Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)

95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

By Perry Wilson

For Ponoka News

After five decades of being out of the cockpit, it took her two seconds to accept the invitation from Jim Gray to go for a ride over the Ponoka area in his recently-purchased Cessna182. Jim uses it for patient transfers to and from his addiction treatment centres at Vernon B.C., plus Tees and Glendon in AB.

His company, iRecover Treatment Centres, is unique in using aircraft to quickly transport executives, staff and participants where needed. But on this beautiful autumn day the purpose was to re-connect Mrs. Carter with her aviation past.

“Remember I’m 95,” said Ilona as she looked at the big step up to the copilot seat.

A portable set of steps and a friendly arm proved to be all she needed, along with her inherent agility.

Jim started the engine, did his pre-flight checks and fire-walled the throttle. As the runway lights whizzed past, Ilona watched the runway fall away below.

“When Hec Labrie and others built the Ponoka Airport over 60 years ago, it was just a grass strip! Now look at it,” she commented.

Despite some vision decline in recent years, Ilona looked down at Ponoka and quickly spotted Rimoka Lodge, where she lives now.

I asked her where she and Mickey had their farm, and with her directions we found it and were soon overhead. This was one of those great harvesting days before October’s snow; perfect for getting crops off and doing fall work. And perfect for our sightseeing flight.

Ilona was delighted to see such progress in the fields we flew over. Next we had a bird’s eye view of the stampede grounds and Ag Events Centre, followed by a cruise over the beautiful Chain Lakes.

Jim has floats for his 182 so he couldn’t help but evaluate their lengths and shorelines for flying off the lakes, in case he removes the plane’s wheels and installs the floats next spring. Aviation enjoyed a surge of interest during the post-war period of the 1950s, and Ilona’s husband Mickey got his pilot’s licence then.

Later on he lost his pilot medical certificate as a result of suffering a serious power-pole electrical accident. His remarkable but incomplete recovery did not, however, allow him to get his pilot’s licence back. As his aircraft sat on the ground month after month, Mickey began to comment to Ilona on each beautiful day, that they should be up in the air.

He was relentless until Ilona replied one day “Mickey, you know you can’t get your licence back.” When he suggested she could get hers, Ilona said “I’ll go to the flying school in Edmonton and if I like it, I’ll go through the whole course. If I don’t like it, I don’t want to hear another word about it!”

She did like it, and completed all the requirements easily. Ilona did the flying and Mickey was her navigator for flights that spanned North America from the Arctic Ocean to southern Mexico and many places between.

Once when Ilona gave a ride to some relatives, including a five-year-old boy who had never been in an airplane, she finished the flight with her normal landing.

“That was a very good landing Auntie.” Thus spoke the instant expert. By 1970, the Carters weren’t using their Piper Commanche as often as previously, yet the costs of ownership kept escalating. So, they agreed to sell it (perhaps with the shedding of a few tears?).

But the memories of the places they had flown, and the people they had met, have lived on. Before our flight, Ilona refreshed those memories by paging through her pilot logbook. I should mention too, that Ilona took the controls when Jim suggested it. She flew smoothly and expertly.

“Some things you never forget,” she proclaimed.

Ponoka

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lieutenant Commander Nicole Robichaud welcomes Members of the Liberian Coast Guard aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) MONCTON for training with Royal Canadian Navy off the coast of Monrovia, Liberia, Africa on NEPTUNE TRIDENT on March 25, 2017. (Contributed photo by Corp. Ryan Moulton).
Red Deer-raised woman finds her sea legs as commander in the Royal Canadian Navy

Cdr. Nicole Robichaud started out as a local sea cadet

Rode
Feddema adds size and grit to RDC basketball Queens

Iris Feddema has known for several years what she wanted her future… Continue reading

A local photographer captured the contrails of two planes that crossed in the sky over north Red Deer on Wednesday. (Photo contributed by Eric Fischer)
Photo: Planes criss-cross over Red Deer

A local photographer captured the contrails of two planes that crossed in… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Evan Siddall is pictured in Ottawa on September 21, 2017. Former head of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. Evan Siddall has been named as the next chief executive for Alberta Investment Management Corp. He will succeed Kevin Uebelein. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AIMCo names former CMHC head Evan Siddall as next chief executive

AIMCo names former CMHC head Evan Siddall as next chief executive

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canadian home sales up 76% year-over-year, set new March record: CREA

Canadian home sales up 76% year-over-year, set new March record: CREA

WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims addresses the airline's annual meeting in Calgary, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
WestJet CEO Ed Sims finds Air Canada aid package ‘bittersweet’ as talks drag on

WestJet CEO Ed Sims finds Air Canada aid package ‘bittersweet’ as talks drag on

The TMX broadcast centre is shown in Toronto on May 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
S&P/TSX composite, Dow Jones and S&P 500 set record highs as mood rises on economy

S&P/TSX composite, Dow Jones and S&P 500 set record highs as mood rises on economy

A man wearing a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 checks his phone as the sun sets in English Bay in Vancouver on April 5, 2021. Canada's existing mobile phone services and consumer groups will get a landmark ruling from the CRTC this afternoon. The regulatory ruling could shift some of the market power held by Rogers, Bell and Telus, which collectively have more than 90 per cent of the country's subscribers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
CRTC to allow smaller wireless players better access to national networks

CRTC to allow smaller wireless players better access to national networks

In this photo taken Sunday, May 17, 2020, U.S. and Canadian flags fly atop the Peace Arch at Peace Arch Historical State Park on the border with Canada in Blaine, Wash. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Elaine Thompson
A electric car is seen getting charged at parking lot in Tsawwassen, near Vancouver B.C., April, 6, 2018. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
‘Wrong signal:’ Federal ministers protest Saskatchewan’s electric vehicle tax

Two federal ministers are protesting Saskatchewan’s plan to bring in a tax… Continue reading

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s charities are looking to next week’s federal budget with hopes the Liberals will extend their sector a helping hand as they face the possibility of a prolonged and protracted road to recovery even after the economy reopens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Charities hope Liberals’ budget lends helping hand as sector eyes long recovery

OTTAWA — Canada’s charities are hoping the Liberals extend them a helping… Continue reading

Most Read