Ray Thwaites is our Chief Pilot and shares unforgettable rides in our T-33 Mako Shark. With over 31 years in commercial aviation for both major Canadian mainline and charter airlines, Ray has had the opportunity to fly a wide variety of aircraft ranging from the DC-3 to the Boeing 757-767 and more! When he’s not tearing up the skies in a blue jet, he works as a Contract Flight Instructor and Transport Canada Validator on the Boeing 767. Ray sat down with us to share some information on his aviation journey, his favourite aviation memories, and advice for aspiring aviators.
When did you join the team and how did you find out about us?
I started flying the T33 in 2012 and joined the team 6 years ago when it was founded. At the time, Derek [Hammond] and I were volunteering together at another aviation organization, and I was actually flying Derek’s airplane [the T-33]. When he started up Waterloo Warbirds, the mission resonated with me and I liked the team that was starting to come together, so I moved with him.
What is your role with the team?
I’m the Chief Pilot on the T-33. In addition to flying the jet, as part of that role I’m also responsible for overseeing pilot operations alongside Derek, the Director of Flight Ops, and Richard, our Safety Officer. That includes regulatory interfacing, maintaining the Operations Manual with Derek, and meeting with Transport Canada about the mechanics of our flight operations, among other things.
What is the coolest thing about flying a Cold War era jet? How does it differ from the other flying you do?
They’re faster, more agile, and it’s the history of the aircraft that makes it fascinating to fly because of what it’s done in its past. It’s also really special to take passengers up and let them experience something so unique that they may never have had the chance to experience otherwise. I consider myself fortunate to do it. From a purely mechanical perspective, the instrumentation is very basic and somewhat different from what I’ve experienced in my airline career.
Do you find there are flying skills you take from the T-33 to your airline role?
Yes, definitely. One of the challenges with commercial aviation and airline aviation is the lack of hand flying because modern commercial airliners have so much automation, which tends to do a lot of the work. I’ve seen a positive crossover between flying an older airplane – the T-33 – with no automation, compared to the DC-8s and B-727s that I have been fortunate to fly. It tends to renew your basic flying skills which can deteriorate in a modern commercial airline environment.
What first got you interested in aviation?
That goes a long way back. I think I just looked up and liked what I saw. When I was in college I was attracted to aviation because I looked at it as a challenge, and then I just got hooked.
What is your favourite or most memorable aviation experience?
One of my most memorable experiences was actually a passenger who flew with the team. He had terminal cancer and came from out west to fly with us as one of his bucket-list items. His level of gratitude really stood out, and to see his enjoyment was pretty special because in another month he probably wouldn’t have been able to join us for the flight.
From a different perspective, flying with Peter [Stewart]’s dad was really memorable. He flew Mosquitos in World War 2 and even when I flew with him in his 90s, he still flew as well as I could. His ability to keep that skill and immediately apply it when he got the chance to take the stick was really impressive.
What is your most memorable experience with the team?
Flying in the Canadian International Air Show with Dave Hewitt and his Harvard was a lot of fun. That was one of the first times we had flown formation, and the challenges associated with organizing that and making sure the flight proceeded according to plan was really gratifying.
What is your most memorable flight experience in one of our jets?
The Skies Magazine photoshoot we did last summer. What stood out about that experience was the amazing photos that came from that flight, as well as the satisfaction that came from the effort we put in to flying formation for an hour with four airplanes. It was a lot of work, but very gratifying.
What advice would you give someone interested in aviation?
It’s a commitment, it’s something to start early if you can, and it’s extremely gratifying. The level of professionalism you get to “live in”, where people strive to do things extremely well and professionally, is like nothing else. Aviation is a great career full of gratification and sometimes surprises as long as you’re willing to put in the work.