August 9 – Thunder Bay to Fort Francis to Brandon, Manitoba to Medicine Hat, Alberta

To-day turned out to be the longest flying day of the trip and the most challenging with regard to weather.

When flying a significant trip such as this one, it is very import to keep a broad perspective of what is going on and to maintain a high level of situational awareness. Pilot’s can sometime get caught up in the event and develop “Get- Home’Itis”. When there are weather issues and airspace issues to deal with you have to check many sources of information to put the full picture together. Only then can you make a decision to fly or not. My conscious is sitting beside me. I know when I have made the right decision to fly when Valerie still wants to fly with me.

The early morning weather at  Thunder Bay certainly didn’t look the best and when I called the Flight Service Station they gave us a weather briefing informing us of the line of significant weather between Thunder Bay and Brandon. The weather was moving to the north-east so we planned our routing to the south of the main part of the weather system. The first leg was to Fort Francis.

We figured we would have some challenges along the way so I selected a few alternate airports that were available such as Atikokan and a little further north lies Dryden and Sioux Lookout.

The weather conditions were marginal VFR for our easy departure westward. Shortly after takeoff we passed some very interesting low level clouds that looked like ploughed fields. I wondered how smooth of a ride you would have if flying just above the tops of the clouds.

Sure enough we caught up to the weather as forecast and we could see significant large cloud formations on our route requiring us to stay at low altitudes and make major deviations around the weather. About 40 nautical miles east of Fort Francis there were heavy rain showers to our left and right and just as shown on ForeFlight there was a gap of about 10 nautical that was wide open with good visibility. Our way was clear. 

It was nice to get past that line of weather and start preparing for our arrival in Fort Francis. Just across the boarder lies the city of International Falls and their airport can be seen off to the left in the distance. Just three miles to the north lies our destination airport of Fort Frances. 

The airport is uncontrolled so all pilots fly a standard arrival procedure and make standard radio call. The system works on the principal of see and be seen. I heard on the radio that another aircraft was also inbound so we flew our arrival procedure, landed and exited the runway without delay. As expected the aircraft, a Pilatus PC-12 landed and parked near us.

After a quick stop to freshen up, check the weather and file a flight plan we were ready for our departure to Brandon. Fort Frances has a single runway with no parallel taxiway so we required a long backtrack to get in position for takeoff. The PC-12 was also getting ready to go again.

ForeFlight still showed the significant weather all along the route from Thunder Bay to Brandon.

Not too long after takeoff from Fort Francis we climbed to 10,500 feet hoping to fly in better weather conditions and more direct to Brandon. That wasn’t going to happen.  We had to make some deviations around the large buildups and could see that this cruise  altitude and routing wouldn’t work.

It’s interesting to note that in July on our flight eastbound we crossed the Manitoba / Ontario border about 20 nautical miles north of here near Shoal Lake. On this flight westbound we will be flying through the United States for about 20 nautical miles in the state of Minnesota. This time we cross the border when we fly from Ontario to Minnesota then from Minnesota to Manitoba!

By the time we reached the Ontario / Minnesota border we had to begin our descent to get under the weather so down we went to end up at 2,500 feet. Our new cruise altitude had us flying safely at about 1,500 feet above ground level; lots of room to spare. It didn’t take long to get past the Lake of the Woods and the myriade of small lakes and islands. We were now back on the prairies.

South of Winnipeg the clouds were quite low as well until we crossed the Red River which you can see here flowing to the north toward Winnipeg.

Off to our left were rain cells and open skies to the right.

Normally I fly using the autopilot and have relatively straight tracks from departure to destination. For this leg there was considerable weather to avoid requiring many deviations to remain in good visual flying conditions and you can appreciate how much we had to deviate from our desired track by viewing our actual track from ForeFlight.


We had been following the adventures of the Vimy Flight as they were working their way westward across the country. It was great to met up with the Flight at the Commonwealth Training Plan Museum in Brandon. Their aircraft were in the hangar and it seemed like they really belonged there.

A little maintenance at the museum their aircraft seemed right at home

The maintenance crew had a wonderful place to work their magic and seemed so right in such a nostalgic place.

My Captain Waypoint met with their Vimy Bear and they had a good chat.

  Later they went flying and Captain Waypoint said that Vimy Bear really enjoyed the flight when Captain Waypoint did loop-the-loop! 

Off in the corner was a Link trainer so Captain Waypoint did a little recurrent training then successfully completed his check ride.

Since there is no restaurant at Brandon airport we had planned ahead and brought along a Subway sandwich for lunch.  All the poor weather was now behind us. From Brandon westward the weather improved  the further we flew west.

We had stopped at Regina in early July and had the maintenance shop, Prairie Flying Service, work on the landing gear. As we flew past Regina I call the shop on the radio to say hello to the mechanics, thanking them for helping us make a safe and successful trip across Canada.

All across the prairies there are small airports that were built during World War II. 

After the war most of the airports were dismantled and the runways torn up and removed. Many  of them are now converted back to their original use as farmland.

 Although now fading away, there are still some visible signs of where the old training airports once were, playing their part in freedom.

We arrived in Medicine Hat airport and joined the circuit following a couple of training aircraft then after landing tied down at Super T Aviation. They are quite a going concern at that airport and I especially wanted to visit this airport to meet with the Air Cadets that are training there this summer.

We spoke with the folks at the flying school and the officer in charge of the Air Cadet, telling them of our trip and plans for meeting tomorrow morning for a discussion and a photo with the Canada Flag. They agreed to have the cadets at the airport for 08:00 to make it all happen.

After flying for over 900 nautical miles and a total of 9.1 hours in the air it was time to call it a day. 

One of the flight instructors at the school had previously been on my Flight Instructor Refresher Course so it was nice to meet up again to see how he was doing and talk a bit about the course. He kindly offered to give us a ride to the hotel.

Tomorrow we make it home to Abbotsford!