Former RCAF pilot still barrel rolling at 90

October 28, 2021
Former RCAF pilot still barrel rolling at 90
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It isn’t often that someone turning 90 still has the chance to do what they love, but Ron Holden is still flying sky high, literally and figuratively.

The retired Royal Canadian Air Force lieutenant-colonel is still certified to fly as an instructor for both general flying instruction and aerobatics.

And though he retired in 1982, Holden — whose birthday was Wednesday — is still doing rolls and loops in the sky.

“It’s just that I’ve done it all my life … and it’s second nature to me,” he said on Windsor Morning Wednesday.

“It’s kind of like driving the car.”

The widow maker

Holden flew the CF-104 Starfighter, nicknamed the widow maker, though he didn’t necessarily agree with that title.

‘It’s kind of like driving the car,’ says Ron Holden, 90, of flying planes. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

“Well, probably it’s not the right thing, I don’t think, but there were a lot of crashes of the airplane, probably because of the role,” he said.

Nuclear war was something that you didn’t even want to think about, but we had to think about it continually.— Ron Holden

That role involved flying at high speeds at about 500 feet altitude.

“Of course, down in that environment, you’re open to bad weather and hilly country and a lot of birds and that sort of thing, which the aircraft was a little bit susceptible to picking up birds at that height.”

Mutually assured destruction

Stationed in Germany at the height of the Cold War, Holden said he was lucky to never have been in a situation where a nuclear strike was called upon.

Windsor Morning8:1590-Year-Old Pilot

32 years in the air force wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy Ron Holden’s hunger to fly. The Oldcastle native turns 90 today, and he’s still one of this region’s best flyers. Retired Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Holden speaks with Tony Doucette. 8:15

“We had exercises, well, almost weekly to make sure that things worked well. But we never got to a stage where we actually had to launch an airplane and be called back or anything like that, which is very fortunate,” he said.

And dealing with life on the edge of total war can take a psychological toll.

“It certainly was something that made you think a bit because of course nuclear war was something that you didn’t even want to think about, but we had to think about it continually,” he said.

“And if you were actually launched it would mean that you’re really faced with nuclear war and we all know that that is virtually the end of the world, as far as we were concerned at that time.”

No flying on birthday

From the East German border at the height of the Cold War, to his home in Oldcastle, Ont., Holden still flies — in fact he’s been up four times in the last week.

Though Ron Holden turned 90 on Wednesday, he has flown four times in the last week and doesn’t have any thoughts of getting grounded. (Submitted by the Canadian Aviation Museum)

He did not fly on his birthday. “Not for any special reason. It’s just that I’m not scheduled,” he said Wednesday.

But if you keep your eyes and ears alert, you may see him doing barrel rolls above Essex County.

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