Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame welcomes 2023 inductees

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | September 18, 2023

Estimated reading time 11 minutes, 11 seconds.

Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame welcomed its newest class of inductees in a Sept. 14, 2023, gala in Calgary.

Four pilots and industry experts, as well as the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) 1 Air Division, were inducted in a ceremony headlined by Canadian astronaut, former fighter pilot and 2005 Hall of Fame inductee, Chris Hadfield.

The 2023 induction class includes: 

Ken Lett

Ken Lett was a fighter pilot in the Second World War and had a long and distinguished military career. In retirement, he also started several aviation companies. Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame Photo

Lett’s aviation career began as an RCAF fighter pilot during the Second World War, during which he flew Supermarine Spitfires with 402 Squadron. On D-Day, Ken flew top cover at Normandy for the attacking Allied troops. 

Continuing with the RCAF after 1945, he climbed the ranks, eventually retiring as a Major-General. Ken flew Vampires, the F-86 Sabre, the CF-104 Starfighter, and the CF-101, among other aircraft over the course of his postwar career.

As part of Canada’s commitment to NATO, he was posted to 3 Wing, Zweibrucken as Officer Commanding Training Flight, and was promoted to Squadron Leader of 416 Squadron a few years later. 

After a stint at the Staff College, now Wing Commander Ken Lett was posted to Cold Lake, Alta. He returned to Germany in 1963 before being posted to Ottawa at Air Defence Command Headquarters the following year. 

By 1970, Ken was made a Brigadier-General; four years later he was Chief of Staff Operations in Germany and in 1976 he became Chief of Staff at NORAD Headquarters in Colorado. In retirement, Ken remained in aviation, starting several aviation companies including the commercial charter Executive Flight Centre and, later, Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services Ltd.

Harvey Friesen

Harvey Friesen is a distinguished entrepreneur and philanthropist, and former president and CEO of Bearskin Lake Air Service. Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame Photo

In 1970, at just 22 years old, Friesen joined Bearskin Lake Air Service, then a small air charter operator servicing remote Indigenous communities in northern Ontario. Two years later, he acquired a 50 per cent share of the company, and five years after that he was installed as President and CEO. 

As Bearskin’s scheduled flights expanded from between Big Trout Lake and Sioux Lookout to include Thunder Bay, Kenora, Winnipeg, and beyond, Harvey made the most of the Ontario government’s ‘highway in the sky’ – the building of gravel strips in many remote, northern communities. 

The operation grew rapidly. So did its team and the Bearskin fleet. Twenty years after Harvey headed the company, “the Bear” was providing scheduled service to all northern Ontario’s major cities and into northern Manitoba. 

The company changed direction in 2003 when it became a successful regional carrier. Harvey Friesen sold Bearskin in 2011, but over his more than 40 years with the company he remained an enthusiastic supporter of aviation and his northern community, from development and fundraising to quiet philanthropy, to Bearskin’s close work with Hope Air and its free non-emergency medical flights for those in financial need.

Dr. Gary William Gray

Dr. Gary William Gray is known as one of Canada’s leading aviation and aerospace medical experts. Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame Photo

An active pilot and a leading expert in aviation and aerospace medicine in Canada, for more than 50 years Dr. Gary Gray has dedicated his life to the health and fitness of those wishing to fly. 

He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1965 while attending medical school and began studying the effects of high altitude on humans, work that included ten summers spent at Mount Logan. 

He is now considered a leading expert on aerospace cardiovascular and pulmonary medicine, respiratory diseases, and medical evaluations and standards. 

As head of the Canadian Forces Central Medical Board, he developed the multi-factor aeromedical risk matrix to improve aircrew medicals; his work also updated the medical standards for aircrew selection and led to the review and development of new medical assessment tools. 

With the launch of Canada’s astronaut program in 1983, Gray was asked to direct and lead the medical screening of Canadian astronaut candidates; he remains closely involved with the process to this day, having served as Canada’s representative on the International Space Station Multilateral Space Medicine Board and Chair of the station’s Medical Standards Working Group. 

Additionally, Gray has carried out extensive teaching duties, including having taught all Canadian Forces flight surgeons who attended the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Medicine over the past four decades. During his varied career, Gray has authored more than 100 scientific publications on aviation medicine, including reports for NATO working groups and he has provided assessment and medical certifications for more than 10,000 RCAF aircrew.

Keith Hopkinson

Keith Hopkinson was a champion of homebuilt aircraft and an aviation entrepreneur. Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame Photo

Considered the “father” of homebuilt aircraft in Canada, Keith “Hoppy” Hopkinson began flying in 1936 at the Hamilton Aero Club. He earned his private pilot’s licence in 1938 and his commercial licence a year later, acing his flight instructor’s certification in 1940. 

When the Second World War broke out, Hoppy was a flight instructor for the Waterloo Wellington Flying Club. Soon after he moved to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan’s elementary flying school at Goderich. 

He stayed on after the war and began a new company: Sky Harbour Air Services, which ferried surplus aircraft. Having also established a flight school, Hoppy did his best to promote aviation. 

In short order his business included charter flights, an air ambulance, and search and rescue, in addition to Hoppy becoming an aircraft dealer. In 1961, he purchased the Goderich airport, more proof that he embraced all aspects of aviation. 

During the early 1950s, Hoppy fought successfully to have the Department of Transport recognize homebuilt aircraft – he proudly held permit number 001 – and organized the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, serving as the latter’s founding director until his death in 1964.

No. 1 Air Division

From 1952 until 1993, the RCAF’s 1 Air Division (later the Canadian Armed Forces’ 1 Canadian Air Group) was at the forefront of Canada’s aerial commitments supporting NATO in Europe during the Cold War. 

Initially comprising four fighter Wings and support units and crew, between 1953 and 1967 the Division was headquartered at Metz, France. Unification of the Canadian military led to a reorganization of forces deployed to Europe and the Air Division was reconstituted as a Group with new headquarters at Lahr, Germany. 

The Division’s and Group’s ground crew and pilots were always some of Canada’s best, and they flew the leading fighter aircraft of their day: F-86 Sabres, CF-100 Canucks, CF-104 Starfighters, and CF-188 Hornets on missions ranging from interception to all-weather and night fighting, to nuclear interdiction and low-level photographic reconnaissance. 

Collectively, these pilots won numerous air fighting competitions and set such a high operational standard of military aviation that they earned the respect and admiration of many – excellence that was testament time and again to the quality of Canada’s post-1945 air force leadership and personnel.

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