Book Excerpt: “Snowbirds”

An ex-member of the Canadian team recalls his time on the tour.

Watching the popular Canadian military airshow team, the Snowbirds (Lt. Col. Steve Will, a single exposure as a child started him on a path to become a pilot with the group. The following excerpt of the forward he wrote forComox, British Columbia, for two weeks of overwater training. Next it was back to our home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to fly the Acceptance Show, which is flown in front of the commanding general for final approval, before hitting the road for six months.
My first show season was a dream come true, though it passed in a blur of transits, shows, social functions, and practices. Then, on 3 September 1989, in the skies over Lake Ontario, the unthinkable happened. My good friend and mentor Captain Shane Antaya collided with our team lead, Major Dan Dempsey, during the Upward-Downward Bomb Burst. Major Dempsey ejected safely. Shane did not.

That was the first close personal loss I had ever experienced. It was devastating. The team limped home two days after the accident, one pilot short. We spent the next week organizing a funeral and memorial service to honour our fallen comrade. Morale was low, but once we’d said our goodbyes to Shane, we regrouped and voted unanimously to complete the season. After taking a week off, we finished the remaining eight shows in Shane’s honour. Then, before I knew it, two years had passed in a flash.

Fast-forward 11 years, to 2002. As the newly appointed Snowbird #1, team lead, and commanding officer, I again thought about that seven-year-old and smiled. I also looked back on the 26-year-old and realized that even he hadn’t fully appreciated the nuances of the Snowbirds’ team 11 years ago. Only as the team lead did I truly understand the effort that goes into creating and performing a Snowbirds’ show. So many people put so much energy into this squadron, selflessly devoting countless extra hours to the team, from administrative support clerks to aviation technicians, from public affairs to supply personnel. And for all of them, it is a labour of love.
The Snowbirds have transcended their original role as Canada’s aerial ambassadors and representatives of the Canadian military to become a truly unique symbol of what it is to be Canadian. They represent the pride and excellence found within this great country of ours. Can you imagine Canada Day without the Snowbirds flying over the Parliament buildings? Do you know anyone who does not instantly recognize the red, white, and blue colours of the Snowbirds’ distinctive paint scheme and who can’t then instantly identify them as “Canada’s team”?
When Mike Sroka approached me about writing a book that would capture the essence of the entire Snowbirds’ team—what it is to be a Snowbird and to be part of this group—I was intrigued, but cautious. The project was definitely an auspicious one, and although the timeline for completing the project, from beginning to end, was long, the effort seemed worthwhile. After seeing Mike’s work and listening to his impassioned sales pitch, I was sold. Mike realized that the Snowbirds’ team is an intricate collage of personalities and professions and had grasped that the team is not just about the show and the pilots. Snowbirds embodies this notion to perfection. Mike’s brilliant photos illustrate that without the concentrated effort of the entire team, the show would not go on. And, in my opinion, if the show did not go on, the seven-year-olds of this generation would miss some awesome inspiration.
Lieutenant Colonel Steve Will
Snowbird #1 (2002, 2003, 2004)

Majors Ian McLean (Snowbird 1), Cory Blakely (Snowbird 3) and Chris Hope (Snowbird 5) meet fans and sign autographs. All Images ©2006 Mike Sroka
A familiar position for a Snowbirds pilot. All Images ©2006 Mike Sroka
Solos Mallett and Mackay show their flying skills as they pass show center in tight formation. All Images ©2006 Mike Sroka
Long after the crowds have gone, Corporal Jean-Pierre Berube fills the smoke tanks in preparation for tomorrow's performance. All Images ©2006 Mike Sroka
The Snowbirds perform the popular Lag-back Cross maneuver. All Images ©2006 Mike Sroka

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