The first "unofficial" aerobatic team in Canada was formed in 1919 by Lieutenant-Colonel William Barker - one of Canada's leading aces during the World War I. This team employed four ex-German fighters, Fokker DVIIs, which were originally war trophies.
The first official aerobatic display team of the Royal Canadian Air Force were the "Siskins". They were formed in 1929 in connection with celebrations marking of 10th anniversary of the first successful non-stop trans-Atlantic flight accomplished by Alcock and Brown in a twin-engine Vickers Vimy airplane. The team was composed of 3 biplane fighters, Armstrong - Whitworth Siskin IIIAs, and the team performed displays until 1932.
The "Blue Devils" display team were first founded in 1949 at RCAF Station St. Hubert from the staff of No. 410 Squadron. This was the first Royal Canadian Air Force team to employ jet aircraft – De Havilland Vampire fighters. In 1951, the team converted to the Canadair-built F-86 Sabre, but, at the end of that yea,r the "Blue Devils" team was disbanded.
At the beginning of 1950, a new display team was formed in Canada and equipped with Harvard aircraft. This new team were known as "The Easy Aces".
The "Tigers" were a European-based aerobatic team of the Royal Canadian Air Force. In August 1953, No. 439 (Tiger) Squadron formed a four-ship aerobatic team flying F-86 Sabres. The team's first official airshow was part of the Battle of Britain memorial for Canadian personnel at the station in North Luffenham. The "Tigers" were disbanded in May 1954.
The "Sky Lancers" were another European-based aerobatic display team from the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1955, 2 Wing, which was based in France, created an aerobatic team known as the "Sky Lancers". The team performed 20 shows in the 1955 season. The following year, 4 Wing generated the team with the same pilots but using a different color scheme on the aircraft. Unfortunately, on 2 March 1956, a tragic accident occurred during a training flight and all four pilots of the team were killed. Consequently, the RCAF suspended the further formation of aerobatic teams for several years.
The "Fireballs" were yet another European-based aerobatic display team from the Royal Canadian Air Force. The team was first created in 1954 and with its distinctive all-red F-86 Sabre aircraft participated in various shows in Europe. The team's paint scheme lasted for a very short period only, as a superior officer eventually decided that people might mistake the team for being "Communist" and ordered the red paint stripped off.
In 1959, the Royal Canadian Air Force celebrated its 35th anniversary along with 50 years of powered aviation in Canada. To mark that special occasion, a team known as the "Golden Hawks" were created and were first equipped with 6 Canadair Sabre Mk.5 aircraft and later with the Mk.6 version. The airplanes were distinctively painted in overall gold with a stylized red and white hawk emblem painted on each side of the fuselage. In 1960, with the growing popularity of the "Golden Hawks", their pilots received new red flying suits along with a new team patch.
The "Golden Hawks" airshow typically lasted for 25 minutes. In spite of having been originally created for only one year, the team actually remained in existence until Feb 7, 1964, when they were finally disbanded for financial reasons. In total, they gave 317 air demonstrations and they also became the first RCAF display team to visit the USA in 1960. The team also had one support aircraft, a Canadair-produced CT-133 Silver Star (a license-built version of the T-33 Shooting Star), which was also painted in team's colors.
The "Goldilocks" were a unique Royal Canadian Air Force aerobatic display team. The team was formed in 1962 at the training base in Moose Jaw and were designed as a parody of the famous "Golden Hawks" team. This new team was called the "Goldilocks" and flew Harvard piston trainers. In 1964, with the conversion of pilot training to new Tutor jet trainers, the "Goldilocks" were disbanded.
1967 marked 100th anniversary of the creation of Canada as a nation. To celebrate this special occasion, the Royal Canadian Air Force set up an aerobatic team, which was to perform at 100 air demonstrations across the country. The team were known at the "Golden Centennaires" and primarily flew a formation of 9 gold and blue CT-114 Tutor jets. Other aircraft in their displays included a solo CF101 Voodoo and a solo CF104 Starfighter. To contrast the jet aircraft, two Avro 504K biplanes also participated in the display. The team's last demonstration was in November 1967 at the American Nellis Air Force base in Nevada where they flew together with the "Thunderbirds". The "Golden Centennaires" were in fact the real precursor of today's RCAF display team, the "Snowbirds".
The history of the "Snowbirds" began in early 1970, when the commander of the base at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Colonel O.B. Philp, formed an unofficial team using the former aircraft of the "Golden Centennaires". These Tutor aircraft had been stripped of their previous colors and were now painted in an overall white color scheme. He personally established an informal team of flying instructors from 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School (2CFFTS). These instructor pilots trained after their regular work day and on the weekends. They used seven Tutor aircraft of the former "Golden Centennaires" which had become available. The team began representing their school and its first commander was Major Glen Younghusband.
In 1971, after a competition, a name was chosen for the team as suggested by a boy from Saskatchewan. The team was given the name "Snowbirds" and their first demonstration using this name was on 11 June of that same year. The following year, the team added two more aircraft to the team for solo performances. Later in the year, at an airshow in Ontario, the lead solo (#8 aircraft) crashed.
In 1974, the "Snowbirds" became the official aerobatic team of the Canadian Air Force. Consequently, the team began selecting pilots from other branches and units within the Canadian Air Force. Until this point, the pilots for the team had only been drawn from within the ranks of instructors of 2 CFFTS. The color design of the aircraft was also changed, becoming the white, red and blue scheme still used to the present day. The blue bands on the fuselage are reminiscent of the "Golden Centennaires" scheme.
The Snowbirds then became the first team in the world to perform a demonstration north of the Arctic Circle. The popularity of the "Snowbirds" also spread to the USA, and, in 1976, they were invited to join in a show on the occasion of the 4th of July celebrations in Philadelphia. Since that point, the "Snowbirds" have performed in the USA every year. In that same year, they also took part in the ceremonies marking the occasion of the Summer Olympic Games in Montreal.
In September 1977, the team became a permanent unit of the Canadian Air Force and on 1 April 1978 they received the official status as No. 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron. Unfortunately during an airshow in 1978, there was another crash within the "Snowbirds", and again it was the #8 solo aircraft.
In 1984, during the international airshow in Abbotsford, British Columbia the "Snowbirds" flew in formation above the crowds, led by the fabulous vintage aircraft "Miss America". Then on 9 August 1986, once again in Abbotsford, the team leader of the "Snowbirds" directed a unique formation of 5 different aerobatic aircraft in a historic flight including one aircraft from every aerobatic team in that show. This formation included the aircraft of the Snowbirds, Blue Angels, Frecce Tricolori, Patrouille de France and Esquadrilha da Fumaca.
In the winter of 1988, the team took part in the opening ceremonies on the occasion of the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. In that same year tragedy once again struck the #8 aircraft. This time on 25 Sept, Capt. Wesley Mackay died in a car incident at Ligonier, Pennsylvania, while the team was there for an airshow. Other two members of the Snowbirds aerobatic team were passengers in the car, but survived the incident.
On Sept. 3, 1989, the Snowbird #2, Capt. Shane Antaya, died when his aircraft (114098) collided with the Snowbird Team Leader, Maj. Dan Dampsey, who ejected safely, following the split on the upward-downward bomb burst at the Canadian International Air Show (CNE) over Lake Ontario. The maneuver was performed using seven of the nine Snowbird CT-114 Tutors - four of them began an upward climb in formation towards the other three aircraft in a tight formation coming down from above. The seven planes then passed closed together. Capt. Shane Antaya was in the three-ship formation when his canopy struck Maj. Dan Dempsey's left wing. Antaya didn't attempt to eject and crashed into the water. Dempsey initially succeeded in recovering from the dive, but after a few seconds his aircraft was consumed by flames and he ejected. The third pilot in this three-ship formation, Snowbird #3 Capt. Steve Will, was not involved in the mid-air collision and landed his plane safely. The crash occurred at about 1:45pm., 15 minutes into the team's 24-minute performance. Both planes smashed into Lake Ontario. (See crash video via YouTube user nordyouz).
As part of their anniversary celebrations, the "Snowbirds" used red smoke to emphasize air maneuvers in 1990. The team performed its thousandth show in this year.
In 1991, together with the "Blue Angels", they took part in the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the Disney Corporation.
The "Snowbirds" flew outside of both Canada and the USA for the first time in 1993 by performing in Mexico. In that same year, once again in Abbotsford, the "Snowbirds" flew in a joint formation flight with one of the aircraft from the "Russian Knights".
In 1995, Colonel O.B. Philp, who created the "Snowbirds", died and in his honor, the entire season was dedicated to him. In 1998, a new maneuver was developed known as the "Colonel Philp roll". And, once again in Abbotsford in 1995, the team leader of the "Snowbirds" led a formation of 4 aircraft from other demonstration teams - "Esquadrilha da Fumaca", "Halcones" and one from the civilian team "Northern Lights".
On 10 December 1998, during a training flight, there was another incident which took the life of another pilot from the squadron. This crash happened 26 km south of Moose Jaw. During a six-plane roll in an "arrow" formation, the left wing of #6 hit the horizontal stabilizer of the #2 aircraft. The whole horizontal and a part of the vertical stabilizer of the #2 aircraft were destroyed. The aircraft tumbled out of control and fell vertically. The pilot of #2 - Capt Vandenbos ejected successfully, but there was not enough time for the full deployment of his parachute and he was killed.
On 4 Sept 2000, Snowbird #4 collided with the team leader's stabilizer during takeoff from Pearson International Airport for a show over the Lake Ontario waterfront as part of the Canadian National Exhibition. Both planes landed safely but the display had to be cancelled.
In 2001 the "Snowbirds" started flying with a female team member as the pilot of the #3 aircraft. On 10 April, while at the base in Comox, during training flight, #5 endured a heavy landing while landing in a formation of 9 airplanes. The wing was punctured during the landing. On 24 June, during a practice for an upcoming show in London, Ontario, the "Snowbirds" again ran into bad luck. Snowbird #1 and #5 collided head-on in the air: #1 fell into nearby Lake Erie but #5 landed successfully. The pilot of #5, - Captain Warren Wright was the same pilot who had previously suffered the heavy landing. The pilots of the lead #1 aircraft, ejected successfully. While they received minor injuries and were taken to the hospital, they were later discharged.
On December 10, 2004, Captain Miles Selby flying as #8, the opposing solo, died in a mid-air collision during training near Mossbank while practicing the co-loop maneuver. The pilot of the other aircraft, Captain Chuck Mallett, was thrown from his aircraft while still strapped into the seat. Falling towards the ground, he was able to unstrap, deploy his parachute and land with only minor injuries. The both aircraft flew against each other performing a loop. The crash occurred when they were at the top of that loop. The crash report concluded Selby had "neither the training nor the experience to develop the appropriate sight-picture for a (nine meter) miss at the top of the loop."
On 18 May 2007, during a practice flight for an upcoming airshow at the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, #2 , Captain Shawn McCaughey, died in a crash. McCaughey had been flying upside down about 300 feet off the ground, when the plane went down. Apparently, his ejection seat harness accidentally came undone. The team had been in the air for about 45 minutes when the crash occurred.