Snowbirds

Snowbirds Logo Badge

The "Snowbirds" are the current Canadian Forces air display team otherwise known as 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron. The Snowbirds represent the entire Canadian Forces, not just the Air Force like other military display teams. Team pilots are all members of the Royal Canadian Air Force whereas the support staff may be members of the RCAF, Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) or Canadian Army. Squadron's home base is 15 Wing Moose Jaw Air Base, Saskatchewan.

The squadron flies 9 Canadair-built CT-114 Tutor jet trainers in their displays. While on the road, the team also has a spare Tutor and a support Tutor. Typically, with Snowbirds 8 and 9, either one can be designated as the Lead Solo. The Lead solo is usually the senior pilot between the 2, so one year, Snowbird 8 could be the lead solo, then Snowbird 9 would be designated lead solo and a new opposing solo would be brought onto the team. Also, the team always has two spare jets on the road. Snowbirds 10 and 11 are flown by the teams Advance and Safety pilots, who also will do commentary at the various show sites. The Squadron Public Affair's Officer will usually fly with one of the Advance and Safety pilots while on the road. Overall, 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron now consists of approximately 85 people - including pilots, technicians, maintenance officers, logistics personnel and support staff.

Every candidate to become a Snowbird pilot must be recommend by their Commanding Officer and must have a minimum of 1300 flying hours. Typically each year, six candidates will be asked to demonstrate their potential at the home base in Moose Jaw; by flying in the various "open" positions. Then three of the candidates will be chosen as new pilots for the coming year. Candidates for the formation team leader have to hold at least the rank of major and must have performed a previous tour with the "Snowbirds". The technicians are also carefully selected for the team and the team deploys with 10 technicians on the road drawn from the ranks of the squadron.

The show season last from March to October and during this time, the team typically performs at approximately 70 airshows across North America. The aircraft in the team are carefully rotated throughout the show season to account for both scheduled maintenance and for fatigue management. Usually, the airplanes in the formation fly as close as 1 to 2 m apart and commonly during a show, they are typically approaching speeds of 600 km/h. If a formation pilot is ill on the road, the team will normally continue without him. The exception is when the team lead is unavailable as the show must be aborted.

The Tutor aircraft is no longer the primary training aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force having been superseded by contractor-supported Raytheon CT-156 Harvard II turboprop and BAe CT-155 Hawk jet trainers. The Tutors will however remain the mount for the "Snowbirds" until at least 2020. The aircraft have been upgraded recently with improved ejection seats and avionics systems. Their white smoke is generated by diesel fuel piped from fuselage mounted drop tanks into the jet exhaust. The airplane, which is 11,12 m in length and 2,82 m high, has a maximum thrust of 1220 kg, a maximum weight of 3260 kg and a maximum speed of 782 km/h.

Thank you to T.F.J. Leversedge at K.A.R. Inc for his editorial assistance with this website!