RCAF pilot gets at-risk Indigenous youth up in the sky

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News Article / December 2, 2021

By Emily Lindahl

As a Rotary Wing Instructor Pilot at 3 Canadian Forces Flight Training School (3 CFFTS) in Portage la Praire, Captain Joshua Cordery has over 1,000 hours of instruction, and the skills to match. In February 2020, his passion for flying led him to create Eagle’s Wings, a way for at-risk Indigenous youth to chart a new way forward, gaining skills and self-confidence.

The passion and purpose behind Eagle’s Wings is to see young people transform as they ‘slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings’ together.

Recently, Capt Cordery received the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Commander’s Commendation for his unique initiative. As Eagle’s Wings’ creator, Board Chair and Instructor, his leadership unquestionably contributed to the successful execution of the program. Building from an idea to the successful completion of the first class was no small task. Capt Cordery demonstrated professionalism and leadership throughout, investing substantial effort to champion the program and to maximize support and resources. He was also recognized for greatly enhancing the relationship between the RCAF, 3 CFFTS, and local indigenous communities.

Indigenous communities in Manitoba were engaged and asked to identify youth between the ages of 14 and 18 to participate in the first class, which took place during the summer of 2020 program. With a mission and vision of helping young people transform their outlook and lives through exposure to aviation, the program introduces its students to aviation through ground and airborne flying instruction. Ground instruction covered technical elements as well as non-technical skill sets universally applicable in any trade or occupation (e.g. professionalism, communication).

Twelve hours of airborne instruction included all basic elements of flying: take-offs, landings, and aircraft handling. By learning to fly, at-risk youth experienced a unique sense of accomplishment which fueled their self-confidence and provided tangible evidence of what they are capable of when they commit to a task and persevere to its completion.

On his own time and personal expense, Capt Cordery obtained an Elegro 2000 advanced ultra-light aircraft and Class 4 civilian instructor rating. Taking Special and Annual Leave to do so, he leveraged his experience as a RCAF Qualified Flying Instructor to facilitate three days of ground school and two weeks of flight school to the six students (he conducted approximately 60% of the flying instructional duties). Capt Cordery and his volunteer staff coordinated transportation, meals and housing – no simple task during the COVID-19 pandemic. Operational costs for the program were supported by Dakota Ojibwa Child Services.

All six students from the first class successfully completed the program as did the six in the second class, a testament to Capt Cordery’s dedication to this endeavor. The program was widely appreciated by the leadership of local indigenous communities and as such, they are already looking towards continuing the program next year with possible expansion to the student and instructor capacity. The success of Eagle’s Wings was also reported to a national audience through coverage by CTV News and Skies Magazine.

While further pursuit of aviation training would be an exciting outcome for prospective students, that was not the primary goal. At least three of the students showed a desire to continue in the aviation industry in some fashion or another.

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