George Duff was my father. He lived in New Lowell for the best part of his life and became quite a cornerstone of that community. The George Duff Memorial Legion was named to honour his memory and recognize his contributions to both his country (he fought in World War I ) and his community.
We were quite close, my Dad and I, but Dad never really understood that I flew planes. For some reason it had never really made a connection. I think my flying remained something of “theory” to him…. until the time I picked him up at the Edmonton Airport – by plane.
I had been posted to Cold Lake, Alberta to work in air traffic control. Since it was a posting with the Air Force, we lived in PMQs. Dad had never been to Cold Lake before and so when I invited him to visit Paula, Jamie, the twins, and I, he agreed. He was flying in from Toronto via Air Canada and we were t o meet him at the airport in Edmonton.
I was president of the Cold Lake Flying Club at the time and so I was able to arrange to pilot a 152 myself to fly to Edmonton. I took my son, Jamie, with me. He must have been no more than 8 or 9. In those days, one used headsets to talk to the air traffic control tower. As we approached Ed airport I put on the headsets so I could negotiate our landing. Jamie, on the other hand, couldn’t hear what I was saying. I asked the tower for landing instructions. I was #2 behind my Dad’s Air Canada flight which was landing in 10 minutes. I told the tower I was over the run-way and I could take a “straight in” and land in 5 minutes. The tower cleared me provided I could clear the active run-way in 5 minutes. As soon as I got clearance, I pulled full flap down and power off. Naturally, the airplane nose-dived and Jamie, not knowing what the heck was happening, hung on for dear life as the plane rapidly descended. I think the marks of his fingerprints must still be in the plane!
We were clear in 5 minutes and told the tower – they were relieved.
We parked the plane and went into the terminal to meet Dad. We saw the passengers get off the Air Canada flight and spotted Dad quickly in the crowd. We picked up his suitcase off the carousal and he turned and headed to leave for the car park – assuming that we had driven to get him.
I said, “No, Dad, we’re parked the other way.”
Dad look confused. He said, “There are only airplanes out there.”
I said, “That’s how we are getting back to Cold Lake.”
Dad again, looking confused, said, “Okay. I see the planes, but where is the pilot?”
“I’m the pilot, Dad.”
“Can you fly one of these things?”
Of course, by this time I had logged over 2, 000 flying hours. I replied to my Dad, “I think I can.” This didn’t appear to reassure him.
So we boarded the plane and he said, “Its raining a bit – can you fly in the rain?
“Yes”, I replied. “It’s raining here, Dad, but the sun is shing in Cold Lake”.
He inquired, “How do you know?”
“Dad, when I filed the flight plan back in Cold Lake, I had to find out the weather.”
He seemed to be getting that maybe I knew what I was doing and the “theory” of me flying was quickly turning to “reality”.
We put Dad in the back seat. Jamie was in the right seat. I had never flown from the right seat before and I didn’t want to start then. About 1/2 way there he remarked that I only had one engine. He was also quite concerned that it has been raining and there were puddles all over. ” What if the engine stops?”, Dad inquired again with concern.
“You look for a dry spot and try to land there.” I assured him.
The rest of the flight seemed to settle him and he almost appeared to enjoy the flight. I think he may have actually been impressed. Imagine, a farm-boy from New Lowell flying to Cold Lake! I guess he wasn’t too impressed, though, when I let Jamie take over and fly the plane for a while.
When we approached Cold Lake, I put on the headsets and called the tower to let them know we were arriving. It was rather late in the day – there were no airplanes flying. There was no answer from the tower. I called them again. There was no answer. I thought, what the heck is going on? I knew the emergency procedure for no radio was to circle over the oil tank. This maneuver must have scared the pants off my Dad since he was looking out the back seat at the wing as it rose when the plane tilted as we circled the oil tank. Finally, the controller finally looked out the window and saw us, gave us quick permission to land, which we prepared to do.
Later, we discovered later that the controller and his assistant had been playing chess and had the radio turned down low so they could concentrate.
Dad had some great tales to tell when he got home to New Lowell about his great adventure in the sky.