This is the third e-mail that I sent out after starting on the Conquest. It would have been sent out roughly the middle of January 2003:
Being the newest pilot at Skyward, and the lowest seniority F/O (First Officer) on the Conquest, I got stuck being on call for both Christmas and New Year's. However, seeing as I waited for so long to fly, this really didn't bother me.
At first, with the way the scheduling of nurses and planes was going to work out, it looked like I was going to get Christmas day off, then fly a lot for the few days after that. However, everything always changes and at 7:30 pm on Christmas Eve I got a page saying that I was going to have a flight from Thompson to Winnipeg Christmas morning at 6 am and I was to be at the airport at 5:45am. I don't think I've ever gotten up that early on Christmas morning!
We got to the airport and started getting our plane ready, a short while later the nurse showed up with the patient, it was a little girl who had broken her arm and her mother. They were going down to Winnipeg for a specialists appointment. The girl had set up a slide on the edge of her coffee table, then ran and jumped on it, but unfortunately it fell off and she broke her arm. Both the little girl and the mother were apprehensive about flying, so the nurse told them that Captain Steve had been flying for over ten years. Thankfully she left out that First Officer James had been on the job for just over a month! So when I went in to bring the passengers out, the little girl asked (in a really cute voice) "Are you Captain Steve?", "no, I'm James, the co-pilot" I replied. "Oh" she said, sounding really disappointed. "But," I added, "Captain Steve's in the plane right now getting it ready, you'll get to see him really soon." She was happy to hear that. Not the first time a girl had wished I was someone else! :p
The flight to Winnipeg was nice, the radio's were quieter than usual as most airlines had cancelled some flights on Christmas day. All the Air traffic controllers would wish you a Merry Christmas when you changed frequencies and the weather was pleasant as well. We arrived just as the sun was coming up and got a great view of the city, we could just imagine how much wrapping paper was being ripped open at that very minute.
When they had arrived at the airport in Thompson, the mother had brought a big garbage bag full of presents to take down to Winnipeg. They waited in the office for a few minutes while the plane warmed up. Unfortunately she didn't tell either the nurse or myself about it when we got in the plane and the presents got left in Thompson. We didn't discover this until we hadlanded in Winnipeg. I felt pretty bad, although we made sure they made it to Winnipeg the next day, and the girl had already received a few presents, so she was still pretty happy.
Cities on Christmas morning are always nice as they're always deserted. There were very few cars on the road, but it also meant that all the restaurants were closed, we could only find a Robin's Donuts, so we had breakfast there, and when we came back to Winnipeg that afternoon, we had lunch there as well.
I flew on Boxing Day as well. We went to Cross Lake and back twice. We took lots of pictures the first time. The second time we went it was at night and we got an incredible display of the Northern Lights. It was easily the best I have seen before, and Steve who has been flying in the North for almost ten years said it was probably the best he had seen before. I tried taking a picture, but it just didn't do them justice.
I did a few more trips that week. We had a couple of days with pretty bad weather, and flying in them was tricky, but a great learning experience.
On January 5th I went to Rankin Inlet for the second time. I took the scheduled flight up, it was in a Cessna Caravan which is a great plane, but really slow, it was long trip up.
The next day we got a Sanikiluaq - Winnipeg trip. Sanikiluaq is located on the Belcher Islands which are in the southern part of Hudson Bay right near Quebec. Everybody on the radio was speaking french. It's well known for it's carvings of either bone or green rock (not sure what type) so we called ahead and asked the airport radio operator to call some carvers for us. As we landed, the weather started to deteriorate, so I think the carvers decided to just stay home cause no one came out. Oh well. I ended up buying a carving back in Rankin Inlet.
We got back to Rankin late that evening, and didn't end up flying again for 3 days. We had gone out to go take some pictures of the town when we got called on the radio phone that we had a trip to Yellowknife. This was odd, cause we usually don't take patients to Yellowknife from Rankin we take them to Winnipeg, even though Yellowknife is closer. This patient was a psych patient and the mental health center in Winnipeg was full (hmmm, what does that say about Manitobans ? :) so we took him to Yellowknife. The company doesn't fly there very much so it was really interesting to go there. With going to the Northwest Territories, I only have to go to the Yukon and Newfoundland then I have been to all the provinces and territories.
We had dinner at a nice hotel and was surprised to see lots of Japanese tourists. I thought Yellowknife in January was a strange vacation destination. However, it's apparently a fairly popular honeymoon location as the Japanese believe that the Northern Lights are a sign of good luck, and if you conceive a child on a night that the are out, it will bring the child prosperity and luck. (*Note: I have since found out that that is untrue, however, there still were a lot of Japanese tourists) It's for this reason that some hotels in Churchill and Yellowknife have hotel rooms with glass dome ceilings!
When we got back to Rankin there was a full fledged blizzard going on. When a Blizzard hits up there, not a lot of snow falls if any, in fact it's actually considered a desert up in the Arctic. What happens is the winds pick up til they are about 40 mph (70 km or so) and starts blowing all the snow on the ground. You can fly over the airport, look down and see it fine, but once you get quite low the visibility drops. The approach was crazy, the visibility was really low, we saw the runway lights right at minimums and the captain (Jeff) managed a great landing in really strong cross winds.
The blizzard stuck around for a few more days so we ended up staying in Rankin a day longer than normal. We need 1/2 mile visibility to take off and it was 1/8 th of a mile for most of the time. We were on hold for a Rankin Winnipeg trip by this time. So when the weather improved we were to go to leave for Winnipeg. And wouldn't you know, the weather improved, not at a sensible hour say around lunchtime, but at 3 in the morning! So we got a call to pack up all our stuff as quick as possible and hurry to the airport.Within 45 minutes, we were on our way to Winnipeg. We ended up back home in Thompson by about 3 in the afternoon, where I went home and went right to sleep!
I now have about 120 hours on the airplane and have learned an incredible amount of information. I still have lots to learn though. While my regular landings have improved greatly, my cross wind landings aren't very good "Sonny, did we land or were we shot down?" No, that wasn't actually said to me. But I like the challenge of always learning new things and it's satisfying to succeed at things that I've been working on.