Recent History – 2006
By Brad Lyon, 17 April 2006
Lieutenant-Colonel Brent Anderson has accumulated an impressive list of accomplishments during his 33 and a half years of service as a fighter and test pilot with the Canadian Forces. But the graduate of South Peace Secondary School (class of 1972) still looks back to his membership in the local Air Cadet Squadron 353 at the age of 12 as steering him toward a life in the air.
“I didn’t come from a military background. My parents, aunts, uncles — no one was in the military. But once I joined Air Cadets, then I got the interest in flying and becoming a pilot,” Anderson recalled during an interview after his induction onto the Wall of Fame at South Peace Secondary School on April 8.
But Anderson, who in February accepted a position with EnCana, used that early Air Cadet training well, as he retired from the air force as one of Canada’s most noted fighter/ test pilots. By the start of this year, he had flown more than 5,500 hours in fighter aircraft, the most for any current serving member of the air force at that time. He spent two years as the Commanding Officer of 410 (CF18) Tactical Fighter Squadron in Cold Lake, from 2002-04, and was the Wing Operations Officer in Cold Lake from 2004-05. From 1997-2002, he was the Canadian Air Force’s chief test pilot. And in Jan. 2005, he was recognized for achieving 3,500 flying hours in the F18. At that time, he was the oldest fighter pilot in Canada. It is those “firsts” in the air that Anderson remembers most fondly.
“I had a great opportunity to do a lot of flying in fighter aircraft over many, many years. I had the opportunity to do an awful lot of things for the first time that hadn’t been done before,” he said, recalling he started on the F5, and then was part of the inaugural training class on the very first F18 back in Jan. 1983. “That was exciting. The airplane was brand new.”
Anderson also was one of the only pilots from a western nation to fly within 10 kilometres of the border with the Soviet Union at a time when the Cold War was still impacting world affairs.
“If you put it in perspective, this is before the Berlin Wall came down. At the time I was on an exchange tour with the Royal Norwegian Air Force,” Anderson recalled. “Normally Canadians, Americans couldn’t fly that close to the Soviet Union in Norway, but because I was in a Norwegian airplane and conducting patrols near the border, I was able to do that. At the time, (10 kilometres) was the closest you were allowed to go to the border for fear of accidentally straying inside the border.”
Anderson joined the air force in 1972, and also spent four years at Royal Roads Military College in Victoria and Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. earning a degree in Engineering. At the time he joined, Anderson said the air force was in somewhat of a diminished status, after achieving its heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At that time, there were about 100,000 in the air force alone.
“But when I joined in 1972, we had amalgamated and we were the Canadian Armed Forces with army, navy, air force, and we were about 86,000 people at that time,” Anderson recalled. “By then we were in to the Trudeau years where there were reduced budgets, and our role was much diminished than what it had been before.”
But since then, Anderson believes the air force’s status has improved, and he said that can be traced to the decision to buy the 138 F18, state-of-the-art aircraft. As well, Canadian pilots receive excellent training, which was shown as recently as the war in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. Anderson said that statistics showed that while Canadian planes contributed only two per cent of the sorties in Bosnia, Canadian pilots led 10 per cent of the missions.
“Sending a force of 100 fighters into the former Yugoslavia, that’s a tremendous testament to the training we have in Canada,” Anderson said. “And that there were only at that time British, Canadian and American pilots who led those strikes in that conflict, once again it goes back to the excellent training.”
As for the future of the air force, Anderson said it comes down to the priorities set by the new government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“We have a new government. I’m not sure what their plans are. But it will involve, in terms of the air force, buying new long-range transport airplanes, some new helicopters for the back of ships, and we will just have to see how it all plays out,” Anderson said. “Military budgets are very expensive and it competes with such important things as education and health, and so it’s always a challenge.”