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Years ago I was a super keen airplane guy, swanning around at Delta flying the EAA Chapter’s Turbi and our Old Bessy.
A couple of guys at the club, Gogi and Big Dan, were sport flyers par excellence, having built a Termite, a Fly-Baby, a Turbi, etc.
They dreamed up and built two scale WW 1 Replica SE5a Brit fighters. They then flew their cocky little biplanes to Oshkosh, and everyone was delighted.
Their plans were instantly in demand, and eventually squadrons of ‘em were buzzing about the world. It was neat. For 50 bucks, 30 blueprints, a bunch of soul fulfilling work, and you were in dreamland.
1979 moving on
After building four, and having lots of fun, time to move on. Gogi bought a Ryan PT-22, and Dan had his huge Fairchild 71 restoration project, which languished in bushes someplace. The precious prop sparkled meanwhile in Walt’s basement subject to mini ‘Guy’ tours at numerous Christmas parties, with appropriate caressing, ooing and aahing, common at aviation buddy events.
The SE5’s had to go, and Dan’s went to Langley’s Museum of Flight, but Gogi’s sold to a WW 1 enthusiast bunch in Brampton, and it needed to get there. A couple of lo-ong trips to Oshkosh, landing at farms for gas and such, had reduced the enthusiasm to ‘simply’ fly the 2,500 miles or so, across mountains, lakes and prairie. It would be a ‘road job,’ and thanks to ‘The Mary,’ my bustling working wife, I was a romantic nut with time, and got the job as co-driver.
Having drawn the plans that helped this happen, it felt an honourable duty, akin to sailing to Hawaii with a guy in a little boat. We were to press on, no overnights, stopping only for occasional gas and food. A real guy thing.
We looked suitably cool, he in his red IAC windcheater, and I in my blue pilot jacket. Gogi took the Airplane Supply Centre work truck, with a neat sign saying ‘Build Your Own Plane, call Replica Plans’.
We used the Chapter 85’s space frame trailer, specially made for transporting bent or dismantled airplanes. It had a flat top rail to easily position the landing gear support board. It could pack quite a load.
The wings, packed in a sturdy wood frame, the plane rolled up on the sliding board, everything cinched down to avoid chafe, hoping the trailer wouldn’t twist much. We plugged in lights, hung red flags, and prayed we’d forgot nothing. Re-assemble at Brampton, test fly, sign it off, and drive home. Easy.
Vancouver to Brampton is a long way! It was magnificent tooling the freeway through the mountains, towing a World War One airplane. The cabane structure stuck up impressively. Some guys almost ran off the road gawking so much.
Gas stops became mini history lectures, many thinking it the real thing. “Where’d you find it?” “Does it still fly?” etc. We felt like saying we found it in a barn on the Alaska Highway.
Through Calgary and off across the wide Prairie.
Whatchyer got there?
In the middle of the night we stopped to eat at an all-night truck stop. It was jumping. The cacophonic rattling smell of idling diesels. The snorting roar of rigs pulling out, and shishing brakes of one pulling in. Our dainty red and blue hero pilot jackets felt naked among these huge hairy guys in their macho gear.
“Watchyer got there Buddy?”
”A Replica World War One fighter plane?” we’d reply. “No shit! Wouldya look at that Barnie!”
The equally tough waitress loomed over to us. Gogi ordered a cheese-burger, fries, and coffee. I fancied a toasted cheese, Red Rose tea, with milk. The waitress gave me a piercing look. “Anythin’ else?” she asked. Yes! Would she fully boil the water and put the bag in the pot right away please? I was particular about my national drink in those days.
Gogi was mortified. “Jeez!” he whispered, “Tea! This is a trucker’s café! They’ll think we’re a couple of whimps!”
Suddenly everything filled with menace. Big guys hovered around. We gobbled our food and slurped our drinks and were outa there. A hairy mob surrounded the trailer. We attempted a tough swagger as we approached our ‘rig.’
This big bruiser with ham fists came over. “What’s she got for power?” he asked. “85 horse continental,” says Gogi.
“Yeah?” says he! “Whattadda tell yer!” said another hefty guy. “Same as in Fred’s Cessna!” “Neat!” said another. “Imagine flying back in them days! Is it full size?” Surprise, surprise… Sigh.
Someone at the flying club
Back on the road, we marveled at life. We pressed on past Winnipeg, across the top of the Great Lakes on a roll. As we passed the ‘Big Nickel’ at Sudbury, we knew we were getting close. Through Barrie and were soon pulling onto the ramp at Brampton, looking for someone at the Flying Club.
Only guy around was a mechanic at the Aviation Maintenance Centre, who opened the hangar for us to mount and rig the wings. There’s a bewildering bunch of flying and landing wires until they’re all tached in place, and tweaked about a bit.
Didn’t take long. We rolled her out. Gogi put on his helmet, I swung the prop. The engine roared. He taxied off and did a circuit, came in, signed off the logs and we pushed the lovely new/old pretend WW 1 plane in the hangar, got in the truck and left. Just like that.
And that’s it!
Our first welcome motel overnight was at Blind River on Lake Huron were we slept like proverbial logs.
At Thunder Bay we picked up a ‘Chilliwack Flight School’ Cessna 150 in bits and then found the hitch needed welding. That done, we pressed on to a farm near Weyburn Sask, to load the sorry remains of a Champ.
And so, after another spectacular drive through the Rocky Mountains, we were home in Vancouver. It had been quite the adventure.
Don’t forget nominations for the COPA Awards!
Happy New Year. Fly safe.
Tony Swain is a former COPA director and has been a COPA member for more than 25 years. He and his wife Mary continue to be active participants in personal aviation.