Lonely aviator’s rally brings 23 aircraft to Iqaluit
City scrambles to find one flag and some mugs for its airborne guests
Pilots are lonely people, says Catherine Tobenas, organizer of the international air rally that landed in Iqlauit for the first time on Aug. 4.
Tobenas got the idea of bringing isolated aviation fanatics together to share their passion for planes from memories of an international rally that used to happen each year in the small town where she grew up in the French Pyrenees.
Along with her husband, pilot, Camil Dumont, she organized the first air rally in 2001 from their home in Montreal.
This year’s rally brought 23 planes to Iqaluit, mostly from Canada and the United States., but with visitors from France, Germany and South Africa.
Some of the planes started in Oshkosh, Wisconsin at the Air Venture convention and followed a plotted route north to Manitoulin Island, communities along James Bay and from Kangiqsujuaq to Iqaluit. Some planes hopped on and dropped off the course at points along the way.
“It’s a very big challenge for the pilots to come here,” said Tobenas.
While Tobenas does not fly herself, she is a passionate passenger. So is Ulrich Jank, from Hamburg, Germany, who crossed the Atlantic to take part in his second rally, but solely as a passenger.
“I came across the rally on the internet a few years ago and got in touch with Catherine,” said Jank. “I thought it would be a fun adventure and she set me up in a plane. I had a great time, so I thought I would come over and join them again. It’s a beautiful way to see things.”
While many of the pilots have logged a lot of hours in the air and have flown in the North in Nunavik or in the western Arctic, none of the participants had ever been to Iqaluit, and they came close to not making it.
Despite the best efforts of Iqaluit pilot Bert Rose, who volunteered to prepare for the arrival of the rally, the aviation gas needed for all of the visiting planes didn’t arrive until it was unloaded from a ship at high tide on Aug. 2, barely beating them here.
With one crisis averted, Rose was embarrassed to find out that other than any groundwork he had been doing, little had been done to prepare for the rally’s arrival.
The city scrambled to find gifts for the guests, and in the end only had thermal mugs with “Nunavut Trade Show 2006” written on them to offer, and one Iqaluit flag to give to Tobenas.
On the Friday eve of the rally’s arrival chatter about instrumentation, landing strips and, of course, the weather, filled a private room at the Navigator Inn as the pilots ate caribou stew out of stryofoam bowls on their laps in fold out chairs.
Mark Brooks, a pilot from Toronto, normally spends his time flying south and island-hopping in the Bahamas, but decided to head north for an adventure. He said it’s different flying with a large group compared with going solo, but he was enjoying the company.
“We’ve got some old pilots and some experienced pilots, but not a lot of bold pilots,” said Brooks. “Mother Nature has a way of taking care of them.”
The rally works by having a flight coordinator take into account the different types of planes, the instrumentation on each aircraft, and the experience of the pilots. Then they organize a pattern for the planes to fly so that everyone can help each other.
“The scouts, usually the planes with more instrumentation, go ahead and then report back to the rest,” said Tobenas. “Some planes have no instruments and they have to be able to see the ground. So we stick together, not too close, but so we can see each other.”
Sticking together requires some patience, especially when clear blue skies and perfect conditions are waiting, as they were on the pilot’s free day for exploring the skies around Iqaluit. With a morning weather report and an organizational meeting done, the pilots were eager to get up and away.
“It’s the way I imagine the moon would look,” said Don Lounsbury as he looked out over the expanse of tundra from the window of his 1978 Cessna 182, at 3,300 feet.
Lounsbury, of Simcoe Ontario, was joined by co-pilot Laurie Nadeau, of Sherbrooke, Quebec. They met a few years ago at a rally and joined the rally this year on the third day in Hearst, Ontario.
“See those dark patches, that’s rain,” said co-pilot Nadeau, as he pointed ahead. “We can try to go around it, or maybe go above it if there is a hole to come through on the other side.” Lounsbury kept his eyes peeled for the buddy plane they were flying with, but kept losing sight of in the shadows of the clouds.
Many of the planes planned to beat the bad weather to Pangnurtung. While one plane went ahead and got close enough to see peaks through the clouds before reporting unfavourable conditions for landing single-engine planes, Lounsbury and Nadaeau were forced to turn back and settle for a clear day in the skies over Iqaluit and a calm Frobisher Bay.
Back on the ground the pilots refueled their planes and compared their sightseeing. Some were excited about the iceberg in the bay, while others appreciated not having any trees to worry about.
“It’s great for them to come here and see how beautiful it is and the infrastructure here and the great airport in Iqaluit,” said Tobenas.
The rally left Iqaluit on August 6, back to Kangiqsujuaq and on to Schefferville and Alma and ended at Charlevoix, Quebec on Aug. 9.