For the second straight year, aerobatic pilot Jodi Rueger returns to the skies at the Abbotsford International Airshow.
Rueger debuted as an airshow performer in 2019, but the London, Ont.-born pilot has been fascinated with aviation from a young age and overcame numerous obstacles to do what she loves.
Now calling Oregon home, Rueger said her first lean towards becoming a pilot came through a career cruising project when she was 12. The project asked users questions and narrowed down career options. Rueger admitted that the salary and adventure in the sky immediately intrigued her, but that she was dismayed when some said it wasn’t possible for her to achieve.
“The more I began telling people I was going to be a pilot, the more I would would hear I wouldn’t like it or I couldn’t do it,” she said. “So I just got a little spiteful and figured I would just find a way to do it on my own.”
She said she heard it all from naysayers from the extreme education costs to the lack of female representation in the industry, but she continued pushing forward.
Rueger began collecting scholarships and received the necessary education to eventually complete her commercial, multi-engine, and instrument ratings at Ontario’s Sault College in the Aviation Technology - Flight Advanced Diploma program.
From there she moved to British Columbia and became a flight instructor and aerobatic instructor in the Lower Mainland, where she flew 80 types of aircraft over the course of five years and has to date flown roughly 95 different types.
Rueger also worked for WestJet and Swoop for several years, helping travellers reach their destinations. She has also flown in race classes and flown cargo. She said she enjoys all different types of flying and the enjoyment her work can bring. She said the aerobatics is actually more involved and has more variety than what fans are often aware of.
“You can do what we call gentleman aerobatics where you’re just demonstrating to a passenger and it’s very gentle and coordinated, and you’re there to make sure people have fun and nobody gets hurt,” she said. “And then you have competition aerobatics, which is the polar opposite. It is meant to be aggressive, uncoordinated and present really well, to score well with the people sitting on the ground, you’re pushing the plane and yourself more to your limits. Then there’s airshow flying, where the name of the game is don’t hit the ground. We operate with a very small margin of error. And everything is about managing the energy to get through the show.”
Rueger is relatively new to being a performer in air shows, having debuted in 2019, but she was a crew member at shows for many years and was extremely comfortable with all aspects of air shows before taking to the skies herself.
“I knew all about the safety briefings and everything you have to prepare for,” she said. “But there were some things I wasn’t prepared for like autographs and having fans there wanting to meet you.”
Rueger said she is also encouraged to see more and more women get involved in aviation. Stacy Irwin became the first-ever female chair of the AIA earlier this year and she has noticed more women entering the field. Abbotsford’s Girls Fly Too! event is another local way for girls to get interested in aviation. Rueger said she wants girls to know it is possible to take to the skies.
“I maybe didn’t have enough respect for how important it is for women to see other women in these roles,” she said. “It was really the third airshow that I flew when it truly hit me – girls came to my booth to meet me and they were really excited and telling me how happy they were to see me there. So many told me how someone has told them and in many cases, it was her own dad, who had told them they couldn’t be a pilot because they were a woman.”
Rueger said she was stunned at that statement and reiterated that any girl can be a pilot.
“Representation matters and it’s silly for people to think they can’t do something because of their gender,” she said. “The sad part is that some of them believe it when people say that. It’s more limited than people give it credit for. So when you have a woman who’s competent in a role that actually matters, it’s bigger than we know.”
Rueger is scheduled for 7:20 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 5), 11:55 a.m. on Saturday (Aug. 6) and Sunday (Aug. 7).
For more information on her, visit jraero.com.