Hundreds of people flocked to the Campbell River Airport last weekend for the annual Wings ‘N’ Wheels event – a fundraiser for the local TeenFlight program, which teaches high school kids how to build and maintain airplanes.
And while the event itself was spectacular, as always, Campbell River local Shaun Andrews says there was one part of the show, in particular, that he’ll never forget.
Andrews is a self-admitted “World War II aficionado,” and says ever since he was young, he’s wanted to go for a ride in one of those old planes. He’s even got a few tattoos of various aircraft from that era of flight history.
“Flying in a World War II-era bomber has always been a dream since going to an airshow with my Grandfather in 1974,” he says.
And on Sunday he got his chance.
But first he had to get in, which isn’t the easiest thing for a guy his size.
“I’m not a little guy at 260-pounds,” he says with a laugh, “so climbing up into the aircraft and clambering into the navigator’s seat was a bit of a challenge, but the flight itself was unbelievable,” he says. “I’ve never flown on anything smaller than a 40 passenger plane before so I really didn’t know what to expect.”
Once seated and buckled, he says, “the floor hatch closed below our feet, the pilot and co-pilot started up the two radial engines – both unmuffled running straight pipes. The roar is deafening yet unmistakably transforms you back to another era. You can imagine the bravery of the aircrews fighting in climate conditions and being at the mercy of enemy aircraft and the flak of anti-aircraft guns.”
After a short, bobbing taxi down the runway as the radial engines were screaming their song, “Grumpy,” as the plane is known, lifted off at exactly 10:40 a.m.
“Ironically, as noisy and hot as the old bird is, it brings about a deep sense of euphoria and calm,” Andrews says. “That may sound strange when flying in a 75-year-old machine purpose built to deliver destruction, but it does. A buzzer sounds when you reach cruising altitude and you are then able to jump down from the navigator’s seat and kneel down on the floor and then you crawl on your hands and knees below the copilot in a small tunnel to the nose cone gun turret.
“No good if you suffer from claustrophobia,” he says with another laugh.
Once in the nose cone, he says, you are surrounded by plexiglass except for the floor.
“We live in the most beautiful area of the world,” he says, “and to fly over such spectacular scenery in the nosecone gun turret of such an iconic plane is a profound experience. It brings back visions of dark dangerous uncertain times and the brave men and women that sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Yet sitting in that vulnerable plexiglass bubble with the steady roar of those engines and a machine gun as my companion I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and calm wash over me as I drank in the beauty of the surroundings below.
The pilots then approached the airport and did a “mock bomb run,” pulling up at the last second as they would if they were back in the war, Andrews says.
”My stomach was fighting for space with my tonsils in my throat,” he says. “But it wasn’t fear, just pure exhilaration. At no time during the flight did I feel anything but safe – like an old friend welcoming you home.”
The flight only lasted an hour – twice as long as it was supposed to due to the airport being as busy as it was – and cost Andrews around $500, but he says it was worth every penny.
“I’m definitely not loaded, but it’s well worth it,” he says. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not bad for a bucket-list experience. We all spend money on junk, right? Sometimes you just gotta say, ‘what if tomorrow doesn’t happen?’”