Flight school still flying high at 50
School of Aviation marks half-century
Flight students pose with former Seneca president William T. Newnham (third from left) at Buttonville Airport in October 1968. Photo: Seneca Archives
Steve Linthwaite remembers well the time he thought he was going to get kicked out of Seneca’s flight school.
It was the early 1980s. The now Vice-President Flight Operations at Jazz Aviation LP had been behind on his pilot training and he had dispatch duty that day. In walked Stan Miller, a Second World War pilot and Seneca’s chief flight instructor at the time.
“‘Linthwaite, you’re behind!’ Stan called me out,” Linthwaite recalled. “Then he said, ‘I’m free tomorrow, we’re going flying!’”
Back then, getting an invite like that from the chief pilot was not a good thing.
“Everybody knew that was the ticket to being kicked out,” Linthwaite said. “Stan was an older military guy. He looked mean and his face had no emotion. He had these veteran eyebrows.”
The next day, Linthwaite performed a short-field landing (in the minimum distance possible). Miller screamed. He had asked for a soft-field landing (on grass or wet field).
Steve Linthwaite is pictured at Buttonville Airport in the 1980s, when he was a student at Seneca. Photo: Steve Linthwaite
“I said, ‘Sir, I thought you asked for a short-field landing. May I do that again?’ To my surprise, he said, ‘OK,’” Linthwaite said. “Later, of course, I realized he was a big teddy bear and he was just trying to help me.”
On Friday, Aug. 24, Linthwaite was one of three special Senecans of Distinction Awards recipients honoured at the School of Aviation’s 50th anniversary reception at Peterborough Campus. The event, sponsored by MBNA Canada, celebrated the school’s milestone with guests including local politicians, industry partners and alumni dating back to the early 1970s.
Since the school started in 1968 with three planes and 25 students, it has grown to become a groundbreaker and leader in the field of aviation training with 22 planes, 10 flight simulators and wait lists for its one degree and two diploma programs: Honours Bachelor of Aviation Technology, Aviation Operations and Aviation Safety.
Today, the school also offers the Airline Pilot Flight Operations graduate certificate program, the Seneca/Jazz direct-entry cadet program, which Linthwaite helped build, and the Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot Training Program among others.
“I am showing my bias, but I really think we are the leading school of aviation in Canada,” says Lynne McMullen, Director, Business Development, School of Aviation.
Lynne McMullen, Director, Business Development, School of Aviation, is pictured with one of the school's 22 planes at Peterborough Campus.
McMullen came to Seneca 18 years ago as the program’s second-ever full-time female flight line professor. Over the years, she has served as chief flight instructor, director of training and program chair. She was the school’s first female chair. McMullen still teaches today and flies at least two to three times a week.
“I love it,” she said. “The students are so motivating and enthusiastic. Every day is different.”
For forty-five years, Seneca’s School of Aviation operated out of Buttonville Airport in Markham. In the early days, private pilot training was contracted out to Toronto Airways and the program evolved slowly but steadily.
“We’ve always taken our time,” McMullen said. “We have embraced changes in technology and training methodology, renewed our fleet, increased our faculty and broadened the scope of training.”
The bachelor program, for example, is the only technology-based degree program. As the first Transport Canada-approved Integrated Airline Transport Pilot training program in the country, it now receives more than 500 applications annually from prospective students wanting to become commercial airline pilots. The program admits 90 students each year.
The move to Peterborough Campus in 2014 enabled the school to “co-locate” the academic and flight line aspects of the study for students in the second, third and fourth year of the degree program.
“It’s more cohesive,” McMullen said. “It’s a positive environment for our students, with unrestricted air space for practice in all directions.”
Linthwaite agrees. As Chair of the Bachelor of Aviation Technology Program Advisory Committee, he has paid close attention to the school’s development over the years.
“The strength of Seneca’s aviation program continues to evolve,” he said. “It remains at the cutting edge of technology and its faculty and aircraft are industry-leading.”
In hindsight, Linthwaite said it was “the fear of failure” that kept him on his toes and kept up his marks.
“It was a different time but the program remains competitive today,” he said.
Senecans of Distinction Awards
The following three School of Aviation supporters were honoured on Aug. 24:
Russell Bannock joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939 as a pilot officer. He flew night missions over Europe in a de Havilland Mosquito, one of the few aircraft that was able to intercept German buzz bombs. Following the war, Bannock went on to become president and CEO for de Havilland Aircraft. As a long-time supporter of the School of Aviation, he sponsors an award for a graduating student who demonstrates academic achievement, leadership, involvement in student life and participates in varsity athletics. He received an honourary degree from Seneca in 2017.
Steve Linthwaite graduated from Seneca in 1985. He is Chair of the Bachelor of Aviation Technology (BAT) Program Advisory Committee and President of the Seneca Alumni Council. As Vice-President Flight Operations at Jazz Aviation LP, Linthwaite led the development of the groundbreaking Jazz/Seneca direct-entry cadet and flight instructor pathway programs. He was instrumental in establishing two scholarship programs for BAT students, awarding as many as six students annually. Through Jazz, he has provided annual sponsorship for the United Way golf tournament and Campaign for Students.
Joan Williams was a member of the School of Aviation Program Advisory Committee. She was chief flight instructor of Toronto Airways Limited, where Seneca students completed their private pilot flight training until it was brought in house in 2001. As chair of the board and vice-president of quality at Ottawa Aviation Services (OAS), Williams developed a pathway program for BAT graduates to earn a flight instructor rating free of charge after which they are hired to work for OAS. She was a good friend and mentor to many Seneca aviation faculty. She passed away on July 3, 2017.