The Things You Miss

Here I am yet again sitting in an airplane crossing the Pacific. Sapporo Japan to our left, Russia to the right, and Hong Kong ahead. Unlike the last year and a half of these crossings, today I am riding as a passenger. Seat 50H (thanks for the emergency exit row to the Air Canada gate agent in Vancouver) on board a 777-300ER. Not Cathay Pacific, our flight was too full. But rather Air Canada. Appropriate I figure, as I am on the return leg of my first trip back to Canada in almost 20 months.

It’s a long time to be away from something you know so well. And it’s a long time to be away from so many people you love so much. That is what this trip was about for my wife and I. We got married before I left for initial training in Adelaide Australia, in a small ceremony in my parents living room. Just a few family was there. So this trip meant a lot to us both, to get to spend some time with those loved ones who weren’t there that day.

Before leaving on the trip I had many mixed emotions. The easiest one to explain would be sadness over leaving my two young dogs at home (well looked after I might add) as this would be the longest we would leave them to date. Of course the next emotion was excitement. Mostly to see my grandmother. With her age (95), this trip would mean a lot to my wife and I. So far her health hasn’t failed her, and the way she is going she will be around for a while yet. But she was still by far, top on my list. We had many other relatives to visit, and stay with. Some of which my wife hasn’t met in person yet. This led to creeping feelings of not wanting to go at all, too much to do in such a short time. Why not just stay home? We would never obviously, and as things would turn out, the zig zagging trip across Canada would prove among the most rewarding of my life.

So off we went to Canada. After a long night of flying from Paris to Hong Kong for me, I arrived at home to finish some laundry and packing. We took our dogs to our courtyard for a play (and a cold beer for my wife and I) before heading to the airport. The local shop near our house that sells the beer is run by a family that has a young boy (7 or 8 maybe). He is our unofficial Cantonese tutor, and has been friendly with us and our dogs for a while. This time we are in for a nice treat. He has convinced his mother to invite us in for dinner. With only a little English from the boy, we aren’t quite sure what we are getting into, but my wife and I enter their home with a smile on our face. The mother points to the chair and hands us a plate. First on the menu? Duck feet. Okay, what the hell. We start chewing and gnawing at this mix of skin and cartilage (literally nothing else). It doesn’t taste that bad, but there is not much to digest. The family smiles when I say “ho may do” (delicious in Cantonese), they clearly can tell I am being polite. Next up, some fresh clams from our Silvermine Bay. Garlic, spring onion, steamed to perfection. I can’t slide enough of these slippery little guys into my mouth. But as we finish our beer, and our meal, it’s time to get into the shower and head to the airport. As we collect our now exhausted puppies, and head for home, we decide that we will bring this family a gift from Canada on our return.

The usual ensues next, say goodbye to the dogs, taxi to the airport and check in for the full flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. We get a seat but not together, less then ideal, but a seat nonetheless. A few hours into the flight my wife taps my head to wake me and invites me to the back of the plane to chat. We kill an hour and a half doing that, then back to the seats. Halfway across the Pacific now I can feel the excitement building. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone. As the flight comes to an end, we approach Vancouver and my first “forgotten gem” if you will, about Canada. It’s about 9pm local time, and the sun is still out in BC. In Hong Kong the sun is gone by around 7pm almost everyday of the year. I forgot what it was like to see the late twilight of the north. After collecting our bags and checking in for our connecting flight, we are off to Calgary. We order a few Molson Canadian beers for the short flight across the rockies. Starting to feel Canadian again. Landing there at about 130am, we are met by my uncle in law. We always have a good time in Calgary, and the next two days are no exception. Joining up with my wife’s great Aunt next, we tour Canmore and have dinner in Banff before a quick sleep and off to Winnipeg for my grandmother’s 95th birthday surprise party. It goes off without a hitch and the old gal was as shocked as ever. All but two cousins made the trip, so it was nice to have near the entire family with her that day. Next order of business the following morning is to help my in laws pack up the last of the boxes as the movers show up to complete the move from their Winnipeg home. They have officially moved to the lake where they own and operate a general store. After some dinner with my brother in law, the four of us head out to Clear Lake. I get another rush of Canadiana as I sip my Tim Horton’s coffee while cruising the Trans Canada Highway. The first thing I smell getting out of the car is something I haven’t experienced for a while, the smell of Canadian wilderness. Pine trees, a breeze off the lake carries the smell of the water, and of course, outboard motor exhaust. It’s a nice feeling breathing it all in again. In no time the next morning I am behind the deli counter slicing and pricing cold cuts at the store. Some baking, and butcher shop duties round out my experience there. I must say if I wasn’t a pilot, running a general store (despite the long hard hours) is very rewarding and would make a great career. After working at the shop everyday I take a swim in the lake to cool off before dinner. I am feeling more and more Canadian. We can’t stay at the lake for very long though as we have to drive back into Winnipeg for my cousins wedding after 3 days in cottage country. A great night the wedding was, and another great chance to catch up with some relatives. When the bar closes, we head back to my parents house for another short sleep before hitting the highway for Saskatoon in the morning. Three sets of grandparents to visit over the next few days. Twenty four hours in Saskatoon, then off to Jackfish lake where another set of grandparents await. We spend time visiting and catching up, and make some time to visit the local golf course where the owner keeps his Cessna 185 on floats in a hangar. A bush plane? That I used to fly? Now I am REALLY back in Canada. After another couple of nights back in Saskatoon with the final set of grandparents, we are headed for Regina, where my wife’s Aunt, Uncle, and cousins await. This will be my last stop of the trip before jumping on Air Canada to Vancouver, and then Hong Kong. As we did in all of our other stops, we spend the days visiting the family, doing a little shopping, and the nights grilling on the cue outside and drinking cold Canadian beer. I miss Canadian beer. The beer in Hong Kong is cheap, but it just isn’t the same.

Along the way we have made a few purchases for our home in Hong Kong that we think will remind us of Canada. Molson Canadian beach towels, a Saskatchewan Rough Riders flag, a Trans Canada Highway sign, and several others that will be a daily reminder of what this trip was. A great time with great family, in a great country. I must say looking back on the trip, every moment of it was special. Almost every day someone would ask us what we miss the most. The answer is simple. The people that made Canada our home for so many years. Moms, Dads, Sisters, Brothers, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, and cousins. Canada is great, it always will be. The smells, the prairie skies, the northern lights. But those won’t be the things I remember when I’m sitting on my rooftop in Hong Kong. It will be the people that I experienced those things with. They are, and will always be what count the most. Otherwise the rest is meaningless. We spent 18 days, in 9 different homes, with 47 different relatives, a wedding, a 95th birthday, and a shit load of Canadian beer. And despite the short nights, and long days, it was worth every minute.

With that, I am excited to be home with my dogs in a few more hours. My wife will join me at home in Hong Kong after a few more days of time with her parents at the store. I have to work 2 trips back to back (San Francisco and Anchorage) the first of which will be my annual line check. So a few days of reviewing the study notes I prepared back in April and I should be up to speed for the check. Then with the next two weeks off after those trips, it’s off to Kata Beach in Phuket Thailand with my wife to refresh after a busy trip to Canada.

More posts/story telling to come. Stay tuned and fly safe.







Like Father Like Son

Normally when the phone rang and I saw it was my Operations Manager at Perimeter Aviation, I usually debated answering the phone. Was I in trouble? Can’t think of anything I’ve done lately to piss management off. All kidding aside a call from the Ops Manager was usually related to something unusual at work. An incident that needed follow up, a charter that needed discussing before it departed to somewhere other then the usual destinations. Today was no different, something unusual. My Ops Manager called and asked if I could do a non revenue trip to God’s River Manitoba and take our “jack of all trades” Derek up to transfer fuel from our holding tank, to our pumping tank. Of course I was fine with that, I enjoyed flights that broke up the routine of the scheduled service we provided to 20 some destinations in Northern Manitoba. However there was an extra request from management that day, would I mind flying alone? We were short first officers at the time, so I wasn’t overly surprised by the request. However without hesitation I asked if I could bring my own first officer. Trevor knew who I meant and was the kind of manager that despite a grey area in the rules regarding this one, knew it was a great opportunity for a family of pilots to do something special.

So the next morning in the frigid February that Manitoba is known for (-40 this particular morning) I went to work with my dad. Kind of like take your kid to work day, but the exact opposite. I did the usual flight planning and talked to Derek to see how much gear he had to take with us. Then my dad and I got the heaters out to the plane and started to warm the frozen Merlin up. We were flying a long bodied merlin to be precise, configured for Cargo with a few jump seats in it. So there was more then enough room for the three of us and a few hundred pounds of cargo, as well as fuel for the return home, something that was rare, and a nice treat to not have to refuel the plane up north where it was even colder.

I asked my dad what he wanted to do, fly, work the radios, a bit of both. So we decided that I would takeoff and he would handle the radios out of Winnipeg (an airport he spent 20 years flying from for Air Canada). We were operating under my charter number, Perimeter 947 (all of our charter numbers started with 9, i chose 47 for obvious reason, my lifelong dream to fly the 747).

When we got airborne my dad out of 40 years of habit contacted departure as “Air Canada 947”. I guess when you start every radio call for a 40 year career with “Air Canada” it’s tough not to say it when your finger keys the mic for the first time in a while.

My dad took control for a bit in cruise, and despite complaining about the noise (the merlin is one of the louder turboprops around, and much louder then the passenger friendly 747 he flew last) we were having more fun than I thought possible. We were both smiling from ear to ear. The weather in God’s River was overcast at a few thousand feet, so nothing more then descending to a 25 mile safe altitude and joining the circuit would be required for our arrival.

My dad again doing the radio work in the uncontrolled environment of northern Manitoba, struggled between Air Canada and Perimeter. I had been a Captain for more then a year at this point on the metro/merlin fleet, so I was comfortable in my chances to show my dad my skills landing this plane. The runway had a light dusting of snow, which helps in creating a cushioning effect when touching down. I saw there was a couple of knots crosswind from the left, and managed to gently touch the left main wheel, followed by the right, holding the nose off while I applied reverse thrust to help slow down, and around 70 knots, gently letting the nose wheel onto the snow covered grave runway. My dad and I were still smiling.

We helped Derek with the fuel for a while, and had a laugh that our two tank years supply for gas in God’s River was about 3/4’s of what the 747 held with full fuel tanks. We have up to 5 airplanes a day take fuel from these tanks, albeit a couple hundred liters at a time. But it was still interesting to figure that a years supply of fuel for a our fleet was barely enough for a 747 to cross the pacific.

After some hot chocolate and a quick warm up in the terminal building the three of us set for Winnipeg. My dad and I decided he could land when we got home, landing a turboprop is something he hadn’t done since 1967. Having never flown a metro/merlin before, it can be a handful. But to no surprise, and only after letting my dad know the flap and gear speeds, he did a better job then most of the FO’s I fly with who have been flying that plane for a year or more. I guess hands and feet don’t forget how to fly, and 40 years of practice sure helps. He looked at me and said “that sure was fun.”

This was a flight that I will never forget, it was something my dad or uncle never got to do, fly with there dad, so I know how special it was for our family. I am sure I will never fly with a First Officer again that has the experience mine did that day. If I learned anything from that flight, it’s the importance of taking something memorable or fun from every flight. It doesn’t have to be once in a lifetime event like this particular day, but as long as I can walk off a flight and think, “that sure was fun” I know I will have a good career.




The Last of Something Great

I remember dressing up for Hallowe’en when I was younger, it was almost always as a pilot. Whether I would wear my dad’s old uniform, my grandfather’s old leather flying helmet from his open cockpit bi-plane flying of the 30’s, it was usually something to do with flying.

Well this past Hallowe’en, 2011, like usual, I dressed up as a pilot. Because I had to go to work. This day of northern bush flying in my Fairchild Metro was going to be my last. I had given my two weeks notice, landed (excuse the pun) that dream job overseas, and in 6 short days, I would be leaving Canada for what my wife and I are planning to be a very long time. (Of course we will come home to visit, but we are starting a new life in Hong Kong from this point on).

I put on my uniform for the last time at Perimeter Aviation, my home airline like it were my home team in Hockey. When I became a Captain when I was 25 my grandmother at the young age of 89 years young, gave me a gift. They were the captains epaulettes that my grandfather wore on his retirement flight after a 30 year career at Trans canada Airlines (became Air Canada). They had been sitting in a dresser for about 40 years,waiting for someone else to take the honor and privilage of wearing these bars. He put those 4 bars on each shoulder that morning of December 8th, 1968, just as I was the morning of October 31st 2011. I wondered to myself when I would put them on again. Chances are at Cathay Pacific I would become a Captain again within 10-15 years of joining the airline, so these were among the first things I packed when I loaded my bags with my belongings for a new life in Asia. With the promise to myself that when I once again make Captain at my new airline, I would put those old worn out bars on my shoulder again.

The morning trip was an uneventful, routine round trip to Northern Manitoba. Good weather, flying with a First Officer who was very good at his job, which makes mine much easier. My old bosses at Perimeter were among the best I’ve had. They gave me my choice of flights for that day, knowing I would want to make it as memorable as possible. So I chose an easy run to the north in the morning, but for the evening I chose the courier run to Brandon and Dauphin. About a 2 hour round trip, it was the best flight to bring people along. So, with very little argument from my boss, I had a seat reserved for my mom, dad, mother in law, and beautiful wife. Shawna (a great chef) made picnic sandwiches and salads for everyone (including our regular passengers, the ones I wasn’t related too) and even packed a 6 pack of personal bottles of Champagne. Obviously we saved mine for after the flight.

The flight was memorable to say the least. My dad was plugged in to the cockpit intercom with my sisters headset, so we could chat the whole flight. The second leg of the trip took us right over Shawna’s family cottage, where we spent a lot of time in the summers. So clearly I needed to “buzz” the property at a few hundred feet and 300 miles an hour. After all, when would I ever get the chance to do that again?

We landed back in Winnipeg, with what I would call one of my better landings. I felt like I needed to impress my family you see, so I tried awfully hard to make that landing a nice one. My dad was emotional, and so was my sister who landed a few minutes after me on her flight from Northern Manitoba. But everyone was happy. Especially me. My 6 years at Perimeter taught me countless lessons on how to be a better pilot. It gave me over 4000 hours of valuable experience which got me to where I wanted to go, my dream job in Hong Kong. I sat in those airplanes on the hottest of summer days, and the absolute coldest of winter nights. The hottest my cabin air temperature ever reached was +46C on the ramp before we could start the engines, while the coldest temperature I ever flew into was -56C with the windchill on the coast of Hudson’s Bay in February. But I left there with no regrets, and the fondest of memories. What has happened since that day has been an amazing journey, that will only continue as we live our new lives in South East Asia, I can only guess what will happen next.

One thing I do know, I was lucky to have those 6 years in Northern Manitoba. Great people, and great memories.