North

How a WW II biplane flew 4,500 km from Sault Ste. Marie to Whitehorse

Pilot Kelly Collins made 30 stops on his cross-country trip from Sault Ste Marie, Ont., to Whitehorse. He arrived in the Yukon capital this week.

Pilot Kelly Collins made 30 stops on his cross-country trip

Kelly Collins flew a 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane from Ontario to Yukon after Great River Air purchased the Second World War-era aircraft. (Submitted by Rich Hulina )

Kelly Collins looks like he's travelled through time.

Flying a 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane, Collins wears a sheepskin-lined leather jacket and a leather helmet.

In reality, he's travelled more than 4,500 kilometres from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. to Whitehorse.

It's taken over three weeks and 30 flying legs, but Collins finally arrived in Whitehorse this week.

But he's still had his fun, pretending he flew out of the past.

I treat it like I treat every airplane — like it's trying to kill me. - Kelly Collins

"At one point I taxied up to fuel and the fuel guy came over and I had the leather jacket and the helmet and the whole thing," he said.

"I looked like I was right out [of] a time warp and I leaned out and said, 'Excuse me, is this 1942? I'm looking for 1942.'"

Collins is a pilot for Great River Air. When the airline's owner announced it bought the Second World War trainer aircraft, Collins said he jumped at the chance to ferry it back to Yukon.

"Crossing half the continent like it would be in the barnstormer days in this airplane at low level," he said.

It took Collins over three weeks and 30 flying legs to arrive in Whitehorse. (Jane Sponagle/CBC )

He said although the plane can climb to almost 2,600 metres, he flew lower to the ground because it was warmer.

"Seeing all the little prairie towns and farmland up close. Getting into the mountains up close and personal without a window between you and the action. That was the high point — just being able to do it," he said.

Before this trip, Collins had little experience flying biplanes. But he's no stranger to flying in Yukon. In 2013, he was inducted into the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame's Order of Polaris.

Collins said he looks at the Stearman just like any other plane.

"I've got 54 different types of aircraft in my log book and this is just another one. There's got to be some commonality," he said.

"I treat it like I treat every airplane — like it's trying to kill me."

Not an easy ride

Collins's trip took longer than originally thought because the Stearman can only fly for about an hour and a half at a time. After that, the plane needs to refuel, and Collins said it's not very comfortable.

"It's windy, it's loud, and the wind buffets like crazy," he said.

Plus he would not fly when it was raining. Collins, who sits in the back seat of the two-seater plane, said the front windshield deflects most of the rain.

"The rest is coming through the prop at about 200 miles per hour and it will take the skin off your face if you lean out to the side."

The 76-year-old aircraft isn't easy, or very comfortable, to fly. (Jane Sponagle/CBC )

The 76-year-old aircraft is not an easy ride and it's not easy to fly.

"The response is not very good. In turbulence, it's a workout. You can't ignore it for a second," said Collins.

"You're always doing something to keep it straight and level. If I look down onto my map, I'm 30 degrees off heading just like that."

Although the United States Air Force trainer aircraft was manufactured in 1942, it was updated and modified about 30 years ago. The engine was replaced and now has 450 horsepower — more than twice as powerful as the original.

The biplane will now spend a few weeks in the shop in Whitehorse to get ready for its final destination of Dawson City.

Great River Air plans to paint the biplane in the Klondike Airways colours of orange and white. It also hopes to offer aerial tours of the gold fields.

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