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No. 431 Squadron RCAF


No. 431 Squadron RCAF

For other uses, see Snowbird (disambiguation).
431 Air Demonstration Squadron

Snowbirds in a classic two-plane formation at the Winnipeg International Air Show 2004
Active 25 June 1971 – present (as Snowbirds)
1 April 1978 – present (as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron)
Country Canada
Branch Canadian Forces
Role Aerobatic flight demonstration team
Size 80 Canadian Forces personnel full time
24 personnel in the show team
Part of 15 Wing Moose Jaw
Garrison/HQ CFB Moose Jaw
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada
Nickname Snowbirds
Motto The Hatiten Ronteriios (Warriors of the air)
Colors White and red
Commanding officer Lt-Col. Maryse Carmichael[1]
Aircraft flown
Trainer 11 CT-114 Tutors

Officially known as the Royal Canadian Air Force's 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds are Canada's military aerobatics or air show flight demonstration team whose purpose is to "demonstrate the skill, professionalism, and teamwork of Canadian Forces personnel".[2] The squadron is based at CFB Moose Jaw, near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The Snowbirds are the first Canadian air demonstration team to be designated as a squadron.[3]

The show team flies 11 CT-114 Tutors—nine for aerobatic performances, including two solo aircraft, and two as spares, flown by the team coordinators. Approximately 80 Canadian Forces personnel work with the squadron full-time; 24 personnel are in the show team that travels during the show season. The Snowbirds are the only major military aerobatics team that operates without a support aircraft.[4]

The Snowbirds continue the flying demonstration tradition of previous Canadian air force aerobatic teams, which include the Siskins, the Blue Devils, the Golden Hawks, and the Golden Centennaires.

Squadron history

Second World War

Although 431 Air Demonstration Squadron was formed in 1978, its history truly begins during the Second World War when as part of the Commonwealth contribution to aircrew for the war in Europe 431 (Iroquois) Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force was created under the control of RAF Bomber Command.[5]

No. 431 Squadron formed on 11 November 1942, at RAF Burn (in North Yorkshire), flying Wellington B.X medium bombers with No. 4 Group RAF Bomber Command. The squadron moved to RAF Tholthorpe in mid-1943 as part of the move to bring all RCAF squadrons into one operational groupNo. 6 Group RCAF – and converted to Halifax B.V four-engined heavy bombers. In December 1943 the squadron moved to RAF Croft where it was re-equipped with Halifax III's and later, Lancaster B.X aircraft. The squadron moved to RCAF Station Dartmouth, Nova Scotia after the war, disbanding there on 5 September 1945.

Battle honours

  • Rhine
  • Biscay, 1943–1944


Squadron re-formed

No. 431 (Fighter) Squadron re-formed at RCAF Station Bagotville on 18 January 1954, using the new Canadair F-86 Sabre. The squadron was formed on a temporary basis until there were enough new CF-100s available to fulfill RCAF squadron needs. No. 431's duties included aerial combat training and displaying the capabilities of jet operations to the public at air shows, the largest being Operation Prairie Pacific: a 50-minute exhibition that travelled to selected locations across western Canada. The team consisted of four Sabres and a solo aircraft. This was the first Sabre team to be authorized to perform formation aerobatics in Canada.[6] The unit was disbanded on 1 October 1954.

2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School Formation Team

In 1969, Colonel O.B. Philp, Base Commander of CFB Moose Jaw and former leader of the Golden Centennaires aerobatic team, considered using several of the leftover Golden Centennaire CT-114 Tutor aircraft which were still fitted for aerobatic flying. These Tutors had some minor corrosion and had been painted with white anti-corrosive paint. Philp, at this point, did not receive approval to form the new team; however, approval had been given for single Tutors to provide simple flypasts at local pro football games. To further the cause of an aerobatic team, Philp began informal enhanced formation practice for the instructors at 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School with the aim of providing multi-aircraft flypasts at special events. In 1970, four-aircraft formations began providing flypasts at fairs and festivals, as well as Armed Forces Day at CFB Moose Jaw. In July 1970, a white Tutor was introduced to the formation for flypasts. Four white Tutors were finally flown together at the Abbotsford Air Show, followed by a flypast in Winnipeg. Known as the 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School Formation Team, or informally as the Tutor Whites, the team grew in size to seven aircraft in 1971 using eleven pilots, and gradually gained recognition. Formation flypasts were replaced with more complicated manoeuvres, and more aircraft were added as the team matured.

"The Snowbirds"

A contest to give the air demonstration team a formal name was organized by Lt. Colonel Tom Reid and Senior Administrative Assistant Lois Boyle. The spirit building contest was held at the CFB Moose Jaw base elementary school (Bushell Park Elementary) and resulted in the name Snowbirds.[7] The name reflected the aircraft's distinctive mostly-white paint scheme used at the time, connoted grace and beauty and was clearly linked to its Canadian origins. Coincidentally, "Snowbird" was the name of an Anne Murray hit song that was popular at the time.[8] The name was formally adopted on 25 June 1971. The Snowbirds were officially authorized to be designated the Canadian Forces Air Demonstration Team on 15 January 1975. The team was formed into its own squadron by reactivating 431 Squadron (renamed 431 Air Demonstration Squadron) on 1 April 1978.

Show routine

Formations and manoeuvres are designed each season by the team, and must be approved by the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Department of Transport and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure safety guidelines are complied with. FAA approval is necessary since the team performs in the United States.

Three shows are designed: an unrestricted high show, a modified high show where loops are not permitted because of cloud, and a low show where low cloud conditions do not permit higher manoeuvres. Some elements of the show are passed down from one season to the next. These include the Canada burst, heart, downward bomb burst, solo head on crosses, and their signature 9-abreast exit. Training occurs over several months. Once manoeuvres are mastered and the team is comfortable with the routine, the Snowbirds deploy to CFB Comox for specialized training. After approvals are obtained, an "acceptance show" is performed at Moose Jaw to allow representatives from the three approving agencies to see a live performance. The team will go on to perform shows throughout North America from May to October. The last show is performed at Moose Jaw.

The Snowbirds were the first aerobatic team in the world to use music in their show, and music is often used with live commentary from the performing pilots.[9]

Awards, honours, and ambassadorships

In 1982, Canada Post released a 17¢ stamp of an inverted Snowbird No. 5 with the airframe number 114155.

On 8 June 1994, the Snowbirds were awarded the 1994 Belt of Orion Award for Excellence by Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame.

In September 1994, the Snowbirds were named the first ambassadors of the Canadian Injury Prevention Foundation (now renamed "Parachute"), which aims to educate Canadians about risk taking and injury prevention.

On 16 October 1999, the squadron was presented their squadron colour for 25 years of service. During the same ceremony the team was presented the 1999 Golden Hawks Award by the Air Force Association of Canada for outstanding performance in the field of Canadian military aviation.

In 2002, the Snowbirds were named ambassadors of the Ch.i.l.d. Foundation (Children with Intestinal and Liver Disorders Foundation).

On 28 June 2006, Canada Post released two domestic rate (51¢) stamps to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the team. The Royal Canadian Mint jointly released a $5 silver commemorative coin.

Notable performances

  • The first performance of the team with the new name of "Snowbirds" was on 11 July 1971 at their home base of CFB Moose Jaw during the Homecoming '71 Air Show.
  • The first formal public performance that included opposing solos was flown at Yellowknife on 13 May 1972.[10]
  • The air show at Inuvik, North West Territories, in 1974 was the first time that an aerobatic team had performed at midnight (daylight conditions north of the Arctic Circle).[11]
  • The first official air show performed by the Snowbirds as 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron was on 28 April 1978 at Royal Roads Military College, Victoria, British Columbia.[2]
  • The opening ceremonies at the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics was the first time the Snowbirds used coloured smoke. The colours represented the five colours of the Olympic rings.[12]
  • In 1990 red smoke was incorporated into the Snowbirds' routine at major performances to commemorate the team's 20th anniversary and the silver anniversary of the Canadian flag.[13]
  • The Snowbirds' 1000th official air show was performed on 20 May 1990 at CFB Edmonton (Namao).[2]
  • The team performed for the first time outside of Canada and the United States in October 1993 at Zapopan Military Air Base near Guadalajara, Mexico.[14]
  • The Snowbirds' 2000th official air show was performed on 17 September 2005 at Reno, Nevada.[15]
  • The Snowbirds overfly the Canada Day celebrations at Parliament Hill, Ottawa on 1 July.

Notable staff

  • Lois Boyle (b. Shellbrook, Sask., 8 June 1932 – d. Regina, Sask., 5 January 2012): in her role as a civilian senior administrative assistant to several base commanders of CFB Moose Jaw, Boyle was closely involved in the birth of the Snowbirds and also helping them mature into the 1980s. Boyle arrived at the base in late 1950s and became so valuable to its workings that she was one of only two civilians to receive a Centennial Medal. She was said to be invaluable as a base commander's aide. For her years of dedication and support to the team she earned the title 'Mother of the Snowbirds', and her funeral ceremony was marked with an honorary flyover by seven Snowbird jets.Template:Sfnp


Snowbird aircraft have been involved in many accidents, including several mid-air collisions, resulting in the deaths of seven pilots and one passenger and the loss of several aircraft.

  • 10 June 1972: Solo Captain Lloyd Waterer died after a wingtip collision with the other solo aircraft while performing an opposing solo manoeuvre at the Trenton Air Show at CFB Trenton, Ontario.[16]
  • 14 July 1973: While performing a practice airshow at Moose Jaw, Captain Carl Stef ejected from his aircraft after a bird strike caused an engine compressor stall. Capt. Stef suffered back injuries because of a hard parachute landing.[17]
  • July 1977: Two pilots ejected from their aircraft after colliding during a formation change while performing at Paine Field, Washington. The aircraft fell into Puget Sound and there were no serious injuries.[18]
  • 3 May 1978: Captain Gordon de Jong died at an air show in Grande Prairie, Alberta. The horizontal stabilizer failed, rendering the aircraft uncontrollable. Although pilot ejection was initiated, it was not successful.[19]
  • 3 September 1989: Captain Shane Antaya died after a midair collision during a demonstration at the Canadian International Air Show during the CNE in Toronto, Ontario when his Tutor crashed into Lake Ontario. During the same accident, team commander Major Dan Dempsey safely ejected from his aircraft.[20]
  • 1991: A Snowbird jet crashed during a routine training flight near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The two pilots were not seriously injured.
  • 14 August 1992: A crash near Moose Jaw was blamed on a failed engine bearing. There were no injuries.
  • 1994: Two pilots ejected from their aircraft near Moose Jaw, sustaining minor injuries.
  • 1997: Two jets touched wingtips in mid-air in Glens Falls, New York. There were no injuries.
  • 10 December 1998: Captain Michael VandenBos died in a midair collision during training near Moose Jaw.[21]
  • 27 February 1999: The nose landing gear of aircraft No. 6 collapsed during a rough landing at CFB Moose Jaw after a practice air show. There were no injuries.[22]
  • 4 September 2000: Aircraft No. 4 and No. 1 touched causing minor damage to the wing of one and the tail of the other shortly after takeoff before a demonstration for the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto on the Labour Day weekend. Both planes landed safely with no injuries.[23]
  • 10 April 2001: As it landed in Comox, British Columbia in a nine-plane diamond formation, the nose and right-wing landing gear of aircraft No. 5 collapsed. No one was injured.[24]
  • 21 June 2001: Major Robert Painchaud and his passenger ejected after a mid-air collision between planes No. 1 and No. 5 as they attempted to rejoin the "Concorde" nine-jet formation for a media shoot over Lake Erie near London, Ontario. The passenger sustained serious injury, but Major Painchaud suffered only bruising and the other aircraft was safely flown back to base.[25]
  • 10 December 2004: Captain Miles Selby died in a mid-air collision during training near Mossbank, Saskatchewan while practising the co-loop manoeuvre. The other pilot, Captain Chuck Mallett, was thrown from his destroyed aircraft while still strapped into his seat. While tumbling towards the ground, he was able to unstrap, deploy his parachute and land with only minor injuries.[26] The Corner Gas episode "Air Show", which aired three months later, was dedicated to Selby.
  • 24 August 2005: Capt. Andrew MacKay ejected from his CT-114 Tutor jet due to engine failure near Thunder Bay, Ontario, during the warm-up for the Thunder in the Air air show. MacKay sustained only minor injuries.[27][28]
  • 18 May 2007: Snowbird 2, Capt. Shawn McCaughey fatally crashed during practice at Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, Montana due to a restraining strap malfunction.[29]
  • 9 October 2008: A Snowbird Tutor piloted by newly recruited team member Capt. Bryan Mitchell with military photographer Sgt. Charles Senecal crashed, killing both, near the Snowbird's home base of 15 Wing Moose Jaw while on a routine, non-exhibition flight.[30][31]
  • 1 March 2011: A Snowbird Tutor landed with gear up at CFB Moose Jaw after a routine training flight. There were no injuries.[32]




  • Dempsey, Daniel V. A Tradition of Excellence: Canada's Airshow Team Heritage. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: High Flight Enterprises, 2002. ISBN 0-9687817-0-5.
  • Ewing-Weisz, Chris. The Globe & Mail, 17 January 2012, p. S8. Published online 16 January 2012. Retrieved: 23 January 2012.
  • Fast, Beverley G. Snowbirds: Flying High, Canada's Snowbirds Celebrate 25 Years. Saskatoon, SK: Lapel Marketing & Associates Inc., 1995. ISBN 0969932707.
  • Milberry, Larry. Canada's Air Force At War And Peace, Volume 3. Toronto, ON: CANAV Books, 2000. ISBN 0-921022-12-3.
  • Mummery, Robert. Snowbirds: Canada's Ambassadors of the Sky. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Reidmore Books, 1984. ISBN 0-919091-37-7.
  • Rycquart, Barbara. The Snowbirds Story. London, Ontario, Canada: Third Eye, 1987. ISBN 0-919581-41-2.
  • Sroka, Mike. Snowbirds: Behind The Scenes With Canada's Air Demonstration Team. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Fifth House Publishers, 2006. ISBN 1-894856-86-4.

External links

Canadian Armed Forces portal
  • Canadian Forces Snowbirds (official site)
    • Air Show schedule
  • 431 Squadron (Air Force site)
  • 431 Squadron (Department of Defense – History and heritage)
  • Squadron history at Canadian Wings
  • Watch a 1980 NFB vignette on the Snowbirds
  • Snowbirds description from Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan

Template:Royal Canadian Air Force

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