High Over Canada

November 1, 2004

Flying for fun and points in the International Air Rally

Ever want to explore Canada by air, visit places you'd probably never seek out on your own, and have a chance at winning some money while you're at it? Then consider signing up with the eight-day-long International Air Rally, an annual event that's a combination of tourist adventure and flying competition. The entry fee of $990 Canadian (about $760 in U.S. dollars) covers food and lodging for double occupancy, or $1,200 Cdn/$920 USD for single-occupancy rooms; you supply the airplane and fuel. In return, you stand to cash in on a chunk of the $30,000 (Canadian) prize money.

I went along on a few legs of the rally this past July. The route covered huge reaches of Quebec — and some of the most unspoiled territory of North America. Cleanest air, too. The trip kicked off in Fredericton, New Brunswick, when 26 airplanes gathered at the Greater Fredericton Airport and their pilots (and their spouses, significant others, or friends) got to know each other at Fredericton's Lord Beaverbrook Hotel. The airplanes were a wide-ranging bunch. They included a Cessna 185 on floats, several Cessna 172s, a Cirrus SR22, a Beechcraft S35 Bonanza, a turboprop Maule on floats, and a Lancair 235.

The next morning there was a preflight briefing for the first leg, eastward to Moncton, New Brunswick. Usually, each leg involves completing several navigation tasks and a written test, with identification of landmarks figuring strongly in the quest for valuable points, which translate into prize money. Pilots compete in either VFR or IFR categories.

Prior to each leg, contestants receive sealed envelopes with printed photos of landmarks, and the written tests. If you're absolutely stumped, a sealed "SOS" envelope containing valuable hints can be opened. Opening it will cost you points, though!

The leg to Moncton was plagued by early morning instrument weather, but by 11 a.m. ceilings and visibilities rose to VFR levels and the mission was a go for all contestants. For this leg I flew with Christian Michaud and his father, Jean Guy, in a Piper Seneca II. This was Team Rolls-Royce, named after Michaud's employer. The biggest task of the day involved a spot-landing contest at the Greater Moncton Airport. Michaud put the Seneca's wheels squarely within the small rectangle painted halfway down the runway. Although he nailed the spot landing, the $1,500 daily winnings went to Patrick Cudahy, who flew a Piper Arrow.

The next leg took the group northward, to Bonaventure, Quebec. This time I flew with Denis Major and Chad Grover ("Team NuTech") in their Cessna 182. The airplane was fitted out with the SMA 305-230 230-horsepower turbodiesel engine — one of the first SMA-equipped airplanes in North America. Our navigation tasks included identifying four checkpoints as shown on photographs, and answering some questions related to chart interpretation. We found all but one checkpoint. And for good reason! The mystery checkpoint didn't exist at all — it was a computer-enhanced photomontage of a scene in the rally management's minds.

The stay at Bonaventure was memorable because of the woodsy setting and four-mile river trip arranged for us. The Bonaventure River was remarkably clear, clean, and nearly rapids-free. You can look into 20-foot depths and still see the riverbed. Otters hopped up and down the riverbanks as we cruised along. You know you've arrived at a prime destination when you see Oscar de la Renta's Gulfstream IV parked on the ramp; he comes to Bonaventure for the fishing.

We stayed at Cime Aventures' camp in Bonaventure (, which feature lodges in the woods and overnight stays in huge tepees.

For the next leg — to La Romaine, Quebec, on the St. Lawrence River — the weather conspired against us again. Low IFR caused even the IFR-rated among us (La Romaine has no weather-reporting capability and no instrument approaches) to skip this leg (too bad — a stay at an Eskimo village was on tap) for one to Rivière du Loup. I flew with Michaud once more as we logged a good hour of actual instrument time on our way.

Because of schedule commitments, I couldn't make the remaining legs — to Sherbrooke, Amos, North Bay, and Toronto-Buttonville, but I saw enough to recommend flying with the International Rally next summer. It's a big enough group that you'll find like-minded souls (62 people made up my group), see beautiful sights, and get a taste of youthful summer-camp nostalgia. You get to meet pilots from all over the world (although most were Canadians), and a large contingent of pilots from Quebec means that you can practice your French.

Next year, the air rally is planning a route around western Canada. For more information, contact rally organizers Catherine Tobenas and Camil Dumont at [email protected] or [email protected]. To learn more, visit the rally's Web site (

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne | AOPA Pilot Editor at Large, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.