Flying towards new horizons
Squadron commander moves from the Pentagon to Yk

Malcolm Gorrill
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 20/00) - Flying a jet solo for the first time is something the commander of 440 (Transport) Squadron in Yellowknife will never forget.

Lt.-Col. Michel Prudhomme had learned to fly in a small plane after joining the army in 1975 at the age of 24. He received his training in Portage la Prairie, Man., and then moved on to jet training in Moose Jaw, Sask.

"The one I most remember going solo on was jets," Prudhomme says. "That was the most momentous occasion for me."

Prudhomme said part of the reason was that Moose Jaw was bigger and busier than what he was used to.

"I was to take off in the aircraft and fly it out to the area and practice stalls and various sequences and come back and fly in a pattern," Prudhomme recalls.

"It was like, 'wow, you mean they're actually going to let me do this?'"

"That's firmly etched into my mind."

Another day Prudhomme won't forget is the time he was ordered to take photos of downtown Toronto. The pictures were to be used for an upcoming exhibition.

"They tasked me to fly up and down the streets of Toronto at an incredibly low altitude, I thought, but it had all been cleared. So off I went," Prudhomme said.

"I felt very fortunate to be tasked to do this because normally you're not allowed to."

Prudhomme was flying low enough that he could plainly see people in the restaurant at the top of the CN Tower.

Radio stations got calls from people wondering why this plane was flying so low and Prudhomme says when he landed, he was met by his base commander, who also wanted to know what he was doing.

"I had the tasking order in my flight suit," Prudhomme says with a laugh.

Prudhomme had been a residential housing site superintendent before joining the armed forces.

"I couldn't see myself doing that particular line of work for the rest of my life. I wanted adventure, I wanted to see the world.

"I suffer somewhat from a wanderlust. After three or four years I'm ready to move on and explore new horizons," Prudhomme says.

"Flying came to me later in life. I always thought it was interesting and challenging but I had no air cadet background or previous military background."

Prudhomme earned his pilot's wings in 1977 and stayed in Moose Jaw until 1980.

"I went through the various stages of an instructor on jet, just a simple instructor, a course director where you handle students, and from there became a standards officer, almost like an examiner," he says.

"The military was ready to send me on to other pastures, so in '79-80 I was selected for fighter training."

Prudhomme, who by this time had reached the rank of captain, had been leaning toward training on multi-engine planes (such as transports), but the military assigned him to fighter jets.

In 1980, Prudhomme was assigned to 10 Tactical Air Group's 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron at CFB Bagotville, Que., where he flew the CF-5.

"The most challenging and most memorable aircraft that I flew was the F-5," he says. "It was a relatively cheap fighter aircraft. It could do all sorts of things.

"In those days, with the Canadian F-5, you had to qualify as a reconnaissance pilot because we had cameras onboard the aircraft, on the nose of the aircraft. You had to be proficient at air-to-air refuelling, dropping bombs, air-to-air combat," Prudhomme says.

"I am the last fully trained reconnaissance pilot in Canada, the last fully trained one. Because after I qualified, they stopped it, they stopped doing reconnaissance and they stopped doing the training."

In those days, Canada had a commitment to Norway as part of NATO, so the military often sent planes over the Norway to practise.

"I've flown across the ocean by myself in an aircraft, refuelling as we went, from Goose Bay, Labrador, to northern Norway. I've done that trip seven times," Prudhomme says.

"The first time you do that, you feel pretty fortunate. There's not many Canadian young men at (that) age who are allowed to do that. That's a great memory."

In 1985, Prudhomme was assigned to his first staff posting. He went to Fighter Group Headquarters in North Bay, Ont., for three years.

"I flew the F-18 very briefly but because of my family situation, I had to forego that and go back to Ottawa, where I went into another staff job," he says.

Promoted to major in 1987, Prudhomme began a three-year stint as directorate of air operations at the National Defence Headquarters.

In 1990, Prudhomme was appointed base operations officer at CFB North Bay in Ontario. In 1991, he returned to Ottawa to be the fighter representative on the pilot occupational analysis.

From the summer of 1991 to the summer of '92 Prudhomme attended the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College in Toronto.

"You'll absolutely work like crazy and spend a lot of sleepless nights on assignments, but you'll love it," Prudhomme says. "It's at Staff College where you are, hopefully, honing your skills to become a senior officer at the military.

"(It's) the worst year of your life that you'll love."

Upon graduating from Staff College, Prudhomme became part of the directing staff of the Canadian Forces Staff School. In the summer of 1994, he began a five-year stint at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

"My whole family came down," Prudhomme says.

He and his wife, Lorrie Montague, have four children, Cami, Chris, Sylvie and Erin. Prudhomme completed his master's degree in science (management) while in Washington.

Prudhomme says the Americans have a big miliary, "a lot of neat toys," and the Pentagon was "almost like a rabbit's warren.

"It's very easy to get lost in, very, very easy. I used to always go in the same entrance."

About 17,000 people work at the Pentagon.

"So essentially you can fit the City of Yellowknife into the Pentagon on any given day, or the residents of Yellowknife," Prudhomme says.

At the end of his stay in Washington, Prudhomme was given the meritorious service medal by the Americans. He also received a promotion to his current rank.

Upon arriving back in Canada, Prudhomme was trained on multi-engine aircraft and became commander of the 440 (Transport) Squadron in August 1999.

Prudhomme lives here with his wife and youngest daughter, Erin. His other three children live in Ottawa.

Prudhomme is usually at work at 6 a.m., as one of the areas he has to coordinate with is Ottawa (6 a.m. here is 8 a.m. Ottawa time.)

The 440 Squadron consists of four CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft which deploy all over the north. Prudhomme says much of his time is spent co-ordinating deployments, as well as answering the phone and checking the mail.

But Prudhomme says he always bears in mind that as a member of the military he has a more basic duty than what his current post entails.

"We're here to serve the Canadian public. I keep reminding my people of that," Prudhomme says.

"You always have to justify that everything is done in the best interests of the Canadian public, giving the individual taxpayer faith in the fact that his tax dollars, defence-wise, are well spent.

"That's what I do here now as a commanding officer."