RCAF’s First Female Tactical Helicopter Pilot Retires

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News Article / November 3, 2021

By Captain Rob Ames

Claire De Repentigny grew up northeast of Montreal in the town that bears her name – Repentigny. Always interested in aviation, she wanted to be a military pilot long before women were allowed in that role. So, she obtained her civilian license and was soon a fixed wing instructor teaching in and around the Montreal area. In the spring of 1986, it was announced that women would be allowed to become pilots in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Claire was at the recruiting station the very next day and six months later she was enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces. 

Following training on the CT-114 Tutor jet, and the Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter, Claire received her wings in May 1989 and was posted to 403 Squadron Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gagetown, New Brunswick as a Twin Huey pilot in “Tac Flight”, thus becoming the first female Tactical Helicopter Pilot in the history of the RCAF. A short time later she deployed to the Sinai desert as part of a Multinational Force and Observers mission. In 1991, while on a brigade-level exercise, Claire made history again when she was teamed up with a co-pilot and flight engineer from CFB Edmonton’s 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (THS) and flew a mission as the aircraft commander of the first ever all-female crew in Tactical Aviation.

During her first tour, Claire met the love of her life and transferred with him to Calgary to start a family, but also managed to work as the G3 Aviation for 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group. Claire left the Regular Force in 1996, but the adage ‘you are never really gone’ certainly was true in her case. She came off the Supplemental Reserve list in 1999 to start flying CH-146 Griffon helicopters as part of the Primary Reserve with both 408 THS and eventually 438 Squadron in St Hubert, Quebec. Claire then lent her expertise to 1 Wing Headquarters in Kingston, Ontario where she worked in the operations cell, and then was posted to Air Command where she helped staff the Combined Air Operations Centre at CFB Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Claire finally returned to 408 THS in 2007 where she remained until reaching her 60th birthday in 2021. Commuting from Red Deer, she has dedicated herself to helping the unit, and being a stable source of corporate knowledge and experience. Many operations staff have come and gone over the past seven years, but Claire was always a guiding hand and a wealth of knowledge.

Over the last four decades, Claire managed to balance her husband’s military postings, the needs of her children and somehow still managed to serve for over 30 years. She accumulated over 1,700 flying hours – mostly on the Twin Huey and Griffon – but more importantly, she was a pioneer who blazed the trail for future female Tactical Helicopter pilots.

Claire will stay in Red Deer with her husband and enjoy their retirement, travelling both in and outside the country. On behalf of the RCAF, Canadian Armed Forces, and your country, thank you for your service.

For Freedom!

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