Aspen Clark and Carter Pataran are all smiles after their Discover flight in 2019. SUPPLIED

Local pilots offer kids intro to aviation on August 20

When Baby Boomers hear “COPA,” they likely think of Copacabana, a chain of Brazilian steakhouses. Or maybe the Barry Manilow song (“at the Copa, Copacabana, the hottest spot north of Havana”). But Pelham has its own version of COPA—the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association— ensconced at the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport (NCDRA).

Members of COPA Chapter 149 come from all walks of life, including business, industry, farming, and education. Many are retirees, providing a collective voice for airport-related issues. Their goal is to support and promote general aviation in the Niagara Region and southern Ontario, and share aviation knowledge and safety practices. They hold monthly meetings, and participate in airport improvement projects. They also host special social events such as barbecues, Christmas dinners, and fly-in summer breakfasts.

One of COPA’s annual events, cancelled for two years due to you-know-what, is the Discover Aviation Program, formerly called COPA for Kids, which provides an opportunity for young people, aged eight to 20, to experience the joy of flight.

Discover Aviation Day is planned for Saturday August 20, from 10 AM until 4 PM, at the NCDRA on River Road in south Pelham.

Doug Reilly is a COPA member, flying an Aero Commander 112 monoplane out of NCDRA.

A Niagara resident since 2013, Reilly joined COPA back in 1986, when he was still a student pilot. Retired from Hydro One, where he served as helicopter operations manager, Reilly is single-engine VFR (visual flight rules) qualified, and also holds a rating for flying at night.

“I really enjoy interacting with the kids on Discover Aviation Day. For many, it’s their first experience in a light aircraft,” Reilly told the Voice. “We run kind of a mini ground school prior to the flight, and share with them all the magic of how an aircraft flies. We walk around the plane and talk about the various components, and explain how the plane turns and banks, what the ailerons do versus the rudder and elevators. We also cover Bernoulli’s Principle, which explains how an aircraft achieves flight because of the shape of its wings.”

(In a nutshell, a wing’s shape allows faster air flow over the curved top surface and slower underneath, which creates higher pressure below. Voila—lift.)

With a month to go, Reilly said that 37 youth ages eight through 20 have already signed up for flights. Nine pilots with private aircraft will be participating.

“We can take up to two kids at a time, for 20-minute flights over the Welland Canal, the Lake Erie shoreline, and towns and cities within the region. With loading and unloading, we expect each pilot will have two flights each hour,” said Reilly.

The pilots are footing the bill for Aviation Day out of their own pockets, and if you think prices at the pump to fill up your SUV are steep, consider that aviation fuel runs about $2.70 per litre.

“My plane burns about 40 litres [$108] an hour,” said Reilly.

Parents should not fret about the safety of the event.

“By law, every plane must have a complete inspection annually or at 100 [operating] hours, whichever comes first. They check all the wing spars and control cables, and compression test the engine, among other stuff. All pilots are licensed by Transport Ontario.”

For more information and to book a spot, see, or email Doug Reilly at [email protected]