Bits and Pieces
My First (and Second) Pilots N Paws Flight
By Bob Pearson
I joined the Pilots N Paws Canada Forum in July after reading about it on another aviation website. Since then, I started checking the forum regularly, looking for an animal transport request that I might be able to help with. My aircraft is a small, two-seat RV-6, so I have very limited space to accommodate crates or large dogs. One day I saw a request from Deanna B. of New Orleans (NOLA) Lab Rescue for transporting a puppy in a crate that I thought I could help with. Next time I was at the airport I took careful measurements to see how big a crate I could fit into the plane. After mulling it over for another couple of days, I sent an e-mail to Deanna and offered my services, provided the crate would fit in. Deanna replied that another pilot had already volunteered to do the flight. The moral of this story: "You snooze, you lose."
A few days later I received an e-mail from Deanna asking if I could help with the transport of a 10-week-old Cane Corso puppy in a crate from Sarnia, Ontario, to Timmins, Ontario. A quick check of my charts showed that I was looking at almost two hours flying time from my home in Bancroft to Sarnia, then almost three hours from Sarnia to Timmins and another two hours from Timmins back to Bancroft. The request stated they hoped to get this flight done as soon as possible, and although the weather forecast for the next couple of days looked good, it was going to be hot - 30°C to 32°C - in southern Ontario. Since my aircraft has a clear bubble canopy with no shade, I was facing a long, hot day of flying. I decided it would be better to bring the puppy back to Bancroft and stay overnight, then take him to Timmins the following day.
I e-mailed Deanna and offered to do the trip, provided I could fit the crate into my plane. She replied that the overnight stop in Bancroft should be no problem and put me in touch with Kim from the Friendly Giants Dog Rescue, who were the people actually handling this rescue. I phoned Kim, and she promised to get me the dimensions of the crate. She also put me in touch with Jason in Sarnia who would be meeting me at the airport with the pup.
Next I went over to the airport to get the plane ready for the trip. I removed the passenger seat and the control stick on the passenger side and put in a thick, folded-up blanket to level up the area where the crate would sit. I also fueled up and checked oil, etc., to make sure we were ready to go in the morning. When I got back to the house, my wife said that someone had phoned with the dimensions of the crate, which indicated that it should easily fit into my plane.
Next morning, I was at the airport early for final checks of the aircraft and pulled it out of the hangar. Along with my flight bag and water bottle, I put in a roll of paper towel, a can of air freshener, and a garbage bag as suggested on the PnP website. (In case puppy has an accident) I also made sure I had my folder with some PnP flight record sheets and travel release forms which I had printed off the website. Then I phoned flight services for a weather briefing and NOTAM check, then filed my flight plan. A quick call to Jason to tell him I was on my way and we were off. I punched in Sarnia on the GPS, climbed out to 4,500 feet, and settled in for a smooth and uneventful flight.
I had never been to Sarnia airport before, so I wasn't sure where the terminal building was located. As I taxied in from the runway, I looked down along a row of hangars and parked planes, and I could see a man with a puppy on a leash standing down at the end. So I knew I had the right place.
After shaking hands with Jason and meeting the pup, we were approached by another young man, and both he and Jason wanted to know if I was that Bob Pearson. I have been asked the same question several times in the past when visiting other airports, so I knew exactly why they were asking. But it always catches me by surprise anyway. So I answered that I was not that Bob Pearson - the now-retired Air Canada pilot, Captain Robert (Bob) Pearson, who on July 23, 1983, safely landed an Air Canada Boeing 767 full of passengers that had run out of fuel over northern Ontario. Captain Pearson, an experienced glider pilot, landed at the relatively small airport in Gimli, Manitoba. (For the whole story, you can Google "Gimli Glider".)
As it happens, I have also landed my RV-6 at Gimli a couple of times in the past few years when we were on our way home from trips out to western Canada. But I did it with the engine running, which is much easier.
It was already getting hot out on the ramp, and at first opportunity the puppy walked under my aircraft wing and flopped down in the shade while the rest of us were standing around in the hot sun. I quickly realized this was one smart dog!
When we went inside the building to fill out the papers, I spotted the crate sitting on the floor and knew immediately that we had a problem; the crate was obviously much larger than the dimensions I had been given. The only way to get it into the plane was to stand it on end, but even then there was no room to open the crate door to put the pup in. I decided to take the pup sans crate and that worked out beautifully. Jason and I dismantled the crate so that one half could nest inside the other and I was able to stuff it in the baggage area behind the seat. We put the pup on the folded blanket beside me, and I secured his leash so he had enough slack to move around comfortably but not so much that he could get us into trouble.
The engine start-up seemed to scare him a little, and he moved back so that his head was behind my seat to get away from some of the noise. He remained that way for most of the trip back, with his body on the blanket and his head behind my seat using the paper towel roll for a pillow. He seemed to fall asleep shortly after takeoff and didn't wake up until about 20 miles from home when I throttled back to begin a long, gradual descent to Bancroft. I had climbed to 5,500 feet to get some cooler air and aimed the passenger side air vent so that he had lots of fresh cool air. He sat up on the blanket beside me as we were coming down, and I was able to watch for any signs of discomfort. But he seemed perfectly happy and relaxed.
The overnight stay at our house was fun but tiring. We have no pets and are not used to little guests. I had left his disassembled crate in the plane, and I wouldn't have wanted to lock him in it for the night anyway. I will just say that we didn't get a lot of sleep that night, and my wife will point out that he did pee on the carpet three times during his stay. I would say that was mostly our fault, and besides, we're planning to replace that old carpet soon anyway.
The next day was pretty much a repeat performance except I was a little later getting going due to lack of sleep. Over to the airport, ready the plane, get weather briefing, file flight plan, touch base with Joe in Timmins, the puppy's new owner - and off we go. Smooth flight, and puppy slept all the way until we were descending into Timmins. Joe met us there, we did the paper work, snapped a couple of pictures, and said our goodbyes - but not before Joe asked if I was that Bob Pearson.
As I took off from Timmins and headed for home, I realized I was already missing that little guy. He had only been a part of my life for about 24 hours, and while he may not have been the "perfect" house guest, he had certainly been a perfect passenger. I never did have need of the roll of paper towels or the air freshener. I hope he has a great life.
To sum up, the round-trip flights to Sarnia and then to Timmins totaled 960 nautical miles and 8.3 hours on the Hobbs meter. I had an opportunity to do something useful with my airplane besides simply flying around locally, converting fuel into noise.
Was the experience worth it? It was priceless!
Bob (not the captain) Pearson