Thursday, 6 November 2014

Light In the Dark Places

Room 429 is small and dark with a king-sized bed and an awesome view of the highway, the almost-full moon, and the landing lights of traffic on final approach at YVR.  The billboard across from me reminds me that bad breath isn't sexy; I’m pretty sure no one on the overpass directly across from me can see me in my nightie writing in the dark.  I wonder if room 428 across the hall has a window that tracks the approach all the way to touchdown.

My mind wanders back to another dark day in mid-February when I sat writing on what felt like the hundredth day of rain.  Boredom, loneliness and an edgy discontent had me firmly by the heart.  I had slipped in and was about to sink deep into all of it.  I knew that the only way out was to make a bold move.

Just as it had almost every single time I ran into something challenging, my mother’s voice rang inside my head: “What are you going to do about that Honey?”  What was I going to do about it?

I looked at my desktop and a gracious and confident Elizabeth Montgomery looked back, and I asked the question that always grounds me.  I already knew the answer. 

What would Samantha do?

With a snap of my fingers I answered out loud that same bold statement that propels everything I do: “She’d conjure that sh*t up!”

And so that’s exactly what I did.  I picked up a humble piece of loose leaf paper and created what I now call The Nexus – the meeting place; the place where all things come together.

Although I had been visiting this restless desire off and on for a while, I didn't know exactly what I needed.  I did, however, know what I craved:

·         Greater opportunity to develop my own leadership skills; and

·         Deep and genuine connection with like-minded people.  I knew my tribe was out there somewhere.

I didn’t set goals.  I didn’t write out my intentions.  I just knew if I wrote something - anything - on that loose leaf paper that the words would do the work for me.

I wrote a list of groups or organizations where I knew seeds had been planted.  And I wrote down three projects that had been on my mind for a long time but I hadn’t had the courage or connections yet to make them so.

Just in the writing of it the spell had been cast.  I set my pen down, turned to my computer and my-people-on-the-other-side presented me with my first opportunity in about two clicks of a mouse.  There on my Facebook news feed was an announcement for the 2014 Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (CAHF was top of the list – check).  I immediately “traded in” my annual trip to Vegas for a quick trip to Calgary.  I instantly had something to look forward to.  Bye-bye discontent.

Where there were no opportunities I created my own and invited others to join me.  We were soon surrounded by a gang of do-gooders whose energy would propel us all forward in ways we had not anticipated.

The Snowbirds loving up their people
(that would be us) in Comox.
We started our own chapter of Women in Aviation (check) and began creating more meaningful connections with women in our community and the men who supported us.  We found even greater opportunity in connecting with the Sea-to-Sky Chapter and the Rocky Mountain Chapter while feeding our airplane addictions; most importantly we had A LOT of fun doing it!

At some point I fell in with a rowdy crowd from across the field.  They seduced me with their beautiful PBY Catalina (check) and I began working with them on what can only be called our labour of love! She’s gorgeous, has a ton of personality, is a little high maintenance but is worth the extra attention.

Do not let their mild manner
fool you.  These guys are
trouble with a capital T!
Many Saturdays I was swept away by my guys and their storytelling.  Sometimes one of the fellas in the hangar behind us would play some music from the era of the airplane and I would get lost in time.  I would leave them with sore hands from scraping paint and a sore belly from laughing so hard.  Our motto was: "No one else on Earth is doing what we are doing today." Boy, wasn't that the truth!

More and more every day I was reminded that I am the luckiest girl in town.  Gone were the rainy-day pangs of boredom and loneliness.

I hadn't really understood the power of the loose leaf paper.  The same week I became President of my Flying Club I met an astronaut, a WWII flying ace, a trailblazing bush pilot and about 300 other mind blowing individuals.  I was asked to speak to a number of organizations and the whirlwind of freedom and friendship grew.  And I loved it.

One sunny summer day at the end of July I spent money that I didn't have on a plane ticket to attend the Aviation Leadership Foundation's High Tea Adventure (check).  As one of the speakers, with trepidation I braved a deeply personal speech and I was worried that I had given too much of myself away.  I knew there were a few back in my hometown who were not pleased that I had gone to follow my heart's desire in the Big City, but none of that mattered to me because I was surrounded by encouragement, kindness and inspiration.

As I waited for my float plane I sat on the dock in the sun and ate my speaker's gift sending chocolate-covered heart-songs to the Universe.  Still unfolding was the perfect day. All the way home our Harbour Air pilot flew low level over the glistening seascape.  A pod of killer whales just south of Active Pass played and danced in the sunshine as we circled overhead at 400 feet, and I praised The Boys (also known as my-people-on-the-other-side) for gifting me with this supremely ideal day and I wondered if it was all "worth it".  I asked that they turn the risks I took that day into opportunity.  Like the good business woman I am, I asked that they make it "valuable" - like it wasn't already.  I wondered if they would transform the unbillable hours and money spent into experience that would change everything.

Six days later EVERYTHING did change.  I suppose I got exactly what I wished for, it just didn’t play out exactly the way I thought it would.  It felt as scary as it gets - like I had walked into a wall with screaming banshees at my back.  In the days that followed I discovered that some of the people I always thought had my back, didn't.  At all.  Fear and fatigue crept up into my mind and whispered spine-chilling untruths about my body and my bank account and it wasn't just the night talking.  There were no certainties, especially not from the doctors.

Here in the dark again, I found champions in unexpected places.  The community we had raised rallied and held me up without even knowing they were doing so and out of the ashes rose a phoenix-like silver thread of hope, love, and deep gratitude.

I was shown gifts that I had always possessed but was too wrapped up in the drive to appreciate.  I walked away with a clean slate and greater opportunity for authentic relationships and meaningful connection.  Here was a scrumptious community I was proud to be a part of.  I feel so privileged that I can put my arms around these people and hug it out.  I am so blessed.  And in all of that a miracle found me and life is new again.

And now it’s November and I am about to meet my new Triad in the Aviation Leadership Foundation’s Mentorship Program (check).  I sit back on the bed in the dark familiar place and soak in the dreamy anticipation of greater challenge and favourable circumstances to connect with "my people".

In this reminiscence, I remember that The Nexus still holds two projects I have not yet started – but they’re next.  I know it.  I’ll get the sign when the time is right.  The magic will find me.

The only question now is whether or not I should eat the complimentary Mars bars left on the desk or should I save them for the next rainy day bail out?

What would Samantha do?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Gone Flying...

Laziest blog post ever.

I can write a book about all the fun stuff that my favourite airplane people and I have been up to this year but instead of writing a long summary and posting a thousand pictures, I made a little slideshow.

Call it a vlog.

And we're only in July.  Lots of good summer flying and other fun ahead of us.  My favourite part is that we are all in it together.

Onward & Upward

xo R

Sunday, 9 March 2014

We Did It!

I woke up this morning feeling like the luckiest girl in the world – AGAIN!  This seems to be a reoccurring theme for me.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than in the company of so many interesting, inspiring and empowered women; and the men who support and celebrate them.

We officially have a new Vancouver Island Chapter of Women In Aviation International!  All of our volunteers really rocked it!  Everyone really went the extra mile.

Our event was held jointly with the amazing Victoria Flying Club ( who provided free familiarization flights and flights in the Red Bird SIM for women and girls interested in flying.  The staff and instructors were phenomenal and took such good care of all of our attendees.  Also thank you to Bill McAllister and Fly Southwest BC for taking 6 women flying for free on as part of our Women In Aviation event.

We were joined by our friends from CASARA and COPA 4 Kids.  What I love about the aviation community is how different groups always come together to support one another.  I was reminded this weekend that you never know who you are going to meet; or what a positive impact they will have on your life.  Airplane people are so cool!

I must send a special thank you to my fellow founding VI WAI members Bonnie, Lynn, Christie, Hannah and Jessica J.  Keep your eye on these women.  I expect that we will be seeing great things from them.

Kathy, Marie, Phyllis & Ramona
We have been blessed to meet a very special 88 year old pilot named Phyllis Gaul who was the first female pilot in her home Province of Newfoundland (and the only female pilot in Nfld for quite some time).  She received her PPL in 1947 and at that time, where she lived, there were no other women pilots so it was a very challenging time for Phyllis. She is a bright light for all of us.

Here's Phyllis' story.

This weekend Phyllis went up in one of the Club's Cessna 172's and she tried out the RedBird.  There was also a story about Phyllis at our event on CTV News tonight and Phyllis' grandson was sweet enough to provide us a link to the CTV Interview.

Phyllis surprised us this morning with this Times Colonist Letter to the Editor.  She is such a vibrant lovely woman.  We are so lucky to know her.
Phyllis & VFC Instructor Sean Tyrrell

We were supported by other businesses in our community who provided door prizes for our new WAI members and other attendees including: Catalina Grill, Contrails Aviation, Dakota Cafe, Dish Cookhouse, Mary's Bleue Moon Cafe, Melinda's Biscotti, Ooh La La Cupcakes, Red Boot Lady, Red Brick Cafe, Spitfire Grill, Stonehouse Restaurant, Sweet Memory Art, Theo's Restaurant, The Roost Farm Bakery, Thai Corner Restaurant, and Toast Cafe.  Thank you to our friends at Island Blue Print for their last minute save and doing all of our printing for us.

With Brave Wings She Flies
Our friend and artist, Christine Roome, ( has designed a pendant using an original 6 x 6 collage created in honour of International Women's Day and in support of Women in Aviation, Vancouver Island Chapter called "Brave Wings".  The photo on the pendant was taken in 1947 and the woman in it is Mae Frame, a member of the Victoria Flying Club.  She is standing beside a Fleet Canuck, one of the club's first airplanes.

50% of the proceeds from the sale of this necklace will go back to the Women in Aviation, Vancouver Island Chapter.  The pendant comes in a 1.5 round antique copper setting covered with glass with a matching 24-inch chain and comes adorned with a set of matching wings.  It can be ordered online at the above link.

We had a ton of press with respect to our event including:

Times Colonist Letter to the Editor

CTV News

You can find some fantastic photos by Jo-Ann Way of Nuttycake Photography of our event at: Women In Flight

Or right here!  Thank you to everyone who joined us!  Onward and Upward!

Shooting Go! Island SHAW TV at VFC

Friday, 31 January 2014

It Takes A Village

"If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others."  African Proverb

One of the people in this plane is a
Retired Major General - and it's not me!
The first time I met Scott Eichel, he and Don were practicing instrument approaches.  I didn't know what The-H they were doing with that fancy playbook they were following, all I knew was that I was thrilled to be invited along for the ride.  It wasn't until Don was cleared for an RNAV into Nanaimo, that Scott handed the set of plates back to me so that I could follow along.  I stopped taking pictures and started paying attention.

Aside from being a lot fun - these
people know where all the best food is!
This was a couple of flights into a period where I was in between instructors.  I had recently returned to flying after a too-long break and was a little bit frustrated that I wasn't flying.  My first day back "a little bit frustrated" may have looked like a temper tantrum.  Lucky for me, the Victoria Flying Club's resident group of rec flyers noticed and invited me to tag along.  We took two planes and, like any group of good friends, they had a familiarity and joviality with each other that I loved.  "No Spins!"  It was great fun.  I was "their student" and until I found the great and powerful Sean Tyrrell, they were my lifeline.

I swiped this off the internet.
Don't tell him.
The day I was introduced to IFR Approach Plates, I was having such a good time, I didn't have a clue that Scott was mentoring me.  I don't think he did either - or maybe he did and like all good teachers, didn't let me in on it but he kept me very interested.

What I didn't know about Scott was that he is a Retired Air Force Major General.  After a bunch of interesting twists in his military career including working in a psych hospital, Scott received his permanent commission in 1963, with the rank of flying officer.  Although Scott had always wanted to be a pilot (and to hear him tell this story is fantastic!) he had "a bad eye and an okay aptitude" so he didn't think he would ever become one.  Around that time the Air Force let go of 500 pilots and navigators and, of course, in the ensuing years there became a incredible need for experienced air crew and he was selected for pilot training.  Military pilot training "trained you to be a captain",  and he became an Argus captain with a crew of 10.

With the USAF T-38 Talon in Arizona
One day I got brave and asked Scott who his most memorable teachers were.  He would dream up scenarios for weather and mechanical problems - the "what-ifs" and would bring them to guys he respected and ask them if they would work through a problem with him.  "What if you were half way between Iceland and Goose Bay and you lost an engine?"  He would work out all the combinations and all of his options, and the senior pilots would critique them.  He learned that when you're in the fighter and bad stuff happens, you deal with the immediate stuff first and worked through everything else with the crew.

"There was one guy in particular who decided that he was going to make something outta me."  With his powerful booming voice, when Bill Muse talked you couldn't help but listen.  He had been flying Lancasters in the Arctic and had the ability to take complex problems and translate them into useful terms.  He taught Scott that you always have to have a gopher hole that way you always have an out.  It was important to be aware of all your options.

At the other end of the spectrum was a navigator, Ed, who was a consummate professional.  He was quiet and meticulous, he left no stone unturned.  He would talk things out with violent men and never criticised.  He played no favourites.  He was a man who lead by example; all you had to do was watch and learn.  Hmmmm... sounds familiar.

After a distinguished career as a pilot, Ret. Major-General Eichel, went on to and equally interesting career "in the bowels of National Defense Headquarters".  These days, while not charming everyone at the Flying Club, Scott gives back to the aviation community as the President of the Vancouver Island Aircrew Association, an association of military aircrew.  Most of the members of the association are former bomber and fighter pilots who are now in their 90's, some decorated.  Scott tells me that it's a privilege for a young-blood like him to be celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the RCAF on April 1 at Government House with this group of distinguished gentleman.  These men are the last of their generation of warriors.

"Indeed I have had a number of mentors over the years … whether they knew it or not." Scott Eichel

Todd Lemieux, paying it forward with the Cadets
at the Victoria Flying Club, 2013
Vintage Wings of Canada Chairman, Todd Lemieux, learned important lessons early on.  As a "farm kid with some motor skills" learning to fly in the Air Cadet program, he was surrounded by achievers which, by default, forced him to get his stuff together.  Chris Weisgerber, the guy who taught him to fly gliders, was going to medical school at the time and one day he asked Todd what his plans were.  "You're going to university right?"

He didn't have any plans - he hadn't really thought about it before.  So he got some.

While Todd was earning his PPL his instructor, Bill McKinnon, taught him something he will never forget.  Bill was a "philosopher" instructing in Manitoba.  Todd was a cocky 17-year old kid with a high skill level and false sense of confidence.  On the ground after a bad flight Bill walked away from Todd saying: "If you're not good enough without it, you'll never be good enough with it."  Over the years that really sunk in.  He realized that "you can't be defined by ratings, you are defined by the character it takes to achieve them."  There's a certain satisfaction that comes from achieving.

"It's just what we do."
Tony (Anthony) Slugoski, who is now a member of the Saskatchewan Aviation Hall of Fame, saw character in the kids in the Air Cadet program and developed that.  Todd was one of them.  He was broke and Tony would let him fly the SIM for free - or let him rent it at bottom cost.  At a time when he had limited resources available to him, Tony's mentorship allowed him to advance his abilities and Todd couldn't pass up the opportunity to engage the bomber pilot.

Todd's early experiences with guys with that WWII mentality who just loved to fly have shaped who he is today. "They told cool stories but never boasted because there were so many other guys who didn't make it home.  It would have dishonoured their fallen comrades to boast."

And it is that reverence for those who came before him that drives him in his volunteer Chair position with Vintage Wings.  He spends his time with super passionate people who are into the art of flying.  "Plus you get to fly really cool airplanes and give others an opportunity to experience them too."

"Learning to fly is not purely mechanical.  Your character, developing your judgement, decision making, and fortitude bring achievement."  Todd Lemieux

She really does fly that plane!  At
Air Canada Kelly's dreams came true.
At 22 years old Kelly Jamieson's dreams were vivid and she was filled with hope.  Around that time she had an opportunity to meet and speak with a Chief Pilot on the Big Jets.  Fresh faced, she looked at him and said: "I'm gonna do what you do one day."  And he looked down at her and said: "Oh no you're not."  She was devastated.

"It's amazing how significant events shape who we are.  He looked at me like he was saying: Who do you think you are?  You've got so much to learn."  And she did.

Kelly didn't have a mentor but I knew after hearing Kelly's inspiring story at the BC Aviation Council's "Bridging the Skills Workshop" that she is a woman who-never-gives-up!  And there were lots of times when she could have - and a lot of people would have.  She had a number of dispatch and office jobs with various aviation companies, moved across the country more than once, and was continually passed over for flying positions because she was a woman.  She knew that to be true because she was boldly told exactly that.  While in a ground position in Vancouver Kelly's boss took her out for a nice lunch and told her: "We don't hire women to fly for us."  Women ran the operations, men flew, and they "would understand if you left to fly elsewhere."

The first time I saw Kelly speak
at the BC Aviation Council
She was really frustrated but she was resilient.  She knew if she quit she would always regret it.  Lucky for Kelly she has a tight community of good friends in and out of aviation, who supported her and always told her that it would be worth it.  And eventually, even though she was delivering fliers to supplement her income, she finally got a shot to fly.

She reflects now on how it's interesting how what are seemingly passing events can have such a lasting effect on someone else's life.  One day Kelly had to do a routine maintenance check on a King Air 100.  She called a girlfriend who had previously been a pilot but had given up her career because her husband had been a pilot with Cathay to see if she wanted to tag along.  Her friend was in the middle of a divorce and was finding it scary on her own again. That flight changed everything.  Today that girlfriend flies for Encore.

Today Kelly is a pilot with Air Canada and a one of the champions of the Aviation Leadership Foundation where they have developed a mentorship program that in it's first year has shown amazing results.  While it started as a safety platform, one of the aims of the Aviation Leadership Foundation is to create a more connected aviation community.  It quickly became apparent that there were gaps in industry leadership so they developed their leadership skills and put together this program to assist others in developing their own.

For her it was a long, tough, scary road.  She would like to see others receive the support from the community that she was missing.  She likes seeing people reaching their goals and becoming better leaders.  For many, the experience has been life changing.  "Everyone learns from each other and it's been valuable to everyone involved.  The interest is there and the appreciation is there.  People are hungry to connect and it's amazing to connect with people who have a passion for flying."

"The smallest connections can lead to such large scale change." Kelly Jamieson

 West Jet Captain Gord Simmons (left)
with his good friend from cadets, 
Air Canada Captain, John Sterchi
Gordon "Gordo" Simmons, has a photograph of himself sitting in an F-18 Hornet when he was a kid.  What he remembers most about that experience is that the Air Force Captain looked him straight in the eye and said: "You could totally do this you know."

Now a WestJet Captain and Yellow Wings of Canada pilot, he earned his wings in six weeks with the Air Cadet program.  He had his night rating before he could drive a car and his Dad had to drive him to the airport.  During this time he developed life-long contacts including Todd Lemieux and John Sterchi.  At that age they had a constant stream of positive adults that encouraged them.

Gord has always just loved being around airplanes.  He was a refueller for five years while he was instructing gliding, and had a number of jobs on the ramp.  In the early 90's there were no flying jobs and while he was moving airplanes he got to sit with the pilots and get to know them - and they got to know him. Because of those connections he was eventually offered an opportunity to fly.  In the years that have followed he has had an opportunity to fly a ton of amazing aircraft in a number of jobs that included seven years flying Medivacs up North - three in three out.

He was already flying a King Air when on a commercial flight in an Air Canada A340, he was given an opportunity to sit up front and talk to the crew who were really welcoming and they let him know that he was absolutely on the right track.  It's important to have someone to encourage you that way.

In 1996, the aviation business picked up and WestJet came to town.  About 4000 to 5000 pilots immediately applied and he is one of the lucky ones who gets to call that fancy cockpit "the office".  He loves working at WestJet where there are no set routes which makes you capable of flying everywhere.  "You just go to work and go."  I asked Gord if it's true that even the pilots groom the plane.  Yes they do.  Although most people think it's a cost saving measure (and it is) it's also part of the esprit de corps.  They get the airplane turned around quickly and everyone, from the office to the ramp, have a single vision in delivering the best experience to the guest.  He has his dream job.  "I love it!  I gotta pinch myself."

Flying with Vintage Wings is also unbelievably rewarding for Gord.  He gets to talk to people who are interested and involved.  He has always had an affinity for the military and it's aviation history.  He loves the opportunity to fly with people he really admires and being part of the larger aviation community.

"Pursue what you love.  Do things you like and enjoy with people you like doing them with.  Chase Airplanes.  Have fun!"  Gord Simmons

Sam and his wing.
Richard and his win.
While Todd, Gord, and John met in cadets some of us meet in Starbucks. Some of the magic about aviation is the community that is created with the people you meet along the way.

I love it when everything clicks.  Like when I discovered that the guy I met at Starbucks is a flier too, and so is his friend, who I hadn't met yet, but was about to, and when we did, we all instantly became fast friends because we were all connected by the passion and challenge and all the questions that come with learning to fly.  That connection creates a community where it's safe to talk about where you are winning, and where you are totally blowing it.

We all have different reasons for wanting to fly.  Some of us want to take the family on vacation.  Some of us want to face our fear and do it anyway.  Some of us just know that when we are up there we get to experience who we really are.  At the end of the day it doesn't matter why we want it, as Todd Lemieux says: "It's just what we do."

David Gagliardi has taught me so
much just from knowing him.
Those same people in the beginning who had generously wrapped their arms around me and invited me in were, quite frankly, happier than I was that I passed my flight test.  They literally held my arms over my head and cheered for me.  They had been waiting for me to cross that line without ever making me feel less-than for not having done so already.  They believed in me when I didn't. That's what I love about those people.

I think Gord Simmons said it best when he said: "I love airplanes.  I love airports.  And I love airplane people.  It's all about the airplane people."

Again, who's the luckiest girl in town?  That would be me!  Period.

My instructor, Sean Tyrrell, and I two days after I passed
my flight test. This man has learned a way to challenge me
that's a real screw turner. We are laughing about it now - I think.

Some of my favorite airplane people at one of my favorite airports.

Circa 1979. I can't talk about mentorship without talking about my Dad.
That will be a whole 'nother blog. Ode to my Daddy - wait for it!
Howard Peng: Friend, Mentor, Inspiration