Kate Harrison Whiteside
Made famous in movies like Mad Max and James Bond, the gyrocopter, or ‘flying motorcycle’, is still an unusual sight today. So when Kit and Sue Harrison flew in and out of Trail airport recently in their ‘Blue Angel’ gyrocopter, the viewing area was host to a number of people wanting to get their first look.
The Harrisons, visiting family in Rossland, landed their German Cavalon Auto Gyrocopter at Trail Regional Airport on their return flight from Nanaimo, BC to Brandon, MB. They had joined about 80 planes flying with the sixth annual Century Flight Club of Canada annual cross-country tour a week earlier—as the little gyrocopter that could.
“We wanted to learn how to fly in the mountains and increase our travel awareness of other airports,” said Kit Harrison. “We think it’s been very successful.”
Kit, who flies, and Sue, who navigates, have logged nearly 200 flying hours in their gyro, nicknamed Blue Angel, in just over a year. The gyrocopter license is said to be the rarest in Canada, with records showing less than 30 issued by 2008.
“It takes 45 hours of ground school, flight instruction and solo time—the same as any other private license,” said Kit, who got his license in 2012.
“Sue is navigator. It’s very important to have a nav, and it’s great to have both people participating,” said Kit. “We use all the navigation tools —paper maps, iPads and GPS.”
It was their goal for over a year to tackle the Rocky Mountains and long flights. The highest they flew on the trip was 6,500 feet and the lowest about 200 feet above sea level.
“Everything you do is about being safe,” said Kit. “It’s an acquired skill, but when you’re acquiring it, you are all alone.”
“You cannot receive enough instruction,” said Kit. “This tour was all about increasing your safety in aviation, enjoying the fruits of safe flying and being part of a group who share the same interests.”
“Flying into Trail is a challenge. It’s surrounded by ridges, more of a challenge to fly out of than into for us because we need to climb,” said Kit, who took his family on short flights around Trail, up to Rossland, over Waneta Dam and along the Columbia and Pend D’Oreille rivers during the visit.
Don Goulard, Trail Regional Airport Manager, was on hand to greet them and provide details during landings and take offs.
“The airport is keeping detailed records of all aircraft types, and this gyrocopter landing has got be the first of its kind since we began keeping records,” said Goulard.
Both Kit and Sue enjoy lower scenic flying to the faster, higher altitude experience.
“Building our confidence and getting rid of intimidations was important,” said Sue.
“For me, the mountains were most interesting,” said Sue, who hasn’t been in the region in the summer months for many years. “The tranquility of flying along a valley and all the natural beauty was incredible. That was the difference with everyone else on the tour, we were taking the time to enjoy the ride.”
“Once we learned how to do something new, we were saying ‘Wow we can do that,” said Sue.
Some airports they landed at had no staff, and then Kit spoke to other pilots in the region to find out what was going on.
“There are great smaller airports in the region. Basically they are a gas station for us,” said Sue. “Some gave us an airport car to go into town to get food and access to their club houses. They are quite open to the safety and comfort of fellow fliers,”she added.
Enroute they landed in Swift Current, Lethbridge, Cranbrook, Castlegar, Oliver, Hope, Nanaimo, Qualicum, Victoria International, Chilliwack, Grand Forks and Trail. The flight plan home included plans to stop in Creston, Swift Current and maybe one stop in between, depending on weather. They have been keeping a careful eye on the wind, weather and warnings – such as smoke from fires.
“We wanted to experience the procedures at an international airport,” said Kit, referring to their flight into and out of Victoria. “As it happened, Victoria was the least busy of all the airports we landed in. You have three air traffic people guiding you in.”
“After this, we’ve flown from the middle to the other side of the country in a gyro,” said Sue. “This gives us the confidence to see more beautiful countryside. And not just here in Canada.”