The 2020 Emily Crombez commemorative stamp, issued by the East Canada Section of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women aviators, will launch Friday, June 19 at the Tillsonburg Regional Airport on the anniversary of her first float plane solo.
Designed by Suzanne Wiltshire, the 2020 commemorative stamp celebrates Crombez’s connection with the Bombardier CL-415 firefighting water bomber. It’s the 13th stamp in the Canadian Women Aviatrix Stamp Collection.
Crombez, who grew up on a ginseng farm in the Otterville area, first considered being a pilot while in Grade 8.
“I think it was Grade 8, my mom and I were flipping through a career book and ‘pilot’ was in there,” said Crombez. “We were both like, ‘that’d be cool.’ It was just something I had never thought of before. On the farm we’d see the crop dusters spraying the tobacco fields across the road. And I thought, ‘Ok, I’d like that adrenaline rush.’ I didn’t know anything about water bombers at the time because they’re non-existent in southern Ontario.”
She started on her first private licence in Grade 10 training with a local instructor, juggling time between the airport, high school sports in Norwich, ringette in the winter, and two fastball teams in the summer, and working in tobacco.
“It was always a mad rush to get to the airport after a day in the tobacco fields to get a flight lesson in, then back to baseball or whatever.”
Crombez completed the requirements for a Private Pilot Licence by age 16, but had to settle for a Transport Canada Recreational Pilot Permit until she was 17.
“Then when I went to college I discovered water bombing, which was kind of a mix between crop dusting and float flying, so I streamlined my career to try to get there.”
After completing the Aviation Flight Management Program at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, her float-flying career started in Northern Ontario.
“From there it was 14 different jobs to build your hours and streamline your career depending what direction you want to go.”
She performed all aspects of the job as a bush pilot flying anglers and hunters – and their gear – into remote lakes and rivers, gaining experience flying a 1951 de Havilland Beaver and later a Fairchild Metro III.
In 2012 Crombez secured a Twin Otter captain position with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, flying firefighters and freight to remote airports, conducting aerial surveys (including a polar bear survey), and aerial rabies vaccinating. She was MNRF’s youngest pilot ever hired for fire suppression duty.
In 2014 she was awarded an International Ninety-Nines Vicki Cruse Scholarship for Emergency Maneuver Training which prepared her for flying the Bombardier CL-415 water bomber, and she became the first female in North America to crew the amphibious CL-415.
“Firefighting involves scooping up many loads of water and dropping them in a specified fire target area, while often encountering updrafts, turbulence and smoke,” said Crombez in a 99s meeting report. “You are heavy and slow, performing steep maneuvers you are taught to avoid.”
After three seasons putting out fires, Crombez transitioned to the airlines – and a scheduled lifestyle – first flying the Boeing 737 for Westjet, and now the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for Air Canada.
“It was ‘have duffel bag, will travel,'” said Crombez, recalling her earlier days as a water bomber. “Every day you go to work and you don’t know if you’re coming home at night or you’re being sent somewhere. So there’s lot of unknowns. Every day you’re packing up your bag and taking it with you because you could be fighting a fire somewhere and then you get sent elsewhere.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, her long-haul routes include Europe and Asia for both passenger and cargo flights.
In 2018, Crombez received an aviation and aerospace award (government category) at the Northern Lights Aero Foundation’s 10th Annual Elsie MacGill Awards Gala.
Emily Crombez commemorative stamps are available to order now – online at http://canadian99s.com/aviator-stamps-shopping-cart/ (PayPal) or mail to 99’s Stamps ℅ Bev Fraser, PO Box 10076, Stoney Creek, ON L8E 5R1 (cheques payable to Ninety Nines East Canada Section). They will be delivered after June 19. Canadian Women Aviatrix stamps are not available at Canada Post, but can be used to mail letters.