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Snowbirds - Fantastic Forty! - Part II

By Kevin Moore, Contributing Editor & Photographer
Roslin, Ontario, Canada

The team begins and ends their shows in a 9-plane formation, here ending the 2010 Brantford Airshow in a 9-plane line abreast formation, left. Depending on location, runway length and width, the team will take off in formation, in this instance in 3 groups of three, taking to the skies during the CFB Trenton, 8 Wing Air Display Weekend in July 2009, right

The Snowbirds performance starts with a head on, 9-plane formation, landing lights on, and, as they approach, smoke-on. The team will execute manoeuvres such as the Canada Goose, the Big Diamond, the Concord, the Arrowhead and the Vulcan and a newer and popular one with Canadian aviation history buffs, the Silver Dart, created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada in 2009. During their routine, solo aircraft will split off, normally leaving a 7 or 5 plane formation to carry on as the solo pilots ready for their passes. Other multi-plane formations include the Card Seven, Double Diamond, Cross, and Inverted Split (all 7-plane formations); and the Hex, Five Plane Stack, and Five Line Abreast, to name but a few. There are also some stunning and daring looking passes performed by the solo aircraft that always wow the crowd.

Rolling to the top of the "Big Diamond" formation during the 2009 Brantford Airshow, left. The business end of the Tutor, showing open speed brakes and the smoke nozzles, right.

During the larger, 9-plane formations, and depending on the manoeuvre, the outer formation pilots struggle and work much harder to maintain formation than do the pilots flying the 'inside' of the manoeuvre. Working stick, rudder, elevators, throttle, speed brakes, and flying by only looking at your wingman and/or the team lead is very difficult but very gratifying work and the Snowbirds do it with precision and finesse.

Converging at combined speeds close to the speed of sound, the solo's pass in front of the crowd, left. Approaching from left and right, the crowd let out a gasp and showed their appreciation for the two 2-plane formation, head-on pass, right, during the Waterloo Aviation Expo & Air Show 2010.

Accompanying the Snowbirds during their performances is an assortment of music selected by the team. During the routine, the music and manoeuvres are carefully choreographed so that each song is timed to a specific manoeuvre or series of manoeuvres. One of the most popular things spectators look forward to and always get a kick out of is hearing the voices of the solo pilots while they execute their routines. For example, as the opposing solo's approach from left and right, and as they finish the turn to make a head on opposing pass, they search the sky in front of them and in the direction they're heading for the opposing solo. When they find the other aircraft they call out to each other and the crowd hears... "Contact!" from the first solo.....with a reply from the second solo..... "CONTAAAACCCTTTT!!!!!" Depending on the manoeuvre, they will converge at combined speeds close to the speed of sound and roll past each other in an audience gasping cross-over.

The two solo's coming around for their next manoeuvre, left.
The 9-plane formation performing the Maple Split, right.

One of the most beautiful and graceful manoeuvres is the Maple Split. Nine aircraft approach the crowd head on and then, in one timely and elegant move, the aircraft split at the same time with the outer jets turning and burning to the outside of the formation and the inner aircraft climbing for the heavens. The smoke trail leaves a similar pattern to a maple leaf in the sky. The normally 20 minute performance keeps the airshow spectator focused on the skies in front, above, to each side, and behind them throughout the show. After their performance they always take the time to meet with their adoring crowds, handing out posters and signing autographs. The snowbirds never disappoint. This is what they train for. This is what they practice for. THIS is what they live for!

Late in the day, a beautiful dark blue sky, the Double Diamond formation climbs to the top of the loop, left. The tail number line up at the 2010 Brantford Airshow, right.

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds Aerobatic Display Team can be seen at airshows across Canada and have performed in many locations throughout the United States such as the Dayton Airshow in Ohio, Wisconsin AirFEST, and Rochester Airshow in New York to name but a few. There are many opportunities to see the team perform, sometimes alongside their U.S. counterparts, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Though all three aerobatic display teams fly very different types of aircraft, they thrill the airshow crowds where-ever they perform.

Four ship formation passes overhead, then the 2-plane formations split left and right, heading for their next manoeuvre, left. As the sun sets in the western sky, turning the Snowbirds smoke a light pink, the four ship head-on formation splits, right.

At the end of each airshow season, the team returns to their home base of CFB Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan where they close out the season in front of previous team members, Commanding Officers, crew members, their families, special guests and some media. It's an opportunity to thank them for their support throughout a sometimes grueling schedule, and to perform one last airshow to close out the year. Pilots generally stay with the team for 2 years at a time. Some will return for senior positions with the team and maybe Team Lead or Commanding Officer, others move on to different postings, different bases and different aircraft.

Coming out of the downward bomburst, left.
Three of a 4-plane opposing pass manoeuvre, right.

The Snowbirds have become, in the eyes of many, a national treasure within Canada. They have maintained a standard in aviation circles respected around the world. Their airplanes, despite their age, and at times the maintenance required to keep them flying, are loved by pilots and crews both. And, when we look to Canadian skies and watch the Snowbirds performing one of their classic manoeuvres, we do it with pride and admiration. We should all look as fantastic at 40 as they do!

Performing a 360 degree turn over the airfield, the two solo's perform
an opposing pass during the Waterloo Aviation Expo & Air Show 2010.

For more information about the Snowbirds visit:

The Snowbirds in formation with Vintage Wings of Canada's F-86 Sabre, Hawk One, painted in the livery of the RCAF Golden Hawks, performing the Centennial of Powered Flight pass during the 2009 Brantford Airshow, left. The 2010 Snowbirds 40th Anniversary logo on the tail of all their aircraft, right.

For more information about the Canadian Air Forces visit:

Snowbirds line-up at the 2010 Brantford Airshow, left. Flight helmets at the ready, the Snowbirds Tutors await their pilots at the CFB Trenton, 8 Wing Air Display in 2009, right.

For more information on Vintage Wings of Canada visit:

The formation in a tight pass during the 2010 Brantford Airshow

For more information on Canadian Warplane Heritage visit:

Three plane formation in a tight, line astern pass during the CFB Trenton,
8 Wing Air Display Weekend Airshow in July 2009.


The airshow over, the Snowbird pilots rest their flight helmets atop the front canopy, and head out to meet their cheering fans at the end of the day, 2010 Brantford Airshow.


Three take to the air for their performance, left.
Part of the team roars past in a tidy formation, right.


7-plane "Goose" formation, smoke-on, makes a beautiful blue sky pass.


8-plane opposing pass formation at the Waterloo Aviation Expo & Airshow 2010.

By Kevin Moore, Contributing Editor & Photographer

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