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Love in the air: Newlyweds leave on honeymoon flight from Chilliwack

Joel Ellis makes last minute preparatory phone calls before take-off from the Chilliwack airport July 26. - Greg Laychak
Joel Ellis makes last minute preparatory phone calls before take-off from the Chilliwack airport July 26.
— image credit: Greg Laychak

When most people fly to their honeymoon destinations, they arrive at the airport with luggage packed, boarding passes printed and passports ready.

But when Joel and Melanie Ellis took off from Chilliwack Airport on the morning of July 26, there was no check-in and no line-up at the security counter.

The couple marked the start of their post-wedding trip to Yellowknife by hand cranking the propeller of a 1948 Piper Vagabond two-seated airplane.

And if the trip wasn’t adventure enough, a 10-gallon fuel tank means they have to stop for gas every two hours of flight.

But Melanie is used to her new husband’s aircraft, and has full confidence in his skills.

“Flying in that plane is like putting on another pair of pants for him,” she said before climbing in the cockpit and making adjustments for lift-off.

With Joel in the pilot’s seat and Melanie squeezed beside him with navigation tools, they pulled onto the runway and rose off into the mountains.

The newlyweds had also invited their flying club, the Pacific Pilots Flying Group. So after finishing breakfast at the Airport Coffee Shop, pilots and passengers trickled onto the runway and one-by-one, three light aircraft followed the couple on their flight path north.

Melanie’s grandparents, aunt and uncle came to see their dear ones off that sunny morning, also enjoying a morning meal at the restaurant.

Later outside, they watched their precious cargo disappear on the horizon.

A lofty honeymoon adventure had begun.

 

Flights of fancy

Flying to Yellowknife had been an idea of Joel’s for a couple of years.

“I wondered if there were even enough fuel stops along the way for a small, limited range vintage aircraft to get that far North,” he said.

It turns out there is, so he approached Melanie with the idea. Though her heart was originally set on flying to Disneyland, the couple decided something in Canada would be better for their first long-range attempt.

In planning the gas stops to the north, Joel found that a major challenge for the little Piper’s limited range would be the final leg, which crosses Great Slave Lake.

It’s not just the size of the lake that’s a concern, but the unpredictable weather above it.

Better to stick to the road around it, flying above the cars, and meet a local pilot in Fort Providence with some fuel cans, he said.

And while they planned for many of the possible variables like weather, this year brought an unexpected factor on that last, northern stretch.

“The biggest concern right now is the wildfires, and their impact on the visibility along our route,” said Joel. “We may also run into some airspace closures while they are fighting the fires.”

But the couple was determined to make a trip out of it, regardless of weather and fire conditions. The newlyweds have seen their share of airtime, and are both experienced flyers for being in their late-twenties.

In fact, the two met in air cadets when they were in high school.

Joel started in gliders and took on powered craft a year later. While he’s booking mileage on his honeymoon, the engineering technologist will also be celebrating 10 years of piloting.

“The freedom and the spectacular view make the sky one of my favorite places to be,” he said. “It is constantly challenging, I am always learning, and there is always room for improvement.”

He’s also a flight instructor at King George Aviation. Currently his favourite student is his wife.

A discovery for her love of bagpipes side-tracked Melanie’s flying career in the air cadet days, so now the Quebec-born animal shelter attendant is continuing where she left off.

“With Joel’s help and guidance I am well on my way to getting my ultralight pilots permit and then will be moving on to continue my private pilot license training and certification,” she says.

It will make their long distance trips easier when the duo can swap off on the controls more consistently.

Melanie said she’ll take some flying time on the way to Yellowknife, but for now Joel’s experience will be the honeymooners’ main guide if conditions turn rough.

 

Fire in the Sky

Last week, the little yellow Piper jumped from Chilliwack to a half-dozen communities on its way to Dawson Creek. Turning into Alberta, the pair shed their companions as they went further north.

Near-perfect weather accompanied them until they reached Hay River, N.W.T., where they had to park while forest fires raged.

It was a commercial flight in a DC-3 that eventually took the pair into Yellowknife. And while they fell one stop short of their plan, Joel admitted over his coffee at Chilliwack airport that it might be nice to take a break from sitting in the pilot’s seat once they arrived.

When Joel and Melanie see the northern lights in Yellowknife’s short dark hours, they’ll enjoy them like most honeymoon couples who choose northern Canada—from the ground.

 

- with files from Elke Robinson of Aviation News Journal Magazine

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