Inspiring children and adults with their sky-high performances for decades, the RCAF Snowbirds celebrated their 45th season this year.
The 431 Air Demonstration Squadron was initially founded during the Second World War but was disbanded after the war. The Squadron was then reformed by Col. O.B. Phillip, the Base Commander at Moose Jaw, in 1970.
The Snowbirds have celebrated many milestones over their 45-year history. They adopted their name in 1971 after a “Name the Team” contest was held at the local base elementary school. The winner was a sixth-grade student named Doug Farmer. Farmer joined the team on a media ride at the Abbotsford, BC Airshow in 2000.
In 1993, the team performed in Mexico for the first time, the only country besides the U.S. the Snowbirds have performed in.
In the 2001-2002 season, the Snowbirds welcomed their first female pilot, Maryse Carmichael. After logging over 3,000 hours of flight time, Carmichael retired as the Lt. Col.
More recently, while Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield was commander of the International Space Station, the Snowbirds had the unique opportunity of having a picture taken of the team from space.
However, over the years the most important thing members of the 431 Air Demonstration team have accomplished is traveling across the country inspiring children and adults. But before they can give an awe-inspiring performance, the team trains hard for months during the off-season.
The duty for a pilot is limited to three years causing one-third of the pilots to change each year. This makes their six month training period at their home base of Moose Jaw critical. They train in 50 different formations flying the Canadian CT 114 Tutor, a Canadian-built jet that was used by the CAF as a basic pilot training aircraft from 1963 until 2000. They then leave Moose Jaw in April each year and travel to Comox, BC to practice over different terrain.
The Snowbirds season typically lasts from May to mid-Oct. Throughout the season, the team of 80 Snowbirds travels from coast to coast, performing approximately 60 airshows in 40 different locations. During a performance, the Snowbirds can fly at speeds ranging from 100 knots to 320 knots, meaning anywhere from 185 km per hour to 590 km per hour.
This season the team performed across the country from Comox, BC to Summerside, PEI. They also travelled down to Atlanta, Georgia for their U.S. performance.
The Snowbirds team not only inspires people across the country but serves as an ambassador for the RCAF.
“Even in Canada we go to small towns without a military representation or bases. We go as ambassadors of the military to show them what it is we do. When we go to the U.S. we show the relationship between the two countries. Sometimes we even perform with their Air Force team Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels we either go flying with them, or they come flying with us,” said Patricia Brunelle, Public Affairs Officer for 431 Air Demonstration Squadron.
Every five years the demonstration team holds a reunion bringing back together alumni from across the country. This year reunion attendees celebrated the 45th season with a weekend-long celebration in early October. During the celebrations, the Snowbirds also chose their new Honorary Col. Les Gould, a resident of Moose Jaw.