Adventures with G-AKDN - Chapter 3
I was 12 years old and heard on the news that the RCAF was selling their Chipmunks to be replaced with the next generation trainer. The selling price was $10,000. I burst thru the door at home and told Dad we needed to buy one of the Chipmunks! He just looked at me and said if he didn’t have a mortgage, 5 kids and a dog to feed, and paying for a new station wagon (that cost $2300), He would love to, but no. But he said, if I were to get my pilots license, he would match every dollar I spent to get it! Wow OK! Start washing cars, shovelling driveways and mowing lawns, pumping gas, and saving. Well the work was hard, and very soon I developed another serious interest - girls. So the thought of Chipmunks and pilot licenses soon faded.
Years later, I was a young married guy with Karen by my side. I was working as a Commercial Artist (now they call us Graphic Designers). I had just designed a billboard for the Winnipeg Flying Club, and was telling my brother-in-law about their special offer, to take a Familiarization Flight in one of their trainers. Well the next thing I knew, I was sitting in a Piper Cherokee pilot seat, with an instructor on my right and Brother-in-law and sister in the back seat, as we accelerated down the St. Andrews Airport runway. My sister was yelling at the instructor, “My brother doesn’t know how to fly! He shouldn’t have his hands on the controls!” The instructor just laughed, as I proceeded to perform my very first take off in an airplane! Wow! I felt right at home and wondered why this had taken so long to do. I was hooked and started madly saving again. I’d save $100 and rush out to take 3 lessons. Over the fall and winter I flew as often as I could afford to. One March day I visited Dad and asked him if he remembered his offer, to match every dollar I put toward my pilots license. He said “Yes!” When I showed him my logbook and receipts, he smiled and pulled out his checkbook! My Dad was a man of his word.
I received my Private license that spring at the age of 22. Within a year Karen and I had found an airplane we loved and could afford. It was a 1966 Alon Aircoupe with only 980 hours and in beautiful condition. It really appealed to me because of its low wing, bubble canopy and twin tail fin configuration. It looked like a little fighter, and reminded me of a Chipmunk. One of our first early flights in it was a 1600-mile return trip to the giant EAA Airshow Convention at Oshkosh Wisconsin. We jumped into aircraft ownership with both feet. Karen earned her Private license in 30 days start to finish using our airplane. We travelled coast to coast to coast with that airplane over many years. We still own an Aircoupe today.
Some years later we were looking for a new flying challenge and decided we would like to try some aerobatics. I had been following the International Aerobatics Club and Aerobatics Canada, as those organizations and pilots competed in world competition. That sport sounded like a great way to improve our flying skills. We found a small single seat 150hp Pitts Special in Alberta and purchased it. The owner delivered it to Saskatoon, but refused to even let us taxi it until we got some dual instruction on a Pitts. Little did we know. We had never flown a tail dragger, so we arranged to spend some time with Gerry Younger (Canadian National Aerobatic Champion) in his 2 seat Pitts. A week of taxiing, doing touch and goes and some preliminary aerobatics had me hooked. Karen had trouble flying the 2 seat Pitts because of her short 5’ height. She just didn’t fit the airplane. We went home and after my first flight, or should I say fright, in our single place Pitts, I told Karen I cared for her too much to let her fly it. Being a much smaller airplane than the 2 seat Pitts, it fit her like a glove, but it took everything I had to control it, scared the crap out of me and I was convinced it would kill her. I am thankful she is happy flying her Aircoupe. Working my own courage up to get back in and fly it again, with a dry mouth, sweaty palms, stomach cramps, I eventually tamed the little beast and went on to fly 1000’s of hours in aerobatic competition. Besides hours of practising, this meant many hours of cross-country flying, which the Pitts was not designed for. It was a little like trying to drive a Formula One race car across the country. It was never easy. It was a character building experience.
Over the years I moved up in competition difficulty and larger more powerful Pitts aircraft. This type of flying pushed my flying skills far beyond what I thought I was capable of, and this experience was the reason I was able to fly some other very interesting aircraft I had dreamt about. I owned and flew the Ray Ban Gold Pitts S2 registration C-FAMR that was part of the Ray Ban Airshow Team for years. This airplane had a well-earned reputation and was declared a Canadian National Treasure, I donated it to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa where it is on display today as part of their world-class collection. This was a deserving place for AMR to rest and I get to visit once in a while. As luck would have it, my path would cross with the Museum again in the future.
to be continued...
1966 Alon Aircoupe. If I blurred my eyes, I saw a Chipmunk.
Pitts Special C-FAMR , a national treasure on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.