Pilot gives city a waggle

Most children phone, Skype, FaceTime or email when they wish to say hi to their parents.

Pre-flight: Capt. Russ Black on a Philippines tarmac during a relief mission.

Pre-flight: Capt. Russ Black on a Philippines tarmac during a relief mission.

Most children phone, Skype, FaceTime or email when they wish to say hi to their parents.

Not Russ Black.

He waggles his wings.

Capt. Russ Black is a C-17 Globemaster Aircraft commander with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 8 Wing Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont.

He was co-piloting the aircraft as it flew low over Salmon Arm about noon last Tuesday, to the consternation of several people who called the airport to see what was going on.

“That was me too,” says Black who was also in the cockpit for a similar flyover several months ago that sparked many calls of concern to Salmon Arm airport manager Keith Watson.

Black’s boss, Lt.-Col. William Church, commanding officer of Canada’s C17 Unit 429 (Transport) Squadron at 8 Wing, says the massive plane is an extremely capable aircraft with what he calls “very long legs” – able to fly long distances.

The C-17 performs a wide range of air transport roles on behalf of Canada – everything from delivering humanitarian aid to disaster zones around the world to ferrying supplies to Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

It was unusual for the C-17 to be operating in the skies above Canada.

“Both pilots are from B.C. and we were in the general region,” says Church. “They’re used to flying outside of Canada more than inside, so it’s nice to have training opportunities within the country.”

The C-17 had headed west, dropping some members of 8 Wing off in Lethbridge for Remembrance Day ceremonies, an annual salute as the city adopted  the squadron in the Second World War when it was a bomber squadron.

Black and pilot Tyler Thorbergson first flew to the latter’s hometown of Dawson Creek in response to a request by the local airport to check out a piece of new equipment, which required a flyover. Because they were “in the neighbourhood,” the plane headed back to Lethbridge via Salmon Arm so Black could dip his wings to “say hello” to his parents, who were watching at the end of the wharf.

Black says he is living his dream of adventure and, like Church, is particularly proud of the Air Force’s ability to provide rapid and efficient response to disasters across the world.

The joy of his adventures is found in the crew members he flies with, the help they take to people in times of need and the places he’s seen.

Black was in Afghanistan for the final pull-out of men, women and materiel when Canada withdrew from the country and has delivered supplies to support troops in Iraq.

He also flew to the Philippines to provide aid following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and to Nepal following the country’s devastating earthquake in April.

“We carry a lot of supplies – food, water, tents, everything for people in need,” he says. “It’s really rewarding to have the (Canadian) flag on your shoulder and help people around the world.”

Black says the plane is like a national treasure whose operation the public doesn’t often see or hear about. It’s an aircraft he’d be happy to fly for a long time to come.

Black graduated from Salmon Arm Secondary in 1999 and headed to the University of the Fraser Valley where he earned his BA in business administration in aviation. He earned his commercial pilot’s licence and multi-engine licence with Coastal Pacific Aviation. He joined the Air Force in 2005 and his first operational tour was in Yellowknife where he flew the Twin Otter C-138.

Black didn’t actively indulge his passion for aviation until after high school, but says, from an early age he enjoyed looking up at planes as they flew over.

“When I was young, we travelled as a family and I always wanted to go into the cockpit to see what was happening,” he adds.

As a student, Black played Reveille and The Last Post on the trumpet at Salmon Arm Remembrance Day ceremonies from about 1996 through 1999.