Nothing will stop this group of North Okanagan pilots from flying.
Members of the Vernon Flying Club meet once a week to fly in formation over the city. Before the pandemic hit, the group would meet four times a week and fly to other flying clubs in neighbouring cities to have coffee with their fellow pilots from Kelowna, Penticton, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm.
But with gathering and travel restrictions, the group now meets once a week to practice and fly in formation over Vernon, landing back at the city’s regional airfield.
John Swallow is a member of the Vernon Flying Club and he also leads the flight formation. A former military pilot, Swallow typically flies over 150 hours for recreation in a year. Because of the pandemic, he only flew about 65 hours in 2020.
“(The pandemic) has really curtailed our flying. Originally, at the beginning of (2020) until March, we were going down to the various places. Now it’s primarily taking off here and landing here,” he said.
Member Chuck Ross said they wanted to keep doing what they love without putting themselves at risk.
“We don’t want to mix with a bunch of people at coffee, but we can (fly) together, we can have picnic lunches and still have separation,” he said.
“And we fly six feet apart.”
Swallow said the club also used to run an initiative where they would take children from the ages eight to 17 for a flight to encourage them to take up piloting.
“Donating our time and our aircraft has been curtailed and we didn’t get to share flying with the children last year, and we likely won’t this year either,” Swallow said.
Things may have changed and they may not be able to gather and fly wherever they please, but the club’s members still get out to tip their wings at the residents below to help brighten their days.
Besides showing people what they can do, the group continues to fly because it gives them a sense of freedom. Swallow said it’s difficult to describe unless you’ve taken flight and have seen the world from above.
Another member of the club, Franz Fox, said it’s exhilarating.
“To me, flying is total freedom,” he said.
“Once you’re up there flying, you can basically do whatever you want… it’s a totally different perspective and when you look down at what’s below, it’s just a wonderful feeling.”