National Treasure #4: Snowbirds

Snowbirds.

Not my kind, which sits out all or part of January, February and March in warmer climes, but the aviation kind, which flies Canadair CT-114 Tutors in formation at a great rate of knots and often upside down, to boot.

The 431 Air Demonstration Squadron is their official name, but the Snowbirds is how everyone knows them.

This national treasure isn’t one person, but many people: all the pilots, maintainers, and squadron commanders and support staff over the years.  And it isn’t just the people: it’s the airplanes, the training, and the management effort that pulls it all together.

Nine Canadair Tutors in formation over Parliament Hill.


This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.

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6 Comments

  1. I won’t give my source, but years ago I learned that these guys get stoned a lot … maybe not this crop of (my) heroes … and we’ve met a couple of them around our tea table over the years: as handsome and daredevil and shiny as you imagine them to be. The have the Right Stuff all right! They consider themselves immortal and know the risks, but they only add to their glowing love of flying in formation.

    Sadly, I missed them flying near our condo this year. I heard them, but couldn’t get outside on the balcony soon enough. One year, however, they swooped around the South Tower (we are in the North Tower) and turned, in unison of course, so they were spread out like a hand, vertically, right in front of me, 22 stories high, not 200 feet away. I thought my skin was going to leave my body!

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – Yikes. Stoned doesn’t sound good for formation fliers, but maybe they follow the same code for smoking as for drinking – not within a certain number of hours before they fly. (Great story about the fly-by.)

  2. Colleen

    A few years ago my mother was ill in Comox B.C. and who knew this was the time of year the Snowbirds train! Well I was in heaven as I could almost twice daily reach into the sky at 10am and 2pm, watching their old maneuvers and new ones and touch them! This experience sold me to retire to the island! My sister was one of the crew on ground while she worked at the squadron and they have strict policies and are tested for both drugs and alcohol. They are considered thrill seekers and very much like themselves, like some others I have met over the years!

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Colleen – My niece’s husband has been advising us for years to retire in the Comox Valley – he’s a big fan. Who knew there was a Snowbird bonus?

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