The Felicity McKendry stamp designed by Suzanne Wiltshire features a beautiful portrait of Felicity in a typical pilot pose, standing by the airplane strut. The First Day Cover includes an inset of Felicity taken when she began her flight instructing career. Introduced May 1, 2013, the stamp celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of Felicity becoming a flight instructor.
Many Canadian pilots who know Felicity McKendry think of her as a venerable woman to consult about aviation specifics. We are not wrong. But we miss a delightful view of Felicity Bennett as a youngster.
Felicity identifies two major influences as stimulating her desire to learn to fly. When she was a youngster, the Quaker Oats company featured a “How To Fly” kit. The cardboard instrument panel had flight and engine instruments which could be set manually. “Student pilots” also used a cardboard control column, throttle, rudder pedals and a well-illustrated booklet as they listened to 15 minute lessons on the radio. Later, while driving the tractor on her parents’ farm and watching Harvards practising aerobatics overhead, she practised driving the tractor straight, imagining takeoffs and landings.
Though bitten by the flying bug as a youngster, she attended Ottawa Normal School and began teaching at the Ontario School for the Deaf in Belleville in 1949. She spent her first pay cheque on a membership in the Kingston Flying Club. While teaching, she earned her pilot’s licence in 1951. In 1952 she competed for the Webster Trophy for the top Canadian amateur pilot, placing first in the flying segment and third overall.
Felicity’s instructor, Doug Wagner, offered her a job if she could complete her instructor qualifications by spring. She resigned from teaching and borrowed money to log enough hours to meet this challenge. Felicity says this was the best decision of her life – though she gave up a teaching career with a secure pension in order to follow her passion, which offered little financial security. On May 1, 1953 she began her flight instructing career.
A few months later she met Spence McKendry, the man she married in 1955. But first he was her student. Felicity recalls trying to “encourage him to complete a Commercial licence because at that time there was a big demand for MALE pilots. As a female, I was not eligible.” Instead Spence became an air traffic controller. As they moved to various communities for his work, Felicity always found instructing opportunities. With the arrival of their children, Felicity demonstrated that a woman could combine motherhood with an aviation career. At that time few women did so. She became one of the first Canadian women Chief Flying Instructors. During her thirty-five year career Felicity logged almost 5000 hours, usually about an hour at a time. Much of Felicity’s flying was in the Kingston area where she and her husband Spence lived for about thirty years.
Appointed as a Designated Flight Test Examiner, Felicity enjoyed the career highlight of testing Canadian astronauts Steve McLean and Marc Garneau for their Private pilot licences, a requirement as part of their preparation for space travel.
Felicity also enjoyed air racing, competing in the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race in 1955 and 1956 and the Angel Derby in 1975. Racing gives pilots the opportunity to perfect skills they try to stress with students, a welcome challenge for instructors whose students usually do most of the flying.
Felicity was inducted into the International Forest of Friendship, a tribute to men and women involved in aviation and space exploration. In 2007 she received the Dr. Morton Shulman National Parkinsons Society of Canada Fundraising Award for her work in producing 10,000 calendars for Parkinsons fundraising purposes.
Every year since Felicity decided not to renew her flying licence, she hires an instructor to fly with her for her annual birthday flight, celebrating her passion for flight.
By Marilyn Dickson