Bits and Pieces
A Young Pilot's Start in Aviation - Flying in Puvirnituq
Jordan (left) With Happy Mom Oh, and those few words of Inuit - nakurmiik (thank you) and atsunai (see you)!
My first ride in a small plane was with my Uncle Ian. It is quite funny to say 10 years later that I didn't really realize what it was back then. I had fun, nothing more. Moving to the front seat a couple of years later was a whole other story; I never thought that first flight would ever lead me to pick up a few words of Inuit!
As a kid I wanted to be lots of different things but not a pilot. I flew to France a couple of times on commercial airlines, and we had the opportunity to be invited into the cockpit back then. I sure was impressed by those two fellows in white shirts who were in control of this huge aircraft, but I can't say I was drooling like so many young boys. Choosing this as my career path came later.
I started to have an interest in a flying career in high school. Fortunately, on a "pick a career" day, we had an airline pilot visit us. I saw that this job could fulfill my taste for adventure and that it would also be a fine career for a lifetime; I could eventually consider bringing good money home, too. This pilot was passionate about what he said, and by his mid-30s he had traveled around the world. That was when I decided to check for the availability of different schools and collect as much information as I could on the subject.
Looking at the options for beginning a career in aviation in Quebec, I found that pilot training divides itself into two big categories. Either you go to the public college in Chicoutimi (DEC) or you choose from one of the multiple smaller private schools around the province. I went all the way to Chicoutimi to visit the public school. It sure has some nice facilities with great planes (Piper Navajo, Beech Sundowner, a C-185, skis, floats, and tailwheel) and a lot of equipment including huge flight simulators.
I finally chose the private school route to be able to do things at my own rhythm and the way I wanted. I guess it was the way for me to take responsibility at a young age. (I started private training when I was 15 or 16.) You all know how expensive it is to take flying lessons, so it was a nice way for me to stay serious in my studies and to be able to pay my way. Even though I chose the private school way I honestly think both paths can make great pilots, and both have their pros and cons.
In a flying school, completing your licences only depends on weather and on you. Since the weather is beyond our control, I tried to focus on making everything else right. I finished my commercial licence at the age of 18 - two years after starting my private licence. Some do it faster but I couldn't afford it. I had school at first, then I stopped school but still had a full-time job so I could pay back my loan as quickly as possible.
There are three main ways you usually take when starting your flying career in Canada. Either it's on the ramp somewhere up north, flight instructing, or fire patrols. Every way has its advantages. But considering the fact I had a girlfriend, I didn't want to leave her for several months, and I already knew that teaching was something I enjoyed. It didn't take me long to choose my first flying job as an instructor. I was lucky enough to be able to choose my first job. Depending on how the industry is doing, sometimes there isn't a job available at all!
At age 19, I had my instructor's licence in hand and started teaching - flight lessons as well as ground school. It was for me the best way to start my flying career, and I sure did learn a lot. Not only did I learn in the cockpit, but I also learned a lot from the different people I met through my two years as a teacher.
I would recommend this path to anyone who enjoys teaching and contact with the public. I would do it again with lots of pleasure. Maybe when I'm an old grumpy pilot, I'll talk about the old days when we had analog instruments in the plane and we would fly the planes by hand, not with some autopilot and heads-up display. When I'm that old maybe I'll go back to instructing again!
Typical sunny day at Air Inuit
I am now working for regional airline Air Inuit in Northern Quebec. I was hired with 1,200 hours of flying, and I have now been first officer on the Twin Otter for a bit more than a year. I enjoy the plane I fly for its STOL capacities. It can take off at 12,500 pounds in 400 feet in the middle of a tundra. Not so many planes can handle that kind of performance, that's for sure! It is a tough plane that can handle the job in many diverse operations: medevacs, mining contracts, scheduled flights, charters, survey, para-drop, and more.
Since I've only been flying commercially for five years, I haven't tried everything I want to try, so I don't really know which are my favourites. There are many different options in the company itself. Air Inuit has six Twin Otters, three King Airs, 10 Dash-8's, one Hawker 748, and two Boeings. When I have tried half of those, I'll be able to say which I like best. I would say that flying the Twin Otter in STOL operations all year long would be something great, but I would probably miss my child and my wife. I would highly appreciate being home every night, and the Dash-8 operations with Air Inuit can offer that. We can't have everything!
In my short career as a pilot I can easily think of several memorable flights, each exceptional in its own way. There have also been memorable moments where I wasn't the one flying, and sending my first solo student up in the air was definitely something big for me. It was a great experience for him and for me to see all that work represented in a single takeoff and landing. The first time I did aerobatics was surely another memorable flight, even more considering neither my friend nor I had ever tried aerobatics before that.
Flying the Twin Otter has also provided several memorable moments, even if I've only been flying for a bit more than a year now. So many times I am just blown away by the beautiful landscapes or by the spectacle of the northern lights right in front of my eyes, covering the whole sky for several minutes. We had one flight where we had to drop a group of Inuit hunters in the middle of the tundra. It was mid-November and there was snow everywhere.
Upon landing I couldn't believe where we were dropping our passengers off. All around me was nothing but rocks and snow. I might also add that we left them for a few days out on the land. They had to face a blizzard during that time (which apparently wasn't a big deal for them), and to top it off, all of my passengers were 50 years old and up! It was an outing for elders!
Medevac flights comprise most of the job here in Puvirnituq. Medevac is not always synonymous with emergency. You can think of it as an ambulance. The ambulance is also there to pick up patients that can't reach the hospital on their own. Since we only have one hospital for seven villages, it makes a lot of traveling for us. In the different villages there are nursing stations where you can have essential treatment, but if the nurse or doctor in charge determines further care is needed, the patient will be evacuated. So we do medevacs for anything from a broken limb to a severe trauma situation.
One special aspect about Nunavik is that there is still active tuberculosis. For each of the most affected villages, almost 10 percent of the village is infected. We often find ourselves evacuating tuberculosis patients. It sure is impressive helping to work against a disease for the first time, and I would almost say that it is the most rewarding. Medevacs are usually the flights where we really make a difference. Our crew consists of a nurse and doctor (if necessary) that are the real workers.
On the cockpit side, the operations will almost be the same as usual - we have priority when we land, and most of the time will pass number one on arrivals if possible. We are usually on call half of the day, so with two crews we are able to offer 24/7 coverage. What is the hardest part about medevac flights is not knowing how your day can end up. You might have nothing scheduled for the whole day and finish sleeping on a chair in a small village after a 15-hour shift because your patient is giving birth.