Why I Fly: Lead Pilot Tim Shopa on Canadian Aviation

After 31 years with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Tim Shopa has now joined Solar Ship Inc. as its Lead Test Pilot. A retired LCol., Shopa discusses Canada’s aviation history and sharing his perspective on what it means to be a pilot.

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk XIIs

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk XIIs

Why I Became a Pilot

I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force when I was 18-years-old. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the aircraft flown during World War I and II. I read voraciously, mostly books about air force pilots and military airplanes. I built balsa wood and plastic scale models and hung them from my bedroom ceiling. I joined the Royal Canadian Air Cadets and got my Private Pilot License when I turned 16. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to fly for the RCAF. Fortunately, it all worked out for me, as I never came up with a backup plan.

The RCAF and Flying in Canada

The best aspect of being a Canadian pilot is the intense feeling of belonging to a proud tradition and history of flight in this country. The RCAF roundel never ceases to fill me with an intense feeling of pride in my home and Canada’s place in the world. Few places have experienced the profound impact of aviation in the same way as Canada. The physical diversity combined with the sheer size of the country and extreme environmental conditions lead to significant challenges in connecting Canada as a nation. It is only natural for Canada to hold a special place in its national heart for the aircraft; the aircraft helped shape Canada – and in many ways, Canada helped shape aviation.

Baffin Island, Photo By: Doc Searls

Baffin Island,  Photo By: Doc Searls

My favourite place to fly is northern Canada. My Squadron spent a lot of time operating off the northeast coast of Labrador and Baffin Island. When you are in the air in this part of the world, you get a real perspective for the enormity of our nation and the beauty of our challenging geography. At night, the pitch-black darkness and lack of lights from the earth give you an amazing appreciation of the emptiness of some parts of Canada.

Problem Solving in the Sky

The thing about aviation is that every day, every flight, presents challenges. Normal every-day occurrences on the ground, like running low on gas driving home from work, take on a whole new meaning when they occur in the air. Some of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had were while I was instructing student pilots. Trying to teach someone a difficult skill when the classroom is moving at 500 miles an hour and there are only seconds for the student to understand the lesson, can be extremely frustrating. On the other hand, when those students go on to graduate and you see them later, flying real-world missions as part of another Squadron, is such a satisfying experience

Tim Shopa was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (Military Division) for his leadership of the CF-18 Replacement Program Evaluation of Options Team

A CF-18 Hornet at the Brantford Airshow, 2015. Tim Shopa was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (Military Division) for his leadership of the CF-18 Replacement Program Evaluation of Options Team. Photo by: Andrew Leinonen

New Chapter, New Aircraft

Executing the test and evaluation of Solar Ship’s hybrid aircraft is not that different from some of my jobs within the RCAF. What is different is that while I was in the RCAF, I was usually working with already established aircraft and equipment. With Solar Ship, considering that these aircraft are so new and innovative, I have the unique opportunity to create evaluation procedures and test plans from scratch. I also have the privilege to watch the aircraft being designed and built from start to finish. That is a fascinating process. The sense of commitment and drive that the entire Solar Ship team displays towards accomplishing its mission is similar to the commitment and determination of my RCAF teammates in uniform. I’m proud to be part of that kind of team.

Tim Shopa, Lead Test Pilot