AETE’s Maj Catherine Blais is Canada’s first female military test pilot

Blais first female military test pilot

Major Catherine Blais, the first and only military female test pilot to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces
Cpl Donnie McDonald, AETE

Capt Marie-Michèle Siu

Maj Catherine Blais of AETE is the first, and only, military female test pilot in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

Maj Blais is one of more than a hundred pilots hand-picked to work at AETE over the past 50 years. She has flown more than 2,700 hours on 30 different military and civilian aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary wing. These include the CT-114 Tutor, CT-156 Harvard II, CH-146 Griffon, CH-149 Cormorant and others.

“My favorite aircraft is the UH-60 Blackhawk because it’s an icon of military aviation and it is truly purpose-built for its mission. Plus, I liked flying it at Test Pilot School” she said.

Major Blais graduated from l’École Polytechnique de Montréal with a Bachelor of Engineering in aerospace engineering in 2000 and a Master of Engineering in aerospace engineering in 2002. In 2003, she enrolled in the CAF because it offered opportunities to fly, which suited her sense of adventure. She wanted to use her engineering degrees in a non-traditional way and “couldn’t bear to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life”, she explains.

Her first posting was as an instructor at the 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School in Moose Jaw. She was subsequently posted to 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Valcartier. In August 2010, she was deployed to Afghanistan for nine months to fly the CH-146 Griffon in support of army operations. She also worked in the Tactical Operation Center overseeing daily operations and planning routine operations.

Following her deployment, she was selected to be a Test Pilot in the CAF and was posted to AETE upon graduation in December 2013. “The biggest highlight of my military career, so far, is the time I spent at the United States Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, USA,” she said.
Half of her typical day as a flight test pilot consists of flying. Then she works on supporting other projects such as test planning, reporting, participating in review boards, and attending engineering meetings with other DND technical and operational agencies. When she is executing a test project, she will do two or three flight tests a day, write her reports, and plan the next day’s objectives. “When doing deployed testing, the days are long but rewarding,” she said.

Over the past four years, she has been involved in the CH-149 Cormorant’s engine vibration survey, CH-147F Chinook simulator acceptance, CH-146 Griffon Required Navigation Performance Area Navigation certification, CT-156 Harvard II g-suit testing, and CH-146 Griffon Maritime Helicopter Precision Approach System developmental testing.

Her advice for any woman interested in becoming a test pilot is that “it is a male dominated field, but it is based on competence. So if you have the background and the experience and are competent, then there is no reason why you should not be accepted and excel in this field.”

AETE is currently holding a test pilot candidate evaluation for pilots already in the military.

Maj Blais is an inspiration as a woman who made Canadian military history. Her impressive accomplishments should be celebrated.