‘Fly-in’ takes off despite low turnout

Despite a chilly and cloudy start to the day, the fifth-annual “fly-in barbecue” at the Fort Frances Airport on Saturday managed to wing it.
Only about 75 spectators showed up—a far cry from the some 220 who attended last year’s event—but that didn’t dampen spirits, either.
“Given the way the weekend was, with all the other events going on [around the district], the ‘fly-in’ turned out reasonably good,” said organizer Bruce Caldwell.
“Between Winnipeg and here, the weather wasn’t great and that’s why we didn’t get as many pilots as we’d liked,” he added, though he saluted the four pilots from Steinbach, Winnipeg, Dryden, and Thunder Bay who did manage to fly in.
Among them was Jill Oakes of Winnipeg, who arrived at the tail-end of the afternoon in her Acro Sport biplane after waiting out the weather.
“She flew into Steinbach for fuel and the weather wasn’t all that great, so she stayed there for an hour or two and then came on through,” Caldwell noted.
Better late than never. She won the draw for a pilot’s attendance prize of a etching on glass of her aircraft by local artist Cher Pruys.
John Peck of Steinbach also flew in for the afternoon before heading to Gimli, Man. for another event.
For pilot Bill Brisson of Dryden, Saturday’s “fly-in” was his first this year. He went out of town and rented a Cessna 172 on wheels in order to get here because his own aircraft—a 1947 Luscombe—is on floats.
“This is my first time out this year. I just wanted to go for a ride and meet other aviation enthusiasts, so I drove to Kenora and rented [a plane] from the Kenora Flying Club,” said Brisson, who is a member of that club.
But he didn’t fly empty. Along for the ride were his cousin (who owns two 1947 Luscombes), an 18-year-old family friend who got his private pilot’s licence in August, and Brisson’s nine-year-old daughter, Andréa, who has been flying with her dad since the age of five.
“Sometimes I get to sit in the front and drive,” she enthused Saturday.
Ron Weedon of Kakabeka Falls flew in for the weekend with his wife, Lori, aboard their Wag-Aero Sport Trainer—home-built four years ago. This was the fourth year they’ve attended the Fort Frances event.
“He loves to fly,” smiled Lori Weedon, who is a pilot-in-training herself.
“We love airplanes and enjoy talking to other airplane people,” said Ron Weedon.
“There’s really nowhere to fly to outside of Thunder Bay—Fort Frances is the closest to us really,” he added. “We support their ‘fly-in’ and they support us [at our ‘fly-in’].”
The Kakabeka Falls Flying Club holds a similar event each year on the second weekend in June.
Also on hand for a short while Saturday was the O.P.P.’s Pilatus PC 12/45 fixed-wing aircraft and its two-person crew—Sgt. Dwayne Bolen, pilot, and co-pilot Cst. Ryan Hutchinson of the Aviation Services division, based out of Thunder Bay.
They weren’t meant to be a part of the “fly-in” but, being at the airport with a bit of free time, allowed the public a first-hand look at some high-tech equipment.
The O.P.P. aircraft primarily operates within Ontario, although it can be tasked to missions anywhere within North America. Its duties include surveillance, prisoner escort, transportation of personnel, and search and rescue.
A case-mounted camera on the outside rear of the plane is used for visual and thermal imaging—its lens worth three-quarters of million dollars.
Local pilot Gord Melville, of Melaire Ltd., was on hand at his hangar to answer questions about his ongoing home-build—a two-seat personal Safari helicopter.
Though small when completed (just nine metres in length), it won’t be hard to spot. Replicas of a burly bright green man, namely “The Incredible Hulk,” have been air-sprayed on the bottom and sides of the “whirlybird” by local graphic artist Todd Dolk.
Meanwhile, car and motorcycle enthusiasts also had their day. Six antique vehicles and two Harley Davidsons were parked at the airport hangar for viewing Saturday.
As well, two radio-controlled airplanes were on static display.
People’s choice awards went to Ed Halvorsen for his 1930 Ford Model A Coupe, Vince Sheppard for his Harley Davidson 2003 100th Anniversary Edition, and Dan Cousineau for his “Tiger Moth” radio-controlled airplane.
The “fly-in” also was helped along by about a dozen Royal Canadian Air Cadets from 908 Rainy Lake Squadron.