My grandfather wanted a chance to fly again nearly 40 years after he retired from a long career with Air Canada, and before that the air force during the Second World War.

So my mom made it happen for his 98th birthday. She signed her dad, Bill Finlay, up for a flying lesson out of an airport in Burlington, Ont.

I got to go along for the ride.

"We'll do a couple of circuits," my grandfather said. "I haven't flown for about 40 years so we'll see how it goes." 

Bill Finlay and Nicole Brockbank

Bill Finlay's granddaughter and CBC producer Nicole Brockbank joined Finlay for his first flight in decades. (Jon Castell/CBC)

Spoiler alert: he was great.

Prior to the flying lesson, my grandfather's last turn in the pilot seat was when he retired in 1979. He flew a Lockheed 1011 from Pearson International to London Heathrow airport and back. 

For those out there who aren't aircraft experts, my grandfather says that plane would seat about 285 people. 

Bill Finlay last flight with Shirley Finlay

Bill and Shirley Finlay after Bill's last flight before he retired from Air Canada in 1979. (Bill Finlay)

The Cessna 172 he got to fly for his birthday is a four-seater. So it's a little different.

"The wheels don't retract on this quite obviously," he joked while we were in the air. 

The Cessna was certainly the smallest plane I'd ever been in. During the flight I asked my grandfather if the plane he learned to fly in was bigger. 

Watch this WWII veteran fly a plane again for his 98th birthday3:18

Turns out his was smaller.

"The Tiger Moth was probably half of the weight of this airplane," said Dennis Simo, chief flying instructor for Spectrum Airways in Burlington. 

Bill Finlay in WW2 and now

Bill Finlay (left) in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and Bill Finlay (right) wearing his hat and a bomber jacket from the war. (Bill Finlay)

My grandfather was a school teacher in Darlingford, Man., when he decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in June 1941.

After he got his wings, the air force put his teaching skills to good use. 

"They sent me out to Brandon to a training school," he told me. "For the next two-and-a-half years I trained pilots how to fly." 

Bill finlay in WWII

Bill Finlay (second from right) and his crew in front of their transport plane during the Second World War. (Bill Finlay)

By the end of the war he was flying transport planes out of England.

"I flew all over Europe and carried mostly servicemen," he said. "One time I had the Queen's messenger on board." 

After the war, my grandfather wanted to keep flying, but he wasn't alone. He says there were about 700 ex-pilots looking for flying jobs in Winnipeg at the time. 

Bill Finlay, air canada pilot

Bill Finlay was a pilot with TCA, which later became Air Canada from 1946-1979. (Bill Finlay)

But that didn't stop him. One morning he went downtown and got a meeting with the head of flight operations for a transport company — 15 minutes later, he had his first civilian flying job.

Less than a year after that he was working for TCA, which would later become Air Canada. 

Bill Finlay leaving his last flight in 1979

Bill and Shirley Finlay stepping off the plane after Bill's final flight before he retired from Air Canada in 1979. (Bill Finlay)

"I flew to pretty near every airport there is in Canada," he said. "And most of the major ones in the United States."

He also flew down to the Caribbean, and across Europe. But for his first flight in 40 years, we stayed local.

Simo sat shotgun with my grandfather and did some of the flying, but as he says: "I did very little other than give him some instructions."  

Dennis Simo flying instructor

Dennis Simo, chief flying instructor at Spectrum Airways, said he didn't do much other than give Bill Finlay some instructions during the flight. (Jon Castell/CBC)

"It's just amazing," said Simo. "Once I got him up in the air you could tell all the sparks were working the right way. He really does know what he's doing. Obviously he has a ton of experience."

My grandfather would have piled on more experience if he'd been allowed.

He told me he would have flown for at least another five years after he retired, but at the time Air Canada only allowed its pilots to work until they were 60. 

Bill Finlay interview photo

Second World War veteran and retired Air Canada pilot, Bill Finlay, said flying never really felt like work. (Jon Castell/CBC)

My grandfather says flying didn't feel like work at all.

"Well it was a good excuse for it," he told me, chuckling. "Nevil Shute was a famous writer and he said that pilots were young fellas who were too lazy to work for a living."