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EAA Presence at COPA Lift Gala

By Jeff Seaborn, Chair, EAA Canada Council

October 2019 - On Thursday, October 3, I had the privilege to attend COPA's inaugural LIFT gala. This gala was a fundraiser for COPA's Flight Safety Foundation. There were some great items available in a silent auction, and some special items available during a live auction. All proceeds from the event help fund the Flight Safety Foundation's growth by providing education, support, and opportunities across the country; something that all Canadian aviators benefit from.

Bernard Gervais

COPA President Bernard Gervais at the podium.

It was a memorable evening connecting and reconnecting with many active and key players in Canada's aviation community. The event was hosted by Don Bell, co-founder of WestJet, and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. To have either one of these gentlemen host an event would be a real honour, but having both at the same event was extraordinary.

Bell Hadfield

WestJet Founder Don Bell with Chris Hadfield, Canada's most loved astronaut.

During the evening, Don shared a bit of his background that led to the opportunity to start WestJet. Don started tinkering with engines as a kid, which led him into a career as an aviation mechanic. Don's joy for flight motivated him to get his private pilot licence, his commercial licence, and ultimately his airline transport licence. At the same time, Don's determination and interest in computers allowed him to build a very successful computer business. Don combined these passions when he co-founded WestJet. He was WestJet's IT manager as well as one of its original 737 pilots. Don has gone on to get ratings in many different aircraft and has a remarkable aviation career.

Chris has also built an amazing career for himself. I won't go into too much detail as you can, and should, read about it in Chris's book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. In short, on July 16, 1969, half the planet watched Neil Armstrong make the first steps on the moon. Chris watched as well, and from that date, he set some lofty goals for himself and developed a plan to get there.


Chris Hadfield, astronaut.

Despite all of Chris' talents and out-of-this-world achievements, I think Chris' greatest attributes are his humility and down-to-earth nature. When Chris wasn't on stage, he spent the entire evening visiting with each and every guest. These weren't hurried visits; they were heartfelt and sincere discussions that Chris had with everyone at each table.


Cadet Nordstrom with a Gypsy Moth.

One of the more memorable exchanges that I witnessed was when Chris arrived. We were outside having just finished setting up the de Havilland Gypsy Moth that was on display outside the building. Chris had just stepped out of his cab when he walked up and introduced himself to the very respectful air cadet who was guarding the aircraft.

The conversation went something like this:

Chris Hadfield: Hi there, I'm Chris Hadfield, how are you doing?

Air Cadet: Uh, I can't feel my legs sir.

Chris: Oh, have you been standing out here for long?

Cadet: No, sir. It's just, uh, I am just so honoured to meet you, sir. You are my hero, sir.

Chris: Well, thank you for the support. What is your name? How long have you been in cadets? …

In just a few seconds, Chris made Cadet Nordstrom feel comfortable and as though Chris was there just to see him. Who knows if that meeting had the same inspirational effect on Cadet Nordstrom as Neil Armstrong's landing had on Chris? Let's hope it did.

Hadfield and Cadets

Col. Chris Hadfield with air cadets in attendance at the gala.

The evening ended with Don and Chris sharing some of their best aviation stories. Ultimately, Chris played his rendition of David Bowie's "Space Oddity." He played it on an identical guitar that he had in the International Space Station. If you aren't familiar with Chris' musical talents, follow this link. It's well worth the five minutes.


Chris Hadfield sings that iconic song — this time on terra firma.

Watching Chris play the song live was a very moving experience. Afterwards, Chris signed the guitar and it was auctioned off with all proceeds going to the Flight Safety Foundation.

I would highly encourage you to attend one of these galas. It was a wonderful evening and a first-class event, and the money raised at the gala supports the programs that support Canadian aviators.

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