John Chalmers, Times contributor
Longtime former Langley Airport manager George Miller has joined the ranks of many renowned aviators in Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame (CAHF).
Miller served 35 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force before taking on the position of Langley’s airport manager. He was inducted as a CAHF member at induction ceremonies held at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on June 4.
At the annual ceremonies, 375 aviation enthusiasts from across Canada gathered to celebrate outstanding accomplishments in Canadian aviation.
Also installed as a member of the Hall was First World War fighter pilot and later airline builder Roy Brown (1893-1944), generally regarded as the man who downed German pilot Manfred von Richthofen, known as the “Red Baron.” The founder of the Snowbirds, the late Colonel Owen Bartley “O.B.” Philp and Jim McBride of Calgary, founder of Midwest Aviation and Turbowest Helicopters were also installed as members.
The citation for George Miller’s induction to the Hall of Fame reads: Recognized as an outstanding leader and pilot, George Miller served 35 years with the RCAF, including team leader of the Snowbirds aerobatic team. Following air force service he organized air shows, served as manager of the Langley Regional Airport during its expansion, and formed the Fraser Blues aircraft formation team.
Miller told The Times that he was "humbled" by the award, and by the effort made by Langley residents to travel to the event and support him. Among those in attendance were Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese and former councillor Grant Ward, a longtime pilot who nominated Miller for the award.
'Lots of people helped me over the years, and I stood on their shoulders," he said. "It's been a wonderful experience.
"I had no idea (about the nomination) until I was called. What really amazed me at the ceremony was they flew a Snowbird (plane) I'd flown directly to the ceremony, and it sat basically next to the stage. That was marvellous."
There was a Snowbird theme to the event, with Miller and Philp both being inducted, and the guest speaker also a former Snowbirds commander.
Maryse Carmichael was the first female pilot to join the Snowbirds, and eventually was commander of the squadron.
George Edward Miller was born in Montréal on Oct. 6, 1935 to parents Harold and Neta. After he completed Grade 2, George and his family moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, when his father’s work as a construction superintendent took him there to work on the building of a U.S. Army hospital. At 15, George moved with his family to Ottawa, where construction work had taken his father.
He enlisted at age 18 in the RCAF in Ottawa as a pilot trainee on November 28, 1953. He began training on Harvards at RCAF Station Penhold in Alberta in January 1954. By agreeing to join the church choir on the base, his instructor accelerated his instrument training and he graduated with his pilot’s wings six weeks early in November, 1954.
In December, George began flying the T-33 Silver Star jet trainer at the Advanced Flying School at RCAF Station Portage la Prairie in Manitoba, followed by training at No. 1 Pilot Weapons School at RCAF Station MacDonald, Manitoba. Six months later, he was transferred to Chatham, New Brunswick to train on the F-86 Sabre jet.
At 19, he was one of the youngest Canadian pilots of 12 squadrons to serve a tour of duty overseas during the Cold War, when he was posted to 434 Squadron in Zweibrücken, West Germany. There he met his future wife, Christel, and they were married on Dec. 8, 1956.
By then, Flying Officer Miller was recognized as a top fighter pilot. A year later he returned to Canada as an Air Intercept Controller with Air Defence Command, guarding against attack on North America from the north using a series of radar station lines across the United States and Canada during the Cold War.
While in Canada, he won a flying competition to join the RCAF Golden Hawks flight demonstration team as a solo pilot for the 1962 season and was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. Returning to 434 Squadron in Zweibrücken in 1964, he flew the CF-104 Starfighter for two years. His next posting was to Sardinia as a weapons officer instructing in nuclear weapons training, and during that time he established the Tactical Sea Survival Training School.
Posted back to Canada, in 1969 he attended the Canadian Land Forces Command and Staff College in Kingston, Ontario, was promoted to Major and assigned as executive assistant to the commander of the Canadian Army for two years, before returning to Europe. While stationed with RCAF 421 Squadron in Zweibrücken, again flying the CF-104, in 1973 he was invited to return to Canada to lead Canada’s new air demonstration team, the Snowbirds — and jumped at the chance.
His influence with the Snowbirds was immediate. He began nine-plane formation aerobatics, implemented formation changes during aerobatic manoeuvres, and an annual preseason deployment to Comox, B.C. to promote team performance. He introduced new team uniforms and social dress for air and ground crews, and a new paint scheme for the Snowbirds’ Canadair CT-114 Tutor jet aircraft.
Following the 1974 season of Snowbird performances, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed commandant of No. 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School at CFB Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and was responsible for training military pilots. In 1977 he returned to Staff College in Kingston as an instructor and in 1980 was appointed as dean of the college.
In 1981, promotion to Colonel was followed by posting as Military Attaché to Egypt and Sudan, a diplomatic role he filled until 1985 when he returned to Canada as Base Commander of CFB Moose Jaw.
In July 1988, he retired from the air force at 52, having served 35 years in uniform, but his association with aviation did not end there. Soon after, he was recruited by Spar Aerospace Limited and spent two years marketing Spar products from Brazil in Canada, focusing on the Embraer 312 Tucano, a two-seater turboprop trainer aircraft, as countertrade for Spar’s marketing of its satellites to Brazil.
He never left the field of aerobatic performance flying. Before leaving Spar to form his own air show company in 1990, he produced the first National Capital Air Show in Ottawa. He co-ordinated the unprecedented appearance in Canada of two MIG-29 Fulcrum aircraft from the Mikoyan Design Bureau in Moscow, which flew 20,000 kilometres to appear.
The Miller family then moved to B.C., the only province in which they had not lived. In 1991, he was hired as manager for the Langley Regional Airport. He changed the airport focus by guiding its growth and development from general aviation to an industrial aviation facility.
Today, 31 of 48 companies operating from the airport are helicopter-related businesses, making Langley the centre of helicopter operations in Canada. His experience with air shows has been put to use in drawing large crowds for aviation and community events at the airport.
In 1996, he formed and led the Langley Flypast Group, later renamed the The Fraser Blues. After originally doing flypasts for Remembrance Day services, The Fraser Blues have performed at up to 30 air displays a year in western Canada and the northwest United States. The team still flies five individually owned Navion L17 aircraft, and he likes to fly his Navion at least twice a week.
Besides flying for business and recreational visits, he and Christel flew the Navion across Canada in 2014 from Langley to Chatham, N.B., stopping at 31 community airports. He has over 8,300 hours in his log books for 17 types of aircraft he has flown.
From 1997 to 2009, he was a member of the British Columbia Aviation Council, serving as chairman for five years.
His service to aviation has been recognized with several awards. Before retiring from the air force, he was invested in the Order of Military Merit as an Officer of Military Merit (OMM) on May 31, 1978. In 2000 he was honoured by the British Columbia Aviation Council (BCAC) with the BCAC Airport Management Award for his work with Langley Airport. In 2007 the BCAC presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award in Aviation. In 2010, he was given the Ed Batchelor Award from the Langley Aero Club in appreciation for his contributions to the Langley Airport.
Retired Lt.-Col. Dan Dempsey, also a former commanding officer of the Snowbirds, has stated that, “Throughout both his military and civilian aviation careers, George Miller has distinguished himself as a consummate professional and inspirational leader. His vision and passion for aviation know few bounds.”
Still active as a pilot more than 60 years after starting to fly with the RCAF, he and Christel live in Abbotsford, and are parents to their daughter Eve, son Guy. They have six grandchildren.
— with files from Frank Bucholtz
John Chalmers is historian for Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame, located at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Its website is www.cahf.ca.