British Columbia

F-35 test pilot wants kids to share his love of flying

Veteran of RCAF visiting Abbotsford International Airshow to show off plane's tech, talk to kids

Veteran of RCAF visiting Abbotsford International Airshow to show off plane's tech, talk to kids

Pilot Billie Flynn stands in front of the F-35 Lightning II, which he is test flying. (Sharyn Counce, submitted)

Billie Flynn loves flying — and he wants to inspire that love in kids at this year's Abbotsford International Airshow.

The former Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, who's now a test pilot exploring the limits of the still-developing F-35 Lightning II, will be in Abbotsford to show off some of the F-35's technology and tell young people that if they stick with science and math, they can design or even fly planes like he does.

"It's 3D chess at supersonic speeds," Flynn says of what goes into flying. "There's cool, amazing tech in airplanes in this day and age, and that's why [students] would want to work harder, to get that opportunity."

Flynn stopped by the CBC Vancouver studio for a conversation with The Early Edition's Rick Cluff before the Airshow.

What's it like to be a test pilot?

Back in the Chuck Yeager days it really was dangerous, and it's still a risky profession, but it's exciting. It's a world of discovery and exploration. Even for me who's been at it a couple of years, it's still exciting to get into a jet

But there's that risk when you push a plane to its limits. You want to see how far it can go before it starts to fail.

And you really have to go there. You can't believe the simulations in the computer are right. A human has to take it to its limits. There's always risk out there, you try and find where the edge of that cliff is and not go over that cliff.

Ever had to pull the red handle and eject?

Test pilot Billie Flynn dropped by CBC Vancouver for a chat with The Early Edition's Rick Cluff. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

No… I've been in an airplane accident and I've come close to dying often enough. I think you learn what your limits are. Fear is like a muscle: the more you exercise it the more you know what you're about to experience. All of us have a will to become old men and have a happy, long life, so we don't have a death wish. We don't push ourselves too far.

Right now you're flying the F-35. What's that thing like?

It's a stunning generational leap in what a fighter does. It's stealthy so no one can see it. You can come and go with absolute impunity. My "office space" is two iPads, Siri voice recognition and a helmet like Tony Stark wears in the Iron Man movies. I see everything on the ground, on the water and in the air. Everything that exists 360 degree around me. and I see through the skin of the airplane with six cameras. I see as if the plane wasn't there.

Why do you do it?

I love it. It's an extraordinary passion. I had no idea flying would be this exciting, and it still remains as addictive as an adrenaline rush as it once was. And that's part of the reason why we're here for the air show. Flying's a passion whether you're flying little airplanes or big airplanes. And what kids see at the Airshow is part of what inspires them to get into aviation.


This interview has been edited and condensed. To hear the full interview, click on the audio labelled: F-35 test pilot: flying is "3D chess at supersonic speeds"

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