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Terry Caldwell: Pilot soars to new heights

Terry Caldwell: Pilot soars to new heights

by Kris Svela


When it comes to all things related to flying aircraft, Terry Caldwell is always in his element.

Flying has been a passion  for Caldwell ever since his father, Don, purchased his first plane back in the mid-80s.

In his day job he works as an aircraft maintenance engineer with CanJet at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

There he works on 737-800 aircraft capable of carrying 189 passengers, which are regularly leased out to tour companies like Air Transat.

Caldwell has worked as an engineer for about 15 years and knows the ins and outs of most aircraft engines.

It’s an experience he utilizes when tinkering with his own smaller aircraft, flown from a 2,100-foot airstrip on his property south of Conn.

Inside Caldwell’s hangar are three planes: a refurbished 1946 Cessna 120, a 1970 Piper Cherokee he is slowly rebuilding and his pride and joy, a Lake Buccaneer LA4-200 seaplane.

It’s estimated there are about 400 to 500 Buccaneer planes worldwide. Finding a Buccaneer of his own has been something Caldwell has been exploring for the past several years, regularly checking the Barnstormers website for planes which might catch his interest.

“I’ve been looking for five years and this deal came up. I went to Florida specifically for this one,” he said, pointing to the seaplane he bought in May of last year.

He explains he stayed in touch with the previous owner prior to the purchase, waiting for the price to come down, which it eventually did.

The first task Caldwell  undertook after the eight-hour flight from Florida was to officially import the plane, as required by Transport Canada, and replace its registration number with a Canadian number.

The plane is unique in a way because it can take off and land on water or land. Its retractable wheels tuck up under the wings and pontoons on the wings give it stability when landing on water. Its boat-like underbody allows for a water landing.

A stickler for detail, Caldwell spent three weeks sanding the aluminum to remove the U.S. registration and paint on the new number on his 1978 Buccaneer.

“Once you land you can’t do anything until it’s imported and the registration is re-done,” he said. “The government wants to know everything.”

He also rebuilt the engine, which meant replacing cylinders; repainted the plane a bright white; and upgraded its instrumentation on the dash to include automatic pilot, two radios and a GPS to monitor weather conditions and flight directions.

The purchase also meant some additional training on the plane’s functions for him to get an “endorsement” (upgrade) to his regular pilot’s licence.

“I spent a winter on this, but I knew what to do,” he said of the work done on the 200-horsepower, fuel-injected, four-seater aircraft.

“The whole plane was gutted. It’s rebuilt to new specifications.”

The work he did on the Buccaneer garnered the pilot a Silver Lindy Award  at this summer’s EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) annual convention and fly-in in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

It is the largest gathering of aviation enthusiasts in the world, attracting some 10,000 airplanes and pilots annually and an estimated 500,000 spectators worldwide.

Caldwell has attended the convention for the past several years, but it was the first time he brought his Buccaneer.

He was surprised to receive the award.

“There are about 100 judges and they look at all the airplanes before they decide which is the nicest,” Caldwell added.

Judges look at work done overall to the planes before deciding which pilots will receive an award.

“They look at the paint, condition and the instruments,” he said. “The main thing is condition.”

The Lindy award is named for famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

The award is the highest honour available for those who build and restore aircraft, and is bestowed at the EAA’s annual convention, said spokesman Dick Knapinski.

There are 11 separate categories of aircraft eligible for Lindy awards, from home builds to vintage aircraft (Caldwell’s category), war birds, seaplanes, ultralights and rotorcraft.

Gold Lindys are awarded to grand champions and Silver Lindys to reserve grand champions.

It is the world’s largest fly-in gathering and one of the largest conventions in the world with more than 10,000 aircraft arriving in the region and with about 500,000 people attending from countries worldwide, Knapinski added.

The event has seen all types of aircraft from the smallest ultralight to planes such as the Airbus A380, Boeing 747 and the Concorde.

This year marked the 61st anniversary of the convention.

“Terry can be very proud of earning the Lindy award,” Knapinski said.

“The Lindy is the highest achievement for those who build, restore and maintain recreational aircraft. It takes a dedicated owner and special aircraft to meet the high standards for earning a Lindy at Oshkosh.”

Caldwell doesn’t talk about how much he has spent on the plane or the others in his fleet, but said a propeller can cost up to $18,000 to replace. He does a lot of the work himself to save money.

“There’s no money to be made, it’s only fun,” Caldwell said.

He noted the re-sale economy for small aircraft is currently in a slump, but added when the economy sees an upturn, planes can regain their value and sell for more. It’s something he has to take into consideration, although he isn’t personally in the re-sale business.

When it comes to condition, the work he has done on his bright red Cessna has turned it into a beautiful piece of aviation machinery.

“It’s like new,” he said of the aircraft that still has its basic and simple instrument panel, common to the planes from that era before newer technology was prevalent.

He favours the Cessna because its 80-horsepower engine consumes considerably less of the 100 low lead gas than the Buccaneer, which can cost about $120 an hour in fuel.

“I bought that one (the Cessna) in a box and my dad and I spent about five years refurbishing it.”

Regulations require small aircraft be safetied after 100 hours of air time. It’s a job Caldwell does on his own planes and on aircraft owned by pilots in tight-knit aviation circles.

Caldwell took his apprenticeship to earn his engineering licence in the mid ‘90s, spending part of the time apprenticing with Elton Townsend of Lake Central Air Services in Muskoka.

Townsend was doing work on the plane of Caldwell’s father at the time.

“Caldwell was an apprentice mechanic for us for a short term,” said Townsend, a well-known aviator.

“At that time his father was a customer who owned the same kind of aircraft Terry received the award for.”

Townsend added, “Terry is extremely ambitious and will do anything to fly and is very capable of maintaining his aircraft, as the award attests to.”

Caldwell found there was “no money” to make in working on small planes, so he opted to work at airline companies in the city.

When he’s not tinkering in the hangar, Caldwell also uses his plane for one of his other passions: fishing.

He recently returned from a fishing fly-in on lakes in northern Ontario.

Today he inspects and safeties planes for pilots in the area.

“I take care of six or seven planes (and) I’ll do annual inspections and fix what’s broken,” he notes.

It’s something he would like to eventually build on.

For now he’s happy to work on the planes he has and, of course, to fly them.



Vol 46 Issue 41

October 11, 2013



Community Guide Spring 2018

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