“Pap and the Sidemen”

COPA Flight Seaplane News


by Jorma Kivilahti

Jorma Kivilahti is a commercial pilot, writer, and a realtor

with the largest recreation property site in Canada and can be reached at: RecreationProperty.com

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."-D. Hamel "In one’s lifetime you cross paths with some “unsung” people who deserve acknowledgment for their contributions to aviation. This story is written to honour such a man. But the truth is that Dave Hamel has honoured all of us, all pilots, his friends, his relatives, his fellow employees, and indeed every Canadian interested in aviation, by his loyalty, his courage, his humility, and by his dedication to his craft. As Dave Hamel himself described flying floatplanes, “The best flying a person could ever do.” Those of us who fly seaplanes agree whole-heartedly. Today, I would like to tell you about Dave “Pappy” Hamel, the consummate seaplane pilot’s pilot. “Pap and the Sidemen” is a renowned Country and Western Swing Band. “Pappy” Hamel’s music, which started out as a hobby, has made Dave Hamel and his band, renowned in Western North America. “Pap and the Sidemen” have been inducted into four Country Music Halls of Fame; Seattle Pioneers of Western Swing Hall of Fame, The B.C. Country Music Hall of Fame, Sacramento Western Swing Hall of Fame, and the International Country Music Hall of Fame in Beaumont, Texas. His contribution to country music has made him a stand out amongst his musical peers. But Pappy’s greatest accomplishment is not his music, although many that enjoy his live performances and recordings would argue that point, but his contribution to aviation. Hats off to Dave Hamel, musician extraordinaire! Dave began his aviation career as an engineer with TCA and CPA wrenching the DC series, 3’s, 4’s,and 6’s. Next, Const. Hamel served in the R.C.M.P. as co-pilot/engineer on the Norseman and DHC-2. I think “Pappy” aged a lot there, for in 36 months, he had 22 transfers and temporary duty assignments across the NW Territories. That’s far too many moves for most of us mere mortals, so in 1964, Dave made one more move to Fort Langley, and began to teach both floats and soaring. Here begins the tale that is probably unmatched in Canadian Aviation History today. In 1964 I sauntered into the Fort Langley float plane base of Skyway Air Services about the time that one Dave Hamel began work there.. On the line, for floatplane training, were some memorable aircraft. There were two T-Craft (C-FGIC & C-FHUO), a J-3 (C-FRQV), Super Cub (C-FUVG), as well as a PA-11 (C-FMHX) that was just about the sweetest flying bird that you could ever wish for. The instructors were persons that you may come across in other parts of Canadian Aviation History, names like Don Lumsden, Walt Weslowsky, Syl Dzus, Al Palmer, Ted Reagh, Harry Warman, Rod McInnes, and of course, Dave Hamel. The float plane base sits on the bank of the Fraser River, just outside of Fort Langley, the first Capital City of B.C. Back then, I was a young pup with a private pilots license in my mitt and just raring to go. Many years later, not having flown floats for some time, I decided to venture back for a check out. On Oct. 6, 1990, I climbed into the cockpit of C-180 (CF-RLI) together with none other than Dave Hamel. The last time I had flown with Dave had been 26 years earlier. I was rusty but Dave was confident and sharp as a tack and reminded me of the basic things that I had forgotten. Over the years, Dave Hamel had become the authority on seaplanes becuz’ he’s been there and done that. “Pappy” has been a pappy to a lot of students. Dave is the most prolific floatplane instructor in British Columbia and probably in all of North America. From the banks of the Fraser River, he has taken countless numbers of us from being mere aviators to those select people who truly love the freedom and wonder of flying an aircraft off of the water and splashing it down again. Although Dave has not kept track, he estimates that he has endorsed between 800 and 1,000 or more students in the past 36 years. That’s about 30 endorsements a year more or less… a pretty challenging feat. His fledglings have included a movie actress, KLM, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, and Canadian airline captains, his wife, and a host of other aviators, both young and old, anxious to spread their wings. Imagine, giving a thousand float endorsements? Wow, there have to be a lot of stories in there… good, funny, and even hair raising ones. These 1,000 float endorsements represent a great contribution to aviation. Today, there are a thousand people on this earth who owe their ability to aviate on water to Dave Hamel. I would presume that a lot of these pilots themselves have given float endorsements over the years to others. From this 1,000 pilots has sprung a profusion of another 1,000 or more and from those perhaps another 1,000 or more, who too have passed on these learned skills to yet others. The skills embedded into us by Dave continue to pass onto other generations, year after year after year. Dave Hamel has gained a world of information and knowledge and is the walking Encyclopedia Britannica of float flying. I would venture to guess that Dave has forgotten more about flying seaplanes than Zsa Zsa Gabor can remember about marriage vows. This information he has been cramming into the crusty cavernous craniums of countless contestants of the arts of avigation, aeronautics, and aerostatics. Dave Hamel has implanted into us his accrued wisdom, just like the elder tribesmen used to do with their young warriors hundreds of years ago, so that we may be more skilled, safer, saner, and surer in our use of Edo’s, Wiplines, and Caps. Thank you Dave Hamel! No story would be complete without having “Pappy” Hamel, sitting across the table from you, holding a cup of weak, luke warm, instant Coffee Mate and telling you one of his war stories, like about the time when… Peer deep into his eyes and you can visualize the time some years ago, when he and a student were in C-FMHX shooting circuits on Chilliwack Lake. Going down wind, Dave spots a small boat about 800 feet from the shoreline with a lady and child on board. He also spots a large brown dog swimming towards the stern of the boat. Wait just a minute, dogs come in small, medium, and large, and this one was an XXL. This extra extra large bow-wow turns out to be not Rover but an aquatic Yogi Bear. Partly submerged and in stealth mode, Yogi was pressing towards his picnic lunch and totally unnoticed by the woman in the boat. Dave grabbed the controls and started doing 180’s just above Papa Bear, much to the consternation and irritation of the boater. Then she spots Yogi doing the Australian Crawl at 5 knots per. That boat didn’t know which way to go at first but then blasted off with JATO assist. Moments later, C-FMHX finally did the touch- and-go and passed just over the head of this brown bear that had finally made it to shore. Startled by the red bird, Yogi fell back into the water. Then thrashing wildly, this brown drenched 2,000 lb. bag of fur, like a Tasmanian Devil in a blender, scrambled up the hillside, passing two cars and a jackrabbit on its way. Dave, coffee cup in hand, beams at you with a sparkle in his eye and thinks, “Top that one if you can.” You probably can’t but he is ready with more tales if you can drink more hot Coffee Mate. Yes, Dave Hamel is one man to be admired, one to be respected, and one to who so many of us owe our beginnings in aviation. If you have or want a seaplane endorsement, just remember what Dave always says, “You are not a confirmed floatplane pilot until you have fallen into the water at least twice.” Oh, and be sure to pick up one of his tapes or CD’s."

Dave 'Pappy' Hamel (Pap and the Sidemen)

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Artwork by Thomas Leary. The Mule Dog and Mule Dog are registered trademarks ® of Mule Dog Records, all rights reserved. The TL logo, text, all music, photographs and art Copyright ©1995-2002 by Mule Dog Records all rights reserved, unauthorized duplication violates applicable laws. Photo and article by and courtesy of Jorma Kivilahti. Mule Dog Magazine is a part of Mule Dog Records.