Ken Lett, 100, got his start in aviation as a teenager flying combat missions for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.
After surviving the invasion of Normandy, Lett continued his service in the Air Force during the Cold War before moving into commercial aviation. He estimates he spent about 35 years as a licensed pilot.
"It's freedom," he said. "If you're at 35,000 feet looking down at the world, it's a totally, totally different experience than standing on the ground and looking up."
On Thursday, Lett was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, based out of the Hangar Flight Museum in Calgary.
Four pilots and industry experts were inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame on Thursday. Their names will be added to a display wall in the Hanger Flight Museum in Calgary. (Submitted by Katherine Simunkovic)
The induction ceremony also marked the 50th anniversary of the Hall of Fame, which moved to Calgary last year from the Reynolds Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alta.
This year's induction class also featured a former airline president who introduced flights to remote Indigenous communities in Ontario and an expert in aerospace medicine.
"[We] make sure that we're recording and saving that history for generations to come," said Katherine Simunkovic, managing director of Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame.
A display panel with Lett's biography will soon be mounted next to panels celebrating the 251 other inductees.
'It gets in your blood'
Lett now resides in Victoria, B.C., but said he lived in Calgary for about 40 years after his military service ended. It's where he founded Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services Ltd, according to the Hall of Fame.
He donated $1 million to the Military Museums in Calgary for a 2015 exhibit highlighting the work of Canadian Air Force pilots during the Cold War, which saw several fighter jets used by the military in the 1950s placed on display.
Then, in 2021, Lett donated $2.4 million to Mount Royal University's aviation program. The school continues to offer a Ken Lett Flight Leadership scholarship to its students.
"It gets in your blood after a while," he said about aviation. "Many people, friends of mine, acquaintances, flew because it was the thing to do. I flew because I loved it."
Lett now resides in Victoria, B.C., with his partner Pat Firth. Before retiring, Lett spent 40 years working in Calgary's aviation industry. (Submitted by Katherine Simunkovic)
In the future, Simunkovic expects to see astronauts and people who spent their careers in space exploration inducted into the museum as the sector grows in Canada.
For now, she hopes the displays will encourage people to seek training and work in aviation.
An analysis released by the Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace last year predicted the industry will need to hire more than 58,000 skilled workers by 2028 to cover industry growth.
"We really want to be able to inspire younger generations to join these industries … to help fill those gaps that we're experiencing right now," said Simunkovic.
Lett also wants his profile to inspire interest in Canada's contributions to the Allied war effort.
"It's history, and history Canada can be proud of," he said.