Carman man marks sixty years of flight

Emily Distefano

John Carley poses with his Maule at the Carman Airport. It’s one of the few planes you can still buy with a tail wheel, which makes it a little more challenging to fly, but it’s the kind of plane Carley trained on in 1958. (EMILY DISTEFANO)

John Carley poses with his Maule at the Carman Airport. It’s one of the few planes you can still buy with a tail wheel, which makes it a little more challenging to fly, but it’s the kind of plane Carley trained on in 1958. (EMILY DISTEFANO)

Earlier this month, local pilot John Carley celebrated an aviation highlight.

Sixty years ago, on the fifth of May in 1958, Carley received his pilot’s license.

Now with 1400 hours logged in the sky, Carley took some time to look back on his years of flight.

Carley says his passion for aviation started when he was young, and has only grown since.

“As a little kid, somebody gave me some little toy airplanes and I got fascinated them,” he said. “I began to build model airplanes, never expecting that someday I’d be able to fly one. It just stuck with me. I liked flying and I wanted to do it.”

He was so sure about his passion for flying that he didn’t even need a test flight to see what it was really like up in the air before signing up for lessons.

“My first ride in an airplane was my first hour of lessons,” he said. “I was so sure I wanted to fly that I didn’t need a ride ahead of time.”

At that time, there were no electronics, no radio and no starter involved in the process of flying hundreds of feet above ground. Pilots had to rely on their wits, their training and their preparation.

“I remember doing my cross-country - where we had to fly 100 miles cross-country - and the compass was broken and there were no other instruments and no electronics in those days,” remembered Carley. “You just knew you better be over this lake, that lake and the next lake, and if you got lost go toward the sun until you find a road and then follow it and look for a grain elevator to see what its name was.”

“If the thing quit up there, part of our training was to go up, shut the engine off, stop the propeller and dive the airplane to get the thing going again,” he added. “And if it didn’t start, which it sometimes didn’t, you better be close enough the airport that you dead-sticked onto the airport.”

It may seem like a daredevil type of hobby, but Carley said that planning is the key to success.

“I think piloting is for those who will take the time to be a little more careful,” he said. “Thinking ahead is the main thing…the big thing is don’t let the airplane get ahead of you.”

Asked about any close-calls in the air, Carley can’t remember any over the past six decades.

“I’ve maybe had one semi-engine failure once, but it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “We soon fixed it, and away we went.”

Through the years, Carley taught school and farmed for a career, but flying was always around. He formed an aviation club for students, used his own plane to get a bird’s-eye view of his crops and flew for pleasure when he could.

He has flown to Vancouver, Toronto, Texas and many more locations.

The biggest change in aviation over this time, Carley says, has definitely been the advance in technology.

“Now, I can dial in four letters in my GPS and take off here, and hit my autopilot and it will take me to Calagary or to Lethbridge or anywhere,” he said. “I make use of electronics, but I still have a map beside me all the time.”

Carley is heavily involved with the Carman Dufferin Airport Commission, and he works with the Canadian Armed Forces Search and Rescue as needed. He started out as a navigator around 15 years ago, and has been piloting for the organization around a decade.

“I think that you should put back into your sport or hobby what you’ve taken out of it,” he said. “I began to see search and rescue as a way I could use my navigation skills to help other people and put back into aviation what I had taken out.”

Just between June and December of 2017, he flew on four search and rescue missions.

“I’ve left here at midnight on searches, flown through the night,” he said.

And he doesn’t just help out with human search and rescue.

“People have gotten me to come find their cows,” he said. “You’d be surprised at how big a bull looks when it’s lying down on someone’s crops.”

His most difficult bovine search involved a herd of eight or nine cows from the RM of Dufferin area. Carley followed the animals’ tracks all the way to Rosenort, where they suddenly disappeared.

“Here’s the tracks, and now they’re gone. Where are they? Here we are flying along, being so careful,” he said. “We found out later that a farmer had found them, and to be nice he put them in his barn…no wonder they disappeared.”

Through his work with the Carman Dufferin Airport Commission , he also helps to maintain the Carman (South) Airport. He is currently planning the annual Airport Day, which is set for June 10. Every year, Carley hopes to see more and more faces from the community. He enjoys sharing his love of aviation with anyone who wants to know more about the hobby.

He especially enjoys giving plane rides to people who may not have ever flown in small aircraft before.

“That’s a big thrill,” he said. “To take them up and watch them suddenly realize that there’s a whole other view from up there.”

“I forget that other people don’t know what the landscape looks like from the air,” he added.

If you are interested in learning more about local aviation and the different ways it is used in the area, you are welcome to attend the Airport Day for brunch and other activities on June 10 in Carman.