Celebrating women in aviation

News Article / October 1, 2020

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The Canadian Armed Forces are a world leader in gender integration and the employment of women in all occupations. In October, the RCAF celebrates Women’s History Month and the participation of women in the field of aviation.

By Lieutenant James Carruthers

In 1974, six years before the job of Canadian Armed Forces pilot was opened to women, Major Wendy Clay got her wings.

Major Clay, who would go on to earn the rank of major-general, was a doctor in Canada’s military. She undertook the pilot training to have a better understanding of the medical needs of pilots and other aircrew.

She held the title as Canada’s only qualified female military aviator until 1979, when three female captains undertook training to get their wings after the occupation was opened to women. For these three women, Captains Deanna Brasseur, Leah Mosher and Nora Bottomley, the runway to earning their wings was burdened with a heavy amount of attention and pressure because of their trailblazer status. Captain Brasseur said that the age and rank difference between her and the male pilots led to them feeling isolated from the training group. Following these first three women, the Canadian Armed Forces would train and employ 40 total female pilots as part of its initial wave of training.

Women are an integral part of Canada’s military, serving at all ranks – from private to general, and in all environments – with no restrictions on the jobs they can undertake. The Canadian Armed Forces are a world leader in terms of the proportion of women in its military and in the areas in which they may serve. Among its allies, Canada is highly regarded as being at the forefront of military gender integration.

Captain Brasseur, later major, along with Captain Jane Foster went on to become one of the first women to pilot a CF-188 Hornet. She is also noted in the annals of military aviation history for being the first woman to investigate a military aviation accident in Canada.

In recent years, women of the Royal Canadian Air Force have gone on to achieve such successes as those of Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon, a former helicopter pilot who assumed command of Joint Task Force-Iraq in May 2015. Also in 2015, Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross became the first woman to hold that rank. She was also the first female commander of Joint Task Force North and the first woman appointed as Chief Military Engineer.


Lachance, Keven “Women and the Canadian Air Force”. The Canadian Air Force Journal Winter 2009 Vol. 2 No. 1 pp. 47-49.

Dundas, Barbara. A History of Women in the Canadian Military. Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada. 2000. pp. 113-128


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