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

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Central zone up to 1,249 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer sits at 257 active COVID-19 cases

Executive Director and Co-Founder of Rock Soup Craig Haavalsen is sleeping in a tent outside Rock Soup’s location until the Go Fund Me for Rock Soup raises $10,000. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Putting normalcy into asking for help: New non-profit sets up in Wetaskiwin

Rock Soup non-profit is a new secular Food Bank putting down roots in Wetaskiwin.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New record: Red Deer at 236 active COVID cases

One more death in central zone reported

file photo
County of Wetaskiwin Land Use Bylaw amendments approved

Ammendments approved by Wetaskiwin County Council at Nov. 24, 2020 Council meeting.

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

A scene from last year’s Light the Night fundraiser at the Stettler Town and Country Museum. This year’s rendition is on a drive-through basis only, but it still promises to be a not-to-be-missed seasonal highlight. (Independent file photo)
Stettler Town and Country Museum hosts ‘Light the Night’

This year’s rendition is drive-through only, but will still prove to be a dazzling display

(Black Press File Photo)
Rimbey woman gathering Christmas gifts for seniors at Valleyview Manor

Margaret Tanasiuk says she doesn’t want anyone to feel forgotten on Christmas morning

Paramedics register patients at a drive through, pop-up COVID-19 test centre outside the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, in Ottawa, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians aren’t currently worried that people in other countries might get a COVID-19 vaccine first. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canadians not worried other countries will get COVID-19 vaccine first: poll

Forty-one per cent of respondents say they want the vaccine to be mandatory for all Canadians

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Lawyer Devon Page, Ecojustice Canada’s executive director, pauses during a news conference in Vancouver on Wed., Sept. 26, 2012. The environmental law group has lost its bid to pause Alberta’s inquiry into where critics of its oil and gas industry get their funding. Ecojustice sought an injunction this summer to suspend the inquiry, headed by forensic accountant Steve Allan, until there is a decision on whether it’s legal. nbsp;THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Judge tosses application to pause Alberta inquiry into funding of oil and gas foes

Ecojustice sought an injunction in the summer to suspend the inquiry

Most Read