From Air Cadet to Ice Pilot – Staples is world’s youngest C-46 Pilot
BY MARINA SACHT
One of Ladysmith’s own is flying high these days.
Chris Staples who has recently become the world’s youngest C-46 pilot, is flying high over the Arctic working for an airline that is featured in a TV series.
And his mom is besides herself with pride. “Chris always wanted to fly. That’s all he wanted from the time he could walk,” says Mary Jane Davenport.
“The feeling for me is very surreal,” says Staples. “When I passed my flight test on the C-46 I’m sure the feeling I had was compared to what NHL players feel when they win the Stanley Cup.
The C-46 is a 70 year old vintage cargo plane known to be tough enough to handle extreme weather but it comes with an attitude. “Only about 1 in 30 pilots can fly the C-46. It takes everything you got to fly this airplane,” says Staples. Adding to the difficulty is that often they are landing on ice strips in the middle of nowhere in the dark cold arctic winter.
Weather taxes not just the equipment but the crew. This year temperatures dipped to -58 degrees celcius.
“You can’t describe what it feels like. Your skin freezes instantly. The fluid in your eyes starts to freeze. There are no gloves that exist that can protect you from that cold. And any wisp of wind at that temperature takes your breath away.” The pain is excruciating, says Staples.
Then there are the unexpected adventures that occur. Like the time they blew an engine on a landing in Deline, NWT. “It was about -30 C and me and the boys were working on it in the wind and cold for about six hours to get it so we can nurse it home.” When you’re working on engines, you can’t wear gloves.
And there are challenges working for a legendary airline like Buffalo Air.
“Work is seven days a week – 12-16 hours in cold weather. Expectations are high from the boss Buffalo Joe.”
It can be very difficult to keep you composure and keep you head in the game, says Staples who will be one of the pilots featured on the 5th season of Ice Pilots, NWT.
“I don’t know how they will make me look on the show but I hope it’s for the better,” he says. “They always seem to catch you on camera at the worst of times. People don’t want to see me make a perfect landing, they want to see me yelling and screaming and me getting yelled at by my captain for a bad landing. We will see how it turns out.”
Staples grew up in Ladysmith and was involved with the Air Cadets for years in Ladysmith and Nanaimo. He moved to Victoria to pursue his passion for flying when he was 18. He got his Private Pilots licence at 18 and his Commercial Licence by the time he was 21 years old
He is currently living in Yellow Knife with his girlfriend Brianna Molloy and their 3 year old daughter Evelyn.
Despite all the hard work and extreme conditions, Staples loves it all.
“The flying obviously. But also the friends I’ve made up here. The people you work with become part of your family. Especially at Buffalo Air because we’re not a big company. And we go through this together. We work really hard to get where we are. There are a lot of memories that we all have that we will never forget.”
“Chris is proof that you can live your dream,” says Davenport.