|Since 1990 Canadian members of the International Challenger Owners Association (ICOA) have expanded their horizons by promoting and organizing long distance group flights to interesting and unusual destinations. In 2008 Quad City Ultralight Aircraft Corporation, manufacturer of the Challenger line of aircraft, celebrated its 25th Anniversary so there was no better place in the world for Challengers to congregate than in Moline, Illinois, birthplace of all Challengers.
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Five Challenger pilots comprised the Canadian contingent. From Ontario, Henry McKinlay of Honey Harbour, Bryan Quickmire of Bluewater Beach, Keith Robinson of Coldwater, Claude Roy of Ottawa, and Patrick Vinet from St-Jovite, Quebec. Ground support was a welcome addition this year with Yvonne McKinlay and Gwen Robinson joining the team in a comfortable sport utility vehicle. Joan Armstrong, Claude's wife, also participated by riding her Harley-Davidson motorcycle and meeting the group at destination.
Claude took on the task of preparing an initial group flight plan, which was approved by all as a template, subject to modifications as required along the road. As three of the participants are from the Georgian Bay area and two others are from the Ottawa region, the plan called for Patrick and Claude to meet en route at the Cobden Airport, up the Ottawa River Valley and then fly from Cobden to meet the rest of the group at Henry's place in Honey Harbour. From there, the group of five aircraft will generally fly west on a wide counter clockwise pattern around Georgian Bay to cross the US Border at Drummond Island, MI, and carry on along the north and west side of Lake Michigan to destination.
The return trip will bring the group south to Indiana, then east to Ohio to visit the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. From there, the Georgian Bay group will split north to hit the western edge of Lake Erie and clear Canadian Customs at Pelee Island and carry on home. In the meantime, the Eastern Ontario group will head east and eventually north to complete a full circle around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The tour will officially finish once Patrick gets back home to the St-Jovite/Mont Tremblant (QC) Airport.
Overall, the group safely covered over 2, 062 air miles (3, 318 kms) in 14 days, landing on 29 occasions while visiting great places and meeting with many old and new friends. Here is a brief account of each one of these 14 days of adventure.
ADVENTURE TAKES FLIGHT
Day 1, Saturday, 13 September. Cloudy, temp 22C, wind north 5 kms.
The weather is uncertain. There is an enormous cold front sitting over the Great Lakes, coming eastbound and it is expected over Georgian Bay by supper time. Aware of all this, Patrick makes a hasty departure from St-Jovite/Mont Tremblant (CSZ3) as soon as the morning fog lifts off. Just before taking off, he calls Claude, who is standing by in Ottawa, so that Claude can time himself to meet Patrick two hours later at Cobden (CPF4).
This works perfectly and the two aircraft find themselves two miles apart in the Cobden circuit. On the ground, Bob McDonald, a resident Challenger fellow, is standing by with fuel and food for the two adventurers. A quick turn around is done and both Challengers get back in the air towards Haliburton/Stanhope (CND4).
The straight line flight is made over mountainous terrain and at low level, due to a complete cloud cover at 3, 000 feet. All goes well and, once in Haliburton, the two flyers have a chance to consult an Internet station to see where the rain is situated exactly. The Doppler radar screen confirms they can make it through to Honey Harbour before the rain gets there. They land safely on floats around 17:00 hours local, to be warmly greeted by Yvonne and Henry McKinlay. Just minutes after the airplanes are put to bed, the rain starts.
Day 2, Sunday, 14 September. Rain, temp 20C, wind northwest 20-40 kms.
Little can be done today because of rain and high winds. The three flyers have a map session, adjust their GPS routings and discuss the weather. With Bryan still at the Edenvale Airport (CNV8), Keith is also standing by at his cottage just north of here on Go Home Lake. With rain plus high winds announced for tomorrow, a decision is easily made to forget about tomorrow morning for a possible getaway. The upshot is that everybody stops worrying and gets a good night's sleep.
Day 3, Monday, 15 September. Rain, temp 20C, wind northwest 20-50 kms.
The rain stops mid-morning, opening the door for Bryan and Keith to fly to Honey Harbour for a group departure later on that day.
It takes some time to get the right weather and some effort for Henry and Keith to get their engines going, but the group gets underway towards Killarney (CPT2) around 15:30 hrs. With gas on the back seat and a stiff wind on the nose, it is felt prudent to find a spot and refuel after an hour's worth of flying. The chosen spot is the beach at Killbear Provincial Park where a curious crowd gathers to watch the proceedings around this unusual array of colourful floatplanes.
Once all are topped up, the group gets airborne again in very windy conditions. The remainder of the flight to Killarney is bumpy but manageable. Once landed, a transportation vehicle brings the group to the Killarney Mountain Lodge, for an excellent supper and a well-deserved night's rest.
Before going to bed, plans are firmed up for Yvonne and Gwen to meet the flyers at the Drummond Island Airport (KDRM) the next afternoon.
Day 4, Tuesday, 16 September. Mostly cloudy, temp 18C, wind south 30-50 kms.
The sky is clearing, but winds are not letting up at all. No matter, the guys have enough experience to handle these blustery conditions. So a bumpy flight brings the flying armada to the Gore Bay Airport (CYZE) where a less-than-elegant crosswind landing is made by all.
Drummond Island is only one hour away from Gore Bay, but the US Customs need a two-hour prior notice before dealing with any international arrival. This gives the group a little reprieve to do the phone calls, get their own papers in order, get the airplanes refueled and get ready to go at the announced take off time. This is executed in a textbook fashion, except maybe for the take off which is done from the taxiway into a 30+ kms/hour wind right on the nose. Nobody else is around to complain, so why not?
As expected, the landing at Drummond Island is rough, but all make it OK. Yvonne and Gwen are there already and take several pictures of the group's arrival. Minutes later, the US Customs Officers arrive and formalities are easily dispensed with. In two short hops, Yvonne provides transportation to the Drummond Island Resort, a very nice hotel where a joyous evening reunion takes place and Claude gets the best score bowling after dinner.
Day 5, Wednesday, 17 September. Few clouds, temp 20C, wind northwest 20-40 kms.
The weather has improved, but the flight is still facing headwinds today. From Drummond Island, the group flies westbound over the water to Mackinaw County (83D). On departure from there, with the Mackinaw Bridge in view, Keith says on the radio that he has a gear problem. His gear is up but not locked. He knows what the problem is and he reassures everyone that it can easily be fixed upon landing at our next stop, the Manistique/Schoolcraft Airport (KISQ).
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