Snowbird Pride

A proud Canadian Moment in the Lower 48

With the recent crash of one of the Snowbird’s Tudor aircraft in the US prior to an airshow, I was reflecting on an experience I had a number of years ago at the Oshkosh EAA fly in, AirVenture.

As with most of our trips, this one started out with my brother mentioning he had free VIP tickets to a tent during the week. With very little persuasion, both my 90 year plus Grandfather and I agreed to sleep in a tent to enjoy three days in airplane heaven.

For those have not been to OSH, it is a must for any aviator out there. It is the culmination of everything airplanes. You can find vintage aircraft, warbirds and the newest models from the manufacturers, a together in one place. If you have not been and you like airplanes, this is the place for you.

My brother started out in Victoria with a quick hop across the mountains in his 310. I jumped in the following day, then it was off to Winnipeg to grab Gramps. After a quick stop to check weather, we determined that an IFR flight into Appleton to set up for the visual into KOSH was best. A quick splash of fuel and we were on our way onto the FISK arrival. Arrival VFR into Oshkosh is something else and is a challenging endeavor for any pilot, but an amazing opportunity. Land on the dot, follow the directions and set up camp under the wing.

After a couple of days of enjoying sitting in planes we can’t afford, talking with various owners, watching arrivals and exploring the show, we were able to take in the Snowbirds talk at the Theatre in the Woods. The house was packed to hear the pilots and maintenance folks talk about the planes, the travel and schedule. Then the most Canadian thing happened.

A woman stood up to ask a question. She asked how the crews felt being so far from their families and on the road so much. The question was answered in typical Canadian fashion. One of the pilots stated, in a French accent, “It is very hard to be away from our families but we love what we do and want to put on the best show we can”. My brother leaned over and in his worst French impersonation said “We love to fly, but you feel shame!”. We both laughed under our breath, a very Canadian answer. These folks were absolutely amazing ambassadors of Canada and of the Canadian Forces.

Finally, it was our afternoon for the VIP treatment to the airshow. This was held in a large tent on the show line and the show was amazing to say the least. We even were able to view the Martin Mars drop a load of water, which was lucky as it had an incident with a partially submerged log that very day on Lake Winnebago and was unable to perform the rest of the week.

We grabbed a beverage and some food and settled in for the headline, The RCAF Snowbirds. I have witnessed the Snowbirds show since my youth and it never fails to amaze and inspire. The pilots are the very best, operating equipment designed in the 1950’s and made to do things that no one likely ever imagined the aircraft could do.

We were seated behind a table of US citizens who were remarking, quite loudly, that they had never heard of the Snowbirds and what did the organizers think, setting a Canadian act to close a US airshow. The nerve. Before both my brother and I could pop up to jersey the guys and get at least 2 minutes in the penalty box, Gramps remarked that they are a remarkable team and the folks would be suitably entertained. Gramps to the rescue. Maybe he should have been a diplomat instead of a doctor.

The show was great and the Snowbirds took off as scheduled. The grace and mastery these pilots have is unmatched and their professionalism shows. However, early in the show, one of the jets, I believe it was Number 7, returned to the field un-expectedly. Though the show continued, the jet taxied down the runway. Our US folks started to laugh and joke. “They can’t even keep the planes running, what a waste”. We all watched as the jet taxied behind a stand of trees over by the FBO.

The US guy was still remarking about the jet, when he suddenly fell silent. In fact, most of the crowd suddenly moved their gaze from the overhead show to the runway. There, taxiing to position and throttling up was the Number 11 jet. The pilot took off and seamlessly joined the formation overhead and continued as if nothing had happened. Our new US friend was slack jawed and stared at the formation. Though he said nothing, his body language spoke volumes…”How the heck…?”.

The Snowbirds finished their routine and recovered back to the field. At that point, the US folks in front of us jumped out of their seats and started a standing ovation for the team. The most boisterous of the group turned to us and said “Can you believe that, it was amazing, how do those folks do that, what the heck…”. We smiled and said, we are Canadians and I have actually witnessed this type of perseverance before from this team. He said “that is the most amazing thing I have seen; I want to see them again as soon as possible”. Though the Snowbirds did not hear it, they had secured another fan.

This perseverance and professionalism was present after the crash recently. As I follow the @canadianforcessnowbirds on Facebook, I was quickly made aware of the incident. Along with everyone else, I was glad to hear the pilot had ejected safely and was in good health. I was disappointed to hear about the grounding but that is expected until a cause can be found. Too bad for the fans of the airshow, but the right thing to do.

Later that day, I was informed via Facebook the pilot was out of hospital and doing well. In typical Canadian humour, the post was accompanied by a picture of the pilot, still in his flight suit, wearing his helmet with visor down, being wheeled out of the hospital by another member of the team. Even after something as scary as an ejection and crash, these true professionals can still find a way to entertain their fans.

We wish the Snowbirds a speedy investigation and look forward to next year’s routines. I for one, will be at as many performances as I can. Even after all these years, they still entertain and create pride.

By: Michael Wilton – President

FlightSimple Aircraft Sales

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