For as long as he can remember, Case Grypma has been obsessed with flying.
“It’s absolute freedom. It’s kind of hard to put into words. You’re getting away from everything. It’s really an escape. You’re up in the sky, you don’t have to worry about ditches or oncoming traffic. There’s time for intense concentration—take offs and landings—but you really get a sense of wonder. You go back to your childhood where everything is new and perfect.”
Grypma has been flying planes for the last 40 years. Licensed as a commercial pilot as a teenager, he ultimately went on to work as a bush pilot in the north and to fly commercial airliners, mostly in and out of the Kootenays. But his favourite aviation experience isn’t even his own.
“The most intense and exciting experience was standing on the ground watching my 16-year-old son fly solo for the first time. Being there, watching that, and that sense of ‘wow, he’s doing something that’s so amazing, that very few people will ever experience’,” he said. “It’s hard to describe.”
Grympa now wants to replicate that experience for the Nelson community. As chairman of the upcoming aviation showcase on Saturday, August 2, he wants to install a passion for aviation in the future generations that will be lined up on the tarmac.
“It’s a really fun, family grassroots aviation event. It’s not like a huge international show like Abbotsford. People come right out on the tarmac. They talk to the pilots, sit in the airplane. They’re literally meters from an old World War II training airplane,” he said.
The show will feature aerial performances by eight pilots, including Bill Carter, John Mrazek and Peter Herzig. The aircrafts will begin arriving on Friday evening on August 1, and the event begins at 8 a.m. Saturday with a pancake breakfast.
“The setting here is spectacular,” said Grypma. “Centre stage is right over the lake front, from Lakeside Park to the mall to the airport there’s no bad seat. You could be on your verandah on Mill street and have this beautiful aerial performance right in front of you, with the mountain right behind.”
Grypma said aviation is an integral part of the Nelson community.
“Nelson has always been a very air-minded community. As a matter of fact, the very first air show occurred in 1912 at the site of the aquatic centre parking lot. It was an American pilot by the name of Walter Edwards. He came in from Portland, Oregon and did a fantastic show here.”
Ever since then, aviation has been closely linked with development in the area.
“The airport was originally constructed by volunteers and the city of Nelson in 1946 and it’s been operating consistently since then. It’s become a gateway to Nelson” he said.
“Airplanes have been coming in and out for all kinds of reasons. Government surveys, mining surveys, all sorts of logging, forest fire, recreation. All the aspects of aviation have been embedded in the psyche of Nelson.”
Grypma said most of the performers took a significant pay cut to attend the air show.
“We couldn’t have afforded them otherwise. It’s a chance for them to showcase their talents and every pilot has a huge ego, they want to be the best,” he said.
He’s particularly thrilled that they’ve lined up a female performer.
“One of the biggest coups we got is we managed to get a lady pilot, Anna Serbinenko. She’s one of the few female airshow performers. Her act is called Sky Dancer. For me, I think it’s an awesome role model for young girls. Aviation is a male-dominated thing, but it’s slowly transitioning and we need to encourage that. We’re so happy she’s coming.”
Organizers are hoping the air show will help raise the profile of the airport, which Grypma considers to be a significant community asset.
“A lot of people don’t even know where it is. We want to get people down here. The airport is a community asset and we want to share that. We want to share our passion. These small grassroots airports like Nelson and Kaslo and Nakusp, they’re the gateway for young people to get a feel for aviation. You need small airports to get people started. You don’t just jump in a jumbo jet.”
Grypma said aviation is nowhere near as inaccessible as some people imagine. Though it can be costly, he believes anyone with a passion can pursue their pilot’s license.
“Anybody can do this, literally anybody. It’s really that simple. Everyone’s got a passion in life and if you have the passion and the gumption, you can do anything. I’m living proof of that, and so are all these airport bums,” he said.
After taking the Star on a 30-minute ride over Nelson, Grypma said the entire trip cost him about twenty dollars in gas.
“This airplane here is cheaper than a used car. A few dollars an hour for fuel and you’re all set,” he said.
“It’s all about how you view your place in the world. I love to go flying. It’s a hobby. It’s probably more expensive than sewing a quilt, but it’s worth it.”
Grypma said he’s particularly excited to see the youthful expressions of wonder on the faces of those coming to the air show.
“Little kids, they come and they love it. They’re so in awe, like ‘holy-moly’. Kids have a natural affinity for flying. Their eyes pop,” he said.
On the day of the event, they will take a number of the children in attendance for plane rides.
“We have the opportunity to give them that first experience. There’s nothing better.”
For more information visit nelsonpilots.ca.
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