Alumnus soars through rarefied air

Royal Canadian Air Force

This year, Western alumnus Capt. Ryan Kean will be flying this specially painted CF-18 Hornet, below, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the pan-Canadian effort to train aircrew for the Second World through the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

When Western alumnus Ryan Kean returns to London later this year, he’ll more than likely fly by campus briefly. That’s what you do when you pilot a multi-million dollar CF-18 Hornet that tops out at 1,900 km/h.

Kean, a captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), will pilot this year’s CF-18 Demonstration Team and lead dozens of air shows across North America later this summer. He hits the wild blue yonder over London in September.

“If you would have asked me, as I walked off the stage at Alumni Hall, ‘Where do you see yourself in 10 years?’ I wouldn’t have probably described to you the point I am at now. However, it would have been a wish list,” said the Earth and Planetary Sciences graduate. “Being where I am now didn’t come without a lot of hard work and being at the right place at the right time.  My career in the RCAF has been extremely exciting and not without its challenges and great opportunities.”

Kean joined Canadian Armed Forces in 2003 while a student Western. Just months after graduation in 2005, he began his military flying career. Within four years, he became a fighter pilot, posted to the 409 Tactical Fighter ‘Nighthawk’ Squadron based at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta.

In July 2013, Kean joined his current unit, the 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) ‘Cougar’ Squadron, as an instructor pilot on the CF-18. He is currently the squadron’s deputy operations officer.

During his time in Cold Lake, Kean participated in multiple training missions over Canada and the United States. He has also conducted operational missions, both at home and overseas, in support of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) missions. Kean has more than 1,600 flying hours on high performance military aircraft, including 1,300 hours on the CF-18 Hornet.


This year, he will be flying his specially painted CF-18 Hornet, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the pan-Canadian effort to train aircrew for the Second World through the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

“During the Second World War, Canadians and communities across Canada came together to train aircrew from across the Commonwealth, with civilians operating aerodromes, serving as instructors, and fulfilling critical roles from repairing aircraft to packing parachutes. Importantly, Canadians also welcomed and made trainees from around the world feel a part of their communities,” said Major-General David Wheeler, commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and the Canadian NORAD Region.

“Now, 75 years later, we’re pleased that Captain Kean, a natural selection for the 2016 CF-18 Demonstration Team with his proven abilities and experience, will commemorate those contributions with communities across the country and all over North America.”

In late April, Kean will take to the skies over Comox, B.C., where his team conducts its annual training before launching the 2016 air show season. He added it is an exciting opportunity to showcase the skill and professionalism of the RCAF – and the CF-18 – all over Canada and the United States.

“There’s a training syllabus consisting of both simulated and airborne missions,” Kean said. “During these missions, I will work towards perfecting each manoeuvre before putting them all together into what you would see at the airshow. I’m looking forward to the point where I am able to fly the entire show from start to finish, allowing me to put on a great performance for the crowd.

“It’s very exciting. Being selected allows me to fly the aircraft in a way that few pilots get to do. Only one pilot a year is selected to be the CF-18 demo pilot, so there aren’t a lot of people who have had the chance.”

Kean added he plans to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – and challenge.

“Every time you step into an airplane, it’s going to be different. Even if it’s the same trip you just flew the day before, there’s always a new challenge,” he said. “Additionally, there’s the excitement and sense of freedom. Almost every mission I fly, there’s a moment where I realize exactly where I am sitting and it makes me smile.”