Our guest Scratch Mitchell talks about the precise moment that he knew that his days with the Royal Canadian Air Force were coming to a close and the next phase of his career was about to start.
The WorkNotWork Show [0:23:26]: Eventually, in 2010, you finished up with the Royal Canadian Air Force. You must have had very mixed feelings about wrapping up this stage of your life.
Scratch Mitchell: I had an option to continue on in the Air Force. I was a lieutenant colonel, and some suggested that I had had this sword placed on my shoulder, that I was one of a few select people to carry on and I'd quite likely become a general and beyond. That was very flattering and, I must say, I got caught up in that a little bit. I said “really—wow—because I thought I'd never make it past lieutenant.” I got in trouble a couple times as a young fighter pilot.
WNW: Say it isn't so. [laughter]
SM: Yes. Goodness, my daughter's listening. [laughter]
WNW: That’s right. There's a whole range of stories that you can't tell. [laughter]
SM: That's right. But I realized while I was doing post-graduate training in Australia—I was sitting on a surfboard in Coolangatta one of my favourite places on the planet—and I had a moment where I said “I'm not going to fly airplanes anymore as a colonel, and beyond.” I was 39 years old. I was fairly young still, and I said “nothing else scares me in the Air Force.” The fact of being a general doesn't scare me and that was frightening in itself that I wasn't afraid of progression. Whereas everything else in my career I was like, “am I going to make the Snowbirds? Am I going to throw my name in there? If I don't make it, what would that look like? The fact of becoming a general didn't scare me, and I realized that was a turning point for me.
WNW: The challenge just wasn't there anymore?
SM: The challenge wasn't there. I had set out to do a number of things and I had achieved those. I had discovered that there were other passions in my life that I needed to bite into. Because as a Snowbird pilot, we used to do countless visits to schools talking to kids and our main message was pursue your dreams and goals. I realized I had to measure up to my own words and I had to embrace that which I was preaching to all these kids and I challenged myself. It was terrifying, but I challenged myself. I said you have an opportunity that no one else has to go pursue a second goal.
WNW: So after retiring you spent a couple of years as a first officer for Westjet?
SM: Being an airline pilot was fundamentally different than being a military pilot. Some people respond to it very well. It didn't grab me. I sort of knew that was going to happen because I've been very success-driven, very goal-oriented and I like to get within a situation, find what I like and rise in that aspect of what I was doing. Whether it's being an air show pilot, or it's being a tactical person, in my younger days. I found an aspect or something I could potentially rise above other people.
WNW: And people in a 737 don't appreciate four point rolls?
SM: No, they don't want to appreciate four point rolls in a 737. But I think the airline thing didn't give me any sense of challenge. Certainly, it was very interesting, and I'm very, very happy that I did experience that aspect of aviation. I can say with authority what that is like now. But at the same time, I didn't respond well to being a number. I knew that going to the airlines was hedging my bets a little bit because I got out of the Air Force with this clear goal of getting into film and television. I thought I was going to be at the airline for ten years and perhaps be able to work part-time, do film, develop a performing career, training as an actor, developing a director/producer career. But I quickly found out I had to make a decision early on.
WNW: I'm guessing that the majority of our listeners will recognize your name and, when they see the pictures, they will recognize you as that guy from that show on Discovery Channel called Airshow.
SM: Yes, Airshow. It was basically the catalyst for change for me. I have somewhat of a mentor in the film industry and he told me early on that to get into TV at anything but the bottom, go in with something you're an expert at. Aviation clearly was what I had in my back pocket—an interesting perhaps background with aviation for many people. So I had brainstormed an idea for a TV series. I don't like the term reality television, but a documentary series about the airshow industry, because I knew a lot about it and I knew there was some amazing characters and some interesting stories.
I was involved with some flying myself. I thought “could we marry this all together?” So I partnered with somebody who had deep connections with Discovery Channel, who incidentally was coming up with this idea himself. We met at a convention, I heard him speak about it. I’m, like, “we should talk” because I'm thinking about something like this now, but I don't have the means or wherewithal to get it going. So we partnered on this. Little did we know that within nine months Discovery Channel would say “yes, let's make this.”
There’s so much more – please listen to the whole episode. We welcome your comments below. Also, ratings and reviews on iTunes are invaluable and very much appreciated. Thank you! (header photo: View South from Point Danger Lookout, Coolangatta, Queensland by GrieSeb on WikiMedia)
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