Monday, February 17, 2014

"Come on, we're going to Canda"

Back when I was a kid...

Once upon a time, long before bad folks decided to start using commercial aircraft as a means to carry out terror plots, a young man could simply show up at a small airfield and "hang out". And starting at age 14, this was exactly what I did on weekends and summers.

Each morning I would climb on my bicycle and pedal the three miles out to the airport. Yeah, that's right, three miles. I was kinda fat back then too, but not by the end of the summer. I would arrive at the flying club building and soon be assigned to special projects. At first, these projects involved sweeping hangar floors, cleaning, and painting. As time wore on and trust was built, I did some more fun things, like pulling airplanes out by hand, fueling, and washing them.

Now at the time I wasn't aware that the joke was somewhat on me. While I got to be around what I loved, there were lots of old timers sitting back with a chuckle as I scrubbed their airplane and cleaned their hangars, all for the low price of allowing me the privilege to do so. Looking back, I must have looked pretty funny, a little fat kid pulling on a Cessna 180 with all of his might. One word: Sucker.

All kidding aside, this work allowed me get some hands on experience with lots of different planes. I was taught how to load them properly (lots of guys flew rich  people out to the coastal islands for vacation) And while cleaning interiors and exteriors wasn't a lot of fun sometimes, most of the guys would reward me by taking me flying.

Come on, we're going to Canada
One such morning, when I was a junior in high school, I had driven over to the airport to fill in some blocks of time for my flight lessons. Ed showed up and started screwing around with his plane. He came into the club building and started rooting through a box of approach plates. Without looking up he asked me what I was up to today. I told him nothing. As he headed toward the door without looking back he said " Come on, we're going to Canada."

So, given that this was like 2000, I didn't have a cell phone at this point. Come to think of it, neither did too many other people. So I did what any 17 year old high school kid would...I left my parents a message on their machine that said something like "Hey, I'm going to Canada with Ed, I'll be back at some point". And that was it. Now if that were my kid this day in age, I'd probably freak out, but as I said before, things were different then. Clearly.

We climbed into the plane and made a direct flight to St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. It was a beautiful late summer day and the thermals headed up the rocky coast made for some great practice on hand flying a course. Now there were GPS units then, and Ed had his bag somewhere. We were doing the good old fashioned whiz wheel, paper chart, and compass navigating. If worse came to worse, we'd go IFR ( I Follow Roads).

We entered the pattern in St Stephen and Ed did his voodoo and greased a beautiful landing in the Cessna 172 tail wheel conversion. Customs consisted of calling the Canadian Customs folks who took our names by telephone and told us to have a nice day.

It was around lunch and Ed, who was perpetually hungry, decided we'd walk into town to eat. We soon came across a little red white and blue painted log cabin. It was a Chinese takeout place called Wong's. No shit. Wong's. Mr. Wong spoke neither French nor English. Ed, having been to "The Big War" (more on that later) also felt he didn't speak much of anything but "Wong-ese". To paint a picture as to the state of this place, the menu was painted on ply wood pressed up against the plate glass window. Sandwiched between the two items were the biggest mosquitoes I have ever seen. Ever.

After getting our order we adjourned to the picnic table. I sat on one side, and Ed sat down on the other. This lasted about three seconds before the rotted bench gave way and Ed went ass over tea kettle onto the tall grass. After getting his bearings, he found a milk crate and sat down. Looking at the food I asked him if he thought the food was good to eat. He stuck his finger in it and said "well, it's hot enough to kill anything swimming. I ate worse in Vietnam." It was that kind of day.

Soon after we sucked down our greasy Wong-ese food, we headed to the plane and departed for Bangor. For a young kid, this was the better part of the trip. I flew an approach into Bangor International five miles in trail of an Air Force C-5 Galaxy. For the uninitiated, this is the largest cargo jet the Air Force has. I learned a valuable lesson about "wake turbulence". When a small plane lands too close behind a large jet, the disturbed air from the jet engines is like flying the small plane into a brick wall. I also learned to make sure your seat is locked into position too. I got to experience the windscreen coming at my face at high speed before the seat caught. The odd thing about the whole trip was the Customs man at Bangor. He came over, had us fill out a form, and left. He didn't bat an eye at a 17 year old wearing a shorts and a tee shirt standing next a 6'6" 60 odd year old covered in Chinese food. He just grumbled signed the paperwork, got in his car, and left. Homeland security pre 9/11 at his finest.

When I finally got home that evening my father scarcely looked up from his book. "How was Canada?" he said. "Pretty good. Ed says hi." That was it. Not angry, not surprised, not even curious.

I was soon sent to the store to get him a copy of the Courier and a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke to go with supper. And that was it. Just another day in the life of a 17 year old student pilot I suppose.


  1. What a lucky guy! Flying to Canada...and then eating at Wong's Drive In, St Stephen. LOL!

    Great story; hope to read more. :)

    All the best,

    1. Thanks Giulia...sometime late at night, in some small crevice of my mind, I wonder if ol' Wong is still up there slinging Maple Mosquito Foo Young...

  2. Great story....!!!!....ah...just another day in the life of an Aviation geek.......??......I know there is no such thing as 'just another'.....when it comes us Aviation geeks and getting lucky tag along.......that particular day.....will always be with you..and now...we know it was not 'just another' was a real adventure....Thanks so much for sharing..........!!!.