St. Thomas COPA Convention

By Fred Bruinsma



COPA Flight 45 member Steve Greenwell with his
daughter, Bethany, who got to ride in a Harvard
at the COPA Convention in St. Thomas.

Photo courtesy Jane Farrell


Need another place to fly? Well, it’s Convention time. The annual COPA convention is always a fun-filled event along with a memorable cross-country flight.

This year it was at St. Thomas. From COPA Flight 45 were Jim and Jane Farrell, Don Jones, Bill and Kathy Dallas, my wife Marilyn and I.

Just leaving home, I took a call from the Clinton News Record asking to view some circles in a wheat field near Holmesville. We tried to find them but to no avail. The weather was deteriorating and we needed to get to St. Thomas since it was sunny there.

Landing at St. Thomas Airport, we tied down the aircraft and arranged for fuel. With our baggage, we climbed aboard a trolley that took us to the registration desk. Here we were given our package, which included a SPOT, a portable personal detection beacon that records your flight in ten-minute intervals.

In the hospitality tent, we met other COPA members and talked about the happenings over the past months. At noon, we were served a huge hamburger lunch. The afternoon was spent viewing the booths at the Trade Show. Of course the GlobalStar booth was very busy as members were registering their free SPOT online with the assistance of two technicians. There was also a talented solo singer who sang all the oldies and goldies during the afternoon.

Mid afternoon three big yellow buses arrived at the airport to take the delegates to their hotels in St. Thomas and London. Later the buses returned to take us to Diamond Aircraft for a tour, which showed the construction of the composite aircraft. As well, a dinner of Lake Erie perch and pickerel with all the fixings was served. A steel band provided toe-tapping music while we dined.

The skies were threatening on Saturday morning. After breakfast we were shuttled back to the airport for a day of workshops and trade show. The first workshop was just starting when there was a downpour with a few lightning strikes. You could not see beyond the tent walls.

The rain soon stopped and the Nav Canada speaker continued with his presentation of the latest changes on weather, lightning, retrieving weather information and the locations of the latest weather satellites. Question and answer period followed.

Simultaneously, the Companion’s Tour left for the London Winery, Winter Wheat and Sparta Candles with lunch at the Wharf. By all comments it too was an excellent day of food, fun and friends.

After break, the Annual General Meeting of COPA National took place. A quorum was determined. The usual business of minutes, treasurer’s report, was completed. Then Kevin Psutka gave his President’s report on the year past and what the future for general aviation holds. “Hot” topics were the 406 ELT’s, Young Eagles, and the Special Action Fund. He took questions at the end of the session.

The awards ceremony concluded the morning. Two recipients were recognized for saving and promoting the Oshawa airport. Michel Hell, COPA Flight publisher presented the Literary Award and Kevin presented the President’s Award to John Lovelace, producer of the TV show “Wings over Canada”. Unfortunately, John was stuck in Winnipeg due to weather but managed to arrive in time for dinner when Kevin gave him his trophy.

The last award was the Neil Armstrong Scholarship award to young adults pursuing a career in aviation. Receiving $7,000, $5,000 and $3,000, these talented youth have accomplished much during their high school years.

A roast beef on a bun with salads was lunch. Then the draw for the various prizes occurred. Jane Farrell won the ride in the Harvard but she chose to give it to Bethany Greenwell. Bethany was certainly an excited girl. She enjoyed her ride immensely.

Then came the afternoon workshops. The first one “Spot the Pot” Cops was given by the RCMP Drug Squad from the London Detachment. The three police officers explained their responsibilities as part of the drug squad. They also showed pictures of the marijuana in bushes, riverbeds and cornfields. Once shown how and where, the brilliant emerald green colour really does stand out.

They warned to be very careful when identifying a spot from the air, mark the coordinates and other visible identifiers but do not circle overhead. Questions followed. It was a very educational workshop!

Because John Lovelace had not arrived yet, the next workshop was 406ELT’s.

Most of the audience was knowledgeable about the changeover to the 406 with both its’ benefits and drawbacks. Questions were taken during the presentation.

The installation date has been moved back two years but does it save lives any faster than the present ELT’s? All it does is identify the pilot’s aircraft. COPA headquarters is working diligently to counter this mandatory installation. Much more will be discussed and written about the 406. It is just beginning……

Ian McLean, a former Snowbird pilot and later Snowbird 1, gave the last workshop. Ian told us what it is like to be part of the Snowbirds, Canada’s military aerobatic precision flying team.

He told us of the interview process, initial training sessions, practices at Comox B.C. and the tour schedule. Each year a third of the team changes and he explained how the “freshman” pilots are incorporated into the routine. Ian then told the audience about becoming Snowbird 1 or team leader of the squadron.

His presentation concluded with a video of the Snowbirds at Comox on a practice manoeuvre. Those Snowbirds just keep on impressing and impressing those who watch them.

The workshops were finished and the shuttle buses were there to take us to the hotel. After a social break, we boarded the buses to the famous St. Anne’s Parish for a delicious dinner of roast beef, chicken, vegetables and black forest cake.

Guest speaker was Captain Brian Udell, USAF Supersonic Survivor. He gave us a detailed account of the bail out of his military aircraft, the Strike Eagle, at the last possible second. His parachute was shredded, his body felt like a train had hit it.

Brian struggled with two broken legs and one broken arm to inflate his preserver before plunging in the icy cold waters. It too was shredded from the supersonic wind blast.

He told us about the agony and torture he experienced when floating in the Atlantic Ocean on the darkest night and waiting to be rescued. Even the rescue was an ordeal for him and the helicopter team.

He survived his friend did not. Brian underwent months of excruciating rehabilitation and today tells his story of determination, perseverance, faith, and sheer will to survive to audiences. His story of survival, recovery and return to the Strike Eagle left a teary-eyed audience.

A silent auction was then held to raise money for the Special Action Fund. Auctioneers were COPA Directors Brian Chappell and Sherri Cooper. Donations were also taken at the door as the delegates left the hall.

Next morning the weather was fair with overcast skies. A great day for breakfast at the airport and a flight home with headwinds, of course. Another excellent convention.