Above: 21794 Jameel Janjua in front of the NF-16D VISTA, a one-of-a-kind variable stability aircraft he uses to train student at the USAF Test Pilot School
Article by 25366 Anna-Michelle Shewfelt
Photos courtesy of 21794 Jameel Janjua
“Military college made me who I am today” is a common refrain amongst graduates of the Canadian military college system. For 21794 Jameel Janjua (RMC 2000), recently retired from the Air Force but still flying as a test pilot and instructor pilot, it’s a sentiment he proudly stands by. “RMC was tough, probably the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life so far,” he said. (And this says a lot given his incredible list of accomplishments since graduation.) “My RMC experience has served me well in the twenty years that have followed since then.”
Jameel came by both his love of flying and his military college ambitions at an early age. “I got my start flying as a teenager in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, 52 City of Calgary Squadron. I earned my glider pilot’s licence the summer before I was accepted into the Regular Officer Training Plan,” the native of Calgary, Alberta, explained. “I also credit the Air Cadets with leading me to RMC. I remember vividly being a 14 year old on an Air Cadet tour of Royal Roads Military College and becoming obsessed with the idea that I would go to military college and become a fighter pilot and astronaut. 13738 Chris Hadfield had been selected to become an astronaut in 1992, shortly before that tour of RRMC, and I was very aware of the path that seemingly led him to that point in his life.”
“There was more to it than that, though,” he went on. “My father, an immigrant to Canada from East Africa, used to take my brother and me to air shows at CFB Penhold most summers. The CF-18 Hornet was relatively new at the time and I can remember being mesmerized by fast, low passes over the crowd by the CF-18 Demonstration Team pilot. That did it for me! I was going to find a way to become a fighter pilot. Getting a university education was non-negotiable in our household (thank you Mom and Dad) and so I needed to marry up my desire to light my hair on fire and the very fortuitous requirement that I get a great education along the way. RMC offered me an opportunity to do both. I would also need a lot of hard work and luck along the way.”
Jameel Janjua arrived at RMC as a member of 1 Sqn in 1996. He has many memories of the next four years, chief among them the grueling academic schedule he had to manage as an engineering student. “In hindsight, part of that was self-imposed, but for all the right reasons! I recall trying to balance being recruit staff in third year with keeping on top of my studies in Chemical and Materials Engineering. While that was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, I knew that those grades would be the determining factor as to whether or not I was going to earn an NSERC grant in my fourth year and the chance to go to post-graduate training on scholarship. And so, like any good bud would, I chose to ‘drive the body and shoot the foot.’ I learned how to operate on not much sleep and how to triage many competing factors in life, and that’s a skill that has served me well ever since.”
While the benefits of a military college education can be easy to see in hindsight, Jameel was quick to admit that they weren’t as obvious to him at the time. “I remember being in my Recruit Term and we had a supper at the mess with our squadron bar staff. It was kind of a chance for them to get to know us and for us to have more direct interaction with them,” he recalled. “I always had a bit of a mouth on me (ask my classmates) and, when given the opportunity to speak with our D/CSL, 21301 Geoffrey Waddington, I took the opportunity to let him know that I didn’t see ’the point’ of the excessively challenging treatment that I felt we were getting in Recruit Term.” Jameel went on, “Mr. Waddington was pretty good about it all actually, and he did his best to explain to me that they were doing this on purpose to prepare us to be our absolute best and to realize that our limits were actually much further than we knew at that moment. He said that they were charged with preparing us for what would be an exceptionally challenging and exciting career, and that the pressure that we were being put under was intended to transform us into the most capable officers we could be. I have never gotten a chance to say this, but after living all that I’ve experienced since, I can say he was 100% correct. Recruit Term showed me that I had no idea what my peers and I were capable of, given the right motivation. I have thought back to that dinner in the Senior Staff Mess many times in my career, often following the culmination of some activity or event in my career where I was glad that I had my RMC training and experience to fall back on. I am always left with a smile on my face thinking how the 17-year-old punk that I was then thought he knew best and would have a go at the D/CSL , and how the 41-year-old punk that I am now isn’t afraid to admit being wrong.”
Looking back, there are other individuals who stand out for Jameel, as well. “A105 Professor Ron Weir was an incredible mentor and gentleman. He was always so kind and willing to help students. The man was up at the wee hours every morning and would always be willing to help students who wanted to know more. He was so hard working and an excellent role model in that respect and in others. He helped me a lot when I was trying to figure out how to go to graduate school in the Post-Grad Training on Scholarship program. And there was also S150 Mr. Peter Dawe, Sr.,” Jameel said. “He was a great, sage mentor for many others and me. Many times during my time at RMC and afterwards, he was someone with whom I’d seek counsel, or just shoot the breeze or vent. Of course, I never knew him when he was a uniformed officer, but in my mind he is the embodiment of a ‘life of service.’”
If you remember Jameel from the summer 2011 cover article of Veritas (see photo above), you’ll know he’s accomplished a lot since graduation. What is he up to now? “In the fall of 2018, I retired from the RCAF. My last posting was as an exchange test pilot to the USAF. I was dual-qualified on both the F-16 Viper and F-15SA Advanced Eagle, and I worked concurrently as a test pilot and instructor pilot on both of those platforms for the USAF. I was lucky enough to do a lot of flight controls, flight sciences, and automatic collision avoidance test work on those platforms at Edwards AFB. Upon retirement, I took a position with Calspan Corporation as a test pilot and instructor pilot,” he explained. “Calspan is an American company based in Niagara Falls, NY, that has a long and distinguished history in the field of advanced flight control research. I am the lead test pilot and instructor pilot for a one-of-a-kind, national asset in-flight simulator fighter jet called the NF-16D VISTA (Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Training Aircraft). In this position, I work full-time as an instructor pilot at the United States Air Forces Test Pilot School (USAF TPS) at Edwards AFB, CA, flying VISTA, in addition to the regular F-16 Viper, to train student test pilots during their year-long course, including RCAF officers. It was important to me to continue flying and mentoring test pilots and fighter pilots, and that is part of the reason why I decided to retire and continue my career in the civilian world.”
Between graduation and retirement, Jameel served in a number of postings around the RCAF and abroad, including as a CF-18 Fighter Pilot/Fighter Weapons Instructor for 425 ETAC ‘Les Alouettes,’ at 3 Wing, Bagotville, from 2006-2009; as a Tornado GR4 Fighter Pilot/Exchange Officer with 14 Sqn RAF at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, from 2009-2011 and as a Tornado GR4 Fighter Pilot/Exchange Officer/Officer Commanding Weapons with IX(B) Sqn RAF at RAF Marham, England from 2011-2012; and as a F-16 and F-15 Test Pilot/Exchange Officer with 416 Flight Test Sqn, Edwards AFB, USA from 2014-2018. He also flew 84 combat sorties with the RAF over Afghanistan and Libya and was shortlisted by the Canadian Space Agency during astronaut recruitment twice, in 2009 and 2017.
Not surprisingly, when asked about his most memorable moments from such a storied career, Jameel replied, “Seriously, how much time do you have? I am biased, but it was amazing – just the amount of cool things that I was fortunate enough to get a chance to do.” He went on, “Being the Weapons Officer on a combat-ready CF-18 squadron was phenomenal and very challenging. 22088 Brandon Robinson (RMC 2001) and I poured our heart and soul into being the two ‘patches’ for ‘Les Alouettes’ (Je te plumerai!) for that time. I am so proud to have worked so closely with him, a lifelong friend and ex-cadet, in doing our part to make our fighter force as lethal and survivable as humanly possible. Brandon is one of the best fighter pilots that I have ever worked and flown with. We taught together on the Fighter Weapons Instructor course (FWIC) 2009 that year as well. It’s all a bit hazy; we worked hard and enjoyed the very little time off we had. Before marriage and kids (which are both more important, for the record!), it was living.”
“Supporting Canadian troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan, while on exchange as a deployed fighter pilot with the RAF also stands out. I was so proud to fly the Canadian flag (literally) in a fighter jet above them, because the CF-18’s had, sadly, not been deployed to that theatre. In the same calendar year, while flying a RAF Tornado GR4 again, I met CF-18’s on a tanker off the coast of North Africa as we were enforcing UN Security Council resolution 1973. I had taught the flight lead, 22561 Larry Golja, on FWIC three years earlier and now he was the deployed Weapons Officer. Larry and I are also very close friends and our families spend time with each other whenever possible. We were part of the same strike package that day and I recall being very proud to be fighting alongside my Canadian fighter pilot brothers and sisters.”
“And finally, there was being invited to Washington, DC, in 2019, to celebrate being a small part of a very diverse Robert J Collier trophy team. The Collier trophy is given every year for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America. As an exchange officer and test pilot, I’d been fortunate enough to work with and help lead the F-16 automatic collision avoidance technology (ACAT) test team at Edwards AFB. So many of us poured our hearts into that program, like those engineers and test pilots before us. The Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) on the F-16 is already responsible for saving the lives of nine USAF fighter pilots. I hope that the RCAF and CAF get on-board and work to quickly procure this life-saving technology that now exists for fighter jets.”
Even with such an impressive list of accomplishments behind him, Jameel is quick to point out that he’s only really just begun. “I’m qualified as one of three NF-16D VISTA instructor pilots in the world,” he explained. “It’s a privilege to be able to use that unique platform, VISTA, to teach student test pilots how to be the best possible tester they can be for the sake of the Warfighter. I am also proud to provide a diverse perspective to the Board of Directors of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. I am the youngest member currently on the Board, and helping to represent and guide this impressive, international Society is something that I am really enjoying.”
As 21794 Jameel Janjua’s own lifetime of service attests, “military college made me who I am” is a reality that’s alive and well in graduates of the Canadian military colleges.
Jameel is married to Sylvie Villeneuve and together they have two wonderful sons, Asher (5) and Oliver (3). In 2019, Jameel was invested as an Officer of the Order of Military Merit in recognition of a career of outstanding meritorious service in duties of responsibility.