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A lot of wind has flowed under the wings since The Mary and I began flying at Delta. And time-to-time, we not so bold old pilots fret on the way things are going, and the dumbing down of the romance we found so irresistible when first we fledged our wings. Sigh. Where’d it all go? Or are we just irascible old codgers?
Time was we’d pop to the airport, chew a bit of fat, poke about old Bessy, hop in, look at the tattered old sock, and buzz off to Chilliwack for pie. A whole bunch of us would do that, and there was a great feeling of camaraderie in doing so.
We generally headed out for Fort Langley and the Mighty Fraser, where a couple more old Harvard drivers joined the gaggle. If Air Show season was coming up, the fearless leader of the day called us in for some serious formation work, followed by an exhilarating low pass and fighter break for landing. Pie and coffee never tasted better at the debrief.
Our homebuilder friends enjoyed a gentler version of the same thing, often heading for Fulford or Nanaimo to gam a bit with the local airplane people. It was a relaxed time. The rules were reasonable and few pushed the edge.
But 40 years later, some feel hemmed in by air space restrictions and requirements that infer a serious commercial purpose for your flight, and a simple desire to fly about for fun doesn’t cut it. Double sigh.
SO IT WAS NICE
So it was nice when Rob Diston dropped by the other day with a whole passel of 35mm slides his dad’s been keeping in the attic these past 50 years or so.
His farmer parents Darmel and Corrie started Delta Air Park around 1960 to house their new Champ and a few flying friends. And it just ‘Grew like Topsy!’ to about 200 tenants by the late 1970’s.
The six carousels brim with images of the grass root flying that Delta is renowned for. Romantic old planes and matching characters, and it has been ever so. Every flying field will have similar personal collections, which need protecting from the ravage of time. Some of the Diston collection is spoilt by fading and mildew. Slides are best kept cold and dry, and copied to CD or DVD for easier access. We must preserve our story, no one else will.
An old aerial shot from 1960, shows a large shed west of the modest farm buildings, which now houses Ray Roussey’s Navion.
Many of the early pics show this shed to be the first airplane-fixing place, providing shelter from rain and snow. The granary east of it eventually got doors and windows to become the Koffi Port, presided over by Corrie, which the local farmers found a great place for lunch and a natter.
Flying was still a wondrous magical thing, and the wood and rag planes of the day attracted amazing characters. Interests ranged from flying the bush, speedier travel, to the special fascination of surplus military planes. All these and more were welcome at Delta.
Some ‘big’ planes arrived, West Coast Transmissions Grumman Goose CF-IQL ‘DRYAD’ came by, and a serious looking Piper Aztec disgorged a bunch of ‘government’ guys with suits, briefcases and Homburg hats.
The resident airplane folk continued unfazed, fixing Tri-Pacer mags, swinging Ryan props, checking the Sirocco’s engine, and flying in with a red Tiger Moth. There’s Bill Cowan in his Pitts S-1, before being a Canadian Red or Rayban Gold.
Molt Taylor’s dreamer Aerocar taxies by at Abbotsford, and Norm Maynard sits proudly in his Bensen Gyrocopter at Hope.
The first row of t-hangars is erected, and Bob Haslam’s Harvard has a gear downlock problem on landing, but no damage is done, and a half dozen guys lifted the wing and the wheel came down and locked. After that, Harvard drivers became diligent on oiling downlock pins!
A pleasant young chap we’ll call Jerry, commuted to work in Alaska via ‘The Rocky Mountain Trench’ and Watson Lake, with a plucky little homebuilt Pietenpol, a 10 gallon drum of gas on the front seat, and a precious guitar in case lashed to the fuselage. Without brakes, he walked alongside to taxi, and one day, sad for him, Delta’s regular South wind, blew the tail around and right into Haslam’s Harvard prop, which was considerably bent. The good news was, that the big Pratt wasn’t running!
Coming home via Banff and Airdrie next year, with a service ceiling he estimated, if lucky, at 4,000 feet, puttering happily along, he was suddenly eyeball to eyeball with a control tower! …He’d puttered right through Calgary’s new Springbank control zone, which wasn’t there last year! Sigh.
BIGGEST GEM OF ALL
But for The Mary and I, the biggest gem of all was from 1973, of a resplendent ‘Bessy’ with her new paint job, and her very happy couple owners. It’s a true family portrait. The picture is actually from a PR slide set "Sport Flying Around Vancouver" by T.S.P. which is a collector item these days. They were sold around the world, and helped create the Delta Air Park mystique.
But the world turns, and life moves on, The Diston family retired in the mid 70’s, and the Airpark continued to thrive for 20 years under the benign stewardship of Charterhouse Properties of Vancouver, who magnificently rebuilt the main grass runway. Boundary Bay re-opened as a civil aviation and training field, and the adjacent circuit procedures coordinated.
Eventually, the Greater Vancouver Regional District Parks, now Metro Vancouver Parks, bought the Airpark to increase their waterfront access, and the RAAC Chapter 85, assisted by COPA consultant funds, negotiated a rental agreement to operate the Airpark on behalf of the GVRD, using volunteer staff. This mutually beneficial arrangement continues 12 years on.
DELTA WRAP-UP STUFF
Eight Delta pilots joined the traditional Remembrance Day Cenotaph fly-pasts this year, following the four Harvards of the Canadian Warbirds, The Western Warbirds Beech 18 and two Nanchengs, five Fraser Blues Navions, and the Military Flight from Comox.
A hundred people attended Delta’s special ceremony by the flag in the strangely empty Lodestar Park. The dear old Gate Guardian was sorely missed. But as always, Mary’s soup was scrumptious and much appreciated by the pilots on return from their mission.
There’s a change of the guard in the Delta Air Park Committee, DAPCOM that you need to make a note of. After 12 years, I have retired from being the ‘Rent Guy’ and the new DHAP Volunteer Rents Chairman is Al Blakely, of the Boundary Bay Flying Club, and COPA Flight 5.
It is a pressing job at times, so please give him the understanding and co-operation you’ve offered me all these years. Sigh. But, keep your heads up, we shall still be around! So I guess that’s all. Happy New Year, and Fly Safe
Mary and Tony Swain, "the old COPA guys."