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Emilie Perron leading the way for the next generation of aviators

'The pilot let me take control for a few turns and I was just hooked right from that moment'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

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Emilie Perron hasn’t even started her senior year of high school yet, but she’s already set her sights on her post-graduation career will be, and she’s taking aim at the aviation industry.

“I remember being at the airport and seeing the pilots walk by and I would say to my parents ‘one day that will be me,’” says Perron.

Born and raised in North Bay, the École Secondaire Catholique Algonquin student has just won the prestigious COPA Neil J. Armstrong Scholarship, which has given her $10,000 toward eligible training costs associated with getting her Private Pilot License.

“I’ve started ground school so I have 50 hours of ground school to do,” says Perron. 

“That’s where you learn everything about meteorology and the physics of flight and the engines, its just getting you as prepared as possible to start your flight training. I already have my Aviation Medical training done which is a big start and I have a year to get all of this done and so within a year I should be flying on my own.”

And while she has yet to obtain her full G-drivers license, she has been in control of a plane in the air.

“I did my first flight back in September. It was just one of those things where I was walking out the door and I got a phone call saying, 'I’m coming to pick you up, we’re going to go to the airport and get up in the air.' Within 30 minutes I’m flying,” says Perron.

“I got that opportunity because one of my teammates on the boy's hockey team I play on has a grandfather who owned that plane and he is part of the local COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) group and they bring up kids to go flying just to give them that experience.”

Bill Carswell is the Captain (President) of the North Bay COPA chapter and he says, “The mandate is to promote general aviation and freedom to fly in Canada. We lobby Transport Canada and NAV Canada for the interest of general aviation. We also promote aviation among not just the youth but the general population and encourage people to learn to fly.”

“It was just a really cool feeling,” says Perron.

“I hadn’t flown in a few years and I had only ever been in one of those large passenger airlines before, but here I was in a Piper Super Cub (a two-seat single-engine monoplane). So that was even more of a fun ride because you can feel how different it is compared to riding in a larger plane. The pilot let me take control for a few turns and I was just hooked right from that moment.”

Perron says actually flying the aircraft wasn’t as difficult as she originally suspected it was going to be.

“The most surprising thing to me was that it’s actually not that difficult to fly once you’re up there. Most people that have driven a car would get the hang of it pretty quickly. It’s a lot of difficult material that has to be covered when you're doing your training or going through ground school but it’s certainly not something that is unachievable,” says Perron.

Her interest in all of this started at a young age with a love of space exploration. 

Perron says, “Learning about astronauts and space exploration started in grade six when I met Jeremy Hansen (Canadian Fighter Pilot, now working in the Canadian Space Program) at Chippewa Secondary School where he came and did a presentation to introduce kids to what Canada was doing in the space exploration realm and that really sparked my interest.”

She says she became absorbed in everything to do with space.

“I just started doing my own research and reading on my own about everything I could that had to do with space.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Perron had the opportunity to meet a few of Canada’s space heroes.

“I met Hansen a few years ago again in Ottawa and I got to talk to him at that point, which was really cool. He said to me that becoming a pilot will be a challenge but to keep pushing and never give up and I’ll never forget that.”

She was also in attendance at the Capitol Centre When Chris Hadfield came to North Bay.

“I got to do a short meet and greet with him before the show, but didn’t really get a chance to talk to him within that group meeting,” says Perron.

“Later on, when he was doing his presentation I got to ask a question and he remembered my name from the meet and greet and that was just really cool to hear him say ‘Hi Emilie’ to the whole crowd. He had flown on the Soyuz TMA spacecraft and the Space Shuttle and I asked him which one he thought was better and what was the biggest difference. He compared it to driving a Tesla versus driving a farming tractor.”

And it’s a passion that Perron continues to fuel today, “I follow a lot of astronauts on Twitter and Instagram and I’ve probably read literally every single book written by astronauts. When there is a rocket launch I’m glued to the coverage on YouTube.”

Perron, who has achieved a number of remarkable feats for a person her age, is heavily involved in several aspects of the North Bay sports scene. She currently works at the Tennis Club, but has played boy's hockey and plays as a defensive back with the North Bay Bulldogs.

She’s also coached two levels of bulldogs’ football which has helped her accumulate over 480 volunteer hours which also included helping out at a dance camp to running a curling pro shop.

Those were some of the areas she covered in her essay that helped her win the scholarship.

“The essay was about why I thought that I would be a good candidate for this scholarship,” says Perron.

“I just talked about the things I have done through school and in my recreational life with playing football and hockey, and I talked about being a young female in northern Ontario who has faced a lot of challenges and that I could bring a lot of skills that would connect to a career in aviation.”

Carswell, who joined the Canadian Air Force in 1973 and had a 23-year military flying career before a 15-year career with Air Canada says, they know someone really wants to be a pilot when they react the way Emilie did after her first time out.

“I’m sure she’ll go on to some sort of aviation degree. She went on those familiarization flights with us and you could see it when she landed, that look on her face was of just pure joy and excitement, and that's something we love to see,” he says. 

Perron says, “On the day that I flew, those pilots said they just saw something in me and they really pushed me to apply for the scholarship. I wrote my essay and one of them wrote me a reference letter and the next thing I knew I had gotten a call saying that I had won.”

But that doesn’t mean Perron is closing the door on anything to do with space exploration.

“I have considered looking into careers in physics and astronomy because I loved spending nights outside and looking at stars through telescopes but I had not really considered becoming a pilot because I honestly didn’t believe that I could do it. I didn’t know how to go about it. But I got to meet some pilots and they introduced me to the best way to go about it and so I said ‘ok this is something that I think I can do.’”

Carswell says, “When I first met her I explained to her a couple of different pathways to pursuing that. There’s the military route and that’s my background, but I also told her about different flight schools as well.”

Perron says, “Now with this scholarship that pathway is even easier. I’m still looking at possibly going into aerospace engineering because that is probably the best way to get into the space exploration field.”

Carswell also says he believes Perron is getting into this field at the right time.

“There’s never been a better time for someone like Emilie to get into this industry,” he says. 

“I’m predicting that this industry is going to boom with the number of retirees we’ve had and coming out of this pandemic I think there will be a lot of desire for people to fly again and so those airline companies are going to be looking for pilots, so it’s a great time to get into the industry.”

Perron says the lack of young pilots is something she has noticed, especially women.

“There are almost no young females in the piloting industry, everyone I have met happens to be older men. It can be a little intimidating, but it certainly is something I noticed and females only make up about seven per cent of all the pilots in Canada,” she says, but adds it is not going to be a deterrent for her.

“It’s something I’ve already experienced though, when I’m playing hockey or football or refereeing, sometimes I’m the only young person there, but often I’m the only female there and it’s something that I’ve gotten used to and I’m not going to let it stop me,” she says. 

“I’ve always looked at it like if I want it, I’m going to try my hardest to get it, even if I’m the only person that looks like me doing this. One thing I’ve realized in the past few months is that most pilots are incredibly nice and super friendly and they love to see more young people being involved and younger females taking an interest in the industry. It will be quite a challenge and I know I will have lots to learn but I know I will have lots of support from other pilots.”

If you have a story idea for “Rooted” send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com.