Pickle Lake, ON to Val D'or to Blanc-Sablon, QC Canada
Arriving at Pickle Lake, Ontario, we had flown 44 hours since leaving Pitt Meadows, BC. The AirVan had performed well but would require an oil change at 50 hours of flight time, so we needed to get that arranged quickly. The July 1st long weekend was days away, and we wanted to have the oil change completed before the long weekend so we could continue our flying journey towards Newfoundland.
Our trusty AME in BC recommended L’Avionnerie Valdor for the oil change, so we phoned and arranged for it, then flight-planned “5intheSky Direct” from Pickle Lake to Val D’Or (CYVO); meaning stops in Armstrong (CYYW), Nakina (CYQN), Hearst CYHF), Kapuskasing (CYYU) and Cochrane (CYCN) on the way.
Fundamental to the 5intheSky expedition are the concepts of flying ‘low and slow’ and stopping lots of places. Flying slow is pretty well the only option with the AirVan, with a cruise speed (set for economy) of 110-115 knots (nautical miles per hour) or about 200-210km/h. Flying low allows the 5intheSky crew to see more of the countryside (and wildlife), and as we are stopping at many airports along the way, climbing too high usually doesn’t make sense.
Non-Pilot Tip: Pilots will often try to choose the altitude they fly at based on prevailing winds, attempting to get as much tail-wind as possible to shorten the time required for the journey and save fuel. When flying VFR, to try and ensure separation between aircraft flying in opposite directions, planes are expected to fly at established altitudes: when flying Westward, planes are expected to fly at altitudes that are ‘Even Thousands plus 500 feet’ (i.e. 2,500’, 4,500’, 6,500’ etc.) whereas those heading Easterly are expected to fly at altitudes that are ‘Odd Thousands plus 500 feet’ (i.e. 3,500’, 5,500’, 7,500’ etc.).
During this section of the expedition the flying was relatively easy and uneventful. The last time we had flown through Northern Ontario, a combination of smoke from raging forest fires and towering thunderstorms had made navigation and flying much more challenging.
Upon arrival in Val d’Or late in the day, the airport and airspace was quiet, as the regularly scheduled commercial flights to and from mines throughout the region were all complete. We tied the AirVan down outside L’Avionnerie Valdor, and they had been kind enough to allow us to use a vehicle for the night to get to our hotel.
With the cowling off, the AirVans TIO540 engine is visible!
The following day, the weather forecast showed extremely strong winds approaching Val D’Or from the West. We wanted to get airborne before noon, or we would have to stay in Val D’Or for at least another day. L’Avionnerie Valdor was great and got the oil changed in the AirVan by mid-morning, as the 5intheSky crew poked around their hangar looking at various airplanes, including a unique Turbine DeHavilland Beaver.
We were wheels-up by just before noon, with winds gusting 20-25 knots and forecast to increase, although we were comfortable that we would soon be back in front of the windy weather. We planned to fly east to the St Lawrence River and then follow the north shore of the river eastwards to Lourdes Blanc-Sablon, at the border between Quebec and Labrador. The first stop was Charlevoix (CYML), a well-equipped and maintained airport surrounded by rolling green hills, with various general aviation aircraft on the ramp and warm summer sunshine. It was almost too pleasant and relaxed and felt a world-away from pumping fuel from a drum in Nunavut, with the wind blowing over the remaining pack-ice on Hudson Bay, which we had experienced just two days before!
We crossed the Fleuve Saint-Laurent/St. Lawrence River to land at Rimouski (CYXK) and then re-crossed it back to Sept-Iles (CYZV). For those unfamiliar with the area, the countryside along the river is beautiful verdant farmland, the South shore curving around to Gaspe, while the ‘north shore’ extends significantly further, all the way along the Gulf of St. Lawrence to within maybe 20km of Newfoundland.
Our next stop was Havre St Pierre (CYGV) and then St Augustin (CYIF), bypassing Natash (CYNA) and Chevery (CYRH) as sea fog that was blanketing the Gulf of St. Lawrence was slowly enveloping these areas as we passed by further inland.
St. Augustin was a relaxing stop, as the weather was again sunny and warm, and walking from the airport. We came across the free hovercraft ferry that shuttles people from the airport on the south shore over to the townsite on the north shore, the channel being shallow and dotted with sandbars making it impossible to service by regular boat ferry.
We walked around town and then enjoyed drinks and sandwiches purchased from the general store as we sat at waterfront picnic tables still decorated from the recent Canada Day celebrations.
Catching the next hovercraft back to the airport, we took off for the last flight of the day to Lourdes-De-Blanc-Sablon (CYBX), where we would stay for the night, refuel and then head to Newfoundland.
Arriving at CYBX we noticed whales in the water everywhere we looked. Close offshore, almost under the approach path to runway 05, a half-dozen whales were splashing about as tour boats bobbed nearby. There was no air traffic in the area, so we informed Mont Joli Radio we were orbiting to take some photos, and spent the next 15-20 minutes whale watching!
A beautiful day to see humpback whales (we think) from the air!
The airport apron was devoid of other light aircraft when we arrived, and we got just a little worried when we couldn’t locate any fueling tanks for Avgas at the airport. We needed fuel for the flight to St.John’s, as there are only two airports that sell AvGas in all of Newfoundland. After a couple of phone calls, it became clear that AvGas was indeed available, stored in a fuel truck in an on-site garage, so we fueled up and went into town. Transportation from the local airport into “town”, wherever that might be, is an ongoing issue. Many smaller communities have no taxi service and smaller hotels or motels (particularly those in our budget range) generally don’t offer an airport shuttle. Sometimes we are able to walk, other times we hitch a ride and once in a while someone generously offers us a car to use. Also, there are some airports (only in the South) that the local flying club offers a courtesy car, the epitome of luxury (so far we have enjoyed vehicle access in South River, Kingston and Welland from the flying-club or airport operator).
We arrived after the restaurant in town had closed, so we bought fixing for pasta at the local convenience store and whipped up a gourmet ‘5intheSky style’ dinner: which keeps you alive but not much more. Newfoundland was visible across the Strait of Belle Isle and we walked down to the shore after dinner to watch and listen to the whales, swimming and splashing just offshore, as the sun began to set. Having reached Lourdes Blanc-Sablon, Quebec, the 5intheSky team had now flown 6,066 nautical miles (11,235km) and logged 57.9 hours of airtime, stopping at 47 different airports.