A St. Thomas pilot will be flying high with the big guy Christmas Eve. Capt. Kevin Mittelholtz from 401 tactical fighter squadron, Cold Lake, Alberta, will serve as an escort pilot accompanying Santa across western Canada as he delivers gifts for good little girls and boys
The 27-year-old Mittelholtz is one of four CF-18 pilots who will serve as Santa’s wingmen on this most important of assignments. The St. Joseph’s High School grad will be a key member of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) team chosen to ensure St. Nick enjoys a safe journey from the North Pole across the country.
Captains Pierre-David Boivin and Pierre-Claude Quirion, from 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec, were selected as the eastern escort pilots for Santa. Sgt. Marc-André David is the maintainer supporting them. This year’s 3 Wing team comes from 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Lt.-Col. Forrest Rock and Capt. Mittelholtz are Santa’s escort pilots from 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta. Cpl. Kevin Richmond and Aviator Gillian Lavoie are the maintainers supporting them and they are all members of 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron.
At 22 Wing North Bay, Ontario, Santa Trackers from 21 Aerospace Control and Warning Squadron’s Charlie Flight are ready to maintain radio contact with Santa Claus and his escort pilots. Maj. Kathleen Leeton, Staff Sgt. Patrick Bisigni of the United States Air Force, and Master Cpl. Gabriel Chartier are standing by to help ensure Santa’s safe transit through Canadian airspace.
It’s the 62nd year NORAD has provided this critical service.
As for piloting the CF-18 Hornet, Canada’s operational fighter jet, Mittelholtz enthused, “I’ll take any kind of flying, but obviously it’s quite a rush to fly something like this.”
We caught up with Mittelholtz in mid-September when he flew into London to log some night flying hours that included a quick, two-hour jaunt up to North Bay and Sudbury and return.
Sitting at the controls of the CF-18 is fulfillment of a childhood dream for Mittelholtz, who attended Southwold Public School prior to becoming a Ram at St. Joe’s.
“My dad took me to the London Air Show when I was 12 years old and I saw the F-18. And I pretty much knew right there.”
In 2006, at age 16, he joined 31 Combat Engineer Regiment (The Elgins) and began working toward his private pilot’s licence at the St. Thomas Flight Centre, which he completed the following year.
In 2009, Mittelholtz was accepted into the Regular Officer Training Plan for Pilot. The program encompassed four years at Western University, basic military officer training and second language training.
After his third year at university, he was sent to Portage-La-Prairie for Phase 1 of primary flight training on the Grob G-120A aircraft. In 2013, upon successful completion of his degree, Mittelholtz was commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant.
In July of 2013, Mittelholtz was posted to CFB Moose Jaw to undertake Phase II and III basic flight training on the CT-156 Harvard II aircraft. Upon completion of Phase II, he was selected to join the stream of fighter aircraft.
He moved on to fly the CT-155 Hawk, a supersonic jet trainer. Phase IV and V fighter lead-in training was conducted on the Hawk and Mittelholtz then moved on to the CF-18 Hornet.
Although now qualified on the Hornet, he stresses training never ends.
“You have to become combat ready and then you upgrade to different qualifications. My aim is to be a good wing man on the squadron.
“Everyone wants to fly the F-18 forever but that has to come to an end at some point. Right now I’m at an exciting stage, to have four years ahead of me for now to be able to fly it. I’m very lucky. It’s very exciting. It’s a privilege.”
It’s also an unbelievable amount of pressure, both physical and mental.
“Every step along the way there is the chance of being cut, if you will. Each course brings its own challenges, including once you get to the F-18. Just because you’re on the course for that, it’s far from over.
“It’s a challenge all the way along. They expect a lot. You need to know your stuff. I like that responsibility. In the fighter course, everything is as a team.”
As for flying into London, Mittelholtz noted the excursion provided an opportunity for more than just logging night hour.
“This gave my family a chance to see what I’ve been up to for many years. It’s been four years of flight training.
“It’s great to be able to do my job right now and getting night hours as required and be able to see some folks and show my family why I’ve been kind of missing for so long. They’ve been able to grasp what it is that makes me want this so bad.”
And flying wingman for Santa, well that’s just icing on the (Christmas) cake.
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