A Canadian Icon

Typically, when we hear the term "snowbirds," we think of Aunt Ethyl and Uncle George heading south for the winter months.

The Snowbirds Demonstration Team (431 Squadron) is a Canadian icon comprising approximately 85 serving members of the Canadian Forces, each of whom brings years of military experience to the team. The Snowbirds operate as a team at all times, both in the air and on the ground. Pilots and technicians work closely with one another on a daily basis in order to bring thrilling and safe performances to the North American public. Twenty-four of the squadron members comprise the show team that travels during the show season. The show team travels across the continent in 11 CT-114 Tutor jets, nine for aerobatic performances and two as spares, flown by the team coordinators.

Where It All Began
The Snowbirds, who first performed in 1971, operated on a year-to-year basis for seven years before being established as a permanent squadron in 1978. The Canadian Forces Air Demonstration Team was then renamed 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron.

The seed for the Snowbirds was firmly planted in 1967 with the formation of the Golden Centennaires to commemorate Canada’s centennial year. Ten Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) basic jet training aircraft, CT-114 Tutors, received the gold and blue paint scheme which distinguished them as the aircraft from the RCAF formation aerobatic team. However, at the end of the 1967 season, the Centennaires were disbanded, and the aircraft were returned to the training role.

Colonel O.B. Philp, the commanding officer of the Centennaires, became the base commander of CFB Moose Jaw, based in Saskatchewan, but he never forgot the team of 1967. He wanted to ensure that the traditions of aerial perfection established by teams such as the Golden Hawks and his own Golden Centennaires would not be lost. Accordingly, he established an unofficial non-aerobatic formation team in Moose Jaw in 1971. The team was made up of volunteer instructor pilots and ground crew led by Major Glen Younghusband.

All of the instructors came from Two Canadian Forces Flying Training School (2CFFTS) in Moose Jaw. The team utilized seven ex-Centennaire Tutor aircraft. Since these aircraft were already repainted white, they were readily distinguishable from the other silver-colored aircraft of the Moose Jaw fleet.

The 2CFFTS Formation Team members practiced in the evenings, after completing their primary instructional duties, and performed on weekends. The new team was named the “Snowbirds” as a result of a contest held at the Base Elementary School and first flew under this name at the 1971 Saskatchewan Homecoming Airshow.

Northern Lights Shine on the Snowbirds
In 1973 the show was expanded to include aerobatic formation maneuvers and the show season began in May with what was to become the annual “Northern Tour,” followed by shows across Canada and the United States. Funding for the team still came from the base budget and Training Command; team members were responsible for paying for half of their clothing which included the distinctive red flying suits that have become a Snowbirds trademark.

In 1974, for the first time, the tryout competition was opened to pilots from bases throughout the Canadian Forces. The team was also cleared to perform a fully aerobatic formation display. The color of the Snowbirds aircraft changed that year when the distinctive red, white and blue paint scheme, (that still exists today), was adopted. The team deployed to CFB Comox in April for a workup period designed to test deployment procedures and expose team members to new show sites with difficult terrain features. This spring training session at Comox has become an annual operation. During the Northern Tour that year, with a performance at Inuvik, the Snowbirds became the first North American formation team to fly a show north of the Arctic Circle. At the end of the season, the team had flown 80 shows with an estimated viewing audience of two million people.

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