I am not going to fly jets.
I am not going to fly the F-18.
This is by request, and I am happy about it.
Now let's back this up a bit.
I finished the PH IV Transition course on the Hawk a week ago, and had an absolute blast doing so. The Hawk was incredibly challenging, but also incredibly rewarding to fly. Although occasionally frustrating and stressful with the limited equipment that comes with a jet from the 70s, the ability to simply move the throttle up and quickly see 500 knots is something that never fails to bring a smile to my lips. Flying with a Heads-up-display (HUD), and a Climb/Dive Angle (CDA) indicator was an eye-opening experience to how easy these tools made it to fly at high speeds while still retaining accuracy. All in all, flying the Hawk was an incredible experience that I'll forever be grateful for, but it also convinced me that I should not continue down the path to jets and the F-18.
There are a great many factors that came into this decision, and no one thing pushed me over the edge, but the biggest reasons were the realization of where my priorities would have to be in order to be successful, and the stress that it caused me. What I mean by this is that in order to be successful at PH IV Transition, 419 Fight Lead-In Training (FLIT) and eventually 410 and onwards flying the F-18 I would have to devote nearly 100% of my time and energy on studying, preparing, and thinking about my training. This doesn't leave a lot of time for my family and my girlfriend, let alone social time with friends. This was compounded by the fact that I struggled to mentally disengage from work during the times that I wasn't actively working. Even when I wasn't actively studying or preparing for a flight, I found myself continuously stressed and thinking about the upcoming flights. This stress detracted from my ability to be present and focus when spending time with loved ones, and just generally led me to a state of discontent. All of this is manageable for a short period of time, but seriously looking at how I would manage this stress over the course of the next couple years told me that going down this path would likely lead to mental burnout, or just general unhappiness. As mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, there are a great many other factors, but these ones proved to be the biggest contributors.
This realization wasn't a fun one to have. Becoming a fighter pilot has been a dream of mine for just about as long as I can remember. I have been actively pursuing this dream for nearly a decade, and I always thought that the only thing that would stop me would be someone else closing the door on me, but now I find that the one who closed the door was myself. Let me be clear, this isn't a temporary career change that I can revisit after my next tour. Now that I have given up my chance at going jets, it won't be offered to me again. My chance to fly the F-18 or any other fighter jet with the RCAF has passed, and I'm okay with that. Dreams can change, and just because the sixteen year old version of myself made a decision to fly jets with no context of what priorities future me might have doesn't mean I should be upset when I don't achieve that dream. I am sad that I won't get to fly the F-18, but I am happy knowing I have made an important decision that will allow me focus on the things that are truly important, and reduce the mental stress that I have been experiencing these past months.
I would like to take a moment here to make a case for the fighter community. Those of you with aspirations to fly jets, please don't take my decision as a cue to abandon that course. The fighter community is filled with incredibly talented and motivated people, and flying jets is an incredibly rewarding experience. I am not saying you can't have a life AND fly jets, you can, and many do. The path to jets takes determination and commitment, and so long as you are prepared to devote the required time and energy you will be successful.
So what's next? Well, I made a request to remain in Moose Jaw as an instructor on the Harvard, and that request was approved. Once again the Air Force has demonstrated to me that they care about their people, and understand that this was a decision I had to make for my personal well being, and ultimately they were supportive of that decision. I have started the Flying Instructors Course (FIC) at the Flight Instructor School (FIS) in Moose Jaw, and will hopefully be a flight instructor on the Harvard by the end of 2017. This means that Moose Jaw will continue to be my home for the next 3.5 to 4 years, after which I will hopefully be sent on a conversion course to my desired airframe (Multi ideally) before posting to another squadron and aircraft. I am very excited about the prospect of teaching on the Harvard as it is an incredibly capable aircraft that I thoroughly enjoyed flying during PH II and PH III, and the idea of imparting knowledge and skill to others is something I look forward to realizing.
In short, I made an important career decision that I think will ultimately benefit me and my mental health, and am quite excited to move forward on this new stage of my career. I hope that by sharing the reasons for this decision I can help others going into the RCAF make the right career choices for themselves. As stated above, jets are a great career path with lots of exciting opportunities, it simply isn't the one for me. As I go forward I will continue to write the occasional post about learning to teach (an entirely new concept since I have spent the past several years learning to learn), but these posts will be sporadic and far in between.
I hope you will continue to follow along as I go down this new path in my career, and find my experiences and stories helpful as you continue along your own path.