A completed landing in a strong gusting crosswind, complete within a reduced visibility on a contaminated icy surface can leave a pilot momentarily with a feeling of, retirement cannot come soon enough. However ever when that last flight is flown, there is a feeling of I need more flight time, more takeoffs, more landings…
In my case I have left the industry monetarily several times, but those times short-lived, because I became an addict at a very early age….
My name is Dave and I am an avi-holic.
My story is simple, and started when I was just at the age of about 5 or 6 years old. My first recollection of wanting to fly was me sitting in a snowdrift with a shortened broken broomstick in hand guiding my imagination through the blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds.
I am not sure how I knew to pull the control stick back to make the people smaller, and to push the control stick forward to make the people grow bigger. I expect it was my addiction to the TV series Sky King, and Blue Angels… watching the pilots move their ships through footless hollows of air helped.
My home was located under the approach path of runway 12-30 of the Windsor airport so that exposure often yielded airplanes practicing taking off and landing along with the odd airliner flown by Trans Canada Airlines. So, on those sunny days may gaze would often be upward living in a dream yet to come true
My dad died in the fourth year of my childhood, and my Mom a nurse raised 3 boys in a single parent family before it was … fashionable. As a boy in those days without a dad, I was lost into my daydreams. No sports teams, or Father’s Day celebrations… But I had 2 wonderful and older brothers to grow up with and love them dearly to this day. We shared this experience but growing up differently. I was young enough when my dad passed away to not feel the full implications of this, because this was normal. I suppose in the day of COVID19 to very young children this will all seem very normal. Maybe the ones a little older, not so much.
What are dreams made of and how are they realized? Inspirations, belief that maybe, just maybe, I could do it too! But only with a lot of help, seen and unseen. The road seemed long at the time and I thought I would never get “there” …
My grade school years were mostly uneventful. There were those days when the teachers might ask “Little Davey, what do you what to do when you grow up?” I would ask them how I might learn to fly those chariots in the sky. Well, the answer then was most often one of discouragement. Flying was meant for those who had perfect vision, perfect math scores, and from families who could help them into the system through connections and money or at least help them qualify for an Air Force scholarship i.e. be the top of the class graduate which I was not.
In those days, a single parent family was not offered any special programs or assistance to children where the parent could not be there much of the time because of work, and that situation was viewed in that day with a stigma. “Yeah, the kid with no dad…. Too bad for him!” My poor Mom, what a challenge for her! The only parental objective that could be met was the objective and responsibility of providing for the children to just to keep them out of the “orphanage”. It was a tough go for her.
One day my Mom decided “I needed discipline” so she arranged to drop myself and my brother Brian, who was only one year older than me off at the Air Cadets recruitment day event. The man who would eventually to become our “step dad” in my middle teenage years dropped Brian and myself off. He almost had to push me out of the car because of my last minute reservations. We had mixed feelings, maybe I felt a little abandoned or pushed from the nest so to speak about our new venture, but I did excel within the program. I was looking forward to learning about airplanes, and what 13- & 14-year olds wouldn’t? However, this Air Cadet Squadron had little interest in aviation.
Nope…. They were all about the precision drill team and marching bands. I found myself involved in both. Again, for the most part very little airplane stuff. However, I got to spend 2 summer camps at CFB Trenton where I had the pleasure of going for a couple glider rides, and couple single engine Otter flights where each cadet got a full 5 minutes in the co-pilot seat.
The Air Cadet training though did provide me a background for the Navy Student Summer Reserve Training Program, where I was hired at the tender age of 16 to “teach” new reserve recruits the fundamentals of drill. Mostly University students hoping to progress to the regular forces.
This was a paid position for me even though I was a newly minted Navy Reserve recruit myself. I was an instructor and I had been recruited for that purpose. The money earned there would be applied to my real love… Flying lessons or so I had hoped.
Oh yes…. Flying lessons. The desire for flying lessons was building. Every day I watched and observed the little airplanes circling overhead. From underneath I could hear their engines power back as they headed over towards the Windsor airport on their final approach.
I really had no idea about the cost of flying lessons, but my war-chest was building, especially as I was working quite a few hours at a local grocery store stocking shelves. My oldest brother Kevin helped me get that gig…. I actually liked the job. During my high school years, I often worked midnights at the grocery store, then after a little sleep, back to school. I was hardly doing the navy reserve thing during the school year due to lack of time and I sort of drifted out of my involvement after my second year.
One day I gathered all my courage up and hiked a few miles over to the (YQG) airport. There were 2 schools on the field, but I did not know that at first. There was “Air Windsor” which was a flying school combined with a charter company, and there was the Windsor Flying Club, a flight school flying club. The first door I walked through was that of the Windsor Flying Club. The door nearest to the road from whence I came.
The man behind the desk looked friendly enough, he was the Chief Flying Instructor (CFI) and his name was Ron Evans. I was only 16 years old then, and I looked like I was 12! I always looked young for my biological age, and nothing has changed LOL. Good genes I guess..
The man explained to me the process and requirements, and about the money. He asked if I had enough for an introductory flight lesson…. I did, and then he handed me off to another younger instructor Brad Sommers. I put the money down and Brad took me for a ride, my first flying lesson in a newer model PA-28-140, a Piper Cherokee. CF-ZKA. That was in 1971.
Well more flying lessons followed and prior to my 17th birthday in July my Private Pilot was issued, June 20th 1972, YZP-28075. Not legal of course until later in the summer when I actually turned 17 and the CFI would not let me fly with passengers until that day came and went.
I received my commercial Pilot Licence December 1973. My multi-engine and instrument ratings in 1974 and was flying for living by June of 74 with Air Windsor , the other company which I had not trained at so I knew only a few of the “others” from the other side of the ramp. My first instructor Brad had made that jump so I kind of followed him I guess.
I was hired to transport airmail and car parts mostly, in light twin engine aircraft. These aircraft included the Piper Seneca, Navajo, Apache and the Volpar Beech 18 along with the original tail wheeled version. There were a couple singles I also got to fly. I loved them all. There were a few passenger charter flights but mostly freight. I left Air Windsor for a while and I did some Dc-3 flying out of Toronto for a few months but after a disagreement with the company owner my former Chief Pilot from Air Windsor, Dean McClellan, took me back into the Air Windsor fold as there was a bit of a pilot shortage at the time. I had family and friends in Windsor and residing in Toronto was not all that appealing on a personal level. I had been expected to live in the hangar…. NO LIFE!
Shortly after I returned to Windsor, I started the University of Windsor working towards a general arts degree. I had arranged to fly night airmail Windsor to Toronto 5-6 nights a week and attended school during the day. That was working but barely, and I was now burning the candle at both ends. Friends from the airport even felt sorry for me, no life… So, one night they dropped off a young woman at the airport for an airmail ride to Toronto and back with me in an old Beech-18. Later Robin became my wife, now 42 years into this relationship.
Air Windsor went bankrupt for a variety of reasons, and I am sure the cyclical nature of the auto industry, and flying those auto-parts which was the mainstay for the company might have had something to do with their demise. Suddenly I was out of a job! However, I was immediately picked up by Bradley Air Services and shipped off to Resolute Bay, NWT now Nunavut. I flew to every corner of the high Arctic and at one point I marvelled how I was headed south to hit the northern tip of North America! This was in an old Beech 18, CF-TAE. No GPS in those days. We used the Sun, the Moon and the planets to set our gyros as the magnetic compass did not work that far north. I did a little Dc-3 flying, but once the company found out I was an experienced Beech 18 pilot I was assigned to fly exclusively this one airplane.
I lived out of a suitcase flying all over the arctic for about a year in this single pilot operation doing mostly photo survey and ice patrol rather than flying bulk fuel and explosives on the Dc-3s for which I had been hired.
One day a C-130 captain came over to my Beech at the Resolute fuel pumps and wanted to have a look at my airplane. The gentleman asked what I was doing so far north flying by myself. He asked “Why are you not flying the Herc with PWA?” I responded that I was rejected because I was too young! He said he was the Chief Pilot, and I was to contact him next time I was down south on time off. I did, and I was then hired to fly with Pacific Western Airlines as a C-130 Second Officer. Sadly, I was barely trained before being furloughed but was quickly picked up by Great Lakes Airlines out of London to fly the Convair 580. I never missed a day of work in the process. I was there about year and got married in that year, and later in 1978 PWA called me back to fly a B727, again as a Second Officer. Then after a short time back in Edmonton, I was granted the right seat, that is a First Officer job on a PWA 737.
I was riding comfortably there having a little girl Alicia born in Edmonton where I was based, nice new house and then the Liberal government created the “ National Energy Program” nationalizing a big chunk of the Canadian oil industry. The Western economy dried up and November 15th, 1982, I was furloughed again! This time I was in deep water. New baby, big house payments and no job. Well I got a couple of odd jobs, pumping gas flying small airplane charters out of a local airport near Edmonton. Robin went back to work as an animal lab tech for the University of Alberta. I got a term job with public works, but that didn’t last and it wasn’t flying. I almost gave up on aviation when we, Robin and myself received a job offer to fly out of the Turks and Caicos Islands. We were steadily sinking, and we had to sell the house at a loss but with this offer in hand off we went to the Turks and Caicos Islands not having a clue about the islands it’s peoples or it’s problems! It was 22 degrees north, meaning my frostbite wounds might heal. I was hired as a line pilot and training captain pilot for the national airline in the Turks, flying the 2 engine and 3 engine Islanders. Lots of adventures but no money in it. So, a day came when the airline recalled us back to Alberta, more money, jet airplanes to fly, and again a no brainer we accepted the recall. We stayed put in Alberta until I received my first left seat i.e. captain’s position on the 737 based out of Toronto. Before we left Alberta finally based in Calgary we had another child, a cute baby boy named Jeffrey to keep Alicia company!
As we were in the process of moving to Toronto ( CYYZ ) the airline now known as Canadian after the “Mega Merger” PWA, with CPA, Nordair, EPA and eventually Wardair all into one nice company. I lost my captaincy… and was demoted to being a co-pilot once again, but this time on the B767 flying overseas. After about a year of that I regained my Captaincy on the B737 and stayed in that seat as a line pilot and then Check-Training pilot until the next merger, this one with Air Canada. After that I took a position on the Airbus 319-320-321 for the next couple years. My wife and I had now lived Mount Forest Ontario where we had a small hobby farm where we resided about 12 years on that property. We raised kids, dogs, horses, chickens, ducks, and even sheep!
Now approaching 50 years old we were wanting to do something different. Something bigger… I had heard about MAF a Christian ministry that flew small airplanes in the most remote locations worldwide. Our kids were out of the house, more or less launched and without jail time, so we decided to retire from the airline to pursue overseas mission work.
While Robin and I worked through the process of induction into MAF we worked on behalf another mission which is focused on Haiti. We were thinking that we would be self-sufficient financially as our contracted financial planner had begun a process using our commuted pension to build us a retirement income while we would be serving overseas.
We had moved on to MAF and accepted a placement in Papua New Guinea. We landed in Wewak, on the north side of the island, where I flew into jungle strips flying mostly medevacs and community support. Things seemed pretty good, but I had gotten a few cryptic emails that our Canadian financial planner had gone rogue. We had to make our way back to Canada to sort out a financial disaster now needing our attention. Our financial planner got 14 years for fraud, but the money left the country according to the KW Police. At this point we accepted a home assignment with MAF and eventually made our way back to the famous Alberta to Three Hills Prairie Bible College, where I was tasked to help build a multi-engine IFR program for the college.
Our financial stability was weak, and I need to return to the “for profit” type of aviation so Robin and I headed back to Ontario where there was more family support and more work opportunities for me. I accepted a corporate job flying a Lear Jet as co-captain out of Toronto and when that aircraft was sold, I did a brief stint for a few months as an air ambulance pilot. Good experience in many ways, but I was never home. I got lucky, maybe I should say blessed, by landing a corporate jet job making a little more money, flying people with a little more money, and home a little more often.
The airplane was a Beech Premier Jet. A great new little airplane! The manufacturer went under and no longer was there to support the aircraft. The corporate operator I was working for decided to part with the aircraft. I got wind of that decision, so I moved over to CAE as a sim instructor teaching pilots how to fly the world’s best video game on the CRJ-200/700/900 sims. I liked that job, but Toronto was/is way too expensive a place and far too crowded in these more recent of times. Poor civic and national planning has left Toronto under constant traffic gridlock. Even what was once short time and distance commutes have turned into a nightmare experience where short distances can take over an hour to travel on the highways highway distances of just a few kilometres.
Our kids as adult were now counselling us to move to an area where we might like to retire one day. Build a life so to speak. Good advice, so while working at CAE in Toronto we purchased a house in Leamington about a 3 hour drive to work! I kept my eyes open and one day I saw a job opening to fly a TBM out of Windsor. This job was to be both pilot, and mentor pilot as the owner wanted not only somebody to fly his airplane, but also to guide him along a course where he would one day fly it by himself. He had just received his private pilot licence, and this airplane is a mini airliner in terms of flight profiles and systems. A very nice man and a beautiful family, and until now a great job at my home town airport, where I first learned to fly. Another no brainer. That was about 2 years ago now, and things have been great until most recently.
My name is Dave and I am an avi-holic.
So here I am grounded again, and quarantined because of COIVID19 after ferrying home the aircraft which had been on a mission to the Caribbean just about 2 weeks ago as I write this. I do not know if I’ll ever fly again….
I have been down this road before it seems. Wondering if this is the time I will “pack it in” or be parked permanently. However, I am reminded of what my new-old-friend Verlon Thomson of Nashville , and raised in Oklahoma once said/sang…. “I haven’t been everywhere yet !…” Thanks for the advice Verlon, me neither! Thank you as well Francine Honey for your encouragement!
IF NOT A CAPE…
( if you decide to listen to this song or any of the others found on the blog especially within the Song Library page, I would suggest you use stereo headphones. In the future I expect to write about all those wonderful people I met along the way. This is just the intro…)