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Cross-Country – Winnipeg to Stanley, N.S., in a J-3

I don’t know about you, but I’m always up for a good cross-country tale. Jack Neima, founding president of rejuvenated EAA Chapter 63, Winnipeg, recently retired from his banking career with the Royal Bank, and he and wife Lianne have moved to Stanley, Nova Scotia. Jack shares his cross-country flight in his J-3. Enjoy the first of three parts of this cross-Canadian odyssey.

The Journey Begins on Tuesday, May 17, 2011
We were up early, and with a forecast of clear skies and light easterly winds, I was anxious to get underway. I filed my flight plan online by retrieving the previously saved plan, filling in the relevant departure and arrival times, and pressing the submit button. I used this online flight planning process for the entire trip, and it worked very well.

Lianne drove me out to Lyncrest before dawn, and we packed the plane and completed the preflight inspection, ensuring everything I needed was on board. I had fueled up the night before, and most of the gear was already stowed. We pulled the plane out of the hangar for the last time and closed the doors. It looked pretty vacant in there with both planes gone. Our good friend John Blackner showed up to see us off, so we snapped a few photos as we waited for the sun to start coming up.

Ready to go
Ready to go (Jack Neima and J-3 CF-XVW)

I was airborne shortly after 6 a.m. and climbed east toward the rising sun. We leveled off at 2,500 feet and enjoyed a smooth ride all the way to Dryden. I talked to Kenora Radio as we passed by to provide a position report just north of its airport. A quick fuel stop at Dryden and I was off again, headed to Thunder Bay. The route generally followed the Trans Canada highway and the navigation was easy. I always enjoy the scenery along this route with the many lakes and cottages, floatplane bases, etc. It is beautiful country. Since I’m operating on battery power for the radio and there’s no one to talk to with little traffic down at these altitudes, I switched off the radio to conserve power.

Ten miles west of Thunder Bay I turned on the radio, listened to the ATIS message, and contacted tower for clearance into its zone. There was a lot of traffic coming and going, and I heard one clearance into the circuit where the pilot was advised she was number six for landing. Tower acknowledged my call, and after advising them I was negative transponder, he asked me to follow the railway on my right and call 2 miles
back. I did that and was cleared to the downwind number three behind a couple of light transport planes.

Ground control directed me to the AeroShell FBO where I quickly refueled and got ready to launch again. At both Dryden and Thunder Bay I had pilots come over to admire the Cub and chat a bit about what it’s like to fly it. Everyone seemed surprised that I was destined for the east coast.

The weather was holding. And it remained clear with light winds, so I was anxious to keep going. I took off and followed the shoreline of Lake Superior north from Thunder Bay toward Nipigon on the northwest corner and then eastward along the north shore toward Marathon, then White River and south to Wawa on the east coast of the lake, my planned final destination for the day. The scenery around the lake is spectacular; I always marvel at the green water and the many picturesque islands and bays.

Lake Superior
Lake Superior

As I approached White River, I got a “low battery” message on the GPS, and realized that while I brought lots of spares, I had neglected to place them within reach, an oversight that was rectified as soon as I landed in Wawa. In spite of the dwindling power, the GPS stayed on into Wawa giving me reliable distance at speed checks. It sure makes navigation easy. I landed in Wawa at 4:30, and since I’d had a great day and it was my planned destination, I decided to tie down the plane and call it a day, even though the weather conditions were still very good with bright sun and light winds. This proved to be a mistake.

Tied down at Wawa
CF-XVW tied down at Wawa

I was advised by the airport manager that the Beaver Motel was a pretty good place to stay and that they would come to the airport to pick me up and return me in the morning. So I made a call and in a few minutes I was settled into a cozy room and ready for a good supper, after which I wrote up the logbooks, checked the forecast on the Weather Channel, organized my gear, and was sound asleep by 9:30 to rest up for Day 2 tomorrow.

I was awake at dawn on Wednesday to find a high overcast ceiling, little or no wind, and pretty good flying conditions, so I hustled to get over to the airport and launch off. The little terminal building was locked up; I couldn’t get access to the computer terminal for flight planning and briefing, so when I was ready to go I called Flight Service on my cell phone. I was advised to expect lower ceilings and marginal VFR conditions to the south, but based on the latest forecast it looked like I might squeak through to Elliot Lake. With a temperature/dew point spread of less than 1 degree and very little wind, conditions were ripe for fog formation.

I took off at 6:32 a.m. and enjoyed a smooth ride south along the east shore of Lake Superior toward Garden River, just northeast of Sault Ste. Marie where I would turn east to track the north shore of Lake Huron past Thessalon and into Elliot Lake. After about 60 miles, about two-thirds of the way to Garden River, the ceiling started to lower and mists began to form. I was in and out of light rain showers, and it was obvious that conditions ahead were below VFR. It remained fairly clear to the east, out over the bush, and behind me, so I entered Elliot Lake direct into the GPS. It said Elliot was off to my left about 40 degrees at a distance of 56 miles. I turned to the new heading to see what it looked like, despite not being too comfortable to launch out over the bush leaving the Trans Canada Highway behind. After a few minutes it became obvious that I’d be skud-running soon, and a glance over my left shoulder to the direction I came from showed the milky mists starting to form.

After an hour in the air I decided the safest course of action was to turn around and head back to Wawa as there are no other alternates out this way in, even for a Cub. I was back on the ground in Wawa two hours after departure and tied the airplane down in the same spot where it had spent the previous night. After chatting with Flight Service, it looked like conditions to the south would remain unchanged for the next 36 to 48 hours due to a big, damp, almost stationary low pressure area that was parked over the U.S. northeast.

I called the Beaver Motel to see if my room was still available and ask for them to come back and pick me up. The situation was unchanged on Thursday morning. But the briefer suggested some promise for Friday, and the public forecast on TV was calling for a sunny day throughout most of Ontario on Saturday which was the Victoria Day weekend. I decided to wait it out and spent the day touring Wawa by foot, drinking coffee at the Tim Hortons down the street and chatting with the folks at the airport.

On Friday morning the conditions in Wawa were fine, but the latest METARS showed Sault Ste. Marie, Gore Bay, Elliot Lake, and Sudbury all with broken ceilings of about 900 feet and tight temp/dew point spreads. Foggy conditions were forecast to dissipate by late morning, so I decided to wait for the new terminal area forecast (TAF) which was due out by 10 a.m. local time.

When I got to the airport I found a C-172 from Harv’s Air in Winnipeg tied down on the ramp, and shortly a couple of my daughter Keri’s friends, Jimmy Lawson and Brad Micholson, showed up. They were on their way to Ottawa and had stopped for the night in Wawa. They decided to take off right away and head direct to Sudbury, but I preferred to wait and take the longer, but safer, southern route following the highway to stay in reasonable proximity to civilization. Besides, while anxious to get there, I’m now retired and time isn’t as important as it once was.

The new TAF came out about 9:45 a.m., and it was still calling for clearing skies through mid to late morning with VFR conditions for the rest of the day. The latest METARS showed marginal VFR ceilings in Sault Ste. Marie and Elliot Lake, but conditions were improving. So I decided to give it a try. I filed a flight plan online, called Lianne to tell her I was off, and got into the air at 10 a.m. heading south.

About 10 miles south of Wawa I heard on the radio an aircraft inbound to Wawa from the south, so I called the pilot to ask about conditions down that way. He said it was pretty good around the Sault, but there was some low fog in the Montreal River area, about halfway between Wawa and the Sault.

At about the same place where I had turned around on Wednesday I again came across low, broken ceilings, and after I was forced down to about a few hundred feet above the ground it looked like I was going to have to turn back again. The ceiling was about 7/10ths and I could see clear blue above; I decided to go up through a hole and have a look around before turning back. When I got on top I could see that the undercast was about 10 miles wide. I saw big holes and a faint horizon ahead, so I pushed on.

Read Part 2 in the next issue of Bits and Pieces.

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