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Legendary Inuk bush pilot, 76, flies past aviation milestone with 40k hours of flight time

Legendary Inuk bush pilot Johnny May Sr. crossed a flying milestone few pilots achieve in their careers, having recently surpassed 40,000 hours of flight time.

And the 76-year-old from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, has no plans of stopping yet.

“Just keep on flying as long as I’m able to because I enjoy it a lot,” he said.

May, who has been flying for 59 years, is best known as the first Inuk pilot from the eastern Arctic. He posted his recent flying accomplishment on Facebook and received many congratulatory messages.

“It was nice,” said May, who is the brother of Governor General Mary May Simon.

May obtained his pilot licence in 1962, and through his company, Johnny May’s Air Charters, has flown countless clients.

These days, he says, he’s been flying caribou hunters.

“I’ve been flying a lot of them out, and then I fly to some exploration camps. So it’s sort of mixed flying, different customers every day,” he said.

Over the years, May has also medevaced many people between Inuit villages and to hospitals further south, and he’s also flown search-and-rescue missions.

He is credited with saving many lives.

“I found a lot of lost people over the years, and when you find them, you’re OK. It’s a big satisfaction,” he said.

May says sometime likely in 1972, he found someone from a helicopter who had been lost for a month and a half.

“He was still alive, [so I] brought him back to Kuujjuaq. So occasions like that have given me a lot of pleasure,” he said, adding he has a lot of sad stories, too.

In November 2010, May was inducted into the Aerospace Hall of Fame of Quebec. Three years later, the National Film Board of Canada co-produced a documentary about his life entitled The Wings of Johnny May.

Legendary Inuk bush pilot, 76, flies past aviation milestone with 40k hours of flight time
May and his wife, Louise Berthe May, returning from their annual char fishing trip. (Submitted by Jeannie May)

Annual Kuujjuaq Christmas candy drop

May is also well known for the annual Christmas candy drop in Kuujjuaq.

Every year at Christmas, from 1965 until 2019, he would fly his plane above the community and drop candies, toys and clothes for the children and other residents.

Legendary Inuk bush pilot, 76, flies past aviation milestone with 40k hours of flight time
May and Santa Claus as they are about to embark on what was an annual candy drop at Christmas in the village of Kuujjuaq, Nunavik. (Isabelle Dubois)

A children’s book about the annual event was published in 2015, and then two years later, a short cartoon called The Great Northern Candy Drop based on the book was produced by the CBC.

“When [my grandchildren] see that, I get a lot of joy out of watching them watch it as a cartoon,” May said. “So yeah, a lot of good pleasures.”

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