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Meet The Snowbirds: Canada’s Aerial Ambassadors From the Great White North

These Tutor Jet Jockeys Are Regular Performers at Top American and Canadian Airshows.

Image courtesy 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, Canadian Forces

The Snowbirds (now officially known as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron) have been thrilling crowds at airshows and exhibitions since 1971. Although their squadron designation goes back to 431 (Iroquois) Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, created under the control of RAF Bomber Command flying Wellington, Halifax, and Lancaster bombers during World War II, the Snowbirds were re-designated 431 ADS in 1978. This film, entitled “Canada’s Magnificent Snowbirds- The First 20 Years”, celebrates the squadron and their first two decades of history. The film was uploaded to YouTube by wdtvlive42 – Archive Footage.

Image courtesy 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, Canadian Forces

The genesis of the Snowbirds can be traced to 1969, when Tutors previously used by the disbanded Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Golden Centennaires began flying flyovers at Canadian Football League (CFL) games flown by former leader and Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Moose Jaw base commander Colonel O.B. Philip. Single flyovers became two-ships and fours-ship formations began in 1970. The Tutors used for these flights were painted with white anti-corrosive paint, and as a result the informal name for the group became the Tutor Whites. The team was dubbed the Snowbirds in June of 1971 and was officially authorized as the Canadian Forces Air Demonstration Team on January 15th 1975.

Image courtesy 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, Canadian Forces

The Snowbirds flew their first performance in the United States at Williams Air Force Base (AFB) near Phoenix in Arizona on November 27th 1971. The Snowbirds became regular featured performers at EAA Fly-In Conventions at Oshkosh in Wisconsin beginning during the mid-1970s The first time the team performed outside the United States or Canada was at Zapopan Military Air Base near Guadalajara in Mexico during October of 1993. The Snowbirds performed their 2500th show on August 29th 2015 at Drummondville in southern Quebec. The Snowbirds flew a missing man formation in honor and memory of United States Marine Corps (USMC) Captain Jeff Kuss who crashed while flying Blue Angel ship 6 in Smyrna, Tennessee on June 2nd 2016.

Image courtesy 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, Canadian Forces

The Snowbirds fly the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, a single engine two place trainer aircraft. First flown in 1960, the Tutor somewhat resembles a Cessna T-37 Tweet with a T-tail. Tutors served as primary jet trainers with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and later Canadian Forces between their introduction in 1964 and their replacement by BAE CT-155 Hawk and Beechcraft CT-156 Harvard II trainers in 2000. The Snowbirds are the only current operators of the Tutor. Their jets are minimally modified to include the smoke systems and engine responsiveness improvements. The team performs the first and last performances of their show seasons at CFB Moose Jaw in south central Saskatchewan where they are based with 15 Wing.

Image courtesy 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, Canadian Forces

The Snowbirds have a total of 11 Tutors assigned to the squadron. Nine aircraft are used in the team’s performances and two are spares usually flown by additional team support pilots. Although the Canadians have fielded several flight demonstration teams over the years (such as the Siskins, the Blue Devils, the Golden Hawks, and the Golden Centennaires) the Snowbirds are the only flight demonstration team designated as a squadron. They were the first flight demonstration team to integrate music into their performances and are still the only flight demonstration team that operates without an assigned airlifter support aircraft.

Image courtesy 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, Canadian Forces

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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