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Lieutenant-Colonel Maryse Carmichael poses with her commanding officer helmet at 15 Wing Moose Jaw Air Force Base on Monday, April 29, 2010, in Moose Jaw, Sask. Carmichael officially takes command of the Snowbirds on Thursday, May 6, 2010 becoming the first woman to lead the squadron in its 40-year history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Troy Fleece

TROY FLEECE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In the spring of 2001, Lieutenant-Colonel Maryse Carmichael became the first woman to fly with 431 Air Demonstration Squadron - Canada's fabled Snowbirds. On Thursday, she established another historic precedent. In a one-hour ceremony in Moose Jaw, Sask., she was formally installed as 431's commanding officer - the first woman to oversee the aerobatic team in its 40-year history. Her posting is expected to run two to three years. She replaces Interim Commanding Officer Steve Will, who is retiring.

Now in her late 30s, Col. Carmichael is a veteran pilot, having logged more than 3,200 hours of flying time, on assignments in Greenwood, N.S. (flying instructor with 434 Combat Support Squadron); Ottawa (transporting VIPs); Bagotville, Que. (deputy wing operations officer); and in Trenton, Ont. (flying CC-130 Hercules). In her previous tour of duty with the Snowbirds, she flew the No. 3 and No. 2 jets, serving in her second year as the team's executive officer.

Born and raised in Quebec City, she is married to Major Scott Greenough, a fighter pilot with the Canadian Forces, whom she met, appropriately, at an air show in Davenport, Iowa. He has accepted a teaching assignment in Moose Jaw, transferring from Toronto. Col. Carmichael recently returned to active service after a maternity leave, having given birth a year ago to a daughter, Danielle. The couple also have a four-year-old, Georgia.

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When did you find out about your promotion?

Shortly before Christmas. I had a little vote on the timing. I was really excited.

What's it like to fly one of those CT-114 Tutor jets?

I always compare it to driving an MGB convertible sports car. I love the simplicity of it. It's a very classic symbol, recognized across North America. And it's a very responsive machine, which it has to be when you have nine planes flying in close formation. ... Yet it still has enough power and guts for the solo performances.

What's going through your mind when you're actually in the air?

I think all of us are really focused on the job, on the manoeuvres. There's no time to think about anything else. It all starts from the [pre-flight]briefing. Twenty minutes before the flight, you put everything else away. You need a lot of discipline and focus.

Like the atmosphere of a locker room during the Stanley Cup playoffs?

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Very much, I think.

You saw the Snowbirds fly when you were four years old and joined the air cadets at 13. What accounts for your early interest in aviation?

My three older brothers. All of them were in the air cadets. One later joined the armed forces as a tactical helicopter pilot, and I thought if he can do it, so can I. My parents encouraged me, absolutely. My father was a car mechanic and my mother, if she could have, would have been an air hostess.

When you first flew with the Snowbirds, you were the first woman pilot. What kind of reaction did you get? Was it hard to be accepted in what had been an exclusively male preserve?

I have to say it went quite smoothly. I knew all the pilots already from other postings and had flown with them. I knew some of the tech crews as well. My brothers had trained me quite well. For me, it was normal. But when you're flying and have a helmet on your head, it doesn't matter whether you're a man or woman.

For the first time in the Snowbirds' history, the squadron commander will not also be the lead flier. The two jobs will be separate and you will be chiefly an administrator.

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That's correct. There's been a change in the command structure. Major Chris Hope will be the team leader of the nine planes. This season, we'll be in about 50 air shows between now and October. ... Typically, we do more, about 65, but we're doing fewer this year because of the delay in the change of command. I will go to six or seven shows and I'll fly here at home, helping to train some of the four new pilots joining us in the fall.

Why aren't there more women fliers in the Canadian armed forces?

The numbers are growing. They're now about the same as they are in civilian aviation. Since I trained in Moose Jaw 18 years ago, I've seen quite a difference. I'm really noticing more female voices on the radio now.

In the air, you mean?

Yes.

They're a little young perhaps, but what about your own daughters?

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The four-year-old has been in airplanes. She's already quite excited.

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