibility but a very remote one at best. However, it seemed like a reasonable excuse to check out the strip and see for ourselves what exactly the situation was. The Tiger Moth had a further problem with its participation on the ground in that hand propping is required for start, which is not really a comfortable thing to do on a slippery or uneven surface by inexperienced helpers.
With a time over target of 1 P.M. and 29 miles to travel, we left Gatineau at 12:30 for a two ship formation of Tiger Moth and Cornell. The Harvard with a two ship RV8/RV6 home-built escort left separately. John Aitken, the highly experienced test pilot with Vintage wings, with all his formation flying time, flew as Number 2 on the Tiger Moth, and we slowly cruised down the solidly frozen Ottawa River. The river was an unbroken highway of snow-covered ice from shore to shore, interrupted only by black open water of the channel cut by the Cumberland-Masson ferry about five miles east of the Gatineau Airport. Along the the river route, were dozens of smaller ice-fishing hut communities with a large "city" of them east of Montebello.
The Fairmont Hotel's Chateau Montebello is said to be the largest log cabin in the world and has hosted the G7 summit in 1981. Today’s VIP’s were the Quad City Challenger ultralight pilots and their guests. I was honored to be one of them.
Québec photographer extraordinaire J.P. Bonin, himself a vintage Wings volunteer, hitched a ride in a Zlin Savage (C-IZLN), to get us a photo of the Chateau Montebello and the set-up for the ski-plane fly-in. One can see more than 40 aircraft in this shot - lining the the frozen banks and occupying boat slips in the Chateau Montebello, cozy boat harbour. Photo J.P. Bonin
Another view looking north east along the Ottawa River from the back seat of the Zlin Savage. Careful searching of this photo will reveal a long line of aircraft wing-tip-to-wing-tip along the shore in front of the hotel as well a highway created by snowmobile and ATV traffic. It was this highway that would become the runway for the fly-in - shared by the sled-heads as well as the air-heads. Photo: J. P. Bonin
You are probably wondering how comfortable it is to fly in these aircraft in the winter. All three of our trainers were specifically designed for Canadian winter flying. All three aircraft were designed with a separate tube channeling cold outside air through the exhaust tube for heating and into the cabin. In addition, the Canadian Tiger Moth and Cornell were delivered with canopies unlike their predecessors used in other countries. That being said, our Cornell does not have its heater installed at this time, and the Tiger Moth canopy design allows much air to swirl in the cockpit. So how was it? Quite reasonable in the Tiger Moth actually. There are occasional cold areas and gloves did eventually become necessary along with a pulled up jacket collar due to a large breeze just behind my head in the aft cockpit. My feet were quite warm though.
Three flypasts were made to check out the landing area but the hard packed snow was quite rutted from snowmobile traffic. Perhaps next year. However, it was still an opportunity to launch the Vintage Wings of Canada Yellow Wings Tour for 2012 with former BCATP fields across the eastern provinces being visited this summer. We hope to see you there.
Inside the Archie Pennie Cornell, passenger and Vintage Wings volunteer, Michel Côté, photographs pilot John Aitken sliding beneath Blake Reid and Doug Zahody in the William McRae Tiger Moth as they fly east towards Montebello to check runway conditions. Despite the heater not being installed the conditions were quite comfortable inside the greenhouse-like canopy. Photo Michel Côté
A beautiful view of the William McRae Tiger Moth hanging in the perfect glassy air just outside the Cornell's cozy cockpit. Photo Michel Côté
A high midday sun reflects joyfully off the aluminum canopy rail as the William McRae Tiger Moth soars in the “burning blue” - a scene that was no doubt a daily occurrence in these parts back in the days of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan as No.10 EFTS Pendleton was literally a few kilometers away. Photo: Michel Côté
Blake Reid leads the two elementary flying trainers of the Second World War down low over the Ottawa River as he completes his base leg of the circuit for Montebello's “Claude Roy International Ice Airport” Photo: Michel Côté
Michel Côté slips up river past the snowmobile highway come airfield in front of the grand Chateau Montebello. During the Second World War, another BCATP base stood 15 kilometers downstream on the Ontario side. No.13 EFTS St Eugene operated Cornell trainers toward the end of the war, training Royal Navy pilots. Photo Michel Côté
John Aitken, in the Archie Pennie Cornell clings close on the wing of Tiger Moth as they fly one of three passes over the frozen airfield. Photo: Doug Zahody
The bright yellow trainers flying against the azure blue sky made for a thrilling visual and aural display for attendees at the Montebello event. Photo Peter Handley
Our William McRae Tiger Moth never looked better with her wooden prop glowing in the sunlight. Photo Bill Fawcett
On the second pass, the colours seemed even bluer and yellower than before. Photo: Peter Handley
J.P. Bonin, one of Quebec's best aviation photographers, captures the perfect moment as the two elementary flying trainers clatter overhead and turn into the warming sun. Photo J.P. Bonin
A group of Vintage Wings volunteers (L-R Dave O'Malley, Richard Allnutt, Albert Prisner and Peter Handley) watch as an Aeronca Champion takes off from the deeper snow.Between appearances of the Vintage Wings aircraft, and indeed from sunrise to sunset, aircraft of every type were taking off, landing, taxiing and enjoying the day. All in all, this is perhaps the greatest aviation event in Canada in the winter. Peter Handley machine guns his camera and the results are in the next photo. Photo: Benoit Foisy
The ultimate Canadian aviation scene – a general aviation classic on skis with the Laurentian Hills in the background. Photo: Peter Handley
A much anticipated participant this year was the first production Helio H-391 Courier, C-GOOI. Certainly the largest of all the ski planes to make an appearance, this magnificent and highly capable STOL aircraft was the first off the assembly line in 1954. Here it takes off in a cloud of ice crystals while three snowmobiles approach in the distance. Around 500 of these aircraft were manufactured in Pittsburg, Kansas from 1954 until 1974 by the Helio Aircraft Company. During the early 1980s, new owners (Helio Aircraft Ltd.) made an attempt to build new aircraft with direct-drive Lycoming engines, to replace troublesome and expensive geared engines. In a further effort to reduce weight, a new composite landing gear was featured. The new models also featured modest winglets. Two models were produced, the H-800 and H-700. A total of 18 aircraft were built. The rights to the Helio Stallion and Helio Courier were acquired by Helio Aircraft of Prescott, Arizona, and will soon be returned to production.Photo: Benoit Foisy
Dave O'Malley poses with his best friend for 45 years, lapsed hang glider pilot Albert Prisner next to the Helio Courier. The photo was taken by In Coristine, one of the three founders of the Challenger Winter Weekend Rendezvous nearly 22 years ago. Ian Coristine is one of Canada's highest time ultralight pilots, and one of the world's best photographers. He is presently working on his 6th book - this one, his first e-book, chronicling his life and 25 year love affair with the Thousand Islands. Photo Ian Coristine
Half an hour after the appearance of the Cornell and Tiger Moth, Mike Potter brought the John Gillespie Magee Harvard in to check out the river and the snow conditions. Photo Benoit Foisy
The Vintage Wings Management Flight. Potter, founder of Vintage Wings of Canada, leads a flight of three past the assembled aircraft and aviation enthusiasts on the ice. On his right wing is an RV8 belonging to and flown Rob Fleck, President of Vintage Wings. Off his left wing flies Paul Kissmann, Chief Pilot of Vintage Wings of Canada in his snappy new RV6. Photo: J.P. Bonin
Mike Potter, in the John Gillespie Magee Harvard, flies low over the Ottawa River leading elements of the world famous “Management Flight”. Photo Ben Foisy
After the first pass down the ice runway, Potter leads the VWC "Management Flight” through another circuit to double check the field for obstructions, snowmobiles, photographers and open water. It was decided that a river landing was not in the cards and after a thorough field check, the threesome headed home. Photo: Ben Foisy
Every take off is exciting at Montebello. Here a sweet Cessna 185 Skywagon demonstrates a full power take off for photographer Bonin as he cuts through the 1/4 inch crust on an untouched part of the river. Photo J.P. Bonin
The Skywagon achieves take off speed with snow and ice blasting in its wake. Photo J.P. Bonin
The two tracks of the Skywagon's skis stop abruptly as the aircraft took off, leaving a mysterious looking trail to nowhere, - J.P. Bonin quips that it sort of looks like a wintry depiction of the flaming departure of the DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future . Photo Peter Handley
Photographer Bonin, in a Zlin, flies overhead a group of Vintage Wings photographers and volunteers (Allnutt, Handley, Prisner, O'Malley and an unidentified shooter. awaiting the arrival of the Yellow Wings flights. Photo J.P. Bonin
In the proceeding photo we saw Bonin shooting some photographers on the ice from a Zlin. In that photo we could see Peter Handley shooting up at the Zlin... Unfortunately all the shots were directly into the sun, but 0ne second later he snapped this one of J.P. waving to his friends on the ice. Photo: Peter Handley
There was no shortage of “sporty” take offs including this vintage Taylorcraft F-19, part of a four plane mass take-off we on the ground dubbed "The Flying Circus”. Photo: Peter Handley
The light on Saturday's fly-in was nothing short of spectacular. The sky was diamond hard. The air was as clean and void of moisture as possible. The snow blasted brilliant sunlight upwards like a photographer's reflector. Every image captured looking to the sky, including this Kitfox (part of the Flying Circus), seemed to reflect this year's poster for the event, designed by Vintage Wings of Canada. Photo: Peter Handley
Top prize for cahones goes to a threesome of pilots flying powered weight-shift ultralights, capable of 100+ miles per hour. The topless QuikR from England's P&M Aviation is the fastest and most advanced weightshift today with a 100MPH cruise and slow 40MPH stall. Can't imagine sitting in open air doing 100 MPH in -20ºC air, but the pilots were dressed for the occasion. Photo: Peter Handley
An RV8 on skis flown by Patrick Gilligan, Vice President of Operations for the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) looks like a pretty hot little snow-machine. Patrick seemed to be everywhere this day. Photo: Peter Handle
A beautiful all-aluminum Luscombe Silvaire takes to the skies. Photo: Peter handley
Land skidoos shared the runway with air-skidoos. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt
The Montebello event is primarily a Challenger owners fly-in. It behooves us to show you at least one of the dozens in attendance! A bright yellow Challenger makes a bold statement against the blue of the Ottawa Valley sky. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt
This pilot appears equally well equipped for a space walk as a flight on a nice sunny day. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt
Big or small, everyone had a howl of a good time out on the ice. Photo: Richard Mallory Allnutt