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Bill Long flew the same Harvard 63 years ago as 17-year-old learning how to be a pilot

By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

Long-time pilot Bill Long was greeted with a burst of applause on his final flight Saturday afternoon in a Harvard at the Tillsonburg Airport.

It was the same Harvard the 81-year-old flew in 1954 while training to be a pilot with the RCAF in Claresholm, Alberta.

On landing he dramatically marked the occasion with smoke oil on the exhaust as he finished taxing down the runway.

Once out of the cockpit he and his pilot pals celebrated with a shot of expensive single malt whiskey.

“I never thought I would be doing this 63 year later,” he said.

But the Burlington resident and former chief pilot with the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association in Tillsonburg said it was time to stop flying Harvards.

“It’s too hard to get in and out with a parachute on,” Long said.

Long described his last ride in the Harvard as “good fun.”

Harvards are single engine advanced trainers that were used in Canada to train crews through the massive British Commonwealth Air Training Plan from the 1940s onwards.

Following his time training, at the age of 19 Long became an instructor but sometimes wished he was somewhere else.

“We all wanted to be flying Sabres in Europe,” he said. “But the Harvards taught me a lot about how to fly a plane.”

Long went on to have successful career as a RCAF and commercial pilot.

In Winnipeg he was a member of the Search and Rescue unit and also flew VIPs on the C-47 Dakota and CC109 Cosmopolitan. His career eventually took him to NORAD in Colorado Springs where he was the pilot for the deputy commander in chief.

He later left the RCAF/CAF to fly commercially on a variety of commercial aircraft with Wardair and Canadian Airlines International Limited. In the 1990’s he worked out of Singapore where he “filled every page in a passport in 18 months".

While he retired in 1996, he was still training pilots part time in the simulators until two years ago.

Besides the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association he was also flying and training for the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

“My wife said I never had a job; I had a hobby all my life,” Long said. “You’re pretty disciplined but you’re also very free while you are up there.”

Terry Scott, director of public relations for the Harvard Aircraft Association, said Saturday was one of several fly days the association hosts every year.

“It gives us an opportunity to showcase the association and the aircraft,” he said. “We also take people up for rides.”

The all-volunteer group was first formed in Woodstock in 1985.

“Our goal is fly the Harvards until they are 100 years old and then donate them to a museum,” he said. “We want to keep their history alive and the role they played and the sacrifices many people made during the war.”

They have 10 aircraft of which five are still flying, two hangars, two portable buildings and no debt, he said.

“That’s an amazing accomplishment for an all volunteer organization,” he said.

HRivers@postmedia.com