Women in the Royal Canadian Air Force

Women in the RCAF
Corporal Alexandra Roy is the first woman to serve with 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron as door gunner on board CH-146 Griffon helicopters. Photo: Courtesy ADSUM newspaper
French-English School, RCAF #7 M.D. Rockcliffe, Ottawa, Ont.
On November 17, 1942, some of the language students at the French-English School at RCAF #7 Manning Depot in Rockcliffe, Ontario (just east of Ottawa), take a break from their class to look at aircraft. From left, they are Aircraftwoman Second Class Rita Joncas (Cap a L’Aigle, Québec); Section Officer M.E. Carry (Toronto, Ontario); Aircraftwoman Second Class Yolande Begin (Québec, Québec); Assistant Section Officer M.E. Ferguson, an instructor (Montréal, Québec); Aircraftwoman Second Class Marie-Paule Belanger (Montréal, Québec); and Aircraftwoman Second Class Grazielle Dube (Québec, Québec). Photo: DND Archives, PL-12113

From RCAF Public Affairs

As of January 2014, the percentage of women in the CAF, Regular Force and Primary Reserve combined was at 14.8 percent, with more than 9,400 women in the Regular Force and more than 4,800 women in the Primary Reserve. At 18.7 percent, the Royal Canadian Air Force has the highest representation of women of all environments, which includes women serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force Regular Force and Primary Reserves.

In 1979, Captain Deanna Brasseur, Captain Leah Mosher and Captain Nora Bottomley were the first women selected for pilot training in the CAF. The first female pilot in the modern CAF was actually Major Wendy Clay, a medical officer, who qualified as a pilot in 1974, six years before the pilot classification was opened to women.

In 1981, Second Lieutenant Inge Plug became the first female helicopter pilot, the same year that Lieutenant Karen McCrimmon became the first female air navigator.

Major Dee Brasseur and Captain Jane Foster qualified as CF-18 fighter pilots in 1989. Major Brasseur has since accumulated more than 2,500 flight hours as a fighter pilot, flying in both North America and Europe, and was inducted into the Women in Aviation International Hall of Fame on February 17, 2007.

The Royal Canadian Air Force enrolls women in all occupations, which includes operational trades such as pilot, air combat systems officer, aviation technician, and aerospace control operator. In all of these occupations, airmen and airwomen are selected for training and promotions, postings and all career opportunities in exactly the same way, which is based on rank, qualifications and merit.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tammy Harris became the first woman Wing Commander when she assumed command of 9 Wing Gander in Newfoundland in 2006. And, of note, Chief Warrant Officer Linda Smith became the first woman in the CAF to be named Wing Chief Warrant Officer at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1995.
There have also been several female leaders appointed at the Squadron level: Lieutenant-Colonel Karen McCrimmon was appointed commanding officer of 429 Transport Squadron in Trenton, Ontario, in 1998, and, in 2010, Lieutenant-Colonel Maryse Carmichael became the first female commanding officer of 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron, whose members are best known as the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.

The RCAF also has women serving as generals. In 2006, Brigadier-General Christine Whitecross became the first woman to be appointed commander of Joint Task Force North. Major-General Whitecross, an air force engineer, achieved her rank on June 30, 2011, and was posted into the position of Chief of Staff for Assistant Deputy Minister (Infrastructure and Environment) and appointed Chief Military Engineer of the CAF at National Defence Headquarters.

While the occupation of medical officer is not unique to the Air Force, Major Wendy Clay became the first female flight surgeon in the Canadian military in 1974, receiving her pilot’s wings that year. In 1989, she attained the rank of brigadier-general and was named Deputy Surgeon General at National Defence Headquarters in 1992. Two years later, she became the first woman in the CAF to reach the rank of major-general and to serve as Canada’s Surgeon General.