Flying on the Prairies
summer of 2006, the Alberta economy was
booming. Evidence of big money was
everywhere. Fuelled by the oil
industry, the spin-offs spawned support
communications, big box retail stores in
many little towns, and jobs for everyone.
There must be more big diesel
powered pick-up trucks per capita than
anywhere else in the country. And
most are parked at Tim Hortons.
I took a
job flying for a company enjoying the
success of the boom. For five
months I flew into and out of many
small-town airports. Flying on the
prairies bears very little similarity to
coast and mountain flying, and its
surprisingly similar in other ways.
VFR navigation is one of the big
differences because landmarks such as
mountains and lakes dont exist.
When flying low and in the more
remote areas, VOR and ADF signals are not
reliable. GPS is ideal, given the
terrain is so flat and a straight line
rarely runs through a hill or mountain.
Due to the nature of my work
however, GPS wasnt practical.
It was all done with local county
maps and a compass. This
type of basic, primitive navigation is
quite easy in fact, because every road
runs north-south or east-west.
transmissions travel awfully long
distances on the prairies. Too
long sometimes. 123.2 is used as
the ATF at most airports, and the
frequency gets quite congested even
though each airport has very little
traffic. You just hear so many.
Most of the users seem to be
student pilots. I dont know
what instructors are teaching these days,
but they could sure lay off the phrase,
Any conflicting traffic please
advise. Many pilots, not
just students are using it, the most
often heard, overused, and totally
useless transmission on the radio today!
Theres nothing in the Aeronautical
Information Manual about the use of the
phrase. I wonder where it came
over 500 hours in the summer, I heard way
more than I wanted to on the radio.
While many pilots motor on with drivel
that means nothing and isnt
important to anyone, others neglect vital
information in their radio calls on
ATFs. They rarely broadcast
their departure intentions prior to
take-off. If Im
inbound to an airport and someone is
about to depart, I want to be sure
Im not in the way hes
planning to fly. Thats a
vital piece of information stated simply
something like, A.B.C. is rolling
28, planning the left turnout, departing
pilots use 126.7 seems to be changing.
Many are using it as an air-to-air
frequency, while others make general
broadcasts of their position, intentions,
type, registration and so on, quite often
followed by, Any conflicting ...
blah, blah, blah ... again.
There is no calling up the nearest FSS to
direct that information to where it may
be useful in case of the aircraft going
missing. Thats what 126.7
was initially intended for. An
enroute frequency to obtain
updated weather and other pertinent
information, give position reports and
open and close flight plans, all with the
nearest FSS or RCO.
a certain comfort while flying low across
the prairies that I never have in the
mountains or on the coast of B.C.
Its all about places to land if a
problem develops. Ive had
one engine failure many years ago which
fortunately happened over an airport.
With the flat, uninhabited prairie
stretching to the horizon in all
directions, its not a big deal to
be motoring along at only 500 feet
AGL. Also, there are roads every
couple of miles. Long, straight
roads. In most of British
Columbia, I want five thousand feet
between the airplane and the trees and
Prairie scenery can be interesting
lived on the coast of British Columbia
for many years, on an island actually, it
was surprising to me to see up close and
first hand the magnitude of the death of
family farms on the prairies. The
vast patchwork quilt landscape is dotted
with these tiny farmyards, each
surrounded by trees. They stand
out like little islands. Many of
them are referred to as dead
farms. Some appear quite
liveable, their occupants having left
fairly recently. Others are
falling down, dilapidated, windblown,
obviously abandoned for decades. I
recall a deep sadness as I flew over
them, wondering what became of the
families that made a home there, and why
they left. Folks in the stores and
coffee shops of nearby little towns would
talk about the small farms not being
economically viable, about the drying up
of the prairies, about the Hutterites
buying up the land, and about government
policies. Whatever the reasons,
Ive witnessed the sad results of
this shifting lifestyle. There
must be many stories.
If I wore a
big cowboy hat, Id be taking it off
to the prairie folks, out of respect for
their resilience. Ranchers,
farmers, oil patch workers, small
business owners, truck drivers, spray
plane pilots ... these people are tough.
moralistic, they probably contribute more
than they receive from the rest of the
country. Up until the
Conservatives came into power in Ottawa,
Albertans rarely heard from or saw a
Prime Minister in their midst. The
far-right thinking majority advocates
reforms based on citizens
initiatives. Many would prefer to
opt out of federal policies like tax
collection, pensions and policing.
On a personal, close to home basis, they
make the best of their lot in life.
At one time I lived in
Alberta, in fact I was born and educated
there but threw in the towel many decades
ago, and left. Over time, I
suppose Ive forgotten about the
hot, dry winds, the blowing dust of
summer, and the awful cold and difficult
conditions of winter. Small town
Alberta. It was good to get see
it. Next summer, maybe Ill
look for a job in Quebec.