The Contrarian: Colourful Characters – Joe Amodeo

My classmate Bob Curtis and I came to work in Dryden after we graduated as engineers in 1961. He and his cousin George Lever decided they would take flying lessons, and I was persuaded to go along too.

We attended Drydenaire, where Joe Amodeo along with Trevor Northcott led us through the less fun part of flying, the classroom stuff, at his base on Wabigoon Lake. We did all our flight training on Wabigoon Lake, ski’s that winter, and floats the next summer; I have never flown an aircraft on wheels.

Navigating might have been the less successful part of Joe’s classroom training. Before you get a licence, you do a solo cross-country flight to prove your navigating skills.

The circuit was DrydenFort Frances-Kenora and home; we were advised to just go down the Manitou lakes, from the south end you will see the smoke of the Fort Frances mill; travel north-west from Fort Frances, staying east of Lake of the Woods till you see the smoke of the Kenora mill, and follow the railway tracks west from Kenora till you see the Dryden mill smoke.

At least one student pilot got onto the wrong railway tracks and ended up in Sioux Lookout!

Flash back; you are a kid, riding in the car, with your arm out the window like a wing. Hold your hand flat, then rotate it and it will be pushed up (or down) by the air, and you are surprised how forcefully even in a slow-moving car. This is called Lift. Keep rotating, and your hand is pushed up even more forcefully until you reach a point where it is not lifted at all, just pushed back by the wind, with a bit of buffeting.

If your hand was a wing, that point where Lift disappears and is replaced by buffeting is called the ‘stall’ point. Joe would take us up early in our training, to familiarize us with the controls and the feel – many of us had never been up in a light plane. A key part of successful flying is recognizing when the aircraft is about to ‘stall’, and Joe would demonstrate by putting the aircraft into an ‘incipient spin’.

If you stall and lose all lift, the aircraft will fall out of the sky, usually going into a spin which is just what it sounds like, and you need to know when that is about to happen and what to do or you will add to the list of casualties.

Joe’s ‘incipient spin’ involved drastically dropping one wing, the aircraft falls away, your body rises up against your seatbelt, and if you upchuck you might not be pilot material. Sort of a test, to weed out those who might not be serious or shouldn’t be there. I didn’t get high marks on that test, but persevered and we all passed and got our private pilot’s licence, which allowed us to fly, but not for pay.

Bob and George moved out west in the next few years, and both made flying a part of their lives, but beyond some sightseeing flights I did not. Drydenaire staff at that time included George Amodeo, Joe’s brother, as general factotum, and Trevor Northcott, an excellent pilot and instructor.

Trevor went on to commercial aviation and ended up an international airline pilot; in later life, George became a musician of some note.

More to come.

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