I felt it before I heard it. A sound reverberating from the south.
I was just finishing lunch at the Fuel Up Cafe, located in Campbell River’s main airport terminal, when a distinct rumble morphed into the sound of twin turbines, but with a deeper resonance than a KingAir 350 or Dash 8.
The wind was out of the north at the moment, but the view of the approach from the south was blocked from my vantage point. I could not confirm the source of the sound, not until I saw an aircraft flare just over the threshold of RWY 30, landing just past the numbers. It was then I had my first glimpse of what originally arrested my attention.
The aircraft touched down, slowing in sufficient time to exit at the first taxiway intersection. It then proceeded to pull up to a vacant parking spot just on the other side of the window where I sat.
I first thought the high-wing, twin-engine turboprop was a Mitsubishi MU-2, the venerable Japanese rocket. The MU-2 was one of Japan’s most successful postwar aircraft, with over 700 coming off Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ assembly lines before production ended in 1986 in both Japanese and US manufacturing plants. I recalled MU-2’s had a somewhat justifiable reputation for being difficult to fly. They had a negative record of fatalities; over 300 if I remember correctly. That in part prompted the FAA to mandate specific training for this high performance, low cost aircraft. That move invariably reduced the fatality ratio.
As I watched the engines spool down, I realized this was not an MU-2. While it had a similar shape and profile of the Mitsubishi, I got the impression of an MU-2 on steroids. This aircraft had a more utilitarian look, and was not quite as sleek.
I watched as two people exited the aircraft; a man and a woman. He was taller by about 4 inches, clean shaven, with a powerful build. He reminded me of someone from the military, and he had a very focused look about him. His head was slowly tracking from left to right as he walked; as if he were identifying and cataloguing his surroundings. His female companion seemed more relaxed, and was laughing at, or with him about something. I noticed that no one else exited from the aircraft.
While this was all very intriguing, I did not have time to linger. I had my own flight to attend to. I had to prep for a flight to Pemberton. A last minute route diversion to pick up an American nurse who needed to catch a flight to Stewart on the BC/Alaskan border.
I was scheduled to ferry a newly upgraded Kodiak Quest Caravan, recently outfitted for the Canadian arm of the Mission Aviation Fellowship relief agency. Originally, I was to fly from Campbell River direct to Stewart to deliver the aircraft to one of the agency’s pilots, who coordinates medical flights between Stewart and Dease Lake in the Northern interior of British Columbia. Getting today’s route diversion was unexpected, but not uncommon.
According to the little details I had been given, this nurse I was supposed to pick up, had been in Pemberton attending a medical conference for the past two days. (Pemberton? Really?) She needed to get back to her regular assignment on The Hospital Ship USNS Comfort. This just happened to be the world’s largest Hospital Ship, which ran under the flag of the United States Navy. It was currently docked in Ketchikan Alaska waiting for her to arrive on a connecting flight out of Stewart. I was advised the connecting flight out of Stewart for my pending passenger was also another ferry contract requiring a Dash 8 Q400 to be delivered to Ketchikan.
Hmm…..this nurse seems to have some serious pull with the US Navy. Assuming she really IS a nurse!
Probably best not to speculate too much…it’s just past lunch time and I was already past my quota limit of intrigue for one day.
I got up from the table and left some cash for the waitress, glancing once more at the unfamiliar turboprop that was now being refuelled. Before I exited the Cafe, I took out my phone and snapped a couple photos of the aircraft. As I was about to exit the restaurant, I saw the couple enter. The man brushed past me on the right side, with his eyes locked on me until I had past him. Wondering what that was all about, I proceeded to make my way over to one of the south-side maintenance hangars housing the Kodiak. It was time to file my flight plan and get moving.
I thought again of the couple who had just flown in on the strange aircraft, and wondered what their story was.