A retiree living in Mill Bay, John Veale recently posted a 19-minute video on the web of his flight in a small aircraft, one beautiful summer’s day, around the southern tip of Vancouver Island and up and across Cowichan Lake.
What made that trip all the more unique is that Veale was flying in an aircraft he built himself, a Bushby Mustang II.
Although he grew up on the west coast, the former CBC radio announcer never dreamed he would one day be flying around Vancouver Island in an airplane he spent eleven years building.
Veale and his wife Pat spent a number of their working years living in Alberta, the Northwest Territories and finally Saskatchewan before they came back to British Columbia, retiring in Mill Bay in 1995.
But Veale’s history of flying and his fondness for small aircraft dates back to the 60s, when he was still trying to get his pilot’s licence.
“I had taken some of my instruction in Edmonton,” Veale said, “and in those days, it was about $13/hour, and I could hardly afford it. So I only did about three hours, and then we moved to Yellowknife, and I continued my instruction up there.”
Eventually, Veale had the required number of flying hours to obtain his licence, and this is where the story about building his own aircraft really begins.
“After I had my licence, I answered a tiny little print ad in a Popular Mechanics magazine,” Veale explained. “It was only about four lines, and it grabbed my attention. It said — very optimistically, I eventually learned — that it was a 300 mph airplane. So I sent away $3 for some information on the plane.”
But, he adds, they had also included a brochure in with the information for the plane on the Experimental Aircraft Association, an association that has since become an international organization and which every year hosts the world’s largest air show and convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“Originally (the convention) was all aimed at home-built airplanes,” clarified Veale. “It was through joining that organization that I really got interested in building one myself.”
The Bushby Mustang II is a home-built design, modelled after a single-seat aircraft originally built by a Piper engineer, Veale explains. The rights for the airplane he designed were sold to Bob Bushby, who in 1960 came out with a two-seater — the Mustang II — which he got a lot of requests for.
“That’s where I came into the picture,” Veale said, “because when I saw the design I thought that’s exactly what I’m after.”
He recalls going down to Illinois to see the prototype of the aircraft, and then buying the blueprints, numbering 120 pages, and laying the pages out on the bed in the hotel room he and his wife were staying in.
“ I remember thinking I’ve just wasted $125, because it just didn’t make any sense to me,” Veale recalled with a laugh. “It just looked horribly complicated. But the more I studied them, the more it began to make sense, and eventually I thought I can do this, and I started out one piece at a time, and that’s how I did it.”
Eleven years and within 50 hours of 4,000 hours of actual construction time, is how Veale calculates how long it took him to build the aircraft.
“I was learning as I went along, because I had no background in metal work,” he added. “It was a fascinating project.”
The Veales were living in Saskatchewan during the years he built his aircraft, and they had already decided they wanted to retire back on Vancouver Island. So when the time came for the move, Veale — who had done most of his flying in the prairies and was used to open, flat spaces — had one of the most exhilarating flying experiences of his life when he flew out solo from Regina to Duncan.
“I left Regina at about 7:30 a.m., and I reached Duncan within a little over 6 hours of flying.
“I had clear skies almost all the way, and to be flying up at peak height over Roger’s Pass for example, and see the miles of snow fields stretching out, it was pretty amazing.
“And I was flying into retirement, so to speak, so it was pretty exciting,” he added with a chuckle.
Now, Veale is a member of the Nanaimo Flying Club and bases his airplane at Nanaimo Airport. He says he never tires of the beauty of the sights flying around the island and coastline afford him.
The day he filmed his one-hour and forty minute circuit, now nearly two years ago, was a perfect day for flying.
“Coming over Cowichan Lake, it was magnificent,” he recalled. “ It was pretty calm when I flew down the lake at a fairly low altitude. I’ve flown up and down Lake Cowichan many times, but this was one of the prettier. The sun was just right, and the shadows on the lake.
“I think the whole valley is so pretty, but Cowichan Lake makes for a great place to fly. It’s such a different perspective from the air. It looks so different from the ground.”
Veale says he‘d like to do more on the coastline, down the inlet and out over the Broken Group islands, near Barkley Sound.
“I have had such interesting mail from people who expressed how they have enjoyed the memories seeing the clip brought back,” he said modestly, but with satisfaction.
He’s sharing the beauty of some of his flights at https://vimeo.com/user4994439/videos/sort:newest/format:detail