Victoria Flying Club Alumni Profile: Lieutenant-Colonel Shawn Williamson

Nov 21, 2016

Victoria Flying Club Celebrates 70 Years!

Alumni Profile: Lieutenant-Colonel Shawn Williamson

Contributed by Ramona Reynolds

Lieutenant-Colonel Shawn Williamson of 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron has one of those stories that have made him the balanced and approachable leader he is today. It’s full of unexpected twists and turns that have made his challenging journey one to write about.

Shawn’s 30 year military career is filled with highlights that could each entail its own article. He has been deployed to ships, and has completed tours on both Canadian coasts, Ottawa, Toronto, Europe, and the Middle East. On his first tour at 443 in 1990, his sole job was to learn to fly helicopters. His second tour in 2008 was as Deputy Commanding Officer.

This is Shawn’s third tour of 443, his first as Commanding Officer of a 260 person staff that consists of 150 technicians, about 25 support staff and the remainder air crew. While still in transition, the new hangar facility that opened in April of 2015 will allow for all unit operations to be housed under a single roof that will assist in a smooth move from the CH-124 Sea King helicopters to the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopters.

Shawn’s leadership philosophy is based on the 4 F’s: Fighting, Flying, Fitness, and Family. He explains that “Fighting is what Canada demands of us. Flying is what we bring to the fight. Fitness and Family are what keep us healthy, balanced, and focused so we bring our best with us.”


Shawn started his aviation career as a cadet at 676 Kittyhawk Air Cadet Squadron in Sidney where he received a summer flying scholarship earning his PPL at the Victoria Flying Club. As a local kid, he got a job as a “ramp rat” on evenings and weekends at VFC, hauling and fueling planes and getting them ready for the next day. He remembers that for the whole year of Grade 12, there were only four days that he didn’t work: Christmas Day, New Years Day, and two fog days.

“It was the perfect job for any kid who had their sights on a career in aviation,” says Shawn. “I was a kid in Grade 12, an air cadet with my PPL working on the airfield. It was literally a dream come true.”

He remembers one morning while working on the ramp, a black car pulled up and questioned him about why he was on the field and told him not to ask any questions. It turned out to be security detail for George H.W. Bush, then Vice-President to Ronald Reagan, who was flying in to go fishing with the Oak Bay Marine Group.

For a lot of the neighborhood kids the military was a natural progression. After graduating from Parklands High School, Shawn was accepted into Royal Roads Military College where the story takes a turn. His performance in math and science were “not that stellar,” and eventually Royal Roads gave him “the boot.” Although shaken, he course corrected and obtained his wings as an air navigator in 1990, and with great tenacity, over an eleven year period, he finished his degree on his own time while continuing to work and raise his family.

Having five children, one with acute special needs, “gives you good perspective, awareness and sensitivity” that you might not otherwise have.

“I tell kids now you have to have tenacity. It’s important to be focused on achieving, but sometimes you have to adjust to persevere through that adversity in your career and personal life.”

He realizes now that while experience in cadets is great, doing well in school really matters. “Doing well in school is the thing that will get you in the door.”

Shawn also advises youth with an eye on a military career to become involved in the community. Volunteer and participate in sports or student council. Participate in activities that develop your interest in aviation for both technicians and air crew. Get your licence on your own if you want to fly. If you want to be a pilot in the military, a degree is a requirement these days.

“Stick to it. There will be setbacks. I’ve lived that. Readjust as you go, refocus. Just keep at it.” He continues that “a military career isn’t for everyone. Techs have longer tours. Air crew postings are usually four to five years; flight supervisors are about three.”

Commanding the 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron has been the highlight of his career to date. “I came here in 2015 hoping to leave my fingerprint on a greater vision. I’ll leave in 2017 open to opportunities.”

A red-tailed hawk sits on a post just outside Shawn’s office. The elders in my other life in aboriginal law taught me that a red-tailed hawk holds personal power and spiritual significance for a Chief. It didn’t surprise me that one would sit right outside the Commanding Officer’s window surveying the field. Shawn was born to add value to this world, serve his community, and  empower the people around him.


Lieutenant-Colonel Shawn Williamson is a fine example of making course corrections along the way. Sometimes you follow a different route than you had originally planned but that just might be the route that leads you to greater opportunity.

 About the Victoria Flying Club:

“The Victoria Flying Club, located at the Victoria International Airport, is celebrating 70 years of training world class professional and recreational pilots. Local and international students benefit from the highest quality of instruction on a standardized fleet of Cessna 172S Model aircraft at one of Canada’s busiest airports, providing an unsurpassed level of training. Flight instruction is available seven days a week for anyone interested in learning to fly.”

Victoria Flying Club Website
Victoria Flying Club Contact:
Ramona Reynolds, President, Victoria Flying Club


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