George Miller is shown as Flying Officer pilot of an F-86 Sabre jet while posted with RCAF 434 Squadron at Zweibrücken, West Germany in the 1950s.

Canadian aviation legend piloting Pitt Meadows Airport – for a little while at least

‘I love the thrill of flying,’ says 82-year-old George Miller

You can’t keep a good pilot like George Miller down — literally.

He’s 82, an age when some have to give up their drivers’ licences.

Yet there he was at his hangar at Langley Regional Airport on Feb. 9, preparing his silver 1947 Navion aircraft for a morning commute that will carry him at an altitude of roughly 7,000 feet from Langley to Pitt Meadows Airport, where he is serving as the temporary manager until a permanent replacement is found.

Having a bird’s eye view of the Fraser Valley is just another day in the life of the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame member and Abbotsford resident.

Miller has been a high flier since his teenage years.

“Well over half the history of flight,” Miller answered, about how many years he’s been flying planes.

“I won’t say that where I grew up on Fogo Island (off the coast of Newfoundland) was an aviation metropolis,” he said, with a big laugh. “I’d never seen an airplane!”

Miller enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in Ottawa as an 18-year-old pilot trainee on Nov. 28, 1953 and began training on Harvards at RCAF Station Penhold in Alberta in January 1954.

Because Miller agreed to join the church choir on the base, his instructor accelerated his instrument training and he graduated with his pilot’s wings six weeks early, in November, 1954.

“I was overseas in Germany when I was 19,” Miller said. “I was over there during the Cold War, flying F-86 fighters, patrolling the Iron Curtain.”

Miller served 35 years in the RCAF before taking on the position of Langley’s airport manager.

He was at the controls of the local airport for 22 years before handing them over to his son, Guy.

“I retired from the air force in ’87 and I retired here (at the Langley airport), if you want to call it retirement, in 2013,” Miller said, as he inspected his Navion prior to his morning flight.

Father and son managed the airport as a team for a while, and once Miller “felt everything was right,” he said his son “took it (the airport) over.”

Miller oversaw many changes at Langley Regional Airport and is proud of the progress that was made over the two decades he was there.

“It was a far cry from where it is now,” Miller said. “It was in pretty tough shape, it really was. It had a few helicopter companies, but good people, and from there, we grew.”

Today, the airport is home to more than 55 rotary and fixed-wing businesses, including Vector Aerospace.

These companies employ more than 300 people, generate more than $70 million in business annually, and occupy 200,000 square feet of industrial/office space, according to the airport’s business profile.

Businesses on this 120-acre site continue to grow and develop, investing more than $15 million in recent improvements.

Miller said managing Langley’s airport was “a delight.”

“We had tremendous support from the community, and the mayor and council and staff from the Township of Langley,” he said. “There are great people at the airport, here. You could not want for better.”

On June 4, 2015, Miller was inducted as a Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame at a ceremony held at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

But flying off into the sunset wasn’t in the offing, –– at least not yet.

Pitt Meadows Airport came calling.

“That sort of came very quickly,” Miller said.

“They had reason to see the moving out of their airport manager, so they came to me to see if I was available to find them a new manager, and while doing so, to manage the airport for four-to-five months, and so that’s what I’m doing now.”

Snowbirds come calling

By 1973, the then 38-year-old Miller was already a seasoned pilot, and as such he was invited to return to Canada to lead Canada’s new air demonstration team, the Snowbirds — and jumped at the chance.

His influence with the Snowbirds was immediate. He began nine-plane formation aerobatics, implemented formation changes during aerobatic manoeuvres, and an annual preseason deployment to Comox to promote team performance. He introduced new team uniforms and social dress for air and ground crews, and a new paint scheme for the Snowbirds’ Canadair CT-114 Tutor jet aircraft.

Blues leader

Miller continues to lead the Fraser Blues formation team which recently agreed to do a demonstration at an airshow at Pitt Meadows Airport.

He quips that he’s the oldest member of the Fraser Blues “by quite a bit.”

But his age isn’t going to keep him grounded. Miller says seeing the world from a completely different perspective is and always will be a thrill:

“I love flying,” he said.

“It’s been in my blood since I first did it.”

“You always fly with close attention to safety and the sort of things that make for a good flight, so there’s a little bit of anxiety with whatever you do, but it keeps you alert,” Miller said. “I love the thrill of flying.”

 

Former Langley airport manager George Miller was in attendance the official unveiling of the Canadian Museum of Flight’s first completed Sopwith Pup replica biplane to commemorate the First World War. Miller has taken the reins as manager of Pitt Meadows airport. Langley Times file photo

Last week, George Miller, 82, flew his 1947 Navion from Langley Regional Airport to Pitt Meadows Airport, where he is working as temporary manager. Troy Landreville Langley Times

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