Article: Rosella Cracks Barrier–First Lady Airline Pilot

  • August, 1973, Canadian Aviation
    by John McManus

    Rosella says the Fokker F-28 handles like a dream.

    The girl from Champion, Alberta, has a licence to talk like that about the twin-jet Fokker airliner and she has a kind of patent on dreams. As late as April the former flying instructor was dreaming about her flying future; particularly dreams of flying with an airline.

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    Now it’s August and Rosella has a uniform that says she is a First Officer with Transair Ltd., Winnipeg, and the first woman airline pilot in Canada to fly with a recognized air carrier. She’s flying the F-28 on a scheduled run that spans some of the most history-saturated country in the story of bush flying—Winnipeg, The Pas, Thompson, Lynn Lake, Gillam, Churchill and Yellowknife.

    We interviewed her just before she started a month-long ground school on April 16 and she was still starry-eyed and in a mild shock as the door was opening to her life-long ambition. She talked about gruelling hours and hard work and was prepared for it.

    Miss Bjornson said the training was as tough as she expected in the classroom and there was a lot to learn about the airplane and its systems. Capt. Doug Rose gave her a check flight after 8:50 hours flight training in the aircraft and the wartime bomber pilot gave her his seal of approval.

    Ground school involved learning total aircraft systems under instructor Ted Brourer. In the air, she flew with Robert Surie, of Fokker-VFW N.V. Amsterdam. There were nine other trainees on the course. Rosella declined to say how she ranked among the 10 when ground school ended. At this writing she had passed the milestone of 50 hours on the line.

    “Flying aircraft isn’t difficult, but it is very exacting,” said Miss Bjornson. “And I am very impressed with the performance and handling characteristics of the F-28.”

    Rosella went to Transair with some shiny qualifications. She had 3,500 hours, airline transport rating, and a Class 2 instructors rating. She had been flying all her life “and I feel more at home in the air than on the ground.”

    She attended the University of Calgary for four years, majoring in geology and geography. During those summers, she flew with Gina Jordon in Mr. Bjornson’s Cessna 170 to get her commercial licence and instructor’s rating. Rosella also helped to organize a university flying club and encouraged other students to take up flying.

    At 22, she cast around for a flying job with anyone, anywhere. She wrote to flying schools across the country, and finally got a break in 1970 from the then-director of the Winnipeg Flying Club, Rene Giguerre, an ex-Air Canada captain. “When I read her application I couldn’t help but be impressed by her education and her flying training. I said, “…let’s try her. I think the results show my decision was good.” Transair evidently thought so.

    She first applied to Transair in 1972 and found they had out the “no help wanted” sign. She also applied to Air Canada and “some other smaller outfits.” One of the others was Time Air, Lethbridge, who called her in late May and offered her a job. She said she would call back Friday.

    Meanwhile, on Friday she went around to Transair and operations manager Bob Stanley had her fill out another application. “It didn’t seem very encouraging,” she said. “I went home and phoned Lethbridge to tell them I would take the job. I had just hung up when it rang; Bob Stanley asked if I would like to fly an F-28. He told me to come in Monday. I went over at 10 and they said they had decided to accept me. At least 40 Transair pilots congratulated me. They had always been encouraging me to get in there.”

    Well, Rosella is in there. She’s an airline pilot. And many people never doubted it for a minute.

    This article originally appeared in the August, 1973 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine.

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