A unique gathering descended from the skies over Cranbrook this week, to take part in an annual convention and celebration of all things Cessna.
Owners of Cessna 180s and 185s, belonging to the International Cessna 180-185 Club, chose Cranbrook for their annual convention this year.
James Kitch of Calgary, one of this year's organizers, said that the group was founded in the 1970s, "for no other reason than we've got great airplanes. The planes we fly are very high-powered. They're great hauling airplanes - the backbone of the bush plane industry."
The Cessna 180 and 185 are fixed conventional gear general aviation airplane which were produced between 1953 and 1981 (the 180) and 1961 and 1985 (the 185, also known as the Skywagon). Though the designs are no longer in production, many of these aircraft are still in use as personal aircraft and in utility roles such as bush flying.
The club is comprised of about 1,600 members worldwide, mostly in Canada and the U.S., but with strong contingents in Australia and New Zealand, and members in Mexico and South America.
It was estimated that 40 or so members were flying in to the Cranbrook convention. Kitch explained that rising costs of fuel and recent changes to crossing the U.S./Canada border precluded a lot of people from attending.
However, that didn't stop pilots flying in from Western Canada, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Connecticut, California and Eastern Canada. Some arrived on commercial flights - as Kitch explained, it was as much about the friendships formed over the years as the planes themselves.
"We like the planes, we like the performance, but most of all we like the camaraderie," Kitch said. "We've watched each others families grow up."
By Tuesday noon, the Cessnas had begun landing en masse at the Canadian Rockies International Airport, with everyone greeting each other like the old friends they were. Arrivals included Club President Bob Warner, who flew his 1962 Cessna up from Texas; Nick Mardis of Wichita, Kansas, who owns the fastest Cessna 180 in the world - capable of 200 miles per hour (built in the 1950s, it has seen significant modifications, Mardis said); and Dave Hayden, also from Kansas, who owns an avionics shop and has thus renovated his instrument panel with the latest technology.
Kitch himself drove from Calgary with his wife Liz, to help with the convention organization, along with Rod Powell, from Sechelt, B.C., who has been working on the event for a year.
The aviators kicked off their event with a barbecue Tuesday afternoon at the airport, with the rest of the convention - running until Sunday, July 15 - taking place at St. Eugene Mission Resort. A number of events showcasing local attractions are planned.