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An Ottawa Valley flying legend page 6

Story by Mike O’MalleyPrincipal photography by Karel Van Duyse

A pilot, in praise of a pilot
Ronny’s attributes were described by veteran agricultural pilot Jerry Losee, who possessed the sort of keen senses developed from three decades of navigating sky tractors around windrows and hydro wires at 15 feet above ground. On a day too rough and gusty to fly their Piper PA-12 floatplane, Jerry and members of the Eganville Eagles flying club were using the sunny afternoon to catch up on some maintenance at the dock on Mink Lake. The unmistakable sound of a radial engine rumbled over the hill and the glint of sun from a Beaver’s windshield caught Jerry’s eye. Immediately, he knew it was Ronny throttling back to land. The Beaver banked into the stiff wind and slipped near shore, “carrier-style”. As Ronny approached the water, he pulled the nose up, bringing the backs of the floats to the waves almost without forward speed, holding the Beaver back as the chines settled into the stiff whitecaps. The engine went to idle so slowly that the cylinder detonations could be counted as he sailed the Beaver backward with the wind. Approaching shore, a quick touch to the throttle and a kick on the water rudders swung the plane to greet the leeward side of the dock in a manoeuvre that looked like a pirouette. The door opened and the full length of Ronny Bowes unfolded to throw two half hitches around a cleat, while extending a handshake to an awaiting friend. Jerry said, “On a day when no lesser plane or pilot would even be in the sky, you wouldn’t see a more graceful landing at the National Ballet.”

A brush with death as a mechanic
Paddy Doyle tells the story of a close call: “In 1977 Ronny’s reputation as a superb field mechanic almost cost him his life. Sent to make a Twin Otter airworthy that was damaged during a forced landing on a desolate patch of blue arctic ice off Ellesmere Island, Ronny personally experienced the 100-knot fury of the winds known to locals as ‘Big noise’. During repairs at –30°, Big noise returned twice, both times blowing the heated tent, food and equipment out to sea. Despite near death by exposure and an AME almost being blown away, Ronny persisted and called twice to be resupplied by reluctant crew who wanted to evacuate them. In Ronny’s never-quit style, both men stayed to finish the repairs and insisted on flying out on the airplane they were sent to rescue.”

Ronny loves the old ways
A keen student of local history, heaven for Ronny Bowes would have been to live during the great timber drives, but with his Beaver on the beach (I suspect Kaireen and the kids would be part of this utopia as well). A metal detector and shovel were regular stowaways in the back of the airplane and spare time between charters allowed him to drop in for an occasional dig at an abandoned camp. Over the years, a significant collection of logging artifacts were amassed, and few men can speak with such authority on local history. Even objects too big to fit in the Beaver, like the large boom anchor found in a rapid by Wally Schaber, made it to the safe keeping of the Da Swisha Timbermen’s Museum (Ronny’s lawn) by sled over winter.

Concurrently with Ronny’s retirement, the future prospects of C-FODA and the Da Swisha base are somewhat uncertain. The Beaver was designed for frontier aviation and is quickly becoming out of place in the Pontiac. The once lush and inaccessible hills have been scarified by continuous logging and ravaged by the maze of uncharted roads left behind, transforming them into a land where four-wheelers run free. But as Wally Schaber explains, “the conservation movement is making gains in Quebec, likely because eco-tourism is now seen as a revenue source. The rivers are in great shape and getting better every year. We see our Dumoine business growing and hope to keep the Beaver busy for many years to come.”

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