Second World War pilot donates $2.4M to Mount Royal's aviation program
Former Spitfire flyer's gift targeted for bursaries, scholarships and other areas
A Second World War pilot and local businessman has made a multimillion-dollar donation to Mount Royal University's aviation program.
Ken Lett, 97, originally from Ontario, flew Spitfires for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and relocated to Calgary after he returned home. He spent his life working in various areas of the aviation sector, including time with Calgary-based Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services.
Now, he's giving back with a $2.4-million donation to Mount Royal University's aviation program. The money will be primarily used for bursaries and scholarships for underrepresented students, including Indigenous people and women, said a news release from the school Tuesday. The money will also be used for aircraft, maintenance and the school's flight simulator.
Lett said Tuesday he made the donation with no strings attached and that he appreciates the work MRU is doing in training pilots to not only fly planes but also become managers on the business side of the industry.
“It's been my experience that pilots don't make very good managers,” Lett said. “In frequent cases, they end up being managers and not doing a very good job. They need some training — they fly airplanes but that's not running a business.”
The school is looking to turn the two-year diploma program into a four-year degree stream. The news release says the expanded curriculum would include business and managerial training “for broader career pathways.”
Aviation program chair Deanna Wiebe said work is underway to get internal approvals at the school to expand the program. It will then be up to the province to give the green light on a possible expansion.
She said a four-year bachelor of aviation management would help graduates advance their careers beyond flying planes. The school potentially could start admitting students into the bachelor program as early as 2023.
“This donation really will help us,” Wiebe said. “Bursaries, scholarships, as well as just general aircraft improvement. We're looking at, with this degree expansion, needing more airplanes, more space, more instructor resources. Expanding toward those opportunities is very exciting.”
The website shows students often go on to become commercial pilots, aviation administrators, flight instructors, courier pilots, military pilots and fire patrol pilots.
“It's just one of many (donations) I have made to institutes that do the things I like being done. In the case of Mount Royal, they train people to fly airplanes, and I have spent my life flying airplanes,” Lett. said “I like what they do. I know graduates of their activity and it's worked out very well.”
In 2015, Lett donated $1 million to an exhibit at Calgary's Military Museums dedicated to the pilots who patrolled the airways during the Cold War.