Inside the history of 15 Wing Moose Jaw
MOOSE JAW, SASK. -- The Canadian Force Base Moose Jaw was established in 1940 as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
“They wanted to find a flat land that could be easily cleared to be close to gravel, because to water and transportation routes," Second lieutenant, Edward Soye said. "Moose Jaw has always been a railway town and that's part of why it was a good place to build.”
In the 1950s, when tensions within the Cold War were escalating, the base expanded its training to include pilots from NATO countries.
Pilots at 15 Wing now use the Harvard 2 aircraft, but back then they flew the Harvard 1.
“The old Harvard had basic hydraulics to operate some controls and the original ones didn't even have a radio," Soye said. "Whereas this airplane can operate in a much wider performance range. It's a good lead into the more advanced planes the pilots go on to fly in the modern Air Force.”
“The wing construct is we provide the flying operations here based on Canadian Forces Base, so we're both Canadian Forces Base and a Wing at the same time.”
In 1974, Major Wendy Clay become the first woman to earn her wings on the tutor jet at 15 Wing.
Now in 2020, Lieutenant Colonel Riel Erickson is the first woman to be appointed to the role of the Commandant of the 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School.
“It is one of the first significant commanding officer roles that young pilots are presented with and it's the first major unit that they're involved with," Erickson said. “I see this as an amazing opportunity to have an impact on new officers and new pilots careers.”
Erickson is also Canada's fifth female fighter pilot.
She said she wouldn't have achieved these goals if it wasn't for her mentors who helped her along the way. Erickson hopes to do the same for others.
“For so long we had a picture of what we think somebody is supposed to look like or be like to be in a role and I'm very happy to not look like that necessarily," Erickson said. "I really do believe anybody can get somewhere just with passion and determination."
The Canadian Forces Base Moose Jaw could be most well known across the country for being the home of Canadian Forces Snowbirds.
“Over the years we have become a symbol of hope and dreams that can be chased and attained by putting in the hard work,” Commanding Officer, 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, Lieutenant Colonel Denis Bandet said.
The squadron of 95 people, was established 51 years ago.
The team takes to the sky with 11 planes, nine for demonstrations and two spare planes.
The Snowbirds fly CT 114 tutor jets that were built in the 1960s.
“Over the years, it's just proven itself to be the workhorse of our fleet," Bandet said. "It’s strength is its simplicity, no computers on board.”
In May, while the team was on its cross country tour, called Operation Inspiration, one of the jets went down shortly after take-off in Kamloops.
Captain Richard MacDougall was injured in the crash and Public Affairs Officer, Captain Jennifer Casey died.
“What you saw Jen on the cameras who she was behind the camera," Bandet said. "It really hit the squadron pretty hard. We took a break. We were on Operation Pause for a long time. For three months which was unprecedented in our history.”
During those three months, the Snowbirds took the time to regroup and to thoroughly go through its operations, training and planes.
“The result when we came back is, we have 100 per cent confidence in the engines, 100 per cent confidence in the airframe we have 100 per cent confidence in our training," Bandet said. "We're back to resuming normal operations.”
Bandet said the team doesn't know that the 2021 season will look like, but he said going back into the sky is a way to honour Casey's memory.