I Learned about Flying from That!

I flew single-engined Cessnas for many years, visiting all the Canadian provinces except Newfoundland, but mostly flying U206's to Moose River settlements up to James Bay. People who hear of this ("bush flying!") often ask me if I was ever in any 'tight spots', and my answer, truthfully, has to be "no". I was incredibly fortunate in my two major flying instructors: Pete St-Louis, who flew the earliest hopelessly-underpowered 747's and made everything seem so smooth that it became instinctive, and Karel Weinstein, one of Canada's top test pilots who had flown Boeing 247's to South America and had an unrivaled reserve as an instrument instructor. And, I'm naturally cautious too ...

But, there is one flight I remember in every detail, 50 years later!

I'd just got a 1/4 share in a Cessna 177a - the original 'strutless wonder', the only truly laminar-flow wing Cessna ever made. You didn't fool around landing it if you knew what was good for you, and it really needed a wing leveller. But, it was smooth in the air, and clean - I once flew a leg with a 200 hp Cardinal RG: he was at 75% power and my 180 hp was at less than 60%, gear hanging out and all.

My first major flight with it was from Ottawa to Toronto. Besides the normal flight instruments, it had two nav/coms and a good ADF, all of which I'd checked out before the flight. I had an inexperienced passenger in the right seat, so did the usual of handing her a visual flight map, a soft pencil, and instructions to put an X and the time everywhere she knew where we were - enough to keep her busy and to reassure her that we knew exactly where we were. Of course, I had a radionav chart on my left knee and was doing the usual dead-reckoning with it, also a notepad for weather info and nav fixes on my right.

Everything looked perfect until we approached Stirling, the central way-point. Those navs had looked just too steady for the past few minutes! A few checks - both navs were dead. Two more checks - both coms were dead too.

Oh well, I still had the ADF ... except, there was no phone jack on it and no sound for ident either. Skip that - I had 5 dead systems. (It turned out that, unknown to any of us partners, both nav/coms ran off one power supply and the ADF relied on the audio stage of one of the coms. One resistor in that power supply had burned out.)

As you can imagine, with two sets of maps being kept as to where we were, there was no problem except my right-seat passenger. So, I sneaked my hand down to the transponder, dialled up 9600 for com failure, and checked the VFR supplement - Peterborough was the nearest uncontrolled airport. Ah yes - the flight locks!

"We're ahead of schedule ... have you ever seen the elevator for boats at Peterborough? ... let's take a look" Five minutes later, we were there. Well, of course, why not land at the airport for coffee!

A quick visit to the hanger: "no radio people here, everyone goes to Oshawa". An equally quick phone call to arrange a NORDO to Oshawa, and we were on our way, with some reassuring noises about a radio that wasn't working 'quite right'.

We arrived over Oshawa, and joined the circuit according to NORDO regs. But, there was no green light from the tower! None! Twice around, still no signal whatsoever from that tower. Nothing was in sight for 20 miles except a couple of 150's doing bump-and-grinds.

The third time around, the voice pitch from the right seat was starting to drop. Suffice it to say that I ___ landed. I've practised not getting steamed with the prop turning, but as soon as mine stopped, that tower phone got an earful. It turned out that they didn't have the signal light required by the regs, and didn't bother to let me know when they authorized my NORDO flight.

We were never in the slightest degree of difficulty, let alone danger. Never mind - I had a passenger who took the bus back to Ottawa, and probably never flew again on anything smaller than a city block. I'd blown it.

Of course, when I got back home, Transport Canada got a letter. And, eventually, I received an answer: Oshawa Tower now had the required facilities for NORDO ops.

But, I still remember !!Oshawa Tower!!

John Sankey