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womeninaviation
 
   
From her early beginnings in the Air Cadets, to now commanding the elite 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds, Lt.-Col. Maryse Carmichael has always operated by the same philosophy – work hard and follow your passions.


July 18, 2011
By Andrea Kwasnik

From her early beginnings in the Air Cadets, to now commanding the elite
431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds, Lt.-Col. Maryse
Carmichael has always operated by the same philosophy – work hard and
follow your passions.

The first woman selected to fly with the Snowbirds in 2000, and then a decade later the first woman chosen to lead the squadron, it is clear the two-time history maker has the right stuff. Here is a snapshot of what makes Lt.-Col. Carmichael tick.

womeninaviation  
   

Q
You began your aviation career as an Air Cadet with 630 Squadron in Beauport Quebec at age 13. What motivated you to join the Air Cadets?

A
I joined the Air Cadets because I was interested in aviation and also to follow in the footsteps of my three older brothers. Being in the Air Cadets gave me a solid foundation for my present career in aviation and in the Canadian Forces.

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Q
With more than 3300 hours of Air Force flying, what has been the most rewarding part of your job?

A
Whether I was instructing student pilots in Moose Jaw in the nineties, transporting VIPs while on the Challenger in Ottawa, or representing the skill, professionalism, and teamwork of the men and women of the Canadian Forces during my time with 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds, I think the most rewarding part of my flying career has been contributing to the overall mission of the Canadian Forces.

Q
Becoming the first female pilot in history to fly with the Snowbirds in 2000 must have been quite an honour. What was that like for you, and what kind of pressure did you feel in that role?

A
It was indeed quite an honour to be selected to fly with the Snowbirds; it was also a chance to realize a life-long dream for me. I remember seeing the Snowbirds at the Bagotville Airshow in the late seventies and being mesmerized by their performance. I did feel some pressure at the time. My husband tells the story of hearing of the mid-air collision our team had in June 2001 (before he and I met) and of his first thought being “I hope it’s not the girl.” Fortunately, I was not involved in the accident.

Q
How would you describe your commanding style? What’s the best way to keep your squadron motivated and enthused?



A
I have just completed my first year of command and I have to say that it is a work in progress. Having been part of 431 (AD) Squadron previously gives me a great foundation to now lead the men and women that make up this unit. I know the passion they have, their professionalism, and their sense of duty; I am very proud of them and what they accomplish on a daily basis. In order to keep them motivated I just have to ensure they have lots of airshows to go to and represent the Canadian Forces!

Q
Any at point, did you feel that were not going to achieve your goals in aviation? If so, what changed?

A
I have to say that I worked quite hard during my early pilot training with the Canadian Forces. The failure rate was quite high and I would see fellow students returning home on a regular basis. I did not want to be one of them. One of my goals early on was to fly F-18s, but unfortunately I was not selected to fly fighters after receiving my wings. I was disappointed at the time although I ended up realizing another dream later on, flying with the Snowbirds.

Q
In your opinion, is there anything left to be done to entice young women into a career in aviation?



A
I think the only thing we can do is to expose them at a young age to aviation and let them know that it is an option and a great one at that! Although my parents did not work in the aviation sector they certainly introduced my three brothers and I to airshows and later on the Air Cadets. Actually, my youngest brother is also a pilot for the Government of Qu<1>bec, flying its medevac Challenger and Dash-8.

Q
Is there a person, aviator or otherwise, that has inspired you along your career path?



A
There are so many successful/remarkable people that it would be hard to pinpoint only one. Of course being from Quebec City, I grew up listening to Celine Dion. What an inspiring example of perseverance, hard work, and passion. There is also another fabulous lady that shares those personality traits, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette. Both ladies are a great source of motivation and inspiration for me.

Q
The Snowbirds exude excellence. What advice can you give young people to strive for excellence in an aviation career?

A
Saskatchewan painter, Yvette Moore, titled one of her latest work, “The Pursuit of Perfection.” Her painting displays our nine-ship formation practising during the winter months. I think the title sums up the Squadron philosophy quite well and I think this is the advice I would give to young people entering the world of aviation. Never stop learning……

Q
With an aging fleet of Tutors, what is on the horizon for the Snowbirds?

A
You can expect to see our Tutors at an air show near you as the life expectancy of the airplane has been extended to the year 2020. This Canadian plane has performed beautifully over the last 40 years with the Snowbirds. It is a recognizable source of pride and inspiration for many generations of Canadians across the country.

Q
What’s it like living in a two-pilot household – any competition?

A
I am very lucky to be married to another Canadian Forces pilot. My husband knows exactly the demands of my work, what I do, and why. We often hear that command is lonely; well, in my case, having a husband that is also about to take command of a unit, it’s quite special as we get to share ideas, ask the other for advice, and really understand the challenges of our respective work. There is no real competition between the two of us…..unless we’re playing a car racing game…

Q
In your current role as Commanding Officer of the Snowbirds, what are your main duties and what are the main challenges you face?

A
My main duties as the Commanding Officer of 431 Air Demonstration Squadron are to oversee the entire operation of the Squadron and to lead the men and the women in fulfilling our day to day mission. During the summer months I have 22 people that are travelling across North America presenting our air display to millions of spectators. I also have over 60 people that remain at our home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan that support, maintain and train at home during the summer months.

During the winter months, everyone is back at home preparing and training for the following show season.

Q What is your favourite aircraft to fly? Are there any aircraft you have always wanted to fly, but have not yet?

A I have to say I have two favourite aircraft and both of them are Canadian! My first one, of course, the CT-114 Tutor aircraft (our Snowbird jet) for its agility and excellent stability for nine-plane formation aerobatics; the second would have to be the Challenger. I actually flew the airplane in two very different roles: Combat Support and VIP transport. It performed both roles extremely well; with 434 Combat Support Squadron in Greenwood, Nova Scotia we flew coastal patrol missions as well as support to the Fighter Force.

Q
What advice would you give a young woman pursuing a career as a pilot?



A
Work hard and follow your passions. I think this is good advice for any career, but more specifically for aviation; if you love your work you will not hesitate to put in the hours required to succeed.

Q In your line of business, fitness must be high on the list of priorities. Do you have a specific fitness regimen for yourself and your squadron?

A You are right that fitness must be high and that is the same for all members of the Canadian Forces. For the pilots on Squadron a lot of the fitness comes from flying the actual show sequence in the airplane. You slowly build up the endurance over the winter training months to finally culminate by flying two shows per day during the intensive spring training deployment in Comox, BC.

For the members of the Squadron, the training routine varies greatly. For my technicians and pilots that travel for half of the year, it can sometimes be a challenge to be disciplined on the road. Personally, I try to get on our treadmill at home first thing in the morning and (hopefully) get my training done before our girls get up…..

Q What do you see as the best part of your job?

A The best part of my job is getting to meet Canadians from coast to coast. The members of my Squadron are fortunate since we meet Canadians on a regular basis. The men and women of the Canadian Forces that are presently deployed throughout the world do not get to meet Canadians on a regular basis; we are very fortunate to represent them.

Q You’re on the road a significant part of the year. What are your favourite destinations in Canada? Is there a personal “must have” you can’t live without when you’re on the road? Starbucks?



A I have to say that I am not on the road as much as my Air Display Flight. I travel once or twice a month away from Moose Jaw, to either visit them on the road or to attend meetings/conferences. I do not have many “must haves” when I am travelling, I try to keep it simple. Of course a coffee is always required in the morning to wake up and a blackberry to keep in touch with our operations at home and on the road.

Q What is your philosophy on achieving success?



A Know what you want and work hard.

Q When you are not busy commanding the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, what are your main interests and hobbies?

A My husband and I have two young daughters that keep us busy when we are not at work. I just like taking the time to be with them and my husband.

Q What is your proudest moment?

A Receiving my Canadian Forces pilot wings in 1994 has to be my proudest moment; even more than making the Snowbirds.