Capt. Jason Berndt in front of a CF-18 Hornet he now flies. (Photo by Cpl. Gary Calve)

Capt. Jason Berndt in front of a CF-18 Hornet he now flies. (Photo by Cpl. Gary Calve)

Extensive training leads to fighter pilot designation

Chemainus Secondary 2008 grad flying high in his profession

Somehow, Jason Berndt has always known exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

The former Chemainus resident and Chemainus Secondary School graduate is clearly living his dream that seemed to take shape during the early stages of childhood.

“Since I was three years old, I wanted to be a pilot,” said Berndt, 27, over the phone from Bagotville, Quebec where he’s posted to the 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. “Six years old or so, I wanted to be a fighter pilot.”

Berndt was born and grew up in Victoria, starting on his chosen path by joining the Air Cadets at the age of 12 in Victoria. After his family relocated to Chemainus, he became part of the Air Cadets in Nanaimo.

During his high school years in Chemainus, Berndt took all the necessary courses with a thought toward future requirements.

“In high school, I was pretty big on French,” he indicated. “Me living in Quebec right now, thank God I did that.”

Berndt is in a predominantly French area of Quebec so all that language training paid off more than he could possibly have imagined. “I got to do my French all the way up to Grade 11,” he pointed out.

After that, Berndt completed South Island Distance Education for his French 12, a course where he was sent assignments and would mail in his work.

Overall, Chemainus Secondary provided him with all the requirements to advance in his field.

“I had everything,” Berndt indicated. “Sometimes they don’t have Calculus.”

He completed all the technically-advanced courses in the sciences and math to set himself up for further schooling and won the Governor General’s Award for the top graduate at Chemainus Secondary at the end of the 2008 school year.

Berndt also carries fond memories of his other high school experiences. He once was the lead singer in a band called 5 Way Stop with Brent Bernasky as drummer, Chad Bowcott on bass and Chris Dusseault and Scott Fair on guitars.

Berndt also loved to ride dirt bikes around his family farm property just outside Chemainus that had turkeys and chickens lurking around.

Physical fitness is a huge part of military training, but Berndt developed more in that area as time went on.

“I didn’t do much for sports in high school,” he conceded. “I briefly was in volleyball. Sports wasn’t my thing. Air cadets was my thing.”

While still in high school, Berndt received an Air Cadet Glider Pilot scholarship in the summer of 2006 and did a six-week course in Comox to obtain his glider pilot license.

In keeping ahead of his French requirements, he completed a five-week French immersion program in the spring of 2007 in Jonquiere, Quebec, close to where he lives now.

The summer of 2007 was consumed mainly with another course in Comox under an Air Cadet scholarship for his private pilot license and, in the winter of 2007, Berndt went to Trenton and Toronto, Ontario for a one-week air crew selection course.

After graduation from Chemainus Secondary, he attended the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario from 2008-2012 to complete a Bachelor degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

“Schooling, I was well-prepared,” Berndt recalled. “It was a different experience having to leave my family and stuff like that.”

In the summer of 2008 before starting at the Military College, he did another five-week French immersion program in Trois Pistoles, Quebec.

Other happenings along the way included: taking a Basic Military Officer Qualification Course in St-Jean, Quebec in the summer of 2009; and Phase I flight training in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba on the Grob 120a in the summer of 2011.

Berndt graduated from the Military College in 2012. “After that, I was waiting for pilot training from August 2012 to January 2013,” he pointed out.

Berndt instructed air cadets in Comox to fly gliders from June through August of 2012. “I taught them to do the course I was taught to do when I was 16,” he indicated.

Berndt was posted back to CFB Comox during the flight training waiting period while working with the 442 Search and Rescue Squadron in Comox.

The rest of his resume includes: Phase II flight training on the CT-156 Harvard II in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan during the first eight months of 2013; Phase III on the Harvard II in Moose Jaw from September 2013 through March 2014, leading to the awarding of his Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot wings in April of 2014; a Transition course on the CT-155 Hawk to fly high performance jets in Moose Jaw for the next three months; assuming the Fighter Lead in a Training Course on the Hawk in Cold Lake, Alberta for a year from September 2014 through September 2015; another year of waiting for flight training in Toronto from October 2015 through October 2016 while working at the Defence Research and Development Centre; and a Fighter pilot training course on the CF-18 Hornet in Cold Lake from October 2016 through May 2017.

Berndt was posted to CFB Bagotville to fly the CF-18 as a fighter pilot in August.

It’s been a long, but satisfying road for him to reach this point.

“There was never any doubt, carrying it through to the end,” Berndt said. “There’s definitely been times where it’s been very difficult. I made sure I got through.”

The sky is now clearly the limit for him as a wingman with the 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron.

“There’s someone more experienced than me I fly with,” Berndt explained. “He’ll tell me what to do and I’ll do it. We’ll train till I’m combat ready.

“For now, I’m just focusing on being the best I can be.”