CF-LGW, Delayed Trip Report ( A trip never logged, but flown.)
September 1, 1975, was the beginning of an adventure for more than just myself, as it marked a beginning, and an ending of sorts in an airplane. I’ll get to that in a moment but first, let me introduce to you, to an old friend. CF-LGW, ( of course now in Canadian aviation circles would be C-FLGW ) a 1970 Piper Navajo, S/N 31-557. Then dressed in white with orange and black trim, it was only five years old when flown on this mission, and I had been flying it for less than a year at this point.
It was my favourite at the time of several light twins I had been flying whilst working for a charter company then known as “Air Windsor”. I was as a charter pilot with all of a year’s on the job experience at time of this story.
The Navajo LGW, she, was a beauty. It’s flight controls were light and crisp, and of course compared to the other twins I had been flying at the time, a Beech 18, and a Seneca, a fast airplane, cruising at about 200 knots. It was like a mini airliner, complete with the first aircraft weather radar I had ever used, and of course an autopilot. The engines hummed perfectly, well maintained by the chief engineer, Elmer. I had done most of my flying in those days as a single pilot op and that did not mean I was not married, but that those flights were flight flown without a co-pilot. This is unlike today where most often there are two pilots in the cockpit in that type of operation, truly enhancing flight safety. But that was then.
This one trip however was different. I did something quite wrong, but then again, maybe quite right. Read on, I will get to that in a few moments. I’ll let you decide.
The mission was flown for a construction company. The itinerary was simple. Fly to London Ontario, pick up a couple of executives from that company, then fly up to the Canadian Sault, refuel pick up another passenger, and then fly across Lake Superior to Terrace Bay Ontario. I would have to spend the night in a hotel, or so I thought, and then reverse the trip sequence the next day working myself back my home base, Windsor.
The trip up north through London, the Sault, and then up to Terrace Bay was mostly uneventful. Arrival at Terrace Bay at the time presented some challenges as there were no ground based navigational aids that day to help in location of this airport, which was unfamiliar to me. The arrival was on a dismal cloudy rainy day, so I used the weather radar in ground mapping mode aligning a couple islands now known as Slate Islands Provincial Park Islands to guide me towards the shoreline and then to the airport. About 10 miles on a heading of 340 degrees would have me overhead from the island park to the airport in just about three minutes, after a long trip across the lake from the Sault. Worked like a charm.
We were met by company officials from the nearby paper mill, who advised me that if I wanted to have the airplane in one piece next morning I would have to spend the night sleeping on board. “Camping out”, so to speak. There were local labour problems, and some issues with aboriginal rights, and the last several aircraft to transit overnight and left unguarded were left in pieces on the ramp. Decision made, I would sleep in the back of the aircraft.
It was moving on towards evening, and I had not eaten since much earlier in the day and so the execs said that they would send a meal out to me from town via the taxi cab operator, who would pick up “something” at a local diner to keep me from starving.
The sun was just setting when the taxi cab arrived with my dinner. I hardly remember what kind of burger he brought, but it was a welcome relief from near starvation! His name was I think, Norman Samuel Richards, or something like that, I am not absolutely sure about that either.
Let’s just call him Norm, and he was not well, as had advanced emphysema. Although he still drove a cab to help make ends meet, he was equipped with a portable oxygen bottle and needed it to move about. He decided to stick around a while, and after we swapped a few stories, mostly about his family his community and his ongoing health challenges he decided to head back home. I could see this man with his health issues, was nearing the end of life. Having delivered the food and after the conversation he departed the airport off on another run I supposed.
A few hours later into the evening, or more accurately just after midnight, I was startled and awoken from a light sleep, somebody was banging or knocking on my aircraft’s door. I wondered if this might be the point that might lead to a confrontation where maybe somebody might get hurt, maybe even me! It was quite dark still, as it would be a couple hours yet before the moon crept above the eastern horizon.
I dropped the lower half, and raised the top half of the door to reveal Norm’s weak but smiling face in the shadows, and behind him, the sky had cleared yielding a spectacular view in a pristine freshly washed night-time sky. A million stars visible at a glance. He said he showed up again to “check up on me” and bring me some fresh coffee. At least I got a little bit of shut eye before Norm’s return! This time he decided to stay until daybreak figuring I would be safer with the sight of his cab parked adjacent to the aircraft, possible threats would realize the aircraft was indeed attended to and we would be left alone. I guess I was not destined to get much beauty sleep that night, but, what the heck I enjoyed his company.
Norm talked about the course of his life, his family and his imminent end. He shared his life’s dreams filled, and some left unfulfilled. This evening he got to see an aircraft, up close and personal. He had never before been “inside” an airplane let alone ever flown in one, and had always wanted to see one, so this was a dream for him come true. To actually sit inside and airplane, even if it was in the middle of the night, drinking coffee with the pilot and not moving.
In the back of my mind I was calculating fuel requirements. Fuel uplifted at the Sault, minus burn, and return requirements and reserves. I re-ran in my mind those calculations several times, and confirming the gauge readings from arrival, I realized that I could…..
Norman and I sat in the airplane and as the morning approached, a curtain of brightness started to rise and creep upward in the eastern sky. After hearing Norm’s story and his wish to experience flight, just once, I decided that I would make his dream even more of a reality. I invited Norm for a short flight. He was thrilled, and I prayed he would not die on me! He was obviously weak, obviously frail, but I thought it worth a chance. He was strong enough to drive still…..
I pre-flighted the aircraft, while he watched. I placed his portable O2 bottle just behind the cockpit cabin divider, and luckily he had enough hose to make it work and I guided him into the co-pilot’s seat, the right forward seat of the aircraft. Door closed and locked, the external preflight completed I climbed into the left seat beside him. He smiled, actually grinned ear to ear, and I knew this would likely be the only chance in his life to experience flight.
I fired up the engines, and began to complete the engine run-ups and check lists. Once completed, I taxied the aircraft into the take-position for runway 25, made the then standard radio call, and began to apply take-off power. I glanced over and I could see Norm’s eyes begin to widen. We were taking off into a light wind to the southwest departing from off Runway 25. Positive rate, the gear was retracted, and as the aircraft accelerated past Blue Line, the takeoff flaps were retracted and I turned south towards the lake. I leveled about 1000 feet above the ground past the town site and turned eastbound over the lake in an extended downwind traffic pattern at about 0715 in the morning. This was just as the Sun crested above the horizon. The cockpit grew brilliant with light from the ascending Sun. Norm looked as though he was in heaven and for a moment, I think he was. Downwind now for the upcoming landing, I began to reconfigure the aircraft for our return to Earth. My passenger sat in awe at the beauty many in our profession take for granted. The hills, the big lake called Gitche Gumee, the roads, the sparse traffic, the small buildings…. all seen from a bird’s eye view for the first time, and probably for Norm a last time.
In what had like seemed in a few brief moments we had taken off, flew over Norm’s lifetime home then landed, and returned to the ramp. All, in a blink of an eye! My aircraft was now warmed up and ready to go, ready to pick up and carry its elite business passengers back to realms of Southern Ontario . I helped Norm back to his car, and bade him farewell and then he headed home, with a story, and a vision of what might yet be to come. My passengers arrived shortly after, and we headed back home in another rather uneventful series of flights.
The log book remained incomplete though as the pilot in command failed to record that twelve minute flight in his ( i.e. my ) personal, or the aircraft log book, fearing the corporate repercussions for an unauthorized flight. That was some thirty-seven years ago. It was a flight with a purpose, and it was a flight in CF-LGW that I will never forget. Rest in peace Norm.
P.S. The Terrace Bay airport was closed in 2005 due to budget cutbacks. When I last heard LGW was flying somewhere in BC.