2016 RCAF Snowbirds 19 Wing Comox Spring Training Deployment.

Longer days, warmer weather and the rumble of jet noise signify two things to residents of the Comox Valley, spring has arrived and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds have returned to 19 Wing Comox for their annual spring training. Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, 19 Wing Comox hosts the Snowbirds (and CF-18 Demo Team) each April as they fine tune their routines before hitting the road early May for their Airshow seasons. Comox plays a vital role in the teams training syllabus offering a varied and challenging terrain in which the team can practice over. This is crucial to their training as it vastly differs from their home base of 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Sask and many of the show sites the Snowbirds will perform at over the course of the season will have varying terrain up to and including some shows over water. Flying over water can prove very challenging as all depth perception is easily lost. This is a very imortant part of the teams training in Comox, with the ladder part of afternoon practices taking place over the water the team has the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the routine over this type of terrain. 19 Wing Comox also offers the team an operational airfield which will be similar to many they visit on the road. This enables the team to fine-tune their operational deployment strategies ensuring they have everything they need to be fully self sufficient when they are on the airshow circuit.

For the 2016 air show season the Snowbirds are helping pay tribute to one of the worlds greatest air training programs, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) and the 75th anniversary of the RCAF 400-series squadrons that make up the fabric of the modern RCAF. Responsible for training aircrews in World War Two, the BCATP produced 131,553 pilots, wireless operators, air gunners and navigators by the end of the War for Air Forces of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The Snowbirds home base in Moose Jaw also played a significant role in training Commonwealth aircrew during the Second World War. Initially, The Moose Jaw Flying Club provided pilot training to the RCAF. However, in 1940 the Government of Canada acquired the airfield and rebuilt it opening No. 32 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Station Moose Jaw. Upon graduating from the Plan the crews then went overseas to serve with the Commonwealth Air Forces Squadrons and some of these members went on to join 431 Squadron during it’s birth year of 1942.

A new season brings new team members and 2016 adds five new members to the Snowbird legacy. New team members for the 2016 season are as follows:
  • Snowbird 1 Team Lead: Major Yanick “Crank" Grégoire. Crank is a former CF-18 fighter pilot and in 2007 was selected as the CF-18 Demo Pilot. In 2010 Crank was selected for the Snowbirds and flew as Snowbird 4 for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Maj. Grégoire brings a wealth of experience to the team accumulating over 4,000 flying hours throughout his career with over 3,000 of those in high performance aircraft and 100 plus hours in combat.
  • Snowbird 6 Outer Right Wing position: Captain Greg “HP” Hume-Powell. HP is a former Seaking pilot and Harvard II instructor. With numerous international and domestic deployments under his belt including counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, counter-drug efforts in the Caribbean Sea and Operation Podium in Vancouver, B.C Capt. Hume-Powell brings over 3,000 flying hours to the team.
  • Snowbird 9 Opposing Solo: Captain Craig “Nacho” Sharp. Nacho is a CF-18 Fighter Weapons Instructor and in 2012 was selected for an exchange pilot position with the USAF flying the F-16 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Between the CF-18 and the American F-16, Capt. Sharp brings over 2,300 of military jet hours to the team.
  • Snowbird 10 Coordinator: Captain Blake “Naughty” McNaughton. Naughty is a Flying Instructor with the 2 Canadian Forces Fyling Training School on the CT-156 Harvard and CT-155 Hawk and brings over 2,600 flying hours to the team.
  • Public Affairs Officer: Major Indria Thackorie. Maj. Thackorie brings to the team a great deal of experience in both air shows and the public affairs role Including a three year tour as the Public Affairs Officer for the Canadian Forces Parachute Team, The SkyHawks.
Following the completion of their training in Comox the Snowbirds successfully flew an acceptance show on Tuesday April 26 which was approved by Maj, Gen. Dave Wheeler, Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division. The team then headed back home to Moose Jaw for their home opener April 29th and officially kicks off their 2016 season on May 7 in Fort Lauderdale, FL . Calling on their months of rigours training, the Snowbirds will be finely tuned to wow the hundreds of thousands of fans spanning across North America until they wrap up their season in late October.

report and photos Stuart Sanders