Expedition Update #9
Lynn Lake, MB to Churchill, MB
The simplest route map yet!
After an exciting night camping out in the terminal building of Lynn Lake Airport (CYYL) in northern Manitoba, we were up early (a helicopter departing was a very effective alarm clock) and out the door en route to Churchill, a small town located on the Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba. It is best known for polar bears in the fall, beluga whales in the summer, and incredible safaris/tundra tours through and between those months. We made a single stop in Thompson, Manitoba, hoping to get some 15W50 oil for the AirVan, but were unsuccessful.
While we had carefully managed the fuel stops and had no real issues getting AvGas for the route so far, we were down to less than one quart of 15W50 oil. While both Thompson and Gillam, MB airports indicated in the CFS that oil was available, both responded that they hadn’t stocked any oil for years. We didn’t have enough oil to comfortably fly north to Churchill, then to Arviat in Nunavut, and then back to an airport further south in Manitoba or Ontario that actually stocked and sold aviation oil.
The onsite FBO at Thompson, which had sold us fuel, was very unhelpful, effectively saying it was our fault for relying on the CFS (a document update every few weeks that pilots are supposed to rely on for accurate aviation information). We phoned around and located a very helpful person at Wings Over Kississing, a locally based charter company with a fleet of turbine aircraft that also operates piston aircraft from its nearby floatplane base.
Jared, who works at the Wings over Kississing base at the CYTH, was very helpful and located some W100 oil for us at their float plane base, not too far away. After contacting Ryan, our AME in Pitt Meadows, to double-check that it would be suitable for the Lycoming TIO540 engine, we topped up the engine and poured some of the 100W oil into a plastic water carrier we had on board. We were now good to go, north again to Churchill and on to Nunavut!
Chris is passed out in the backseat - must be smooth flying
We had not realized until well into the expedition that Nunavut also extended down the western side of Hudson’s Bay. When that became apparent, and after traversing large swaths of both the Yukon and Northwest Territories, we realized that with some good weather and long days of flying, we might be able to visit every Province and Territory in Canada on this one trip across the Country. While Chris has travelled to over 25 countries worldwide, he has only been to two Canadian Provinces. If we were successful, he would, in a matter of a couple of weeks, get to every Province and Territory in the Country! It would be interesting to know how many 15-year-olds can say that!?
Arriving at Churchill (CYYQ), there was no GA traffic or airplanes on the radio or at the airport. We were directed to taxi to the itinerant parking on the far side of the apron. After repositioning some concrete tie-down blocks and completing our tie-down procedure, we started the long walk across the deserted apron to the empty terminal building. The Churchill Radio operator had given us the access code to the terminal over the radio before we shut down, so we were good to go.
A sassy sign about polar bears
A completely empty apron, tons of room to park!
Polar bear X-ing, not your average street sign!
The 5intheSky crew was booked for two nights at the ‘Churchill Hotel & Dancing Bear Restaurant,’ located right in the heart of downtown Churchill. Koral, a hotel staff member, picked us up from the airport and gave us a quick tour around the town before heading to the hotel. We were in awe of this town even after the first 15-minute tour. Standing on the shore of the Hudson Bay, all you could see for miles was sea ice. There was even this crazy optical illusion that made it look like there was an ice cliff off on the horizon. We were convinced we were seeing a massive high wall of ice, but after looking out from different angles around town, we realized our eyes were deceiving us, and there was no ice cliff, just miles and miles of sea ice.
Samantha and Christopher looking out over the broken sea ice
Koral also took us out to the point of land where the Churchill River and Hudson Bay meet, and there were hundreds of Belugas! It’s one thing seeing a beluga in the Vancouver Aquarium as a kid, but being able to see them in the wild was a whole different ball game. If you remained quiet, you could hear them as they came up for air, and if you looked hard enough, you could see some of their calves, which are dark-greyish in colour!
As it’s a difficult place to get around on foot, we rented a car for the day from the hotel and drove out to see a fascinating plane wreck, one of the famed historic sites of Churchill, Manitoba. This is the wreck of a Curtiss C-46 “Commando” twin-prop cargo aircraft that was owned by Lamb Airways Ltd. This plane unfortunately crashed in the early morning of November 13th 1979, as it attempted to return to the Churchill airport shortly after takeoff, as the pilot reported mechanical problems with one of its engines. Although the plane landed in rough terrain, was badly damaged, and three crew members were slightly injured in the crash, thankfully there were no fatalities. Apparently it is called “Miss Piggy” because it was able to hold so much freight and had pigs aboard the aircraft once.
The artwork that you can see painted along the sides of the C-46 share an interesting tale as well. Back in 2017, a Winnipeg artist by the name of Kal Barteski organised a massive project in the town of Churchill. Eighteen artists from all over the world volunteered to paint a series of murals on empty buildings all over town. Pat Perry, an artist from the United States, was tasked with painting ‘Miss Piggy’ and drew a comparison between Churchill and Michigan, both areas in decline and on life support hoping that tourism will become a new economy.
“I believe my greatest service to the people here is to acknowledge what’s happening in this town, what’s happening across the world, what’s happening across this continent. Post 9/11, post-Inauguration Day 2017, post-every treat broken, post-start of new extinction period, post-normalization of decline, equivocation now is intolerable. One way or another, in the end, we will all be facing this together.” - Pat Perry, USA
Polar bear block painting (“The Power of Nature” by Arlin Graff (Brazil)
With access to a vehicle, we made many stops back at the water to take a look at the Belugas. Unfortunately, the weather turned cold and wet, and our plan to kayak with the Belugas sadly wasn’t going to happen. Seeing them from the shoreline was still incredible! From June to September, approximately 3,000 beluga whales visit the Churchill RIver Basin and approximately 60,000 come into the Hudson’s Bay area.
We checked off the Hudson Bay sea ice, the C-46 plane wreck and seeing Belugas… all we had left on our bucket list was seeing a polar bear. Though we weren’t there at peak season, polar bears first started to make their return to the area. After months of roaming the frozen Hudson Bay hunting seals, they make their way back to Churchill in early to mid-summer, once the ice begins to melt. We were hopeful, but had not seen any during our stay in Churchill, the Polar Bear Capital of the World.…
After reaching Churchill, Manitoba the 5intheSky team had flown a total of 3,840 nautical miles (7,111km) and logged 37.3 hours of airtime, stopping at 31 different airports.