Canada’s Next Top Guns: An Interview with an RCAF Trainee Pilot

The Royal Canadian Air Force is currently in that state of flux many modern militaries find themselves encountering when older equipment nears the end of their feasible service lives and get phased out in favor of newer, more advanced gear. With the retirement of older “legacy” C-130 Hercules tactical airlifters, the impending replacement of the CF-188A/B Hornet (Canada’s mainstay frontline fighter), and the recently-announced CASA C-295 addition to the branch’s search and rescue force, the RCAF will (in due time) field newer and more capable aircraft than they’ve ever before used in their history.

But one things remains constant within the RCAF, and that constant is the branch’s dedication towards producing and building competent, capable and highly-skilled pilots to fly aircraft with Canadian roundels on their wings. Among the many formal military pilot training schools that exist in the Western world, the RCAF’s primary training outfit, based in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, is renowned for decades of experience and excellence that many other schools don’t possess… which is why CFB Moose Jaw takes in a number of foreign student pilots every year to bring them up to speed on the CT-156 Harvard II, and the CT-155 Hawk jet trainer.

In essence, CFB Moose Jaw’s most important job is to churn out the best pilots in the country; Canada’s next “top guns”. TACAIRNET, recently, had the opportunity to speak to one such pilot in training, Fred Roy.


TACAIRNET: Before we begin, I’d like to personally thank you, Fred, for your time, patience and help in producing this interview! So without further ado,  at what age did you find yourself getting interested in aviation? Rotary or fixed wing?

Fred: My father is a pilot, having flown for both the Royal Canadian Air Force and for the Airlines, and therefore I grew up around airplanes and airports. I’ve been in love with flying for as long as I can remember! My dream is to become an operational Fighter Pilot, but further along in my career I would love to fly Multi-engine and Rotary wing aircraft as well.

TACAIRNET: What attracted you to the military over, say, a commercial job with an airline, or a corporate gig as a business jet pilot?

Fred: I would say “The need for speed” is what first attracted me to striving to become a Fighter pilot. The thought of not only being able to fly a fighter jet, but also using it as a weapon against an enemy in support of your country’s military operations, is something that I have always admired. As I grew older, I also realized that the Military is an amazing way to get paid through both university and flight training. Finances are a huge detractor to people becoming pilots, so joining the military was a no-brainer for me. As I said earlier, I do not plan on staying in the Fighter Force for my entire career; I would love to eventually move on to flying different aircraft, in the commercial world.

TACAIRNET: What were some of the biggest preconceived notions you held prior to entering the Forces, and were they shattered?

Fred: That’s an interesting question. Since I got to grow up with my father being in the Air Force, he answered all of my numerous questions/concerns throughout the years. Sure, there are a few disadvantages to being in the military; but I really believe that all the benefits strongly outweigh the negatives. Paid schooling and Flight training, the opportunity to fly high-performance military aircraft, and the chance to get paid to travel the world are but a few of the amazing aspects of flying for the military.

TACAIRNET: Tell us more about the pilot training pipelines for the RCAF. What’s the training progression you’re currently in, and how far along are you?

Fred: I joined the Canadian Forces in 2012, at the ripe young age of 16 years old, to become an Infantry soldier in the Reserve Force. I took it as an opportunity to get exposed to the Forces early on, and to gain exposure on what it means to be a soldier on the ground. My plan was to transfer to the Air Force at the age of 18 to hopefully go through the Royal Military College of Canada to eventually become a pilot. But as it turned out, a new Canadian Air Force pilot training program came in effect in 2013, called “CEOTP-AEAD”; the Continuing Education Officer training plan- Air Environment Affiliated Degree. It’s a mouthful to say, but in the Air Force it’s known as the “Seneca program” for short.

It’s a program where we get both an Aviation Technology degree from Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario, as well as our Canadian Forces Pilot wings. I jumped at this opportunity, because instead of the 7-8 years it used to take to fully train a pilot, this program allows us to do that in 4. In 2014, I successfully transferred to pilot and since then have gone through BMOQ [Basic Military Officers Qualification] in St-Jean- sur-Richelieu, Quebec; Phase 1 flight training in Portage-la- Prairie, Manitoba; 2 semesters at Seneca College, and have just finished up Phase II flight training on the CT-156 Harvard II in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.


TACAIRNET: What are some of the aircraft you’ve been checked out in, thus far, and what has been the easiest for you to fly, versus the most challenging?

Fred: Interestingly, I started flying when I was 16 out of a small grass airstrip, on a small 2-seater ultralight airplane called a Challenger II. I only got 11 hours on that ultralight, but it gave me the initial hands-and- feet to be able to do well so far in my flight training. In 2014 I flew the RCAF’s current primary trainer, the German-built Grob G120A. It was a really fun little airplane, especially to start learning basic aerobatic sequences. But Phase 1 was a very short course; I only got a total of 16 hours on the Grob. It was so short because it is a “Selection” course, they want to see if you have what it takes to move on to CFB Moose Jaw and the Mighty CT-156 Harvard, the Canadian name for the Raytheon-Beechcraft T-6 Texan II.

TACAIRNET: Let’s get down to the biggest question we’re itching to ask for this interview: what’s training in the CT- 156 like? Where do trainee pilots in the RCAF typically go after the Harvard II?

Fred: The CT-156 is an amazing military trainer. With its 1100 Shaft Horsepower turboprop engine, its tandem, ejection-seat equipped glass cockpits, and its top speed of almost 320 knots, it is an absolute blast to fly. The great thing that I found about the Harvard is how versatile it is. It is incredibly smooth and stable when flying in the traffic pattern or on an instrument approach, but it can also fly a lot like a jet and let you pull a lot of Gs, and pull off pretty advanced aerobatic maneuvers like Vertical Rolls. I just finished off Phase II, the course with the bulk of the flight training for Canadian Air Force pilots. The course is composed of 4 phases

  • Clearhood flying, where we are introduced to Visual Flight rules like circuits, stalls and aerobatic maneuvers.
  • Next is the biggest phase: Instrument Flying. Here we are shown all about flying our airplane on the instruments, from departure, to vectored transition with ATC, to holds, to PAR (Precision Approach Radar) approaches.
  • Next is Low-Level navigation, where we fly at an altitude of 500 feet above ground, at a speed of 240kts (Almost 450km/hr), using only a map and the ground in front of us to navigate from point to point.
  • Finally, we have formation flying, where we learn how to lead a wingman, and as a wingman to be able to stick to flying 10 feet away from our lead through both takeoffs and turns.

The last two phases, Low-Level Nav and Formation, where my favorite because of how dynamic and adrenaline pumping they were.

Throughout Phase II, students are graded on their daily flying performance, flight test performance, and Officer attributes. At the end of the course, the students are selected to continue their training in either the “Jet”, “Multi-Engine” or “Helicopter” streams, dependent on the needs of the Air Force as well as how well you did and what airframe you prefer. I will be getting selected in January, and am really hoping to continue on the Jet stream towards becoming a fighter pilot.


TACAIRNET: What do you find most challenging about pilot training with the RCAF?

Fred: The most challenging part for me is not so much the actual flying, but actually being away from my girlfriend, friends and family. Sure, the flying can be quite challenging with little room for error and a lot to learn in a short amount of flights. But I gave each flight my best effort and studied hard, so was always ahead of the steep learning curve. On the other hand, there isn’t much you can do about being away from people you love; you just have to keep your head up and keep working hard.

TACAIRNET: Do you have any advice for aspiring military aviators out there?

Fred: I have three words of advice I can give to any aspiring military pilot that would help with their Flight Training:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I have seen many people stress out about unnecessary things in their training, which lead to them becoming over-stressed and over-worked.
  2. Keep reminding yourself why you’re doing this. We all have bad days, and sometimes I would catch myself wondering why I was going through all this work. Sometimes all it took was a moment of looking outside and enjoying the view during a flight, or to watch a motivational flying video on YouTube to cheer me up and get me back on track.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to others. There will be people out there that try to bring you down, and there will be competition. Just focus on yourself, give every flight the best you have, and work of becoming the best version of yourself you can. If you do, you’ll be just fine through flight training.

TACAIRNET: Once again, many thanks, Fred, for your time! We sincerely do hope that you get selected for the fighter pipeline, and we hope to have you back with us in the near future to give us an update on your training!

All imagery used in this article were provided by Fred. You can follow him and his pilot training with the RCAF on Instagram @fredroy828!



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