Career Path: Nicolas – DC3 and PC12 Bush Pilot

My name is Nicolas and I am a French citizen who came to this beautiful country that is Canada on my career path to becoming a professional pilot. Let me tell you my journey so far, and maybe it will help some of you, at any age, to fulfil your dreams as I am doing on a daily basis.

My dream of flying began as a child. Looking out the window at our wonderful sky while I was in school, day after day. As a French citizen and coming from a family with a big military background, all I wanted to do was becoming a fighter pilot for the French Air Force. 

French Air Force Training
French Air Force training

After many years of training, I started to attain my dream by entering the French Navy Pilot School. Unfortunately I was unable to complete my training, and my dreams to become a fighter pilot ended.

After one year of divergence and doubts, I met a man who became a mentor, instructor and then best friend. He brought back to me the love and the need of flying. I used up all my savings to get a Private Pilot License in France. I accomplished this, and my goal turned towards the commercial license. 

The questions that came into mind were “where and how much?”. Canada was brought up to me by many friends. Indeed, the training cost was close to 3 times cheaper to get to a full licence (CPL, ME, IR) than France, and the diversity and accessibility of a first job were exceptionally higher than in Europe.

So, I went to Canada! Unlike what you might think, I did not go for Quebec, or any French speaking province. My feet landed in British Columbia, or should I say: “Beautiful British Columbia”. And let me tell you one thing, they did not embellish the word beautiful. BC is absolutely gorgeous.

Training

I joined up at a school based in Delta, BC (just south of Vancouver). But once I arrived there, having broken English, my school suggested that I start my training in Kamloops, a city in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. The air traffic is a lot less condensed than in the lower mainland. It ended up being a good choice and I flew there until getting my Commercial Pilot License. I met many interesting people, who all shared their stories with young student pilots like me and my friends.

Kamloops - Career Path - Pilot Training
Kamloops, B.C.

Something that my instructors and CFI kept on telling me was that I will have to become an instructor to start my career because I was a foreign student and that no companies would hire me. 

One day, I crossed paths with a fire boss pilot for a firefighting company (Conair) based in BC. He asked me what my plans were after graduation. I told him that I would become an instructor, since I thought I had no other options. This gentleman almost raged back at me. He insured me that if my dreams where to become a bush pilot, I WILL find a job. His words were “take your car, drive all over the country, and knock on doors. You might not find a flying job, but you will find a job leading to a flying position.”

His words and experience convinced me. I then moved to Delta, to complete my ME IR and started sending resumes all over Canada even before I completed my course. I was offered a Ground Support position open to Flight Line based in Pickle Lake, Ontario. This is where my next adventure started.

Pickle Lake

I moved to Pickle Lake on a sunny summer day. With my nice shoes and my hair full of gel with no idea in the world of how I ended up here. Pickle Lake is a town of 300 people, lost right in the middle of Northern Ontario. It is the last town linked by road to the rest of Canada. Everyday, trucks full of groceries, building supplies, boats, and pretty much anything that anyone would need, arrive at the airport for shipment. They are then flown to all the very small and remote communities of First Nations up North.

Career Paths - Pickle Lake CYPL
Pickle Lake with airport seen top left

This is where my job comes in. A bunch of ground guys like me, all dressed with heavy duty work clothes and steal toed boots, are offloading the trucks full of groceries and plywood etc., and building the loads for our planes.

My company is operating vintage DC3 aircraft upgraded with turbine engines known as Basler BT-67s. It is an overpowered and perfectly fit aircraft to be operated on the small gravel and ice strips we land and take off from. Each flight leaves with over 10,000 pounds of freight to serve those communities. Despite the tough conditions of living up north, clouds of mosquitos, extreme cold temperatures in the winter, and very, very long work shifts every single day, my time working on the ground there will forever be one of the best decisions I made in my life.

Career Paths - North Star Air DC3
Nico and his DC3

All my co-workers from Pickle Lake became like a family. Everyone is linked together, helps each other, and understands each other. Everyone is here for the love of the job. No one goes to work with a bad attitude. I worked as hard as I could, and managed to pass over my ground time in only 4 months. I then started training to become a DC3 first officer.

The training was extremely fast, and the learning expectations pretty big. The captains here are aware that some of us did not touch a plane for many months, even years for some of us, and so they go “easy” on you, knowing that you will mostly learn as you actually do the job. 

Career Paths- Cold Mornings in the North
Cold Mornings in the North

Once on the flight line, the schedule is 14 days on, 14 days off. The company uses you to the maximum, but you get to rest for a full 14 days after that, with your family or traveling the world, it’s all up to each of us.

Day to Day

The typical day as a DC3 cargo first officer is to show up 1 hour before the first scheduled departure. Then you come to the plane and do the walk around. Then things start to move. Ground guys are coming around with forklifts and freight and show you the way they had it planned to be loaded in the plane. The more experience you get, the quicker you know what will fit in the plane with respect to the weight and balance. And then we load! It takes between 30 min to 1 hour to do a grocery load, and around 1 hour to 90 min for construction material loads. Once the plane is loaded, it’s time to fly!

DC3 ready for takeoff

After arriving at the destination, the offloading process begins. Trucks, loaders etc. are backing up to the plane and we start offloading. Depending on the location, we have to “handbomb” the full load. Sometimes we can use forklifts and loader to take it out. It’s a very fun part and you get to have a good amount of fun with the people around you, but it is also extremely tiring. Once the offload is done, we fly back to base, and load again. The average number of trips would be 3 to 4 a day, for an average flight time of 5 to 6 hours.

The company values hard work here. It is not rare to be upgraded from right seat of one plane to left sit of a different plane. After about 1 year and a half, and 1300h on the DC3, it was my turn to change seat! I am now captain on the Pilatus PC12, leaving 704/705 freight operation for 703 passenger operation. It is a pretty huge change, and I still have a lot to discover and improve in this new world.

DC3 in Northern Ontario
DC3 in Northern Ontario

I hope you can use a bit of this story to find your own career path, and don’t hesitate to take some risks! It usually pays off.

You can follow Nicolas on Instagram @nico_dupre. If you have a unique or interesting job or career path in the flying world, send us an email at admin@themodernaviator.com or leave a message below to be featured.

If you’re interested in becoming a pilot, checkout our post How to Become a Pilot in Canada.

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