The Ninety-Nines fly for the
Ministry of Ontario of the Environment (MOE)'s pollution detection program Operation Skywatch,
featured in a documentary "Angels of the Sky".
We also participate in local Science Fairs to encourage an interest in
A Brief History
Recruiting New Pilots
OPERATION SKYWATCH is a co-operative aerial
surveillance venture between the 99s First Canadian Chapter, Inc and
the MOE. It encompasses the flight
monitoring and photographing of land, water and air pollution in
southern and Northern Ontario by volunteer pilots of the 99s First
Canadian Chapter, Inc and MOE
Public awareness regarding pollution has grown to
the point whereby concerned private citizens are willing to
volunteer their time, energy and skills to help protect their
environment from the damaging, and sometimes irreversible, effects
of pollution. It is in this spirit of concern and personal
commitment to the community that the women of the 99s First Canadian
Chapter, Inc. have volunteered their time and piloting skills to fly
for OPERATION SKYWATCH.
A BRIEF HISTORY
In the spring of 1978, the 99s First Canadian
Chapter, Inc was approached by representatives of the Ontario
Ministry of the Environment, Mr. Ron Johnson and Mr. Bob Winson, to
participate in an experimental program of aerial surveillance
patrols for the Ministry. Members of the First Canadian Chapter
enthusiastically accepted the challenge and the opportunity
presented by the Ministry to contribute to the community in this
rather unique and positive way.
From June, 1978 to December, 1980, a typical
surveillance flight involved two 99s (pilot and
observer/photographer) departed Buttonville Airport in a rented
aircraft (or their own aircraft) for a specific location, as per
assignment sheets provided by Ministry officials. At the target
site, a right-hand orbiting procedure was executed around the target
by the pilot while the observer/photographer took pictures out the
open window of the aircraft.
Buttonville Airport served as the headquarters
base for OPERATION SKYWATCH and photographic mission sheets, along
with 35mm film, both supplied by the Ministry, were kept in a locker
at Buttonville. During this time, the pilots provided the aircraft
at their own expense.
Due to the tremendous initial success of the
program in the Toronto Region, OPERATION SKYWATCH was officially
launched in Ontario by the 99s First Canadian Chapter, Inc, and the
Ministry of the Environment on June 14, 1979.
Also in 1979, the Ministry of the Environment
prepared a highly informative training manual for OPERATION SKYWATCH
pilots for use as a guide in learning aerial surveillance
techniques. Ministry officials commenced training seminars for
OPERATION SKYWATCH pilots in order to show how the photographs were
interpreted and evaluated.
It was during this time that Ron Johnson, a
Communications Officer with the Ministry, as well as the motivating
force behind the OPERATION SKYWATCH Program, designed the present
attractive Logo we have and gave the Program its official name.
As the Program proved to be very cost effective
for the Ministry, as well as highly successful, commencing January
1, 1981, the Ministry of the Environment assumed responsibility for
aircraft rental costs and pilot checkout costs. Ministry personnel
from the Water Resources Branch, the Waste Management Branch, the
Legal Services Branch, in addition to Regional Investigators, began
flying with OPERATION SKYWATCH pilots to photograph priority sites
of concern - to their respective branches.
In 1983, a C-172 belonging to Toronto Airways
Limited at Buttonville Airport was modified to serve as a platform
for both oblique and vertical aerial photography for OPERATION
SKYWATCH. A camera porthole was cut on the floorboard between the
seat rails and forward of the right front seat of the aircraft and a
special camera mount was designed to specifications to accommodate
three different camera systems over the porthole for vertical
In July, 1985, the Investigations and Enforcement
Branch was created within the Ministry of the Environment and
provided with a strong mandate to increase the Ministry's activities
in the area of environmental enforcement and to monitor, assess and
enforce ongoing pollution reduction programs. Mr. Ron Johnson
transferred to the Investigations and Enforcement Branch as Chief
Photographer of the OPERATION SKYWATCH Program and was provided with
a fully equipped lab with state-of-the-art stereographic equipment.
Government environmental officials from many foreign countries have
toured the Ministry's photo lab over the years and have marveled at
the simplicity and uniqueness of this very effective surveillance
As the Program grew and expanded, OPERATION
SKYWATCH pilots approached the Ministry of the Environment for a
yearly Grant to cover various costs associated with the Program,
such as car mileage, parking fees, baby-sitting costs, stationery,
postage, letterhead, recruitment costs, etc. In 1988 the Ministry
gave the Program a Grant of $2,500 and has provided the OPERATION
SKYWATCH Program with an annual Grant of $5,000 each year since
then. In 1991 the Grant was increased to $7,500. Due to
government cut backs in spending, the grants have been discontinued.
In 1988, the 99s New York/New Jersey Section
hosted a joint seminar for First Canadian Chapter pilots and
Ministry of the Environment personnel, and U.S. environmental
officials. Following the seminar, the 99s New York/New Jersey
Section established an OPERATION SKYWATCH Program and commenced
flights in 1989. The American approach to the Program differs from
that of the 99s First Canadian Chapter, Inc. in that a hotline phone
number has been established within a local government agency in New
York State and 99s there and in New Jersey report suspicious sites
during their own personal flying.
During the New England Section meeting in May,
1991, Operation Skywatch pilots from the 99s First Canadian Chapter,
Inc. presented a slide show on the Program to Section participants
in order to assist pilots in Connecticut to establish an
environmental surveillance program in that State.
From January 1981 to January 1994, a total of 1745
hours were logged by pilots from the First Canadian Chapter for
Operation Skywatch flights.
Starting with the first surveillance flight in
June, 1978, the Operation Skywatch Program has been the focus of
considerable media coverage - TV, radio, newspapers and magazines.
Due to this coverage, a scrapbook was started in 1978 and contains a
narrative and pictorial history of our beginnings and our evolution.
In the fall of 1992, filming commenced on the
production of a documentary on Operation Skywatch sponsored by
Global TV. The documentary was completed in 1993 and it was an
exciting undertaking for the First Canadian Chapter as the finished
product is not only aired on TV, but copies distributed to schools
and career centres to inspire young women to consider a career in
Recently, the 99s First Canadian Chapter, Inc.
celebrated 33 years of service with the Operation Skywatch Program
and is proud to have been the first chapter of The Ninety-Nines to
participate in volunteer environmental aerial surveillance with a
local government body. The program has provided our chapter pilots
with the opportunity to combine their love of flying with a very
worthwhile purpose - to contribute in a small but significant way to
cleaning up our environment.
For more information about OPERATION SKYWATCH
Akky Mansikka at
We cover Southern Ontario from Windsor, to Orillia,
to Kingston - we have done flights as far as Timmins, Sault Ste.
Marie, Sudbury and Ottawa. Skywatch operates year round, but the
majority of flights take place in the summer.
Operation Skywatch main concern is safety -
through our program we have provided our pilots with first aid and
The Skywatch program further promotes women in
aviation. The pilots gain satisfaction from combining their love of
flying with cleaning up the environment. In l 993 the Operation
Skywatch documentary aired on Global TV - copies are now in schools
for environmental education and to inspire young women into aviation
Operation Skywatch is composed of pilots from
various backgrounds. We have flight instructors, corporate pilots,
teachers, dispatchers and many others volunteering their time to
keep Skywatch successful and safe. Our pilots are highly qualified
and must pass a flight test to become a Skywatch pilot. The
investigator from the Ministry of the Environment takes pictures of
the necessary site either oblique photos through an open window or
overhead using the vertical camera mount. This camera mount was
designed to fit in the aircraft without interfering with the pilot's
controls. While the pictures are being taken, the pilots must do
precision flying to maintain the appropriate heading and altitude to
ensure continuity of the photographs.
Before each flight the pilot discusses with the
inspector where the sites are and what needs to be accomplished. We
compare their topographical maps to our aviation maps. Weather is
checked to make sure the ceiling and visibility are appropriate.
Another main concern is the area surrounding the site. Are there any
towers, hydra wires, hills or populated areas that will restrict how
close we get during the photo shoot? Also if the site is in an
airport control zone we need to co-ordinate our flight with air
We use headphones and an intercom to communicate
with each other during the flight. This helps the pilot hear the
directions given by the inspector over the engine noise and air
rushing through the open window, and still monitor radio
communications. During each flight pilots use radio communications
to report their position as well as listen to where other aircraft
are. A visual look outside the aircraft must be maintained to ensure
spacing from obstacles and other aircraft. We have never
had an accident. Safety is our number one concern.
Recruiting New Skywatch Pilots
- Must be a member of the 99s
- Must meet qualifications - Commercial Pilotís
license with a minimum of 1,000 hours
- Pass a ground test and flight check
conducted by Canadian Flyers.
- Operating base is the
Markham Airport. MOE has a
contract with Canadian Flyers. The Ministry covers the cost of the flight.
pilot is entitled to purchase a pair of quality sunglasses; Skywatch will reimburse up to $100 for the sunglasses. The pilot
forwards the bill for the sunglasses to Denise Egglestone.
- The Skywatch pilot is responsible for
maintaining flight currency at Canadian Flyers (once
every 60 days)
- Further, the pilot can claim mileage fees; the
claim for mileage can be hand-written or typewritten on a piece of
paper, signed by the pilot, and submitted to Denise Egglestone
- New Skywatch pilots can participate in Survival
Courses, CPR Courses, and any other courses that are presented for
- There are lockers where
headsets, cushions, a first aid kit, and
the latest Canada Flight Supplement are stored. A survival kit ise also available for long
northern Skywatch flights.
was written by Akky Mansikka and published by COPA.