Ontario Pilot Earns Rare Licensing Status

Dave O’Blenis


As an active octogenarian pilot, Ralph McElroy of Smiths Falls was already in a very unique group, however, on Feb. 10, 2011 he achieved a status several orders of magnitude higher by becoming — it is believed by searching the records available — the only active IFR rated Canadian pilot to have completed his initial IFR certification while in his ninth decade.

Ralph used a combination of self-study and assisted learning at the Smiths Falls Flying Club as well as a concentrated three day IFR seminar in his successful preparation for the written exam. For the practical training he used his own PA 28 aircraft and the very capable Instrument Flight Simulator at the Club.

In the spirit of promoting learning and pilot professionalism he was the benefactor of several hours of donated flight instructor training in preparation for his successful IFR ride.

His flight test examiner, Glenn French of Cornwall aviation, stated that “Ralph has established the standard for Smiths Falls Flying Club pilots who follow in his footsteps !”

Ralph started flight training in 1949 at the Chilliwack Flying Club. He paid $12/hr for dual instruction on a Fleet 80 Canuck, and with his initial military gross salary of $50/month he was financially limited to six hours prior to being posted out. Seventeen years later, while serving in the RCAF in France he restarted his training on PA- 11s with instructors from the French Air Force. After completing his Brevette Elementaire (SPP) he was moved to the Netherlands where he received his Dutch PPL., and subsequently flew around Europe to places like Paris (Le Bourget), Amsterdam, Naples, Hamburg and Rotterdam.

In 1970 he was posted near Smiths Falls and joined the Smiths Falls Flying Club, purchased an Aeronca Chief and obtained his Commercial license and Instructors rating. Two years later he traded flying for farming while still serving in the RCAF. He began flying again in 2007, purchased his PA 28 Cherokee 140 in which he and his wife Ina travelled to Winnipeg and Summerside to visit family.

It was on a trip to Summerside in 2009, when he was grounded by weather (“not bad weather, just not VFR”) in Moncton, that he made a resolution to get instrument rated. The rest is history!

Keep an ear out for Cherokee C-FULZ checking in with Terminal, Centre or Tower. It will be Ralph exercising his new IFR wings at 81 years young!