Around the old patch


Bessy spotters…

Time to time, we get reports from twitchers in Ontario about a Bessy spotting. This is exciting stuff, there being only one in the world! Reports usually mention red wing tips, white lightening, and the clincher, a Fish Lady with a red nose.

These sightings, assure us that Bessy is just fine, and still spreads goodwill with thrill flights of a lifetime. We still fret though, that she’s so far from ‘home’, sigh! So thanks guys, we really appreciate these reports.

As I write, The Mary is working up her special soup for the pilots of the Remembrance Day Flight. This particular event is when we really miss Old Bessy. These old Warbirds occupy a special place in our hearts, as they promote the wonder and excitement of aviation in a very special way.

Their general technology was at a basic human comprehension level, easy to explain to regular folk. Modern stuff is complex, though today’s young whizz-kids and their Eye-Pods just lap it up.

It’s great fun showing kids and parents our treasured Harvard. They crawled all over her as The Mary ‘splained’ the works. What a magic carpet she was. Whether in fly-byes, or static display, she gave equal enjoyment to all. And happily, our Warbird friends continue the tradition today, showing regular folks, ‘The way it was!’


Bereft of our beloved Harvard, Bessy, for Thanksgiving, we drove to Mary’s family cabin near Penticton in our peppy little old Mazda. Ole Bessy took about an hour. Took a couple of days via the long scenic route, but driving has its upside, as you visit friends on the way.

The Duffy Lake Road, north by Whistler to Merritt is spectacular, and the Econo-Lodge there was excellent. Next morning we peeked in the nice little flying club at the airport, but no-one was home. So we signed the book and left our COPA card. The new (to us) highway direct to Peachland is a tough climb over the top for our little Protégé, however, she handled it well. At Penticton, a favourite old Western Warbirds rendezvous was Lane Klootwick’s friendly ‘Skytel.’ Sort of closed for many years, nevertheless, a sign by the old front desk said to pick a room, and stay a couple of days or so gratis. We steeled ourselves to find it in ruin, or overbuilt with some modern corporate hangar.

Back in the early 1980's, this was the Warbirds special place. Once a year, fabulous vintage WW-2 planes gathered here from Western Canada and the USA. Mustangs, Harvards, T-6’s, Cornell, Mitchell, Corsair, Bamboo bomber and a Tiger Moth. So what now?


Afraid of disillusion, The Mary was loathe to look, and stayed in the car. I went in, and surprise! How wrong we were. All was neat and tidy with a nice little flight school, Southern Skies Aviation. A very pleasant lady called a cheerful greeting. This was Joan Holmes, Director of Admin, wife of Mark Holmes, Director of Ops. Now a bustling Aviation Career college, the students live in the old ‘Skytel’ units. Brilliant! I almost signed up! How good could it get, a popular vacation resort, right by the beach!

I babbled on a bit about the old Warbirds days. Joan looked a bit bemused and said, “I want to show you something!” …and pointed out the washroom. I was stunned by the décor, and rushed out to tell Mary it was quite nice, and she should use the washroom before we left.

She grumbled a bit and went in. Pause… “Oh! It’s me!” she yelled, because… ‘Lo!’ There on the washroom wall, was a framed picture of a much younger My Mary, laughing away in the back of dear old Bessy! Helmet, goggles and all!

We were astounded. Back in the glory days, the lobby was festooned with large photos of Western Warbird stuff, which, by the time the Holmes took over, most were spoilt by fading or damp. A couple of faded ones were still in the rec room. It was amazing.

Both Joan and Chief Pilot Michel Tuckwood enthused that students, staff and all, are continually inspired by Mary’s obvious enjoyment of flying. Joan said how she often wondered who the laughing lady was, and would they ever meet. And here she was!

Big hugs all round, including a couple of lucky students. Imagine their glee when telling the others about meeting ‘The Lady in the Can!’

It was wonderful. The folks at Southern Skies Aviation finally met their mystery woman after so many years. Amazing. As we were leaving, a man enquired about a Recreational Pilot Permit, which COPA fought for, and I was pleased to see the school enthusiastically offered this entry level program.


So on to Oliver, where the Warbirds went after outgrowing the Skytel. The excellent Southwinds Hotel accommodated all of us, and we, the Boundary Bay Flying Club, and others had some good times there. Sadly, today, it’s a dusty construction site!

Bessy’s old maintenance guy, Walt, runs Lannon Aviation at Oliver, specializing in vintage warbirds. There’s a ‘Yak-In’ there every fall. Walt flew with the Western Warbirds with his Harvard, EVA for many years, and was a member of the Canadian Warbirds display team. It was great to see him again after so long.

There were a number of old pictures in his office, the Mother’s Day fly-in, and his ‘retirement’ cartoon… Which showed it was all a lot of fun. Sigh. But time has marched on!

We pressed on, and visited the R.C. Legion at Okanagan Falls, who were busy with a spirited Bingo. On the wall was a great photo of an RCAF Rescue Lancaster. Back in 1958, at Calgary’s RCAF Lincoln Park, we designed the SARAH homing antenna and search window defrost systems visible on the photo.


The family cabin at Twin Lakes, is in the mountains west of Penticton, on the same road as DOMOBS, The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, the hallowed place Bessy carefully avoided flying over those many years, to avoid disrupting contact with alien worlds …or the wrath of Transport Canada!

The observatory is mightily impressive. Rows of huge radio telescopes probe the invisible universe. They are immensely proud of their 26 Metre diameter telescope, in service since 1967. There is much to see. Hundreds of short telegraph poles hold up a matrix of wires to form a huge radio telescope that looks straight up.

Our tour guide, Officer Wendell Shuster, showed us around and said that if our eyeballs were 2,000 feet in diameter, we would see radio waves at the same resolution as normal eyesight. A disturbing thought!

He asked that we spread the word about the observatory, and gave us a comprehensive 25 page information handout to take home. Always wondered about that ‘no-fly’ place as we flew by well clear!


At the cabin, we bought scrumptious hot berry pies at the Twin Lakes store, and then spent all night fighting off imaginary bears attracted by the smell. We headed home, via Mary’s birth place, Princeton, to go see their new improved airport.
And so it was! Gracing the new ramp, the fine ‘Ray Jarvis Terminal Building’ recognizes the Councillor’s outstanding commitment to the airport.

The tiny weather station is ‘operated under contract’ for Transport Canada, and remote from town, always seemed lonely when we passed over en route. It looked particularly bleak on a cold winter’s day …and they had no air-radio, so you couldn’t cheer them up. So we popped in to say hello.

We found them to be the friendliest dedicated people. It happened that retired Weather Person, Merrilyn Huicke, was visiting the present Weather Person, Sue Lepoidevin, and so we got the most charming grand tour.

The Mary left Princeton when she was eight, yet amazingly, she and the weather ladies had common friends! Even more amazing was that they knew about us! Because airport manager, Dave Woodruff passes along COPA Flight News!
They’re very proud of their spruced up airport, and it’s good to hear that the town’s folk offer real support. Well done Princeton!

And I guess that’s it from us. … Have a Merry Christmas and everything… Cheers! And Fly Safe!

Tony and The Mary, the Old Copaguys in Vancouver. Email: