Wednesday 2 September 2009

Thrill of a lifetime

This post has absolutely nothing to do with motorcycles or any other two-wheeled vehicles, but I just had to share how I spent my Friday morning.
We were down visiting family in Kitchener when my brother told us that we all had to be out of the house and on the road at 7:00 Friday morning. And that’s all he would say.
So dutifully at 7 AM (!) our little two car convoy was heading down the 401 to Tillsonburg. (Stompin’ Tom fans… in unison now… “My back still aches when I hear that word”.)
Turns out that Tillsonburg is more than just tobacco country – it’s also home to the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association. Now the secret was out. I had just celebrated a major milestone birthday (don’t ask) and my brothers, sister, nieces and nephews all chipped in to get me a ride in a 1942 AT-6 Harvard Mk II (which is even older than me!).  And not just a 10-minute fly-around-the-countryside ride either. This was an honest-to-goodness half hour aerobatic ride. Whoeee!
Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures when we were inside out, upside down, flying straight down with the ground filling the front windscreen, or in the process of falling out of the sky in a hammerhead stall. Truth be told, I was too busy just hanging on … and hanging on to my breakfast …  to even think about getting the camera out. I had NO idea the Harvard could fly like that.
Here are a few pics taken of the day.
Yes, that’s a parachute which I was assured I would NOT have to use.
All the stuff I wasn’t supposed to touch. Can’t imagine why.
Winding her up.
Last check to make sure the canopy is locked before takeoff.
A quick pass over the airport at 4,000 feet, and then……
DSCN1538   Holy s**t! Where’d the sky go?
Followed by a little hammerhead action.
Straight and level … for now…
Repeat above photos several times for effect…..
1/2 hour later with the pilot. Legs still wobbly but with breakfast intact.
After the ride, and with both feet firmly planted on solid ground, I had a chance to talk with the pilot. Turns out he’s a bona fide astronaut who just happens to like flying Harvards. Bjarni Tryggvason was one of the original 6 Canadian astronauts selected in 1983 and he flew as payload specialist on STS-85, Discovery, in 1997. That was an unexpected bonus.
So I have to ask, was that a great gift or what? And a big hearty thanks to the whole gang who made it possible.


  1. I am so jealous it's ridiculous. That is one hell of a birthday gift.

  2. Fabulous! Wow, that must have been a blast!

  3. DUDE! That must've been amazing!

  4. WOW, absolutely fantastic!!! That must have been an amazing day. Happy belated Birthday :)

  5. wow!!! what fun, what a wonderful family you have, HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY :)

  6. Thanks all for the comments and birthday wishes.

    I now know what pulling 4 G's feels like and how totally disoriented you can get when your eyes, ears and stomach are all firing different sensory inputs at the same time. But according to the pilot, you get used to it after 3 or 4 flights. I think I'll take his word for it. :-)

  7. Happy Milestone Birthday! What a cool present!

  8. Cool present, we have an airforce base nearby and when I first arrived in Saldanha they were still flying Harvards, we used to see them regularly practising airobatics over the town. A couple of years ago they were all replaced with the French Pillatus which is faster and quieter but has no character. The Harvard is like the Harley of the air.

  9. Andrew - hadn't thought of it like that, but it's a good comparison.


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