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Carmichael shares her secrets to success

May 23, 2014, Edmonton - Lt. Col. Maryse Carmichael could fly an airplane before she could drive a car.


May 23, 2014
By The Edmonton Journal

The Quebec City native was just 16 when she took her first solo
flight in a glider as part of an air cadet program. It was the start of
an aviation career that would see Carmichael soar, shuttling prime
ministers between provinces and dazzling audiences as the first female
member of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds Demonstration Team.

 

“I
think about it now, and how young we all were when we were learning to
fly gliders … but what a way to give a teenager self-confidence,” said
Carmichael, now retired, after delivering the keynote address Thursday
at a NAIT conference on power engineering technology.

 

Snowbird
pilots perform as a group of nine, each flying a red-and-white Tutor
aircraft. They fly upside down, jet along within metres of other planes
and make formations in the sky. Beyond the technical skills required to
perform the moves, pilots need a sense of teamwork and trust that can
perhaps only come out of an experience where people’s lives are on the
line.

 

“We don’t look at the ground when we’re flying. It’s the
team lead who leads all of us, so if he makes a mistake and he’s going
toward the ground, we’ll all go to the ground because we’re not looking
outside. That’s the degree of trust that’s within this formation,”
Carmichael said.

 

Each practice session and show is followed by a
debriefing, during which the Snowbirds dissect their performance and
what went wrong. There is a policy of “brutal honesty.”

 

“If I did
something wrong airborne, they want to know why I did it wrong and what
will I do to fix it,” Carmichael said. “We need to talk about it until
there is full resolution and everyone is confident the problem is
resolved. I can’t go flying if the person beside me is unsure of my
ability to fly in formation.”

 

Carmichael joined the Canadian
Forces at 19. It was only when she arrived in Moose Jaw, Sask., for her
pilot’s training that she started thinking about joining the Snowbirds.
She was named to the Snowbirds in 2000, the first and, so far, only
female member of the squadron and the first female pilot in the world to
become a member of a jet demonstration team. In 2010, she was appointed
commanding officer of the Snowbirds.

 

With three older brothers,
Carmichael jokes she was well prepared to work in a male-dominated
field. Looking back on her start in aviation, she admits she may have
been “ignorant” about gender dynamics, instead focusing only on what she
wanted to do: fly.

 

The first Snowbirds show of every season takes
place in Moose Jaw, where the squadron trains. Carmichael’s parents
travelled from Quebec for the show and the crowd was filled with
ex-Snowbirds watching with a critical eye.

 

Despite significant
turbulence, the show was a success.

 

After 22 years in the
military, Carmichael retired in August and has moved to Florida with her
two children and husband, a Canadian Air Force pilot who is currently
posted there.