Francis Lettsome Primary School students check out a plane that landed here last week as part of the air rally. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)

For the first time since 2016, organised waves of private planes descended onto Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport last week, completing the second leg of this year’s Governor General’s Caribbean Air Rally.

Twenty planes from the US and Canada landed here on Dec. 6 after setting off about two-and-a-half hours earlier from their first stop on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

“The rally aims at familiarising pilots with the procedures while crossing a number of borders during this journey,” states the rally introduction documentation. “Flying from one country to another, there are rules that pilots must familiarise with. Pilots sharpen their flying skills: aircraft performance, dealing with atmospheric conditions, heat, humidity, trade winds, and teamwork and solidarity.”

After two days on Tortola, the flying flotilla spent three days on Bequia in the Grenadines followed by two days each in Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic.

1953 air race

The name for the rally comes from a 1953 air race called the Governor General’s Cup, in which Canadian pilot Dorothy Rungeling won a silver cup presented by then-Governor General of Canada Vincent Massey.

The first winner of the Governor General’s Cup, Dorothy Rungeling is shown holding the trophy after winning an air race around pylons in Toronto, Canada, Sep. 1953. Ms. Rungeling was also awarded a cheque for $500; adjusted for 70 years of inflation, the amount is comparable to an amount of more than $5,500. (Photo: Experimental Aviation Association)

Seventy years after Ms. Rungeling made history, the Governor General’s Cup is now awarded to the “winners” of the modern Caribbean Air Rally.

“Now no longer related to air race, [there is] no competition involving airplanes, but general aviation knowledge, safety procedures, international rules, country-specific rules and cultural and history knowledge evaluation,” explained Catherine Tobenas, director of operations for event organiser International Air Rally.

Freshly polished from its 2021 restoration, the ceremonial cup is physically presented to the best navigators along the route. The awardees do not get to keep the cup in their possession — it belongs to the Canadian government — but they do get their names engraved on a plaque mounted on its base.

Dorothy Rungeling poses with her husband Charlie and son Barry after winning the Governor General’s Cup in 1953 in a Piper Pacer. Dorothy was the first Canadian to earn her Airline Transport License in 1958. (Photo: Brock University)

Ms. Tobenas arrived on Beef Island with flight leader Ricardo “Ricky” Mattoso in his Beechcraft Bonanza.

“I helped plan — I helped discuss how everybody is going to file their flight plans; really, how to flyout here,” Mr. Mattoso told the Beacon. “Communications, logistics. Things like that.”

He started flying when he was 15, starting his career with 22 years in the United States Marine Corps. Now 49, Mr. Mattoso lives in Texas with more than a few hours in a Boeing 737 after six years at Southwest Airlines. The participating planes were divided into three squadrons denoted by maximum cruising speed.

Hot on the Bonanza’s V-tail, the first squadron began landing while Mr. Mattoso and Ms. Tobenas, along with other organisers, met with airport authorities, BVI Tourist Board Marketing Manager Keith Dawson, and Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer.

Before the slowest squadron had fully arrived, Mr. Rymer was offered a ride in Peter Gervais’s Texas-manufactured Mooney M20K, which he promptly took up.

Twenty planes landed at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island last week as part of the Governor General’s Caribbean Air Rally. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
Modern air rally

International Air Rally has been leading annual Caribbean flying tours since 2010. The company, which bills itself as “the world leader in group flying events since 2003,” last visited the Virgin Islands in 2016.

According to this year’s pilot brochure, days three and four of the rally were scheduled for Tortola, “world-renowned for sailing, yachting, diving, dazzling beaches and tropical experiences.”

Upon arrival, pilots and their passengers were excited to partake in the many attractions of the territory.

In a brochure sent to the Beacon, International Air Rally promotes the value of private aircraft tourism around the Caribbean.

“Aviation has played an important, huge role in the development of the Caribbean islands, particularly after the war,” the document states. “Airplanes enabled connections between islands and land, as well as inter-island connections, which made tourism possible and benefited their economic growth.”

The brochure further claims that overall expenditure of tourism in a “niche market, especially private pilots, exceeds that of a traditional or typical stopover tourist in major tourism markets.”

Mr. Dawson said such events are good for the territory’s tourism industry.

“From a tourism standpoint, it encourages travel,” he said, adding, “They’re a group; they’re posting [on social media]. Even though it’s not a large group, we still value that as a group coming to the BVI.”

Kids’ visit

Ten children arrived on Beef Island from the Francis Lettsome Primary School and were taken under the wing of pilot Brian Pound from Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Mr. Pound escorted them and chaperone Shauntell Mactavious around the planes that had already landed.

“The got to see the aircraft upfront and centre,” Mr. Dawson said. “We believe that kind of exposure is important in terms of showing [students] some of the career options in tourism.”

Seeing the children’s interest and their excitement for his hobby, Mr. Pound offered to show them the inside of his Cessna 340A, which was refuelling closer to the terminals.

When it came time for the children to return to school, Mr. Pound bid them farewell and started on his second major trip of the day: customs and immigration.

The children responded with a shout: “Thank you, Brian!”