When Henry Ilg was a young child, he didn’t know any pilots.
Nor did he have access to an airplane, or any other means to get up, up and away into the blue skies overhead.
But he became a pilot regardless, flying commercially for Air Canada. Now retired, Ilg spends at least some of his time in the air volunteering his piloting skills for a program called COPA for Kids. He wants to make sure young people have a chance to catch that “aviation bug.”
He was one of four pilots on hand at the Hope Flight Fest on Saturday, taking children ages eight to 17 out in his 1968 Cessna 177 Cardinal.
“When you’ve been flying for a long time, it can get hum drum,” he said. “But to see the smiles on the kids’ faces makes it exciting again.”
COPA for Kids is a Canada-wide program, made possible by a network of pilots like Ilg.
On Saturday, children and teenagers anxiously awaited their turn to fly the skies above Hope and the Fraser Canyon. They took a flight path south through the valley and then veered over Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs.
Sometimes, Ilg said, it takes more than one flight to really get hooked on being airborne. Other times, the love develops instantly.
He took a relative’s son out in his plane when the boy was 14, and it was one of those times.
Now, that kid is grown and flies for West Jet, he added.
But the free flights were just a small part of the Flight Fest held throughout the morning at the Hope Airpark. Helicopter rides were also being offered, at a small cost. Dozens of visitors had the chance to experience riding in a ‘whirlybird’ for the first time, including Mayor Susan Johnston.
It’s strange she’s never been in one, she noted during the day’s ceremonies; her father, Fred Hornibrook, was a stunt pilot.
“We spent almost every weekend at some fly-in or another,” she said, growing up in New Brunswick.
Her father also inspired and taught two pilots who ended up becoming Snowbirds.
But, their travels never included a helicopter ride and Johnston said she was thrilled to finally have the chance.
For many, the highlight of the day was cheering on Laurie Martin as she was awarded for her long service and dedication to the Hope Airpark. Milly Marshall, manager of the Fraser Valley Regional District recreation, culture and airpark services, handed Martin a large bouquet of flowers and offered a warm hug. A plaque was also given to her, along with one to be placed in her name.
Martin has recently finished her work as supervisor of the airpark. The facility is operated by the Fraser Valley Regional District. She also co-founded the Hope Flight Fest back in 2000, along with Rob Hislop, Hank Demuelder and Reg Hunchuk.
Also attending the ceremony was MP Mark Strahl, who noted the work that’s been done at the air park since the FVRD received a $99,000 grant from the federal Western Diversification Fund. While half of the money is dedicated to regional parks, the other half is being used to upgrade the facility, which provides recreational flyers with an affordable, grassy airstrip and also is an important air field for emergency uses such as the Medivac and fire fighting services.
Upgrades done so far include new siding and a new roof. Still to come are office area and washroom upgrades, including a shower, and a ramp to be installed at the back of the building.
Marshall said the building had a lot of rot, and badly needed repair.
But something that’s not in the books for the Hope Airpark is a paved runway. There’s not really a need for one, Marshall said.
“There are not many (grassy airstrips) left in Canada,” she said, and a conscious decision has been made to keep it natural. The groups who use the airstrip don’t require pavement, and grass is sufficient even in an emergency.
“A 747 did land here once, long ago,” Marshall added.
For a list of upcoming COPA for Kids dates, visit www.copaforkids.org.
For information on services available at the Hope Airpark, phone 604-869-2304.