Flying With The Canadian Forces Snowbirds

Flying with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - Cockpit Cam - AirshowStuff

I have always been a fan of the Canadian Snowbirds. When I was just getting into airshows, their spectacular bursts were unlike anything I had seen before. As I became more familiar with the industry, their large formation rolls where they pull over the top while pointing right at the crowd stuck out as even more unique. And when I eventually earned my pilot’s certificate and spent some time at formation clinics, I found myself astonished by the difficulty of their many different nine-plane formations.

Canadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuffCanadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuff

To this day, the Snowbirds are my absolute favorite airshow performance to watch, and one of the very few that I make sure to see at least once a year. One could say I feel a special connection to the team; they feature prominently in my most powerful airshow memories, and just hearing some of the songs they’ve flown to will bring goosebumps to my arms in an instant.

All of this is to say: when Snowbirds Public Affairs Officer Lt. Michèle Tremblay contacted AirshowStuff last month to talk about a media ride, it was more than just a cool opportunity. The catch was that I would have to get from Michigan to the Oregon International Airshow in Hillsboro, Oregon. Thankfully, the logistics were straight forward and less than two weeks later, I was descending past Mt. Hood on my way into Portland.

Canadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuff
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds, also known as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, have been Canada’s national display team since the 1970s. The team is based at CFB Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, and travels across North America each year performing for millions of spectators. Their show season usually begins in May and runs through October. They make a number of visits to the US each year, usually in the spring and fall.

I actually beat the team to Hillsboro, and watched the #10 and #11 jets – the advance party – arrive in the Thursday afternoon sun. We got my quick medical check out of the way before the main group of nine jets arrived. The team’s support hauler, a specially-outfitted semi-trailer truck, was already in place. The truck brings all sorts of equipment for the team, including tools, spare parts, bicycles, a Gator four wheeler, and space for luggage that doesn’t fit into the relatively small CT-114 Tutor aircraft.

I knew that the team had performed on the East Coast (Virginia Beach, VA) the weekend before, and we heard how the Canadian Army driver had driven the truck all the way from there to the team’s home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan for a short three hour stop to reload before finishing the cross country journey. I was thankful for my airline ticket just thinking about it.

Canadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuff
The Snowbirds perform in nine Canadair CT-114 Tutor aircraft. The Canadian-designed and -built Tutor first flew in 1960 and served as the Royal Canadian Air Force’s primary jet trainer until 2000. Two other Tutors, flown by the team coordinators, travel with the team as spares. Because each aircraft is a two-seater, the team’s technicians fly from show to show along with the pilots. Although the age of the jets is a common point of discussion among airshow fans, the team plans to operate them until at least 2030.

The rest of the team arrived with a nine ship flyby, and after a quick debriefing I was told to report the next morning for ejection seat training(!) and other preparations.

The big day arrived, and the four media riders went straight into learning the complex steps required to strap in, and the even more complex steps required to eject or evacuate on the ground. We grabbed flight suits, and were fitted for helmets, oxygen masks, life preservers, and parachutes by the helpful (and patient) technicians.

Flying with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuffFlying with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuff

Once we were all set, we went straight to the briefing room to meet the rest of the team and go over the details of the flight. As a dedicated media opportunity, the team was forgoing their typical Friday practice and instead planned a transit flight just for us. We would take off and head north, then turn west and follow the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, OR. After a flyby there, we would turn south and fly along the coast before turning inland and returning to Hillsboro. Upon arriving back at the airfield the team would perform a site survey to familiarize themselves with the showline and then land.

Unfortunately, the FAA rep at the show incorrectly but adamantly stated that aerobatics could not be performed with passengers. The team grumbled but accepted it. The rest of the briefing covered the weather (clear skies, unlimited visibility), air traffic control, divert airports, and other such details that well-prepared pilots pay attention to. I would be flying with Snowbird #4, Maj. Stephen “Pup” Melanson in the First Line Astern position, right behind the “Boss”.

Outside, we were introduced to the aircraft technicians who would be helping us strap in. Cameras were readied, and soon it was time to mount up. All of our prepared gear was waiting for us, and my awesome (and again, patient) tech Cpl. Brandon Harvey made sure to catch all of the steps I missed. In my defense, when you’re covered in straps and handles that turn on oxygen or deploy a parachute, you tend to double check what you’re pulling!

Pup joined me in the small side-by-side cockpit, and talked me through the startup procedure once all of the pilots had checked in. The jets lined up on the runway in three groups of three, with #6 and #7 on our wings as the middle group. Pup explained the sequence as we rolled down the runway together and all nine aircraft worked to form up on our northbound leg.

Canadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuff
Flying smaller aircraft allows the team to operate out of smaller airports than the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds. This helps them reach many smaller cities and towns across Canada’s rural regions. The team frequently performs self-contained Wednesday evening shows in towns that don’t feature a full airshow. They strive to inspire the audience, share the many opportunities available to men and women in the Canadian military, and demonstrate the skill, professionalism, and teamwork behind their aviation excellence. During their trips to the US, the team acts as ambassadors for Canada and highlights the long friendship between the two countries.

The scenery was breathtaking. In the clear afternoon air, we could easily see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Rainier in the distance while haze filled the valleys below us. The team went through a couple of formation changes as Pup explained the spacing and alignments. Although we didn’t really move around ourselves, the #4 position gave me a great view of the other aircraft moving around on both sides of us. The changes were far more sudden and crisp than other formation flights I’ve been on, but at the same time controlled and smooth. I wouldn’t expect any different from some of the world’s best!

With smoke on, we gave a big sweeping flyover to the citizens of Longview, WA as we turned west. Each aircraft dropped into trail as we descended toward the river, which for the Snowbirds means a follow-the-leader line of nine jets, each with the freedom to maneuver as needed. Pup, knowing I fly, handed me the controls and let me slalom behind the pack ahead of us as we wound down the river. The controls were responsive but not touchy. I felt right at home and I can understand why the aging jet is still perfect for formation displays. The coolest part of the entire flight was when I pulled us into a turn and blasted right through the smoke trail of #3, bobbling slightly as we crossed his wake.

Sadly, my part only lasted a few minutes before we were called to rejoin – a maneuver that included a few violent whips and the hardest G of the flight, probably around 4 or 5. That was the tame version, Pup explained to me; the rejoins during the scripted show are even quicker and tighter.

Flying with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - Cockpit Cam - AirshowStuffFlying with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - Cockpit Cam - AirshowStuff

Back in formation, we did two flybys over Astoria, including a low pass down the runway there before proceeding south along the coast. This was another dose of beautiful scenery, with big bluffs and rocky islands as far down the shoreline as the eye could see. Boss put us into a big 360 degree turn right over Tillamook Rock so that the pilots on each side of the formation could take in the view while also staring at his jet.

We continued a little further south, with a couple more formation changes thrown in. The ocean fell behind us as we climbed up over the hills of the Tillamook State Forest – a bad place to eject, Pup pointed out to me. The team dropped back into trail, and descended into Hillsboro as a line of white dots against the evergreens. The site survey was a quick four passes over the airport, then Pup whipped us back into formation again for a final Big Diamond flyby. The team separated into three groups of three again, and set down smoothly on the runway. Our techs marshaled us into position, perfectly spaced and lined up. My Snowbirds flight had come to an end.

Flying with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuffFlying with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - AirshowStuff

I’m forever grateful to the team for the opportunity to join them and I give special thanks again to Lt. Michèle Tremblay, Maj. Stephen Melanson, and Cpl. Brandon Harvey for their help. If you missed it above, make sure you check out the video of my Snowbird flight!

– Ryan Sundheimer

The Snowbirds have wrapped up their 2018 season, but I highly encourage you to make plans for one of their shows once the 2019 schedule is released in early December. You will be able to find that right here on the AirshowStuff blog, or in our forums.

The Blue Angels’ Super Hornet Transition Is Still Years Away

posted in: Jet Teams, Popular Posts | 0

US Navy Blue Angels - F-18 Hornets

Fans of the US Navy Blue Angels expecting to see the team perform in Super Hornets will have to wait several more years at least. The Department of Defense announced today that Boeing has been awarded a contract for the documentation and kits to convert nine single-seat F/A-18Es and two dual-seat F/A-18Fs to Blue Angel configuration. The most notable part of the announcement is that this work is not expected to be completed before December of 2021, which would seemingly prevent the team from transitioning until 2022 or more likely 2023 at the earliest.

The team currently flies aging F/A-18B/C/D “Legacy” Hornets. The old and worn down jets create many maintenance issues for the squadron and it has become more and more common to see performances limited by the number of available aircraft, even though a spare travels with the team.

Several major incidents, including the crash of Blue Angel #6 Capt. Jeff Kuss in 2016, left the team with even fewer spares than usual. Even with the coming transition, the team has continued to receive additional Hornets as the Navy retires them from frontline units in favor of Super Hornets and F-35 Lightning IIs.

The Super Hornet transition has been public knowledge for a while now, a firm timeline has never been announced to the public; likely because even the Navy didn’t have firm plans. Certain details have emerged from interviews and previous contract announcements, but many fans have drawn false conclusions from these tidbits that the transition was/is imminent; one airshow vendor went as far as to create ‘Hornet Farewell Tour’ t-shirts during the 2017 season. Today’s announcement gives some clarity to the situation, and serves as a needed reality check on rumors and speculation.

Want to see the Blue Angels perform in person? Check out their 2018 airshow schedule and preliminary 2019 airshow schedule!

Here is the full text of the announcement:
The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Missouri, is being awarded $17,002,107 for firm-fixed-price delivery order N0001918F2654 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-16-G-0001). This order is for the retrofit documentation and kits to convert nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F aircraft into a Blue Angel configuration in accordance with engineering change proposal 6480. Work will be performed in St. Louis, Missouri, and is expected to be completed in December 2021. Fiscal 2018 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $17,002,107 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

Pilot Killed, Two Others Injured When Rare de Havilland Venom Crashes On Takeoff In Wisconsin

posted in: Warbirds | 11

Marty Tibbitts Killed In DH-112 Venom Crash - Sheboygan WI

Pilot Marty Tibbitts was killed on Friday when his de Havilland DH-112 Venom aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff. Marty was on a formation training flight when the accident occurred. The aircraft crashed into a barn near the airport, killing dozens of livestock and injuring two people on the ground.

The Venom, along with a de Havilland Vampire and rare Gloster Meteor, was to be a featured performer at EAA AirVenture 2018 in Oshkosh, WI. All three are owned by the World Heritage Air Museum, based out of Detroit, Michigan. The formation training flight was in preparation for the show.

The Venom is a Cold War-era British jet which served with the Royal Air Force as a single-seat bomber and a two-seat night fighter. According to the World Heritage Air Museum, there are only 4-6 flying Venoms in the world, including the one they had. The aircraft was the only one of its type flying in the US.

Sadly, we filmed Marty flying the Venom just one week before the crash. We present this video in his memory. May he rest in peace.

Blue Angels Add “New” F/A-18B Hornet To Squadron

posted in: Jet Teams | 1

US Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet

The Blue Angels have a new jet in their squadron! The Blues announced Friday that they’ve taken acquisition of BUNO 162419, a two-seat F/A-18B Hornet.

While this jet is new to the team, it is not new to the fleet. All of the US Navy Blue Angels aircraft are former fleet aircraft. Pictures online show that this particular jet once served with VX-23, the “Salty Dogs”, at NAS Patuxent River, VA. The jet is now painted up in the Blue’s famous blue and gold paint scheme. It will likely be used as a #7 media/backup jet once fully integrated into the team.

Blue Angels Receive New Jet

This new jet comes at a good time as the team was plagued by maintenance issues during the 2017 show season. Even with the best maintainers in the Navy, the team was only able to field five flyable jets at several shows over the summer months. They simply did not have enough aircraft in the squadron.

Further compounding the problem was the grounding of Fat Albert following a crash of a Marine KC-130 in July, which grounded the type. Part of Fat Albert’s role is to quickly retrieve equipment and replacement parts, but with Bert grounded the Blues had to rely on slower methods of getting parts for their jets.

Eventually the team will transition to F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets, but that is still probably a couple years off. In the mean time, 162419 will help them thrill spectators everywhere they go!

Rare British Jet Warbirds Expected At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018

posted in: Airshows, Warbirds | 0

de Havilland Vampire

Some rare British jet aircraft will be on the flightline in Oshkosh this July! EAA recently announced that the World Heritage Air Museum in Detroit, MI is planning to bring both a de Havilland Venom and Vampire, as well as a Gloster Meteor that is currently the oldest flying jet in the world. The aircraft mark just part of the growing collection at WHAM, which has displayed other aircraft at EAA AirVenture in the past.

These new attendees will join other vintage jets like the L-39 Albatros, T-33 Shooting Star, F-86 Sabre, and MiG-17 Fresco. The jet warbirds are typically featured during “Jet Day”, but often fly other days of the week too. Organizers are encouraging other jet owners to come to the attend in the hopes of sparking a larger gathering. Even as it stands, AirVenture 2018 will surely be a rare treat for jet lovers!

RCAF Announces 2018 CF-18 Hornet Demo Team Pilot And Theme

posted in: Military | 0
RCAF CF-18 Hornet Demo Pilot Captain Stefan "Porcelain" Porteous
Photo courtesy of the RCAF

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has announced the CF-18 Hornet demonstration pilot for the 2018 airshow season, as well as the theme for the 2018 team.

Captain Stefan “Porcelain” Porteous will be the demonstration pilot for the 2018 season. He is from Comox, British Columbia and earned his private pilot license in 2005 after first learning to fly gliders with the Royal Air Cadets. He joined the RCAF in 2008 and qualified to fly the CF-18 Hornet in 2014. Capt. Porteous is currently part of 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron at 3 Wing in Bagotville, Quebec.

The theme he will be flying for in 2018 is the 60th anniversary of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). NORAD is the military command charged with defending North American airspace. It was jointly established in 1958 by Canada and the United States and continues to maintain a 24/7 watch to protect both countries.

Assuming tradition holds, the aircraft assigned to the demonstration team will be given a special paint scheme (designed by Jim Belliveau) celebrating this theme. The 2017 demo jet, flown by Capt. Matthew “Glib” Kutryk, featured a stunning red and white paint scheme celebrating Canada 150, the 150th anniversary of the country’s confederation.

Previous demo paint schemes have ranged from special tails to designs covering the entire aircraft. During a live video interview, Capt. Porteous reported that the 2018 scheme will be a full aircraft design with midnight blue as the primary color. More details on the 2018 paint scheme will be released at a later date!

Take a look at the 2018 CF-18 Hornet demonstration schedule to see if the team will be performing near you!

Quotes from the press release:

“I am extremely honoured to have been selected as Canada’s 2018 National CF-18 Demonstration Team pilot. I am very much looking forward to commemorating 60 years of NORAD at air shows throughout the summer while having the opportunity to be part of a highly dedicated team that will work together to put on thrilling performances aimed at demonstrating the professionalism and skill of the men and women of the RCAF. I look forward to meeting as many people as possible over the course of the coming demonstration season.”

– Capt. Porteous, 2018 CF-18 demonstration pilot

“As the Commander of the Canadian NORAD Region, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase the important NORAD mission and our important bi-national partnership through the 2018 National CF-18 Demonstration program. The men and women of NORAD work diligently to keep watch over our countries and to protect the air sovereignty of North America. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, no matter what – we have the watch.”

– Major-General Christian Drouin, the commander of 1 Canadian Air Division/Canadian NORAD Region

USAF Report: Wet Runway Contributed To Thunderbird F-16 Crash In Dayton

posted in: Jet Teams | 0
USAF Thunderbird #8 Crash in Dayton, OH
Photo via AP: Dayton Daily News

US Air Force officials stated that “excess speed and insufficient stopping distance” on a soaked runway resulted in the crash of a two seat F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the USAF Thunderbirds in Dayton, Ohio this past June.

Capt. Erik “Speedy” Gonsalves, Thunderbird #8, was in command of the jet at the time of the incident. Sgt. Kenneth Cordova, a maintenance crew member, was also on board at the time. The two were on a “familiarization flight” over Dayton while the team was in town to perform at the 2017 Vectren Dayton Airshow.

Upon landing, the jet slid off the runway and into the grass, causing the aircraft to flip.

The report mentions that Gonsalves missed his first landing approach and that water had restricted the view of his head-up display or HUD. This forced him to rely solely on cockpit instruments. On the second approach, the report claims that Gonsalves focused more on the runway than his airspeed, contributing to the crash. The Thunderbird F-16 touched down with only 6,130 feet of runway left. Seven to eight thousand feet of runway is required to land safely on wet pavement. The aircraft exited the runway and came to rest upside down in the grass nearby. It was destroyed in the incident.

An audio recording between Air Traffic Control and Thunderbird 8, obtained by the Dayton Daily News last month, revealed that the pilot was warned of “extreme precipitation” in the area and that ATC told him he was “flying at your own risk.”

In a statement, Air Combat Command spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton said “Capt. Gonsalves is traveling with the team and narrating shows, but he is not medically cleared to fly at this time.”

Second African-American Thunderbird Honored In Alabama

posted in: Jet Teams | 1

Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson

The USAF Thunderbirds honored one of their own during a dedication ceremony in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Captain Joseph N. “Pete” Peterson graduated from Tuskegee Public School in 1967. It was during his high school years when he developed an interest in flying and started taking lessons. After graduation, he attended Auburn University and participated in the school’s ROTC program. On August 27th, 1971, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. During his flying career, he served in Korea flying the F-4E Phantom.

In 1981, Capt. Peterson joined the Thunderbirds. As only the second African-American pilot to join the team, he broke barriers and continued to change the way things were done. Sadly, he was one of the four pilots killed in the infamous “Diamond Crash” in 1982.

A 10.5 mile portion of State Road 199 in Tuskegee, AL changed names to honor Peterson. The Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson Memorial Boulevard honors the legacy that Peterson left. The road, near Morton Field Airport, connects two former Tuskegee airfields where black pilots trained in the days when training was segregated.

In a post on their Facebook page, the USAF Thunderbirds said that “as a Thunderbird, Pete exemplified everything we are as Airmen then and today — Bold, Courageous, and always #BreakingBarriers”

The six F-16 fighting falcons performed a flyover during the ceremony.

Thunderbirds Flyover State Route 199

Photos courtesy of the USAF Thunderbirds

CONFIRMED: A-10 Warthog Aerobatic Demonstrations Returning In 2018!

posted in: Airshows, Military | 0

A-10 Thunderbolt II

Get ready Warthog fans! The wait is over. A-10 Warthog single-ship demonstrations will return to the skies at airshows across the nation in 2018.

In a statement released by Air Combat Command this week, we learned an A-10 demonstration team will be based at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. They will perform at approximately 14 airshows during the 2018 show season. This follows a Twitter post by the current A-10 Heritage Flight team, which we reported on last week, that hinted at a coming announcement. There is no word on what will happen to the current East Coast A-10 Heritage Flight Team, based at Moody AFB in GA.

You may remember due to budget restrictions and sequestration, single ship demos were restricted after the 2011 season. Heritage Flights were performed in 2012 and 2017, but no aerobatic demonstrations were allowed.

Here is the text of the announcement shared by ICAS and ACC:

The United States Air Force A-10 demonstration team will once again display the capabilities of the Thunderbolt II at approximately 14 shows throughout the 2018 air show season.

The A-10 demonstration team last flew in 2011. Since then, when it has participated in air shows, the A-10 has been either a static display aircraft or flown exclusively with the Air Force Heritage Flight program (in 2012 and 2017). In 2018, the Warthog will fly a full aerobatic demonstration and also perform in Heritage Flight demonstrations.

Specifically designed for close air support, the A-10’s combination of high and low speed maneuverability has made it a popular air show demonstration aircraft for many years. Beginning next year, the A-10 demo team – based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona – will be flown by Captain Cody Wilton.

Are you excited to see the return of Warthog demos? What shows do you think may get an A-10 demonstration in 2018?

Visit our forums to discuss this exciting news!

USAF Thunderbird F-16 Involved In Mishap At 2017 Dayton Air Show

posted in: Jet Teams | 0

USAF Thunderbirds 7 and 8 at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2010

AirshowStuff has learned that an F-16 belonging to the USAF Thunderbirds has been involved in an incident at the Dayton Air Show in Dayton, OH.

According to eyewitnesses, the incident occurred after the F-16 landed and was taxiing. The plane went off the runway and is currently in the grass. Law enforcement in the Dayton area are confirming than a Thunderbird jet is “on its top.”

This picture, posted by Dayton Daily News shows emergency crews responding to the incident scene.

The pilot of the jet at the time was Thunderbird #8, Capt. Erik “Speedy” Gonsalves. Tech Sargent Kenneth Cordova was the backseater. The mission was on a familiarization flight for Tech Sargent Cordova.

Both occupants of the plane were transported to the hospital. Thunderbird #1 says that injuries are non-life threatening. Tech Sargent Cordova had no visible injuries and is doing “just fine.” Thunderbird #8 had lacerations and injuries to his leg but is in stable to good condition and doing well.

There was heavy rain and wind in the area at the time of the incident. We’ll post more details on our forums as they become available.

The plane took off around 10:30 am this morning. Weather at the time met the criteria for the flight. He flew an instrument procedure approach to recover to the base. Mishap happened after landing on Runway 6L.

An accident safety board will investigate and the results will be made public at a later time. The Thunderbirds will NOT perform on Saturday at the Dayton Airshow. Sunday’s performance is to be determined.


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