Snowbirds ready to liftoff Penticton Peach Festival

Canada’s iconic aerobatic aviators will once again take to the skies Aug. 5 to officially kickoff the Penticton Peach Festival.

The RCAF Snowbirds move along the tarmac to the parking spots following their arrival at Penticton Regional Airport

The RCAF Snowbirds move along the tarmac to the parking spots following their arrival at Penticton Regional Airport

Canada’s iconic aerobatic aviators will once again take to the skies Aug. 5 to officially kickoff the five days of free family fun that is the Penticton Peach Festival.

The RCAF Snowbirds air demonstration squadron arrived earlier this week and are scheduled to begin their 30-minute show at 6 p.m. over the waters of Okanagan Lake.

Peach Fest organizers are estimating between 15,000 and 20,000 people will crowd the shoreline and other nearby vantage points to see the skilled pilots put the familiar red and white Tutor jets through their paces.

Once again this year the aerial ballet is courtesy of the generosity of Peters Bros. Construction which provides full sponsorship.

The team last performed in Penticton in 2013 and this year the pilots will also be on main stage at Okanagan Lake Park (next to the Lakeside Resort and Casino) at 9 p.m. Aug. 5 just prior to the Barney Bentall concert.

“Having the Snowbirds back is great for Peach Festival and it’s always a highlight and a great way to kick off the event,” said festival president Don Kendall. “And without Peters Bros. we wouldn’t have them.”

Since arriving in the Peach City it’s not been all work for the squadron. Aug. 4 was, for the most part, a day off for the team which included two dozen members enjoying a leisurely float down the Okanagan River Channel.

“It was really a lot of fun today,” said Lt. Patricia Brunelle the public affairs officer travelling with the squadron. “It’s important to be able to do this, because things get pretty busy and this is such a beautiful place. This is great because it lets people relax and take time away from a job that can be a little stressful at times.”

Another fun event some of the team will be taking part in is the second annul peach bin race sponsored by the Downtown Penticton Association. It takes place at noon Aug. 5 on Main Street.

The first plane to arrive at the airport this week was Snowbird 10 flown by Cpt. Greg Mendes of Calgary, Alta. with Ottawa’s Cpl. Andrew Valentine, the team’s technical co-ordinator avionics technician at his side.

“It’s a dream come true for me to have the opportunity to fly the Canadair Tutor and be part of the Snowbirds,” said Mendes who is in his second year with the team. “I think the thing I’ve learned the most being part of the team is the type of honesty and self regulation of doing this job. For every 30 minutes of flying during the show is an hour and a half of debriefing.

“It brings a lot of self analysis and being honest with ourselves with the types of errors we make and that’s what keeps the show safe. That’s the type of teamwork and skills that I’ve learned and I like it.”

During the show, Mendes is on the ground and is in constant communication with the team lead in the sky and the air boss to make sure everything is going as planned.

“This is a beautiful area and we love doing shows over water,” he said. “It’s gorgeous and we love being here.”

For technician Valentine, most of his work is behind the scenes which is just the way he likes it.

He admitted there are personal challenges about being on the road for much of the year.

“It’s a different lifestyle, I miss my dog, I miss doing work on my truck and working on things around the house, but the rewards are definitely worth it,” he said. “Absolutely this is like family and the reception we get wherever we go is unreal. I wouldn’t trade it.”

Pilots have accepted the challenge to race in the Peach Bin Races on Wednesday at  11:45 a.m. in front of City Hall. The team will decorate their bin Snowbird style and have a special name picked out.

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