(Taking flying lessons and all that sort of stuff)

The following recountings have dates included where possible. You may find it interesting to search my online pilot logbook using these dates to see the actual entries that correspond to the events being described.


It all started way back in the last millennium -- January 17, 1993 to be exact. That is the date of logbook entry #1 - my first flight at the controls of an airplane, a Cessna 152 registered as C-GZWX. At the time, I never had any intention of going the commercial route. I just wanted to fly. Flying was, after all, in the genes; my grandfather flew and my father flew so I guess I should fly too.

My Grandfather and his Taylorcraft on floats.
This aircraft provided my grandparents with hundreds of hours of use flying the BC coast. Famous war-time lady pilot Helen Harrison gave him his float endorsement.

Being born into a pilot family, I had always wanted to fly. My father new this and for Christmas 1992 the 'big gift' under the tree was a groundschool kit ("From The Ground Up" manuals, E6B computer, etc) and a gift certificate to Pacific Flying Club in Delta, BC. I enrolled in classes starting in January. I was so excited about the whole thing that days before groundschool even started, I would drive out to Boundary Bay Airport (CZBB) just to watch the planes come and go.

I was assigned Al Neufeld as my flight instructor. So there we were that fateful 17th day of January. I was actually very nervous; what if I didn't like flying? What would I tell my father and grandfather, both expecting me to carry on the family flying tradition? Those worries soon faded away as the 152's new Continental engine rumbled to life and the airframe shook off the early morning dew. Now I had this machine to contend with, and sitting next to me in the cramped cockpit was my drill sargeant. After the requisite after-start checks and a listen to the ATIS (it took several times for me to assimilate all the information), Al briefed me on the correct phraseology to use when requesting taxi clearance from the tower. This was it, my first ever aviation radio transmission!

"Boundary Bay ground, this is Cessna 1-5-2 G-Z-W-X on the ATIS with apron, requesting taxi for ...uh...  local east."

Oops! What had I said? I was so nervous that I hadn't gotten it even close, much to the delight of Al and the ground controller.

"<muted laughter> That's OK, ZWX, taxi 'alpha' for runway 07. Good luck, Al"

"Good luck, Al?" Is that how my aviation career is to start out? Fortunately, everything went smoothly after that and with the completion of the required cross country time on October 15, 1993, I was a certificated pilot. Finally!

[you can go to my logbook and actually see these entries]

Over wonderful southwestern BC while earning my Private Pilot License


At the beginning of 1997, I purchased a local BC gulf islands airline (see "Sorry, No Peanuts" for details of that story). In my new capacity of Owner, President, and Operations Manager of Pacific Spirit Air, I found myself driving a desk and becoming increasingly envious of my pilots who had all the fun flying the coast. I decided that perhaps commercial flying was indeed the lifestyle for me and enrolled in Pacific Flying Club's commercial groundschool program. I signed on with instructor pilot Francois Leh for the flight training portion and on March 2nd, 1997, in Cessna 152 C-GPFE we started on my night time. I managed about 3 flying sessions with Francois before he left Pacific Flying Club for the CFI position with upstart flying school/charter operator Montair. Montair was founded by Al Neufeld, my instructor from private pilot days, several months earlier. I opted to follow Francois and continued my training at Montair. By the time June rolled around, I had completed my necessary night and hood hours. I just needed to burn off the rest of my dual time and complete my 300nm cross-country to qualify for the license. By now, the summer season was upon us in full force, the airline business was hopping, and I just didn't have the time to continue with the commercial license.

Finally, half a year later, I found the time to pick up where I had left off. However, to be economically efficient, I decided that I'd work on my multi-engine and IFR ratings and use that as the dual time towards my commercial license. If I needed dual time, I might as well kill two birds with one stone, right? on


Here's a good look at the instrument panel of Montair's Seneca II, C-GYPD. Avionics include:

  • KX-165 Nav/Comm
  • KX-155 Nav/Comm
  • King IFR GPS
  • KR87 ADF
  • KN64 DME
  • KT76 Transponder
  • Edo-Aire HSI
  • Bendix radar
  • Shadin fuel totalizer
  • Coupled 3-axis autopilot

Based on my previous experience on my commercial license, I selected Montair for my IFR and multi ratings. Once again I had Al Neufeld as flight instructor; it had been fully five years since we'd flown together and I was looking forward to the intellectual workout Al was always able to provide. On January 17th, 1998, we started simulator sessions on Montair's AST300. It was a good challenge, and I was finished the allowable 20 hours by the end of February.

Next came C-GYPD, the Seneca II that Montair uses for their multi-engine training. This is a well-appointed aircraft with an excellent avionics package and newly overhauled turbo-charged engines. Quite a handful for a new pilot and lots of great eye-candy in the cockpit! March 15th, 1998, marked my first flight in this machine. As it was my first time at the controls of a twin, this was more of a familiarization flight than anything so I could get used to the feel of the aircraft. By the second flight, we were right into the IFR work and I was busy shooting approaches into Abbotsford. I had been up for 5 flights, the last one on April 14, 1998 when bad news was delivered: during a routine maintenance inspection, damage to the spar had been discovered. The hinge wire of the main gear doors had worked loose and wore a groove in the wing spar. This was an unusual situation for which no repair was readily apparent (short of changing the spar). The plane was grounded indefinitely until a fix could be engineered and approved by Transport Canada. Time consuming to say the least. Because YPD was the only twin-engined airplane Montair had, I had to delay my training until it was returned to service.

I waited until May and still the Seneca had not returned to service. I decided that I would fulfill the remaining few hours of the dual time requirement on one of Montair's 152s with Francois Leh. Summer was fast approaching, and with it the busy season for Pacific Spirit Air. If I didn't get my license finished soon, it would have to wait until next year. So up I went with Francois for a few hours until finally, on May 21, 1998, I passed my commercial flight test with flying colours. The flight test took two airplanes; the first 152 had a bad mag which wasn't discovered until the run-up. At the time I wondered if fate was trying to send me a message. As everything turned out well, I guess not.

With the test out of the way, all that remained was my 300nm cross country which I undertook on June 1, 1998. I took friend & fellow pilot Al McBain and my brother along for company. Flying in my Navion, we were aiming for Calgary with stops in Vernon and Cranbrook. As it turned out, thunderstorms prevented us from making it to Alberta, but we did manage to get as far as Elko, BC, and satisfied the 300nm cross country requirement. Having made all the required en-route stops, we flew direct from Elko back to Delta Airpark in 2.8 hours. A fun trip for everyone!

LA piece de resistance
My freshly-signed commercial license.

All that remained now was to complete the necessary paperwork and submit my logbook for approval. My logbook ... ugh... I hadn't really been keeping it up to date. My times were recorded on various scraps of paper which I'd have to find, sort, and enter into my official logbook. What a pain in the you-know-where! (this is the primary reason I created my own digital computer logbook - it's more fun, and so much easier.) Finally on June 30, 1998, completed logbook in hand, forms filled out, all the T's crossed and I's dotted, I walked up to instructor/owner/Transport Canada delegate Al Neufeld and had him sign the back of my private license with the coveted words, "Commercial Pilot."

Immediately thereafter, the ink still wet, I proceeded down to Pacific Spirit Air's float base where our DHC-2 Beaver was tied to the dock. Two hours later I was flying a full load of passengers to the gulf islands on my first-ever commercial flight. I wonder if they could tell from the grin on my face?


Now, Back to that Multi-IFR RATING ...

The last thing on my mind all summer 1998 and into 1999 was completing my multi-IFR. I was having too much fun with my new commercial license to think about anything else. Eventually reason prevailed (and time permitted) and in February 2000 I decided I better get back to my training and finish what I started more than two years before. I went back to Montair and did a couple simulator sessions to get my IFR procedures back on track. By the end of February I was happy in the left seat of the now repaired Seneca II (remember it was grounded when we last left it?). Because of the growth in the charter side of Montair, owner Al Neufeld just didn't have the time to do my training so he delegated it to his IFR instructor (now pilot for Westex) Druvi Ameresekere. After a few flights to get back in the swing of twin flying, I did my multi-engine ride on March 15, 2000.

A few more IFR flights to fulfill the time requirements, including a cross country to Boeing Field in Washington for lunch, and I was set for my IFR ride on March 23rd, 2000. And just like that I was (finally) a multi/IFR rated pilot.

So what did I do with my IFR rating after that?

Nothing. Like most float drivers, I didn't get the chance to do much IFR work. The worst part is that the rating lapsed April 1st, 2002, and I had to have it renewed. For this I went to IFR training powerhouse Professional IFR as they have a worldwide reputation for excellence. Their Beech 76 Duchess aircraft are very easy to fly, like a Cessna 172 with two engines, which made for a quick and painless renewal.

Twice, I also participated in their one day IFR refresher seminar which is a great way to stay current on procedures. I highly recommend annual attendance.

Currently, I am seeing to it that my IFR Rating doesn't go to waste. Shortly after renewing I gained employment with Bearskin Airlines of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, and have been 'on the clocks' ever since.


Ah yes, the vaunted Airline Transport Pilot License. It was June 2000. Just a few months earlier I had completed my multi and IFR ratings. As I already had my commercial license, the only goal remaining was to get my ATPL. After all, if I wanted to progress to 'the majors,' this license was a must. I figured the best way to go about getting the license was to take thePro-IFR ATPL course. In early November I enrolled in their December 2000 class. The plan was to take the weekend seminar on a holiday I was planning in Vancouver, and then write the exams the following week. I had them mail the course materials up to me in Inuvik. In the always dark days of late November, I reviewed and studied and prepared for the exam.

Just like my plan, I attended the seminar and then wrote the exams the following week. Everything went nicely and I was well on my way to attaining the top rung of the licensing ladder. For the non-aviation types reading this, you must understand that to obtain the ATPL there are several conditions you must meet. These are:

  • minimum required number of total flight hours,

  • minimum number of IFR hours,

  • minimum number of night and cross country hours,

  • recent multi/IFR flight test, and

  • the ATPL exams written.

I had three of the five: the total hours requirement, the exams written, and the recent multi/IFR flight test. I just needed the night and IFR time. After writing the exams, Transport Canada only allows two years to complete the requirements for the ATPL. That sounds like plenty of time, but believe me, it's not.

I figured that in some future aviation employment I would quickly fill the requirements for IFR and night flying. However, in the months that followed, I realized this would not happen. It seemed that I continually ended up flying floats. As any pilot knows, float flying does not usually mix with either night or IFR time. Certainly, I was building valuable time for my logbook, but none of it was useable towards my ATPL.

January 2002 rolled around and I still had very little of that all-important-to-me night and IFR time. In only 11 months, my exams would 'expire' and I'd be back to square one; something I vowed to not let happen. Also, because my IFR ride was almost two years in the past, it no longer met the requirement for the ATPL; I would have to have a new IFR ride. Since I had no IFR job prospects on the horizon, I decided to put myCessna 180 on wheels, get it checked out for IFR flight and get the hours on my own. Between March 17, 2002, and June 20, 2002, I flew the night-IFR pants off of the 180. Since I was trying to build up time (I needed to add about 75 hours) I decided I might as well go places. My IFR rating had now just expired (April 1, 2002) I renewed it at Pro IFR, re-fulfilling the ATPL requirement for a recent IFR ride. Immediately following, I packed up the plane for a 'road trip' and departed Pitt Meadows airport on the morning of May 15, 2002. My two day whirlwind trip took me to Grande Prairie, Peace River, Slave Lake, Lac La Biche, Prince Albert, Thompson, Saskatoon, Lethbridge, and back to Pitt Meadows. I was hoping to stop in at Calgary and Edmonton, but wild snowstorms (yes, in May) prevented that. The entire trip was conducted IFR and quickly the hours piled up in my logbook.

With all the required hours in my logbook, and a recent multi/IFR ride completed at Pro IFR, I was finally able to submit the required paperwork to Transport Canada at the end of June 2002. Summertime at the Vancouver Transport Canada office can be very slow (everyone disappears for vacation) and it wasn't until September that I finally received the official document. My ATPL was here!


Chris Holmes    (604) 581-2970    [my first name]

Up ]