Today we fly the final leg of our Canada 150 Journey, from Medicine Hat, Alberta to our home airport at Abbotsford, British Columbia. The Abbotsford International Airshow is on August 11, 12 and 13 so we wanted to arrive sometime today to be able to have our aircraft on display for the airshow starting tomorrow.
As is normally the case, the airshow performers have a practice session on the day before the show. For Abbotsford Airport, there was a NOTAM (notice to airmen) indicating that the airspace will be closed for three hours this morning starting at 10:45 PDT for practice sessions for air show performers, so that meant that we needed to arrive before 10:45 or would have to land at some other airport like Chilliwack and wait until we could go to Abbotsford.
This summer British Columbia has had very hot dry weather and the worst fire season on record. Most of the southern half of the province is filled with smoke. I started planning for this leg last evening, checking the forecast for this morning’s departure from Medicine Hat, the enroute weather, and the weather for this morning’s arrival in Abbotsford. I had called the Abbotsford Control Tower last evening and informed the controllers of our plans for this morning; departing Medicine Hat early enough to arrive in Abbotsford before the airspace is closed. They are a great bunch of folks in the tower and I have worked with them for many years since my aircraft is based at Abbotsford. They were very understanding and said they would be very accommodating for our arrival this morning.
With forecast light winds from the north-west and clear skies, I figured we would fly above most of the smoke at 12,500 feet and take about 3 hours and 15 minutes to reach Abbotsford, and to make it all work we needed to depart Medicine Hat before 08:30 MDT.
So I filed a flight plan to depart at 08:20, cruise VFR at 12,500 feet where we would be in the clear, direct to Abbotsford. If I had planned IFR there could have been airway routings that would have taken us longer to get to Abbotsford and we might have arrived after the airspace closure time.
The Air Cadets arrived on time at 08:00, we chatted for about 5 to 10 minutes regarding our trip and my being an Air Cadet and on the same course 50 years ago that they are on this summer. Today, some were in ground school, some were scheduled on training flights and one cadet was taking his Private Pilot Flight Test. I encouraged all of them to continue flying and perhaps consider a career in aviation.
We wished them success and then it was time to head out to the airplane for a photo with the Arrow and the Canada Flag.
With all that taken care of it was now time to start the day’s flying. This morning we had good summer prairie weather with light wind on departure and all along our route of flight to Abbotsford. There were several NOTAMS with restrictions for airspace closures to allow the water bombers a chance to deal with the forest fires. Our cruise altitude was above their airspace so there was no conflict. The Arrow had been fuelled yesterday and pre-flighted earlier this morning, so we were ready for engine start at 08:15. Everything went as planned and we took off at 08:23 MDT.
It was nice to look over the open prairies with blue skies above, knowing that soon conditions would change making the flying more challenging. The Garmin GNS 530W GPS was updating our position as we went and calculating our ETA. During the climb out from Medicine Hat it showed 10:57, not good. After we leveled off and accelerated the GPS updated our ETA to be 10:38, now we felt real good!
The haze layer ahead was now quite visible and by the time we reached Lethbridge you could see the smoke and even began to smell the smoke at 12, 500 feet.
A little further along we were over the Rocky Mountains and the visibility decreased considerable with the smoke filling the valleys.
The flight continued uneventfully as we headed westward. I usually contact the ATC Centre for Flight Following and on this leg I was talking to Vancouver Centre. After passing the Princeton VOR we were handed over to Victoria Terminal for our arrival into Abbotsford. It was so comforting to be greeted with a “welcome home, Bob” as we began our descent. Ryan Van Haren, the controller, had noticed “Arrow 150” on the radar and had been following us for quite some time. Ryan is a very experience pilot, an aircraft owner and one of the guys that started the BC General Aviation Association. He has so much enthusiasm for aviation that it is just overflowing.
The Abbotsford weather was marginal VFR with light winds and with very little traffic the tower controller cleared us for a straight in approach for Runway 25. It felt good to touch down on a very familiar runway.
While taxiing in I contacted Kamloops FIC to close my flight plan and was again greeted by a friendly voice, this time Bob Houldsworth. I first met Bob at the Vancouver Flight Service Station in the late 80s when we both worked in the same building, he as a weather briefer and me as an Inspector with Transport Canada. We had a brief chat on the radio, perhaps our last on the air as Bob will be retiring shortly.
After flying 462 nautical miles today in 3 hours and 17 minutes we arrived in Abbotsford at 10:40 PDT, with five minutes to spare before the airspace was closed.