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My Aluminum Mistress




by Mike Bourget, EAA Canadian Council

November 2008: I have just put away C-FXMI (my Nanchang CJ-6) for the winter, and I tallied up the flying hours from my first flight in late April to early November. It looks like XMI and I burned 130 hours of avgas together. Not bad for a first year.

This is the story of the first nine month’s love affair with my “aluminum mistress.” I had been interested in all things “Red Star aircraft” for quite some time, but I had never had an opportunity to fly in one, or even get close to one for that matter.

It all began in August of 2007 while I was the Air Boss at the Classic Air Rally, a small air show in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) where Dan “Bandit” Fortin, was performing with his CJ. As Air Boss, I had several opportunities to cross paths and talk with each and all performers. As Bandit and I spoke, I told him abut my love for the Yak CJs, and my mistaken belief that I couldn’t yet afford one. Instead I was building an RV-8 to fly for a while and then sell to raise funds for my own CJ.

This is where the story really starts. After telling Bandit about the RV-8, he exclaimed, “So you’re building an RV-8? Big fat deal!” Now I could tell by the mischievous grin that Bandit was just having some fun with me. Having expressed my eager interest in a CJ-6, Bandit invited me to sit in his ship and make airplane noises. Now, I was getting excited.

Bandit was very eager to share all kinds of information about his mount. He did warn me though: “If you sit in my airplane, you will want to fly it.” Well...duh!! That was the point wasn’t it? “Not quite,” he said. The problem is that if you fly it, you will buy one. Hmmm, that was a powerful comment. I suggested that he was too sure of himself! Besides, I had some gas money to burn. “Lets go flying!”

In September 2007, Bandit and I coordinated a flight in his CJ-6. I drove to Montreal from my home in Ottawa and was given the royal treatment. Bandit did the walk-around with me in tow, stopping to point out all of the subtleties of his beautiful aircraft. Oh yeah, then I got to spin his prop by hand, for what seemed like 573 blades. (To the uninitiated, pulling the prop through uses muscles we don’t even know we have!)

That was fun, but the royal treatment usually means you don’t get dirty. Wrong! After all, this is a CJ. The next “royal’ thing I got to do was clean up the oil mess on the floor.

After the usual formalities, we took off and did a maximum performance climb. We climbed to 3,000 feet and did an aerobatic routine. What a blast!

Bandit let me fly her from the back seat, even letting me land her at a nearby airport. He said I flew her real well, but he was sure taxiing would humble me and bring me back to earth. “How bad can it be?” I asked myself. Well, the entire time I was swiveling her around on the ground, Bandit couldn’t stop laughing. After about four minutes of laughter from the front seat, he took over and suddenly she behaved like an airplane again. He let me do the take off and away we went, returning to his home base. I filled up his plane as promised and we had lunch. Guess what dear readers? Bandit was right. (Yes, I have since put that in writing so he can prove it to his loving wife that he has been right at least once in his life.) I had to have one. During lunch, Bandit told me there was one for sale in Montreal and he could arrange to “show” it to me.

October 2007
XMI was in Montreal just a short hop away from Bandit’s airport and he arranged for me to fly her. We flew for about one hour, including some formation, with some killer formation ‘extended trail.’ After we landed, I sat in what was to become my airplane for 10 minutes just shaking my head. The boys said I kept mumbling, “She’s gonna kill me” over and over! (my wife, that is). I thanked Marcel Deschamps for his time and started looking in earnest for my new CJ. I put my RV-8 project up for sale at a discounted price so I could progress quickly.

November 2007
After having looked at many CJs available in the U.S., I concluded that XMI was the best deal for me. (Importing an aircraft in Canada is not cheap, and XMI already lives here). She was extremely well looked after; she was 2 hours away; and Marcel offered to keep her in his hangar all winter long. He even threw in a spare engine and a bunch of parts. Dealing with Marcel for the purchase of this airplane was a dream; lots of integrity with no ‘games’. We concluded our deal; I gave him a deposit; and I waited for what seemed like an eternity for spring.

April 2008
The snow is almost gone and I’ve taxied XMI for an hour and a half to learn the intricacies of the braking system. The end of April is fast approaching, and I have to do a photo shoot with the local newspaper covering High Flight Adventures. (XMI is operated by High Flight Adventures Inc., a summer camp that introduces young people to aviation and flies terminally ill children so they too can experience the wonder of flight.) So, after doing three hours of transition training with Bandit, we flew back to his airport in loose formation. Bandit landed and let me continue in the circuit for some more excitement.

After four more controlled crashes, he called me on the radio and said I could come down now. After a quick break, I shook his hand, got in my airplane and flew my new CJ home! What a rush, buzz (insert adjective here.) The next day, I flew her around for the photo shoot, landed and promptly forgot to shut off my air valve. Rookie mistake. But a quick call to Bandit, who re-explained what to do, and problem solved.

May 2008, Easton
I was introduced to formation flying by the North East Raiders, the regional members of the Red Star Pilot’s Association (RPA). What a crazy, fun group of guys. Bandit had given me my FAST ground school over a couple of days back home, but now I was going to fly formation for real.

Day 1, Steve “Mozam” Dalton jumps in my back seat for a 45 minute sortie. Awesome experience. My second sortie I go down in the shocks with no air. Mort “Viking” Stevroud and Marty “Raider” Shehan troubleshot my plane to determine the air brake-valve is dead.

This is where it gets good. It is said that the boys at the Flying W Airport Resort in Medford, New Jersey, live in their own time zone and are always late. Their help was very generous and timely. These guys got the part out of Mort’s shop and had it flown down from Jersey in a Mooney so I could fly again the next day. You can always count on Mort and the boys of the Flying W.

I get up and running again just in time to do the mass formation. It is decided; I’ve got what it takes. They carefully place Harry “Bam-Bam” Dutson as my back seat instructor to fly the rejoining routines and coach me as I participate in a 20-ship mass formation. What a rush!

After a fun-filled day, we all meet up at the local watering hole for a great meal, and the famed Kangaroo Court. I am charged by my mentor with breach of protocol and general stupidity for an enroute transponder screw up. I stand in front of the court of my peers. I give testimony, and to my surprise (well not really...) I’m found not guilty “by reason of insanity.” The tables are turned on my tormentor, however, and he is found guilty of not providing a proper pre-flight brief. Justice is served.

The next day, it’s time to wrap it up. Bandit, Charlie “Mob” Lynch, and I reverse our course and travel north. We leave Charlie in White Plains (KHPN), while Bandit and I split a few hours later abeam Burlington (KBTV), leaving me to fly home with my wife sleeping in the back seat.

June 2008 - Bandit’s due North (part 3)
Bandit organizes a great fly in, but sadly the stars conspire against him and he ends up with four participants and three airplanes. Mike ‘“Primer” Kirk (another “newbie”), Mike “Blade” Filucci, Bandit, and myself are the only four brave souls who show up. Primer, Blade, and I banter back and forth only to learn that we are all pretty much kindred spirits - aviation types with a taste for the finer things in life.

The next day, we start our formation training, Bandit in my back seat, Blade in Primer’s. But we can’t fly yet because the field is in IFR conditions. The forecast promises improvement soon, but unfortunately, it lasts all day. We are forced to retire back to Bandit’s place to enjoy each other’s company only as pilots can. Bandit’s wife, Julie, is a most gracious hostess and takes great care of her charges.

Saturday dawns like the previous day, ceilings slowly start to increase and we finally get some formation practice in. More formation practice and we wrap up, and say “g-day.” Blade flies home commercially. Primer and I, “Hoser Flight,” fly back to Ottawa and Primer continues on to his home just outside of Toronto.

July and August 2008
XMI and I fly a bunch of kids and adults for the High Flight Adventures, introducing them to the wonder of flight. I am becoming intimate with my aluminum mistress. I am slowly learning all her little nuances, habits and secrets. I love it!

September 2008
Operation Pumpkin Drop (OPD3): This has got to be an article by itself. How can one begin to explain the fun you can have at this event? Flying into the little town of Sanford, Maine, at 130kts and 300 feet off the deck, to drop pumpkins out of your ship onto a target that is floating on a little pond in the middle of town! Then more formation training and camaraderie.

October 2008 - Easton Fall edition - Formation training
I got my wing patch. I got really sick. My airplane went down with a sick pop-off valve. Okay, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In this edition of Easton, we had seven more CJs than in the spring. We also had five T-28s and six or seven T6s to play with. The formation training and flying was awesome. Thanks to Terry “Ski” Slawinski, Blade, DaBear, Carey “Judge” O’Donnell, “Bam-Bam,” Tom “Barracuda” Reynolds, Tim “Timmy” Stevens, “Viking,” Bandit, and all the rest of the guys for helping me get my wing patch. They are truly a great bunch of teachers and buds. Bandit and I flew home, and running out of daylight, I did my first night landing in the CJ.

So readers, that’s it for the first nine months. You can imagine 130 hours in nine months for a guy who has a full-time job. This isn’t half bad, and you know there are more stories that can’t be told, if only to protect the innocent. I think it should be said that my love affair with XMI has blossomed because of the RPA, the North East Raiders, and all the other players that took this “newbie” under their wings and let me belong. Cheers!

About the author
Mike ‘Skidmk’ Bourget is a family man, an air traffic controller; managing director of High Flight Adventures Inc.; and a member of EAA’s Canadian Council. His love includes his family and his CJ Nanchang. Mike resides in Ottawa, Ontario, and extends an open invitation to any member of the RPA or EAA who would like a tour of Canada’s Capital and a good glass of refreshment.

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