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An Ottawa Valley flying legend page 7

Story by Mike O’MalleyPrincipal photography by Karel Van Duyse

Paddy Doyle indicates that “C-FODA will continue to work at Da Swisha as long as the business breaks even. We need to book 650 flight hours a season to pay for upkeep, fuel and salaries. Last year, 660 hours were flown, and the poor shape of the west Quebec access roads and heavy logging traffic has paddlers returning to the air shuttle. Closing Da Swisha or retiring C-FODA would be very emotional for a lot of us. Beavers are a hot commodity right now, selling at more than 10 times their original price, and C-FODA would be the crown jewel for many collectors. In 2000, the recreational canoe business accounted for 90% of the bookings. With Trailhead’s new focus on the Dumoine as a wilderness teaching river, we are hoping to see charters grow to maintain the viability of the operation. C-FODA was the last aircraft purchased by company founder and aviation pioneer Russ Bradley before his death. He bought her specifically for Da Swisha, and hired Ronny to fly her. Even though Ronny has retired, we want to keep C-FODA right where she belongs.”

Base manager Chad Laframboise and veteran pilot John McCullagh carry on the Bradley Air Services operation at Da Swisha. Says Chad, “C-FODA is in absolutely perfect shape, celebrating her 50th birthday on April 16. Ronny has taken such amazing care of this aircraft, you wouldn’t know she was older than a teenager.”

As for Ronny …
Former boss Paddy Doyle probably knows this seasoned aviator better than most people. Paddy describes Ronny as “the most complex simple man he has ever met, with currents deeper than the rivers he flies upon–a family man, farmer, businessman, master mechanic, bush pilot, historian, naturalist, philosopher and humanitarian, embodied in a single person. But mostly, he’s my friend.”

The health setback that prompted Ronny’s retirement has now passed, and although he has no plans to return to commercial flying, his licence has been reinstated. It’s time to catch up on 30 years of chores around the farm, and working through the job list Kaireen has been accumulating for him. After supper, Ronny continues to restore his 1956 Cessna 180 floatplane, which is parked inside a hangar beside the Aeronca Champ in which he began his career almost four decades ago. Ronny hopes to have the 180 in the air this year, and looks forward to teaching his grandchildren how to dead stick onto glassy water, and instil in them the wisdom to avoid ever having to do so.

Avid outdoorsman and wilderness photographer Karel Van Duyse, has been a frequent passenger of Ronny’s over the last 30 years. Most of the photos that appear in this article were taken by Karel so it’s fitting that he has the last word: “In my life, I have flown with many pilots and known hundreds of men. Ronny Bowes is the best pilot I have ever known and the best man I have ever met. He may be retiring, but he’ll still be the best.” |


Postscript
From July 2004 until April 2010, Beaver C-FODA was owned by Air Kipawa which continued the Da Swisha operation. In 2011, the aircraft is again piloted by Ronny, but now for Shaw Lumber of Pembroke, Ontario.

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