Thursday, January 04, 2007



Okay, I'm back. With some background and a little foreground.

I like the Piper Navajo and Navajo Chieftain. They are good, honest airplanes that will carry a decent load and they'll go into just about any airstrip in existence. They aren't much fun on one engine, nor are they a lot of laughs in icing conditions, but not many planes are.
I flew them in Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, from Spring 1997 to Fall 1998. When I first got to Stony Rapids, the deal was pretty straight-forward for a newbie like me: I gave them 18 months of my life and they gave me multi-engine PIC time and free rent. Other than that, money wasn't really included in my deal - I made about $2,000 per month as a dispatcher but when I stopped doing that and went to straight pilot salary, it dropped down to about $1,300 a month. Yeah that's awful, but I was flying 110 hours in a month and I put the slavery issue on the backburner and concentrated on putting hours in my logbook.

I still had to pay for food though, which is worthy of a quick digression.

Due to high shipping costs, food at the local stores was very expensive and most of us attempted to order our food from a grocery store in La Ronge who would then drop off our food boxes at the La Ronge airport, to await the mercy of Air Sask dispatch. We had a partnership with Air Sask, and they happened to operate a Jetstream 31 on scheduled service that included a run from La Ronge to Stony Rapids. If there was free weight on the Jetstream, Air Sask would put our groceries on it. If the Jetstream was at max weight, then our groceries would sit in the luggage shed at the Air Sask terminal until the next daily Jetstream run. Or the one after that. Summer was bad as the high temperatures and the route schedule meant the Jetstream had to operate light, so it could use less runway distance and get out of runways like Fond du Lac, a 2,800' gravel strip with trees and a lake on both ends and a huge gravel hump in the middle. (For any non-pilots, 2,800' is a fairly short runway for a 19-passenger turboprop airliner, unless you are talking about a Twin Otter. But we're still talking Jetstream, and groceries). The Jetstream would frequently have to leave behind paying customer's bags, so it was often a lost cause for our groceries. If your food sat for three days in +30 heat or -40 cold, would you still want it? We'd often swap grocery horror stories with the other bases ("the lettuce was brown and the steak was green"). So we ate a lot of canned stuff, or what we could catch ourselves, or sometimes we splurged and bought food at the local store, after thoroughly inspecting it to make sure it had remained frozen during transit to Stony Rapids.

Oh, and on a completely random note, 12 cans of beer or a 375ml bottle of hard liquor cost $50 from the local bootleggers. I guess their shipping charges were equally atrocious.

Anyway, that's just some background.

Now I'm going to focus on Stony Rapids, during the winter of 1997, a few months after Daryl's death. I was living in 'the Hilton', a house that had been built that summer and was pretty nice inside. I had previously lived in a little red log cabin just up the road from the Hilton, but it wasn't really possible to keep it warm when the outside temperatures were south of -40 for weeks at a time. The Hilton was hooked up to a boiler also used to heat a nearby garage and as long as that garage had heat, so did I. I made a simple thermal decision and moved from the log cabin to the Hilton. The Hilton featured fresh carpeting and decent furniture, along with new appliances and uncracked glass in the windows. Originally I was in the downstairs apartment and the Ops Manager and his family were upstairs, but 3 weeks after I moved in, he went on to fly a Lear jet out of Vancouver before getting on with Canadian Airlines, back before they were merged with Air Canada. That meant I had the whole place to myself for the winter of 1997. The Winter flying season was pretty slow and work only took about 40 hours a week, leaving me lots of free time. In -45 weather. Fortunately I had a Nintendo 64 console along with a color tv and my friends and I spent hours playing Goldeneye and Mario Kart 64, waiting for winter to subside so we'd be able to live outdoors again.

One night around 11pm I was sitting at home with some of the locals, playing Goldeneye deathmatch when the phone rang. It was Dwayne, our Chief Pilot. He wanted to know if I would do a medical flight down south with him. He was qualified to operate single-pilot but he wanted the company as it was late at night and he was tired. I said sure and that I'd meet him at the airport. I grabbed my headset and flight bag and ran out the door, arriving at the airport 5 minutes after the phone call. Dwayne was there.

"What's the medical flight about?"

"We have to fly a body and the victim's family down to Prince Albert"

"A body? How did it happen?"

"Go warm up ZOW"

Zow was one of the Navajos in our fleet.


More tomorrow...

3 comments:

Captain Muffin said...

of all the planes...you put up that one?!?!?! ICK!!!!

Sulako said...

I felt it was indicative of the sort of Navajos I flew up north. I wondered if you would notice it :)

Aviatrix said...

I've flown a lot of airplanes uglier than that one.