It’s a journey that started with a young boy taking to the skies for the first time on his sixth birthday.
Capt. Jason Berndt, who grew up near Beckwith Park and went to Lake Hill elementary, is among the Royal Canadian Air Force’s seven-person graduating class that will start a four-year tour as a fighter pilot.
The 27-year-old will patrol Canada’s skies, and possibly those of other nations, in a CF-18 Hornet. On Thursday Berndt and other grads were joined in Cold Lake, Alta. by friends and family for the celebation, with the Hornets flying a demo over head.
“I’ve been training for this day since 2008,” said Berndt. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was three years old.”
It’s a far cry from the four-person Cessna 172 he flew in as a six-year-old through the Victoria Flying Club. During the fighter pilot course there is 250 hours of classroom study and tests, and about 80 hours of flight time in the Hornet.
It was when Berndt lived in Saanich that he first joined the 89 Pacific Air Cadets Squadron before later moving and going to high school in Chemanius. He then joined 205 Collishaw Nanaimo Air Cadets where he earned his gliding licence and private licence by the age of 18 before enrolling in the Royal Military College at Kingtson.
After studying aeronautical engineering for his undergraduate degree he returned to the Island briefly to teach glider flying to youth in Comox before he signed up for flight training.
First there was a Grob 120 single-prop plane in Manitoba. Then he moved to flight training in Moose Jaw, Sask., where he flew the Harvard II, a turbo prop high performance trainer that maxes out around 500 km/h, about one-third of the Hornet’s top speed.
“It’s on the Harvard they assess your flying to see if you’re going to fly big planes [transport jets], if you’ll go with helicopters, or fighter jets,” Berndt said. “From there I flew the CT 155 Hawk, a jet trainer, for the fighter lead-in training. That was a hell of a time.”
The first time taking off in the Hornet was a memorable experience for Berndt. With the afterburners on (as per usual), it was more thrust than he was used to.
“It was a rush, you could feel it push me back in the seat. It was the coolest feeling,” Berndt said.
While it’s been no small commitment, Berndt is happy to share that he was able to accomplish the only goal he ever wanted, in case there are others in Saanich and Vancouver Island who wish to follow the career path.
“Every flight is very scripted and on course, and every day is a really challenging mission,” Berndt said. “You have to perform and do your best, you’re graded on every single mission until you’re done, and it’s a hard course. If you don’t perform you won’t be a fighter pilot, they’ll send you to another aircraft.
“And one more thing, a big thanks to my mom, for all the support.”