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Women In Aviation: History maker

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


July 6, 2011
By Andrea Kwasnik

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From her early beginnings in the Air Cadets to her current command of the elite 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, 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.

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Q | What motivated you to join the 630 Air Cadet Squadron in Beauport, Que., at age 13?
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.

Q | With more than 3,300 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 1990s, 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.

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Q | Becoming the first female pilot to fly with the Snowbirds must have been quite an honour. 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 lifelong dream for me. I remember seeing the Snowbirds at the Bagotville air show in the late 1970s 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?
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, I have a great foundation to now lead the men and women who 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 air shows to go to and represent the Canadian Forces!

Q | Any at point, did you feel that you were not going to achieve your goals?
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 | Is there anything left to be done to entice young women into 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 me to air shows and later on the Air Cadets. Actually, my youngest brother is also a pilot for the Government of Quebec, flying its medevac Challenger and Dash-8.

Q | Is there a person, aviator or otherwise, that inspires you?
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 who shares those personality traits, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette. Both ladies are a great source of motivation and inspiration.

Q | The Snowbirds exude excellence. What advice can you give young people to strive for excellence?
A | A Saskatchewan painter, Yvette Moore, titled one of her latest works, “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 . . .


Lt.-Col. Carmichael continues the discussion, including her proudest moment and life in a two-pilot household, at www.wings magazine.com under Web Exclusives.


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