Close Calls: The Centennial Odyssey PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anthony Nalli   
Thursday, 24 February 2011 10:10

It was a year ago, in the summer of 2009. We flew a total of almost 6,000 miles – from the Toronto area to the shores of the Pacific Ocean then all the way across to the Atlantic before turning back and heading for home. And, oh, what I’ve learned from that once-in-a-lifetime experience of the Cross Canada Century Flight. Though there was a lot of it, it wasn’t just about the flying. As the journey progressed, it became more about the people, the places, and the awesome wonder of this incredible country.

It is easy to become regionalized in such a vast nation. But, after having experienced the warm hospitality of Canadians from across the country, I have learned that I need to try harder to think about Canada as more than just what I know from within my own regional “silo.”

As aviators, we were consistently greeted as heroes by hundreds, sometimes thousands, along with waving flags and bands playing. We were not heroes, but, rather, participants, like those who welcomed us, in a cross-country tribute to those who, with their courage and ambition, gave us aviation as we know it today. All who sacrificed before us, risking their lives to make flying safer, even possible at all, are the heroes. And, our journey was in honor of them.

A countdown of almost two years finally reached zero when, on the morning of July 17, 2009, good ol’ Cessna Foxtrot Lima Romeo India, our 206, fired up and became the first to launch from Boundary Bay, British Columbia. It was only 18 hours earlier that we were in the midst of our westbound crossing of the Rockies, a first for everyone on board, to arrive at the opening ceremonies of the Century Flight. The next morning, we were on our way over the colossal and wondrous mountain range again. Flying at the height of some of the peaks of the mammoth Rockies is truly the definition of the word “awesome!”

The approximately 80 aircraft that departed British Columbia were joined by others in Calgary, Alberta, taking the count to close to 100 heading into Brandon, Manitoba. Engine troubles befell one aircraft, but it rejoined the flight a little later after a quick cylinder replacement. But, it was upon our entry into Ontario that the weather gods stopped smiling.

A series of systems north of Lake Superior scattered the flight to various diversion points. Some were lucky enough to beat the weather, but most waited for openings as one system passed just ahead of the next one. Some simply couldn’t get out. In fact, much of the latter group was forced to stay put for several days, ending the journey for many of those participants.

It was onward to Marathon, then Sault Ste. Marie, where weather once again delayed our arrival into Brampton, Ontario, my stomping grounds. It seemed it was no sooner we finally got into Brampton that we were already planning our departure ahead of – you guessed it – more weather!

Into Quebec and over Maine, our numbers dwindled a little more as weather diversions became necessary with increasing regularity – some brief, some extended. Over the course of our stay in Fredericton, New Brunswick, we regained several of our stragglers, but weather continued to challenge the flight as it narrowed the departure window to Sydney, Nova Scotia, resulting in a somewhat smaller contingent than expected at the official airport renaming ceremony that was planned to coincide with the arrival of the Century Flight.

Determined, those who were held back continued on when able, leading to an impressive presence at the closing ceremonies held at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, overlooking the site of the first flight in Canadian history.

The odyssey completed, we said our warm goodbyes and dispersed. Some chose to extend their East Coast stay, a few headed to Oshkosh, and others returned to their homes near and far. The long-planned journey, despite some unavoidable challenges, had concluded successfully – and, more importantly, safely.

Fly safe(r).

From the October 2010 issue of Cessna Owner