PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – It seems unbelievable that a small-town kid from Clinton, Ontario would end up being the first Royal Canadian Air Force pilot assigned to protect the skies over Washington, D.C.
But for Capt. Jeffery M. Powell, a 13-year RCAF aviator, that is exactly what has happened.
And as one senior leader from North American Aerospace Defense Command pointed out on a recent visit to the area, the unique nature of rotating into and flying air intercept missions from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Washington D.C. doesn’t come without a little pressure.
“It really didn’t sink in (that I was the first) until MGen. (Andre) Viens (NORAD Director of Operations) said, ‘Remember, you are the first – and only – Candian pilot flying the National Capital Region mission’ … that’s when it really hit me,” Powell said.
Powell’s mission sounds simple enough on paper: protect the skies over Washington D.C. But the mission is quite complex at the heart of it.
Part of a multi-layered air defense mission, the Coast Guard works directly under the direction of NORAD and partners with other federal, state and local agencies to protect critical infrastructure and personnel, working alongside countless Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security assets to provide safety and security to not only the federal government and entities within Washington, D.C., but its citizens as well.
Trained as a Search and Rescue pilot flying an airframe known as a CH-149 Cormorant, Powell said the air intercept mission was completely new to him as he trained to the professional level required of pilots who fly MH-65D Dolphins in the National Capital Region.
“Flying intercept missions is a more aggressive way to fly, and very time critical, even more time critical than flying SAR … there is a huge difference in the flying aspects of coordinating hands and feet,” he said. “Also, air intercept missions happen very quickly while SAR missions tend to last a lot longer.”
Originally a commercial aviation pilot flying for a small aviation company in the Ontario area, Powell said he became interested in flying for the RCAF when he saw a C-130 (cargo airplane) coming in for a landing at an airport he was about to depart from.
“I always had an interest in the military, but when I saw that, I guess that’s when I knew I wanted to fly for the military,” he said.
Powell applied in the spring of 2011 for and was accepted into one of only two aviation exchange programs that exist between the RCAF and the Coast Guard – one for C-130 pilots and one for helicopter pilots. And, until now, rotary wing exchange pilots from Canada were assigned to USCG Station Cape Cod.
But due to delays in training on upgraded airframes at Cape Cod, Powell said he got the word, “really at the last minute (of the change) … and the powers that be told me to keep driving to Atlantic City.”
From USCG Air Station Atlantic City, Powell said pilots pull three-week rotations into the NCR, flying from Ronald Reagan International Airport. His first rotation started June 1, and Powell said he had to scramble a couple of times when the call from NORAD came in.
When asked about his experience flying important homeland defense missions, Powell said what is often heard in the halls of the command headquarters, as Americans and Canadians work daily and seamlessly side-by-side in defense of the two countries.
“Obviously, we have a long history of shared borders and airspace … what I do is just indicative of the true joint nature of our two countries and the command,” Powell said.
As for working with the U.S. Coast Guard, Powell explained somewhat modestly that it is nothing out of the ordinary, although he noted that it is also a great honor.
“It doesn’t matter what uniform you wear, we all have similar training and similar missions,” Powell said. “Those who wear wings are all brothers, even if you were born on the wrong side of the border – and I am not saying which side that is!”
“We actually have an American living with us,” Powell explained, noting that his daughter Lauren, who became part of his life in December, was born in the U.S.
Powell, his wife, Melanie, and Lauren will be stationed in Atlantic City for three years.
Powell was previously assigned as a SAR pilot in Gander, Newfoundland, with the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron and before that with the 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron, Greenwood, Nova Scotia.
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NOTE TO EDITORS: Additional photos are available for this release. For news organizations interested in interviewing Capt. Jeffery Powell or for more information please contact NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs at www.norad.mil or www.northcom.mil