The world tumbles tucked into the Canadian Forces Snowbirds Tutor jet and it cannot even come close to the most daring of amusement park rides.
“No, no, no, this blows any roller coaster out of the sky,” said Capt. Thomas Edelson, squadron public affairs officer for the Snowbirds who are performing at the Penticton Peach Festival on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
The only nine-plane aerial team in North America has become an icon for Canada in their 43 years. Ask a handful of people what the appeal of the Snowbirds is, and you probably get a handful of answers.
“I guess the very simple answer is they are machines that make some noise, go fast and are colourful,” said Edelson. “After 43 years it has been basically woven into Canadian fabric of society, so it has that iconic approach to it as well. There are old fans, young fans and just everybody knows what the Snowbirds are.”
Flying in close formations, it is technical and precision flying at its finest. While it may look beautiful for those watching from the ground, for the pilots behind the controls it means sitting in a confined space and being strapped in to the point you can’t move around much. The intense G-force compounded by the heat on sunny days under a mask, gloves, flying suit, helmet and visor can make it an exhausting 45 minute show for the pilots.
“Everyone says it looks so graceful, it’s like a ballet. I can tell you it is not. From the ground it’s a ballet, from inside it is a boxing match. It is a real fight. It is hard work,” said Edelson.
For the few that have the skills and years of experience to make the team, it is a balance of exhilaration of traveling at 300-412 knots (equivalent to about 600 kilometres per hour) and discipline. The Snowbirds perform 40 shows in 60 days during their flying season, which means not seeing their families or own bed for a good length of time, despite that the pilots and Snowbirds crew love to bring the thrilling performance to the North American public. For some it has been a lifelong dream.
Capt. Steve MacDonald can clearly remember the first time he saw the Snowbirds. It was his fourth birthday and the acrobatic flight team happened to be flying over his hometown that day.
“I remember seeing them off in the distance and of course my father told me that he had made arrangements for the team to fly by the house. I actually believed him and that was a huge moment for me. I remember that vividly. I was hooked since then,” said MacDonald.
The pilot has been flying for 20 years, this is his first year with the team. He views the Snowbirds as a great tool for recruiting young people for the military, but also as way to inspire no matter what your dream is.
“Snowbirds inspired me to go into the military, and not just to join the military, but to try and go after your dreams. Flying in the Canadian Forces for me was an area, and the Snowbirds helped me fulfill that and gave me something to look forward to and to strive for when I was younger,” he said.
MacDonald said Penticton should expect an exciting evening on Wednesday as they plan to put on what they call their “high show.”
“It is our best show that we do. There will be a lot of vertical manoeuvring, a lot of loops, a lot of rolls, splits, rejoins. It is a spectacular show,” he said.
Chair of the Penticton Snowbirds organizing committee, Fred Trainor, said they have been waiting for the return of the flight team for four years now.
“We might not see them again for another two, or three, or four years in a community this size so fly time is 6 p.m. Wednesday. I hope everyone is down at the Lakeside because it is going to be something,” said Trainor. “If you have never seen the Snowbirds, and I can’t imagine there are a lot of people who have not, if you have never seen the Canadian Forces Snowbirds you need to. You need to.”