New friends take flight

(L to R): Mohamad Katoub, Sophie Kiwala, Ahmad Katoub, pilot Sylvio Roy, and Asher Oddie at the Kingston Norman Rogers/YGK Airport. Kiwala asked her friend Roy if he might be willing to introduce Ahmad Katoub to flying, resulting in the meeting pictured. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
you have not dreamed of...”

These lines from John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem “High Flight” encapsulate a dream that Kingston pilot Sylvio Roy knows well. Recently, Roy had the chance to share this dream of flight with teenager Ahmad Katoub.

Katoub, a 14-year-old Grade 9 student at Loyalist Collegiate and Vocational Institute (LCVI) whose family moved to Canada from Syria three years ago, has wanted to be a pilot since he was 10 or 11 years old. “I came upon this documentary about the cause of a plane crash,” he said, “and I started watching it. I watched another one, another one. I was like, oh, these are cool. And then this interest just popped up, and I started learning a lot more about airplanes… and airlines.” This passion for flying continued to grow, he said. 

As the Katoub family began to get to know new people in Kingston, they met Former Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Sophie Kiwala. Kiwala, now Chief of Staff for federal Member of Parliament (MP) Valerie Bradford (Kitchener South—Hespeler), was impressed by the young man’s fascination with and dedication to learning about flight.

Kiwala, in her own right, has a passion for “connecting people who have similar interests and needs,” she explained. “I happened to be in a good place to do that [for Ahmad], so I was happy to reach out to my friend Sylvio.”

Roy, right, who has over 40 years experience flying multiple kinds of planes, instructs the group on the finer points of entering a small aircraft. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Sylvio Roy, she explained, “is a pilot who flew all over the world on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, flew for five years on search and rescue missions, and was a squadron operations and chief training officer. He flew Air Canada’s Airbus as a captain for 15 years, taught at Seneca College — the list goes on! I’m also proud to call him a friend.”  

Kiwala went on, “When I told Sylvio Roy about the 14-year-old Syrian newcomer to Kingston who was passionate about being a pilot when he grows up, [Roy] wanted to support him in some way.”

The connection was made on Thursday, Apr. 13, 2023, when Roy met Ahmad and took his new friend on his first “high flight” in the cockpit of Roy’s Piper Arrow II.

Asked what it was about Ahmad’s story that piqued his interest in helping the young man, Roy said, “The foremost thing is, I love to fly. And to help with a skill that I have and when there’s a need there? Absolutely.”

He smiled, adding, “And the cool thing is, we got [Ahmad’s] story while we were travelling in Europe, and we both looked at it and just said, ‘Absolutely — yeah, we have to do this.’”

“We” includes Roy’s wife, Lori Sweet, herself an enthusiastic partner in giving Ahmad the chance to experience what it is like to fly. A retired teacher, Sweet used to bring her grade six classes out to visit Roy and his plane when they were studying flight.

“Any chance he gets to fly, the happier he is,” Sweet shared of her husband. 

Ahmad pushes the Piper Arrow II while Roy pulls and steers the plane out of the hangar. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Roy uses his plane to help people whenever he can. When he’s not busy making a young person’s dreams come true, he’s volunteering as a pilot for Hope Air, a charity that provides Canadians in financial need with free travel and accommodations for medical care far from home. He was even Hope Air’s Distinguished Volunteer Pilot of the Year in 2021.

Sometimes, Roy said, “what I’ll do is, to raise money [for Hope Air], I’ll donate a flight as an auction, so the winners pay for it — and then I’m able to raise money [for the charity] that way, too.”

Multiple times a year, he indicated, he will bring people up with him for fun. “People who are interested in flying — or if they’re scared of flying — sometimes I’ll bring them up just to get them to relax and see how things operate, how an airplane works, and the maintenance and everything else that goes behind it, and if they have any questions, I’m more than happy to answer them. I’ve got over 40 years of experience.”

Ahmad beamed with excitement when, after Roy walked him through an inspection of the plane, he climbed into the copilot’s seat.

Ahmad’s dad, Mohamad, and best friend, Asher Oddie — also in Grade 9 at LCVI and an aeronautics fanatic —  were also given the chance to go up with Roy and his first-time copilot. Although Dad is approximately six-foot-two and was admittedly “a little bit nervous” about going up in the little plane, he managed to cram himself into the back seat. “I would not miss seeing [Ahmad’s] face,” the older Katoub explained with a laugh.

After more safety checks, the foursome waved goodbye and taxied to the Kingston Airport runway next to The Landings Golf Course, taking off, swift as a falcon, into the sunny afternoon sky.

Ahmad sits in the copilot’s seat while the pilot gives final instructions prior to take off. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Currently, Roy is raising funds for Hope Air’s national annual fundraising drive, Give Hope Wings. A grand flying expedition taking place in June 2023, Give Hope Wings will be launching three separate expeditions: Western Canada, Prairies, and Eastern Canada. 

Roy will be taking part in the Eastern Canada portion with stops in large urban airports, Hope Air patient communities, and hallmark aviation communities, with a goal to raise funds and awareness for Hope Air. A Give Hope Wings event is planned for Kingston in early June. You can learn more about Hope Air and Give Hope Wings online.

To date, Give Hope Wings has raised over $1.8 million, providing 5,145 travel arrangements for those in need. 

Magee’s poem refers to “a hundred things… you have not dreamed of” — but Sylvio Roy is committed to making dreams and hopes come alive, whether it is for those in medical crisis, or for young people like Ahmad Katoub pursuing their passions.

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