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Canadian Forces 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 Flag of Canada.svg Canada
Branch Canadian Forces Flag.svg Canadian Forces
Role Aerobatic flight demonstration team
Size 80 Canadian Forces personnel full time
24 personnel in the show team
Garrison/HQ CFB Moose Jaw
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Canada
Nickname Snowbirds
Motto The Hatiten Ronteriios (Warriors of the air)
Colors White and Red
Snowbirds logo.png
Aircraft flown
Trainer 11 CT-114 Tutors

Officially known as the Canadian Forces 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".[1] The squadron is under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Forces Air Command and is based in CFB Moose Jaw, near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The Snowbirds are the first Canadian air demonstration team to be designated as a squadron.[2]

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.[3]


Squadron history


Second World War

Although 431 Air Demonstration Squadron was formed in 1978, its history truly begins during the Second World War when 431 (Bomber) Squadron (Royal Canadian Air Force) was created as a unit of RAF Bomber Command.

No. 431 Squadron formed on 11 November 1942, at RAF Burn, flying Wellington X heavy bombers with No. 4 Group RAF Bomber Command. The squadron moved to RAF Tholthorpe in mid-1943, was transferred to No. 6 Group RCAF, and converted to Halifax V aircraft. In December 1943 the squadron moved to RAF Croft where it was re-equipped with Halifax III's and later, Lancaster X aircraft. The squadron moved to RCAF Station Dartmouth, Nova Scotia after the war, disbanding there on 5 September 1945.

Battle honours

  • English Channel and North Sea 1943–1944
  • Baltic 1943–1944
  • Fortress Europe 1943–1944
  • Rhine, France and Germany 1944–1945
  • Biscay Ports 1943–1944
  • Ruhr 1943–1945, Berlin 1943–1944
  • German Ports 1943–1945
  • Normandy 1944
  • Biscay 1943–1944


Squadron re-formed

No. 431 (Fighter) Squadron re-formed at RCAF Station Bagotville on 18 January 1954, using the new 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.[4] The unit was disbanded on 1 October 1954.

Tutor prototype on display at Southport Aerospace, Manitoba in Golden Centennaires livery
CT-114 Tutor of the Snowbirds

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 still fitted for aerobatic flying for another aerobatic team. 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 held at the CFB Moose Jaw base elementary school (Bushell Park Elementary) and resulted in the name Snowbirds. 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.[5] 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.

The Snowbirds at the Jones Beach Airshow 2009

Awards, honours, and ambassadorships

In 1982, Canada Post released a 17 cent 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, which aims to educate youth and adults about taking risks.

The Snowbirds in the "mini Concorde" formation over Toronto in 2005

On 16 October 1999 the squadron was presented their Squadron Colours 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 cent Canadian) stamps to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the team. The Royal Canadian Mint jointly released a $5.00 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.
  • The air show at Inuvik, NWT in 1974 was the first time that an aerobatic team had performed at midnight (daylight conditions above the Arctic Circle).[6]
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The team performed for the first time outside of Canada and the U.S. in October 1993 at Zapopan Military Air Base near Guadalajara, Mexico.
  • The Snowbirds overfly the Canada Day celebrations at Parliament Hill, Ottawa on 1 July.


Snowbirds perform a line abreast pitch-over at Wings 'n Wheels Air Show 2007, St. Thomas, Ontario
A snowbird on display at the CNE, 2008

The Snowbirds have had several accidents resulting in eight deaths:

  • 10 June 1972: Opposing solo Captain Lloyd Waterer died after his aircraft collided with the lead solo aircraft while performing the head-on cross manoeuvre at the Trenton Air Show at CFB Trenton, Ontario.
  • 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.
  • 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 ejection was initiated, it was not successful.
  • 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.
  • 1991: A Snowbird jet crashed during a routine training flight near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The two pilots were not seriously injured.
  • 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.
  • 4 September 2000: Aircraft #4 and #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.[7]
  • 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 #5 collapsed. No one was injured.[8]
  • 21 June 2001: Major Robert Painchaud and his passenger ejected after a mid-air collision between planes #1 and #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. [9]
  • 10 December 2004: Captain Miles Selby died in a training accident 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.[10]
  • 24 August 2005: Because of engine failure, Capt. Andrew Mackay ejected from his aircraft near Thunder Bay, Ontario, during the warm-up for the Thunder in the Air air show. The pilot sustained only minor injuries.[11]
  • 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.[12]
  • 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.[13][14]



  1. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 567.
  2. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 718.
  3. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 659.
  4. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 95.
  5. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 538.
  6. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 552.
  7. ^ Flight Safety Occurrence Report Retrieved on 18 April 2009
  8. ^ Flight Safety Occurrence Report Retrieved on 18 April 2009
  9. ^ Flight Safety Occurrence Report Retrieved on 18 April 2009
  10. ^ Flight Safety Occurrence Report Retrieved on 18 April 2009
  11. ^ Flight Safety Occurrence Report Retrieved on 18 April 2009
  12. ^ Flight Safety Occurrence Report Retrieved on 18 April 2009
  13. ^ "CBC News Story." CBC, 10 October 2008.
  14. ^ Flight Safety Occurrence Report Retrieved on 18 April 2009


  • Dempsey, Daniel V. A Tradition of Excellence: Canada's Airshow Team Heritage. Victoria, BC: High Flight Enterprises, 2002. ISBN 0-9687817-0-5.
  • Fast, Beverley G. Snowbirds: Flying High, Canada's Snowbirds Celebrate 25 Years. Saskatoon, SK: Lapel Marketing & Associates Inc., 1995. ISBN 0-96993127-0-7.
  • 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, AB: Reidmore Books, 1984. ISBN 0-919091-37-7.
  • Rycquart, Barbara. The Snowbirds Story. London, ON: Third Eye, 1987. ISBN 0-919581-41-2.
  • Sroka, Mike. Snowbirds: Behind The Scenes With Canada's Air Demonstration Team. Toronto, ON: Fifth House Publishers, 2006. ISBN 1-89485-686-4.

External links


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