When it comes to pursuing a career as a Canadian Forces pilot, the sky is the limit for Nanaimo’s Andrew Gates.
The 18-year-old Cedar Community Secondary School Grade 12 student earned a $200,000 scholarship from the Royal Military College Canada in Kingston, Ont., to become an aeronautical engineer and eventually fulfill his dream of flying fighter jets.
That dream began as a six-year-old with a desire to learn how to fly.
“We’ve always had the plane in the family and around six or seven I started thinking about flying,” Gates said.
Gates joined the 205 Collishaw Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron at 12 and after a year of hanging around planes, was convinced any career move would involve flying.
He earned his glider’s licence at 16 and knew flying was something he wanted to do all the time.
“When I got my power pilot’s licence last year and was flying longer and faster, I knew right away I wanted to be a pilot in the military,” he said.
Gates always gets a rush when in an aircraft, but being in the pilot’s seat is where he likes it most.
“Being in charge of the aircraft, making the decisions, that’s a whole new level,” he said. “It’s exciting and relaxing at the same time. You know exactly what you have to do, go through your procedures and checks and everything works out. Unfortunately in civil aviation, when it gets too exciting, that’s usually when something goes bad.”
Gates hasn’t had any ‘bad’ experiences, learning to fly under the watchful eyes of his father and grandfather.
Having experienced pilots sitting next to him is reassuring and helped develop confidence in his own abilities, should he ever have to deal with an emergency.
He recently went through training on escaping from a submerged aircraft and believes in himself to react properly to any situation.
“You have to try and ignore the panic and realize there are only so many options,” he said. “Then you act to the best of your ability.”
Gates also credits his time in cadets for not only providing the opportunity to earn his wings, but to grow as a person.
From an introduction to aviation and first aid certification, to more than $35,000 in pilot scholarships, he owes a lot to the program.
“I’m a better person because of the lifeskills I’ve learned in cadets,” he said. “The program has also given me the credibility to go on in the next phase of my life.”
Gates reports to school in August for boot camp and then begins classes in September as an officer cadet.
And even though his education is just starting, he has given his future some thought.
“You can’t be a pilot forever, but having the aeronautical background is key,” Gates said. “You know the engines and airframes inside and out if you want to design jets. And having a PhD and becoming a test pilot is the fast track to becoming an astronaut. I don’t think that would be a bad job.”