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Return of the Snowbirds

An Aerial Symphony

July 28, 2016 - “I’ve always wanted to go to Oshkosh.” Not exactly an uncommon sentiment, but this time it was a little unusual, because it was uttered by an RV-4 pilot who’s never been to AirVenture. It’s even more unusual because when he’s not flying his RV, he is flying lead for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Snowbirds. He’s Maj. Yanick Gregoire, and his callsign, for reasons best left unexplained, is “Crank,” and he said he’s been really looking forward to his first trip to Oshkosh.

The Snowbirds are the RCAF’s counterpart to the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Unlike the U.S. teams, however, the Snowbirds don’t fly frontline attack aircraft. In fact, the jets they fly, the Canadair CT-114 Tutors, are trainers that have been otherwise retired from the RCAF since 2000. At more than 50 years old, the Tutors are far older than the pilots who fly them.

This is hardly a disadvantage, however. Unlike their U.S. cousins, the Snowbirds fly a performance that’s based more on energy management and finesse than raw power and brute force. While the Snowbirds are universally acknowledged as one of the best teams in the business, neither approach is really better—if the Thunderbirds are a rock concert, the Snowbirds are a symphony. One loud and hard-driving, the other elegant and aeronautically erudite.

Because of the age of the airplanes — the last Tutor rolled off the line in 1966 — they qualify as vintage aircraft in the contemporary category, and that gave a couple of the team’s pilots an idea: they wanted to camp with their airplane. Snowbird 10, Capt. Blake “Naughty” McNaughton, and Snowbird 11, Capt. Regan “Sticky” Wickett spent Wednesday night in a tent next to one the team Tutors, camped, appropriately, in Vintage.

“For our first night here at Oshkosh we wanted the full experience so we pulled our aircraft over to the vintage section where we made arrangements to park it for the night and we camped with the airplane,” Wickett said.

Although he said there isn’t enough time to see as much as he would like to in the few days he is here, so far Oshkosh has made a good impression. “We’re going to try to craft our own experience here with the show and to visit as many different parts of the grounds as we can,” Wickett said.

The Snowbirds first Oshkosh appearance — the first of any military jet team — was in 1976, and they were welcomed back several more times until their last visit in 1983, before many of the current team members were born. Their performance at AirVenture Oshkosh 2016 marks the team’s 46th season since their founding in 1971.

 “It is truly thrilling to have the Snowbirds… at Oshkosh for the first time in more than 30 years,” said Rick Larsen, EAA’s vice president of communities and member services, who coordinates AirVenture features and attractions. “Longtime EAA members and Oshkosh attendees speak fondly of the elegant precision aerobatics that the Snowbirds brought to the EAA fly-in, and have often asked when they would return. We’re very happy to … welcome them back to aviation’s family reunion at Oshkosh.”

The Snowbirds will fly at the end of the daily air show on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

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