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Seneca grad flying high with the Snowbirds

Maj. Yanick "Crank" Grégoire shares journey from being a fighter pilot to leading the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron

The Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds. Photo: John M. Dibbs

He’s Superman to many kids who follow the air show circuit. But instead of ripping open his shirt to display the “S,” Maj. Yanick “Crank” Grégoire, an Aviation grad, would be the first to dispel the myth.

“We’re not superheroes by any means,” says the fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force and team lead of the Snowbirds. “When I meet these kids after the shows, I just be normal. I tell them that school is important, that there’s no secret to success.”

Yanick was that kid. He looked through the fence and waited in line to talk to the pilots every summer, when his father took him to air shows in Toronto, London and across southern Ontario. By the age of seven, he knew he wanted to be a fighter pilot.

“I’ve always liked being upside down,” Yanick says. “As a kid I was fascinated by the power and the force of a fighter jet.”

Through his training with the 188 Cobra Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron in Toronto, Yanick obtained his private pilot licence before coming to Seneca, where he studied aviation and flight technology and earned his commercial multi-engine pilot’s licence in 1997. While learning about aircraft system, theory and meteorology at Seneca, he worked as a member of the Toronto Pearson International Airport groundcrew.

Maj. Yanick "Crank" Grégoire. Photo: John M. Dibbs

The education at Seneca allowed Yanick to skip the first flying phase when he joined the military upon graduation. “The system knowledge I learned was very important and provided me with a solid foundation when I joined the military,” he says. “Because I knew a lot of the stuff already, I didn’t have to learn from scratch.”

Today, Yanick has taken his private plane to Toronto, Las Vegas, northwestern Ontario, and day trips between Cold Lake, Alta., Calgary and Moose Jaw, Sask., where he and his wife live. As a CF-18 fighter pilot with 18 years of experience, he has accumulated more than 4,000 flying hours in various civilian and military aircraft, including more than 3,000 hours in high-performance military jet aircraft and more than 100 hours in combat.

“There’s flying from A to B, but the kind of flying that interests me has an actual mission involved,” he says.

When Yanick was deployed to Iraq as a combat pilot in 2015, the operation closed the loop on all the training he had done.

“My military training kicked in. I did a lot of flying at night and it was exciting and important,” he says. “You know you’re going into combat—this is what you trained your whole flying career for. You’re in a piece of equipment you trust completely and you can’t have any question marks when you show up.”

Yanick has also participated in numerous NORAD and NATO exercises in North America and Europe, and flown many hours of air sovereignty and defence of Canada missions post Sept. 11.

“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been flying every single month of my career,” Yanick says. “But you can’t do the same job forever, you have to progress, and the Snowbirds just fell into my lap.”

After flying as Snowbird 4 for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Yanick rose through the ranks as Deputy Operations Officer, Wing Daily Operations Officer and Deputy Commanding Officer. Last summer, he was selected to lead the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron as Snowbird 1. The team travels with 11 aircraft, 11 pilots, 10 technicians, one public affairs officer, one mobile support vehicle, one supply technician and a mobile support equipment operator.

Recently, as the team was returning home after performing at the CNE air show, Yanick led the Snowbirds in a surprise low pass over the Peterborough Aviation Campus to recognize Seneca’s Aviation Technology program, which now offers the Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot Training Program.

Yanick at the CNE air show. Photo: Gus Corujo

“It’s been an honour as a Snowbird to demonstrate the skill professionalism and teamwork of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, and I take my role as Snowbird 1 very seriously,” Yanick says. “The beauty of the Snowbirds is when people look at the perfect symmetry, everybody has different emotions. We want to inspire people. Our message isn’t to get people to become pilots, but that nothing is going to happen in life if you don’t work hard.”