If you've flown with Waterloo Warbirds, you might be familiar with John as one of our Passenger Coordinators, but even if you haven't met him in person, you've seen the results of his work through his photos, videos, and skillful planning of community flyovers! Join us to learn more about what inspired John's love of aviation, the many hats he wears on our team, and the ways he lives his passion for flight both on the ground and in the air!
When did you join the team and how did you find out about us?
I ran into Ray [Thwaites, T-33 pilot] at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Air Force Day in 2017, then started speaking with the Team Coordinator about volunteer opportunities. The following Monday, I came in for an interview, and ended up spending the next 8 hours on the apron with the team. I was hooked from that moment on!
What is your role with the team?
My main role with the team is as one of our Passenger Coordinators. In that role, I am the main point of contact for a passenger when they come fly with us. I’ll introduce them to the pilot; deliver the safety briefing; get them suited up in their flight suit, parachute, and helmet; help them strap into the plane; and set up GoPros to capture their experience. I’ve always had an interest in aviation photography and videography, so I’ve also had the opportunity to take photos and edit videos for the team, which you’ll see on our YouTube channel, website, and social media pages. In addition, I do some of the flight planning for our community flyovers such as Remembrance Day flypasts and special flights like Operation Inspiration [for key workers during the pandemic].
John marshalling our De Havilland Vampire
What’s it like getting to be part of so many people’s flight experiences?
Being able to deliver first class service to people who are here for a once in a lifetime “bucket list” experience is amazing. Everyone has a smile on their face at the end of their flight. It never gets old to see that!
What first got you interested in aviation?
In 1974, my family immigrated to Canada from Scotland. We flew over on a British Airways Boeing 747. The grandness of it really struck me. It was such an epic experience being on such a large plane, and one that very few people have the opportunity to experience.
Since then, I have always wanted to be a part of aviation in some capacity. In 2017 I joined the Waterloo Warbirds team which in turn encouraged me to get my own private pilot’s license.
What is your most memorable aviation experience?
On September 12th, 2022, Toronto Police Constable Andrew Hong #7815 was killed in the line of duty. As a sergeant with a large GTA police service, this had a profound impact on me. During a subsequent conversation with our President and Director of Flight Ops, Derek Hammond, he proposed that Waterloo Warbirds conduct a flypast of the funeral. Over the next week, I coordinated the arrangements for the flypast with the Waterloo Warbirds team, Toronto Police Service, Nav Canada-Toronto Area Control Centre, and York Regional Police Aviation Unit. The cooperation and willingness to help was amazing. The weather cooperated and we were able to fly a three-ship formation flight with a missing man break that signalled the step-off of the funeral procession. On the return leg back to Waterloo, I was able to fly the L-29 from the backseat in formation with the T-33. I conducted the break, circuit, and landing, which was a first for me in a jet. It was a great honour and privilege to be able to be a part of the funeral for Cst. Hong and I am grateful to all involved who helped make it happen.
John standing next to our L-29 the day of the flyover for Constable Hong. The jets conducting the flyover all bore the Toronto Police Service crest with Constable Hong's badge number the day of the flight.
What is your favourite aviation experience?
It's very hard to decide as I have had many great opportunities to fly in our L-29, T-33, Vampire, and Harvard! If I have to choose, a great experience was a 2019 formation flight we did with our MiG-15 UTI, and in particular a low pass on Runway 32 at Waterloo Airport while I was in the rear of the T-33! Doing loops and rolls in the Harvard is a very close second!
As a private pilot, I tremendously enjoy taking Waterloo Warbird team members, family, and friends on scenic flights over Toronto to see the CN Tower or doing orbits over Niagara Falls!
What is your most memorable experience with the team?
Attending the Thunder Over Niagara Air Show is one of my most memorable experiences to date. For the duration of the show, we stayed at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. I had the opportunity to watch the USAF Thunderbirds from the roof of a C5 Super Galaxy! Being on top of a plane that size was a great experience in and of itself, but getting to watch the Thunderbirds from up there was an absolutely surreal experience.
That being said, every event we participate in is exceptional because of the Esprit de Corps and camaraderie we have as a team.
John capturing some air to air photos of our T-33 from the back seat of our North American Harvard Mk. II B
What advice would you give someone interested in aviation?
You have to be 110% committed and you have to seek out every opportunity you can to fly. Starting with the team was just an unknown opportunity that I took back in 2017, which has led me to now having my pilot’s license and so many great aviation experiences since!