The bottom of the CF-18 demonstration jet for 2021 showing the missing ninth Snowbird. Photo by Derek Heyes/Facebook

The bottom of the CF-18 demonstration jet for 2021 showing the missing ninth Snowbird. Photo by Derek Heyes/Facebook

Aviation a family affair for CF-18 demo pilot

Capt. Daniel Deluce looking forward to being a part of Operation Inspiration

Aviation is a family affair for Capt. Daniel Deluce.

The CF-18 demonstration team pilot, who is training in the Comox Valley for the upcoming airshow season until May 24, comes from a long family history of pilots, beginning with his grandfather Stanley Deluce, a Hurricane pilot in the Second World War.

The elder Deluce pioneered air-ambulance jet service in Ontario, created White River Air Services (flying to remote communities in Northern Ontario and Quebec) and purchased Austin Airways (eventually merging it to create Air Ontario) which was eventually sold to Air Canada.

In the late 2000s, he was also inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

“With the fighter (plane) and with my grandpa, that was a big influence; I got to live with him when I started my private pilot’s licence. I was with my grandpa and he was a really good mentor and inspiration for me to go into the air force, and I looked up to him as a pilot and as a person,” noted Deluce.

RELATED: F-18 demo team returning to the Comox Valley for spring training

Initially, Deluce received his private pilot’s licence when he was 16-years-old. His father, a commercial pilot for Air Ontario and Air Canada Jazz, taught him basic aircraft handling and attitudes, which eventually led to family trips in small float planes. He applied to the air force but was told there would be a wait until he could be accepted.

Working at his commercial licence and multi-engine instrument rating, Deluce flew in B.C. out of the Boundary Bay Airport to Victoria, Abbotsford and the southwestern areas of the province.

“It’s so hard to get that entry-level job, but I ended up just flying whatever I could – if someone needed a pilot, I would be there. It was a bit of a juggle and I worked other jobs just to support it.”

Eventually, Deluce got a job as a dispatcher at a medevac company in northern Ontario. Nearly a year later while waiting on a ramp in Sudbury for an ambulance, he got a call from the military that he was accepted.

With his commercial aviation experience, he was able to skip the first phase of flight training and went directly to Moose Jaw for training. Following his training, he received his RCAF pilot’s wings on the CT-155 Hawk and completed his fighter pilot course on the Hornet in 2015.

He applied to the demonstration team last year, but due to the pandemic, the season was postponed, and he was able to maintain his position as the demo pilot for 2021. This is the first opportunity for Deluce on the demonstration circuit and said the moment became real as he waited on the runway in Comox this week.

“Actually sitting (there), seeing the line of Snowbirds besides you and seeing more things going on, more people taking pictures … it makes it feel more real. I did a lot of training and it was usually just me, the technicians, the public affairs officer and (the former demonstration pilot). It’s exciting … and being the person at the air shows when I was younger and seeing how it makes people happy, it’s definitely motivational for me.”

While he calls Toronto home, Deluce considers B.C. his second home, with many family and friends connections throughout the province. He is looking forward to airshows in Abbotsford, Toronto and London in particular, but is also looking forward to returning to Vancouver Island in mid-June/July as part of Operation Inspiration.

With ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, he said while the airshow season may face certain restrictions, he sees them as challenges.

“I was really hoping to be included in Op Inspiration last year, and I guess it was just kind of meant for us to carry it forward to this year. It’s an honour to be part of this effort, and I’m hoping things are getting better. I’m hoping we can have a safe and responsible season as well as some fun, uplifting, inspirational flying for people around Canada that might not have seen us otherwise.

“With our theme ‘Strong at Home,’ it’s a representation of not only our operations at home but Canadians at home and frontline workers … it’s meaningful to me to incorporate that in our theme this year. “

On the bottom of the demo jet, which can only be seen during flight, is the missing ninth Snowbird, replicated to the exact dimensions found on the Tutor.

He said the single Snowbird is a tribute to all of those lost during the past year, including Canadians, members of the Canadian Armed Forces and Capt. Jennifer Casey, who lost her life as the public affairs officer of the Snowbirds one year ago, and also served in the same role for the CF-18 demonstration team in 2018.

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