Christopher Brown learned how to fly during his senior year at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania when he agreed to take flying lessons in Bridgeport New Jersey with one of his roommates. But that’s not where the story starts. His curiosity was fed – for flight as for all things – through books, notably the children’s book Pilot Small. Things amassed by his father provided fertile ground for exploration. Here, Wolfgang Langewiesche’s Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying. There, a link trainer, a flight stimulator created by Link Aviation Devices, produced between the early 30s to the late 50’s, designed to teach new pilots how to fly by instruments. The curious child grew into an inquiring young man. He majored in music and found in its theory concepts of mathematics and physics. Rather than just pumping gas at the local gas station, he took advantage of that part time job to learn as much as he could about mechanics. He did well in school but also developed into an independent thinker, an autodidact who sought out complementary knowledge, tried his hand at many things and thrived. He became, as Linda – his wife of 46 years, who first met him at Swarthmore College – puts it, a Renaissance man.
His first flight-related job was with Laurentide, a fixed-base operator/flight scho ol which had a shop at Cartierville Airport fueling planes and washing airplanes. He joined Air Canada in 1973, worked as First Officer for 14 years and as Captain for an additional 17. He retired at 60, in 2004.
Christopher has hardly remained idle in the 10 years since he’s retired. He’s penned a novel, The Decline and Fall of Air Arcadia, which he hopes will resonate with readers. Not an autobiography, the book chronicles an era in Canadian air travel, a snapshot of a specific time and place. The book focuses on the work. He has also devoted a great amount of time to restoring and maintaining Arcadia, the fully restored plane with which he will be completing his Arcadia Mission 2014.
Christopher is currently training to re-qualify as flight instructor. He is dedicated to passing on to today’s youth the excitement of flight, along with its history so they can fully appreciate the great strides made in air travel over the years, and perhaps be inspired enough to want to be among those that will write the next chapter.
The Beechcraft Bonanza is as old as Chris. The design dates from the end of WW2. The aerodynamic and structural design of the Bonanza has more in common with the fighters of that war than with the wood and fabric light aircraft of the pre-war era. With its V-Tail, all-metal construction, streamlined shape, and retractable landing gear, even the first production model (1947) could cruise at 175 mph on 165 horsepower. The Bonanza has become a classic, often mentioned in the same breath as the iconic DC-3.
The V-Tail model was in production for 35 years. Arcadia is an N-35 model from 1961, about mid-way in the 10,000-odd Bonanza’s built. She has a fuel-injected 260 horsepower engine and can cruise at 185 mph.
That speed does not come without a price. The Bonanza rapidly became known as “the fork-tailed doctor killer” because of the high incidence of in-flight structural failures. All airplanes have a flight envelope, speeds and other limitations that must be known and respected. In almost all of the accidents those limitations were exceeded. She is a thoroughbred, lively and fast, but you must treat her right.
Since she was built in 1961, the technology of navigation has changed dramatically. Today Arcadia has the old and the new side by side in her panel, complementary in their strengths.
The “piano key” switches and the flight and engine controls are exactly as they were in 1961. Many of the instruments are original as well, but they are re-arranged into the modern “basic T” for instrument flying and work alongside their modern electronic counterparts. Along with an iPad running the ForeFlight app and a satellite weather feed, this makes for a robust suite that can fly through many emergencies, such as total electrical failure.