The pilots participating in the Skywatch program have been able to pursue both environmental interests, their love of flying and promote women’s role in aviation. Volunteering their time, energy, and skills , to fly for the Ministry, for surveillance of air, land, water and waste management, to monitor and document sites of environmental concern.
Are you interested in getting involved?
Aerial Surveillance began in the Ontario Ministry of the Environment in 1978 with Operation Skywatch. Pilots with the First Canadian Chapter of the The Ninety- Nines, the International organization of Women Pilots, volunteer their time, energy, and skills, to fly for the Ministry, for surveillance of air, land, water and waste management, to monitor and document sites of environmental concern. This falls in the Ninety-Nines mission to promote educational, charitable, and scientific interests.
The pilots participating in the Skywatch program have been able to pursue both environmental interests, their love of flying and promote women’s role in aviation. The Ministry incurs all flight costs.The formation of the Investigations and Enforcement Branch in 1985 helped to establish the use of aerial surveillance as an important tool for investigations. The Ministry continues to utilize aerial surveillance today.
A typical flight consists of a pilot, picking up field staff at various locations, plotting the sites on an aviation map and navigating there, circling the sites at an operationally safe altitude, and return home with safety being the number one priority. Field staff monitor and document site conditions with either film-based or digital photographs. These photographs have proved invaluable in investigations and prosecutions.
We cover Southern Ontario from Windsor, to Orillia, to Kingston – we have done flights as far as Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and Ottawa. Skywatch operates year round, but the majority of flights take place in the summer.
Operation Skywatch main concern is safety – through our program we have provided our pilots with first aid and survival courses.
The Skywatch program further promotes women in aviation. The pilots gain satisfaction from combining their love of flying with cleaning up the environment. In l 993 the Operation Skywatch documentary aired on Global TV – copies are now in schools for environmental education and to inspire young women into aviation careers.
Operation Skywatch is composed of pilots from various backgrounds. We have flight instructors, corporate pilots, teachers, dispatchers and many others volunteering their time to keep Skywatch successful and safe. Our pilots are highly qualified and must pass a flight test to become a Skywatch pilot. The investigator from the Ministry of the Environment takes pictures of the necessary site either oblique photos through an open window or overhead using the vertical camera mount. This camera mount was designed to fit in the aircraft without interfering with the pilot’s controls. While the pictures are being taken, the pilots must do precision flying to maintain the appropriate heading and altitude to ensure continuity of the photographs.
Before each flight the pilot discusses with the inspector where the sites are and what needs to be accomplished. We compare their topographical maps to our aviation maps. Weather is checked to make sure the ceiling and visibility are appropriate. Another main concern is the area surrounding the site. Are there any towers, hydra wires, hills or populated areas that will restrict how close we get during the photo shoot? Also if the site is in an airport control zone we need to coordinate our flight with air traffic control.
We use headphones and an intercom to communicate with each other during the flight. This helps the pilot hear the directions given by the inspector over the engine noise and air rushing through the open window, and still monitor radio communications. During each flight pilots use radio communications to report their position as well as listen to where other aircraft are. A visual look outside the aircraft must be maintained to ensure spacing from obstacles and other aircraft. We have never had an accident. Safety is our number one concern.
Recruiting New Skywatch Pilots
- Must be a member of the 99s
- Must meet qualifications – Commercial Pilot’s license with a minimum of 1,000 hours
- Pass a ground test and flight check conducted by Canadian Flyers.
- Operating base is the Markham Airport. MOE has a contract with Canadian Flyers. The Ministry covers the cost of the flight.
- The pilot is entitled to purchase a pair of quality sunglasses; Skywatch will reimburse up to $100 for the sunglasses. The pilot forwards the bill for the sunglasses to Denise Egglestone.
- The Skywatch pilot is responsible for maintaining flight currency at Canadian Flyers (once every 60 days)
- Further, the pilot can claim mileage fees; the claim for mileage can be hand-written or typewritten on a piece of paper, signed by the pilot, and submitted to Denise Egglestone
- New Skywatch pilots can participate in Survival Courses, CPR Courses, and any other courses that are presented for Skywatch pilots
- There are headsets, cushions, a first aid kit, and the latest Canada Flight Supplement available. A survival kit is also available for long northern Skywatch flights.
For more information on the Ninety-Nines or Skywatch,