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Snow Birds logo.svg
Snow Birds logo
Active25 June 1971 – present (as Snowbirds)
1 April 1978 – present (as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron)
CountryCanada Canada
BranchRoyal Canadian Air Force
RoleAerobatic flight demonstration team
Size80 Canadian Forces personnel full time
24 personnel in the show team
Part of15 Wing Moose Jaw
Garrison/HQCFB Moose Jaw
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada
Motto(s)Mohawk: The Hatiten Ronteriios, lit.'Warriors of the air'
ColorsWhite and red
Commanding OfficerLCol Denis Bandet[1]
Aircraft flown
Trainer11 CT-114 Tutors

The Snowbirds, officially known as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron (French: 431e Escadron de démonstration aérienne), are the military aerobatics flight demonstration team of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The team is based at 15 Wing Moose Jaw near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The Snowbirds' official purpose is to "demonstrate the skill, professionalism, and teamwork of Canadian Forces personnel".[2] The team also provides a public relations and recruiting role, and serves as an aerial ambassador for the Canadian Armed Forces.[3] The Snowbirds are the first Canadian air demonstration team to be designated as a squadron.[4]

The show team flies 11 CT-114 Tutors: nine for aerobatic performances, including two solo aircraft, and two spares, flown by the team coordinators. Additionally, 13 are maintained in storage.[5][6][7] 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.[8]

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[edit]

Second World War[edit]

Although 431 Air Demonstration Squadron was formed in 1978, its history truly began 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.[9]

Number 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 IIIs and later, Lancaster B.X aircraft. The squadron moved to RCAF Station Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, after the war, disbanding there on 5 September 1945.

A CT-114 Tutor of the Snowbirds.

Battle honours[edit]


Squadron re-formed[edit]

No. 431 (Fighter) Squadron re-formed at RCAF Station Bagotville on 18 January 1954, using the new Canadair 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 with aircraft from several squadrons that travelled to selected locations across western Canada. The team from No. 431 Squadron consisted of four Sabres and a solo aircraft. This was the first Sabre team to be authorized to perform formation aerobatics in Canada.[10] The unit was disbanded on 1 October 1954.

2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School Formation Team[edit]

Snowbird pilots from the 1971 season. Pilots were instructors at 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School, CFB Moose Jaw, Saskatchwan. The aircraft displays the paint scheme of the team's early days.

In 1969, Colonel O.B. Philp, base commander of CFB Moose Jaw and former leader of the defunct Golden Centennaires aerobatic team, considered using several of the leftover Golden Centennaire CT-114 Tutor aircraft for another team.[11] These Tutors were still fitted for aerobatic flying and, because of some minor corrosion, 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 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.

New name and squadron reactivation[edit]

A contest to give the air demonstration team a formal name was held at Bushell Park Elementary School at CFB Moose Jaw, and resulted in the name "Snowbirds".[12] 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. 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, and was formed into its own squadron by reactivating 431 Squadron (renamed 431 Air Demonstration Squadron) on 1 April 1978.

The squadron badge has, since 1942, portrayed "an Iroquois' head adorned".[13] In January 2021, the squadron began an initiative to remove this image from the badge.[14]

Show routine[edit]

Formations and manoeuvres are designed each season by the team, and must be approved by the Canadian Forces, Transport Canada 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 aerobatic shows are designed: a high show flown when weather is ideal, a low show and a flat show. The latter two are flown where some manoeuvres are not permitted because of cloud. A non-aerobatic show, or flypast, is also flown. Manoeuvres are arranged from those selected from the Standard Manoeuvre Manual.[15] 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 nine-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.

Snowbirds performing manoeuvers at National Capital Air Show, Ottawa, 1994.

Pilots typically stay with the Snowbirds for a maximum of three years, and one third of the pilots are replaced each year. Replacing pilots this way allows experienced members to train the new team members, which ensures that the Snowbirds' routines are consistent.[16]

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.[17]

The Snowbirds fly at speeds between 100 knots (190 km/h) and 320 knots (590 km/h), with a separation between aircraft of 1.8 metres (5.9 ft) in many of the formations. When two aircraft perform head-on passes, they aim to be about 10 metres (33 ft) apart.[18]

Due to crashes in October 2019 and May 2020, restrictions were placed on shows beginning in 2021. To give pilots "more time to react", restrictions were placed on altitude and speed, and new rules were introduced concerning the minimum runway length permitted for Snowbird operations. Maintenance and inspections on the Tutors have also been increased.[19]

Awards, honours, and ambassadorships[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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[edit]

The Snowbirds flying their 1000th official show at CFB Edmonton (Namao), 20 May 1990. Coloured smoke was used during major performances that year.
  • 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.[20]
  • The first performance of the Snowbirds in a foreign country occurred on 27 November 1971 at Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona.[21]
  • The first formal public performance that included opposing solos was flown at Yellowknife on 13 May 1972.[22]
  • The air show at Inuvik, Northwest Territories, in 1974 was the first time that an aerobatic team had performed at midnight (daylight conditions north of the Arctic Circle).[23]
  • 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.[24]
  • 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.[25]
  • 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.[26]

Notable staff[edit]

  • Lois Boyle (1932–2012): 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. 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.[27]

Accidents and incidents[edit]


Since the Snowbirds' first show in July 1971, there have been several incidents involving damage to airplanes, loss of airplanes, and loss of life. The following is a list of notable incidents only. There are other incidents, some involving loss of aircraft, that are not listed below.

Date Location Reason Casualties Damage
10 June 1972 CFB Trenton, Ontario wingtip collision[28] 1 fatality plane crashed
14 July 1973 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan bird strike caused engine stall[29] back injuries plane crashed
16 July 1977 Paine Field, Washington collision during formation change[30][31] none 2 planes crashed
3 May 1978 Grande Prairie, Alberta horizontal stabilizer failed[32] 1 fatality plane crashed
17 June 1986 Carmichael, Saskatchewan midair collision[33] minor injuries plane crashed
3 September 1989 Toronto, Ontario midair collision[34] 1 fatality 2 planes crashed
26 February 1991 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan crashed during flight[35] no serious injuries plane crashed
14 August 1992 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan failed engine bearing[35] none plane crashed
22 October 1992 Bagotville, Quebec midair collision[35] none 2 planes crashed
21 March 1994 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan engine failure[35] minor injuries plane crashed
24 September 1995 Point Mugu, California three planes collided with birds[36] none planes damaged
7 June 1997 Glens Falls, New York touched wings none planes damaged
10 December 1998 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan midair collision[37] 1 fatality plane crashed
27 February 1999 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan nose gear collapsed on landing[38] none plane damaged
4 September 2000 Toronto, Ontario planes touched[39] none plane damaged
10 April 2001 Comox, British Columbia nose & wing landing gear failed[40] none plane damaged
21 June 2001 near London, Ontario midair collision[41] serious injuries plane crashed
10 December 2004 Mossbank, Saskatchewan midair collision[42] 1 fatality 2 planes crashed
24 August 2005 near Thunder Bay, Ontario engine failure[43][44] minor injuries plane crashed
18 May 2007 near Great Falls, Montana restraining strap malfunction[45] 1 fatality plane crashed
9 October 2008 near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan pilot error[46][47] 2 fatalities plane crashed
1 March 2011 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan landed with gear up[48] none plane damaged
26 August 2017 Greenwood, Nova Scotia nose gear fire[49] none plane damaged
13 October 2019 Brooks, Georgia engine fuel delivery system failure[50][51] minor injuries plane crashed
17 May 2020 Kamloops, British Columbia bird strike, compressor stall, aerodynamic stall[52] 1 fatality, 1 injured[53] plane crashed
2 August 2022 Fort St. John, British Columbia engine failure during takeoff caused by “an improperly assembled oil filter”, ran off runway during landing[54][55] none plane crashed


Snowbird aircraft have been involved in several accidents, resulting in the deaths of seven pilots and two passengers and the loss of several aircraft. One pilot, Captain Wes Mackay, was killed in an automobile accident after a performance in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1988.[56] The RCAF commented: "... there is risk associated with formation flying. Flying by its very nature has an inherent element of risk. Eight Snowbird pilots have lost their lives in the performance of their duty. We remember them."[57]

  • 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.[28]
  • 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.[32]
  • 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.[34]
  • 10 December 1998: Captain Michael VandenBos died in a midair collision during training near Moose Jaw.[37]
  • 10 December 2004: Captain Miles Selby died in a midair 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.[42]
  • 18 May 2007: Snowbird 2, Captain Shawn McCaughey fatally crashed during practice at Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, Montana, due to a restraining strap malfunction.[45]
  • 9 October 2008: A Snowbird Tutor piloted by newly recruited team member Captain Bryan Mitchell with military photographer Sergeant Charles Senecal crashed, killing both, near the Snowbirds' home base of 15 Wing Moose Jaw while on a non-exhibition flight.[46][47]
  • 17 May 2020: A Snowbird Tutor crashed in Kamloops, British Columbia, during a cross-country tour called "Operation Inspiration", intended to "salute Canadians doing their part to fight the spread of COVID-19."[58][59] Unit public affairs officer, Captain Jennifer Casey, died. The pilot, Captain Richard MacDougall, sustained serious injuries. The final report of the Directorate of Flight Safety concluded that both personnel ejected "at low altitude and in conditions that were outside safe ejection seat operation parameters."[60][61][53]

Aircraft replacement[edit]

Due to the age of the Tutors (developed in the 1950s, first flown in 1960, and accepted by the RCAF in 1963[62][63]), a 2003 Department of National Defence study recommended that the procurement process to replace the aircraft should begin immediately so the aircraft could be retired by 2010 because of obsolescence issues that would affect the aircraft’s viability. The report mentions that "with each passing year, the technical, safety and financial risk associated with extending the Tutor into its fifth decade and beyond, will escalate".[64] Some concerns include the inevitability of metal fatigue and parts failure, outdated ejection seats and antiquated avionics.[65][66][67] There has also been criticism about the aircraft not being representative of a modern air force.[67]

A 2008 review recommended that the Tutors' life could be extended to 2020 because of cost concerns related to purchasing new aircraft,[68] and a 2015 report called "CT-114 Life Extension Beyond 2020", outlined planned upgrades to extend the life of the Tutor beyond 2020. These planned upgrades included replacing the ejection seats and wing components, and updating the brakes.[69]

The Government of Canada had plans to replace the Tutors with new aircraft between 2026 and 2035 via the Snowbird Aircraft Replacement Project whose aim was "to satisfy the operational requirement to provide the mandated Government of Canada aerobatic air demonstration capability to Canadian and North American audiences."[70]. The preliminary estimated cost was $500 million to $1.5 billion. Official sources were quoted: "The chosen platform must be configurable to the 431 (AD) Squadron standard, including a smoke system, luggage capability and a unique paint scheme. The platform must also be interchangeable with the training fleet to ensure the hard demands of show performances can be distributed throughout the aircraft fleet."[70][71] However, the Snowbird Aircraft Replacement Project was discontinued and replaced by the Tutor Life Extension Program implemented by a contractor (L3 Harris) that is meant to extend the use of the Tutor fleet to 2030. The Tutors will receive modernized avionics to comply with regulations and permit the team to continue flying in North America. The glass cockpit canopies will also be upgraded.[71][72][73]



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  2. ^ a b c Dempsey 2002, p. 567.
  3. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 684.
  4. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 718.
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  8. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 659.
  9. ^ "Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation." Archived 2009-08-23 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: 20 May 2011.
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  14. ^ "Snowbirds 'warriors of the air' squadron crest to get makeover - 680 NEWS". Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  15. ^ "Snowbirds safety incident a factor behind air show cancellations". The Star, 18 May 2017 Retrieved: August 28, 2017
  16. ^ "FAQ: Snowbirds." Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force, Retrieved: 4 September 2017
  17. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 643.
  18. ^ "FAQ: Snowbirds." Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force, 20 July 2015. Retrieved: 12 August 2015.
  19. ^ Military lifts order grounding Snowbirds team, some restrictions still in place. Global News. August 24, 2020. Retrieved 26 August 2020
  20. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 540.
  21. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 538
  22. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 545.
  23. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 552.
  24. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 597.
  25. ^ Dempsey 2002, pp. 605, 606.
  26. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 615.
  27. ^ Ewing-Weisz (2012).
  28. ^ a b Dempsey 2002, p. 546.
  29. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 550.
  30. ^ Dempsey 2002, p. 563.
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  35. ^ a b c d "A History of Snowbird Crashes." Canwest News Service. Retrieved: 23 April 2014.
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  37. ^ a b "Snowbird crash, December 10, 1998 – investigation update." Archived June 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, 7 June 2010. Retrieved: 16 June 2010.
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  41. ^ [1] CBC News, 26 June 2001. Retrieved: 17 may 2020.
  42. ^ a b "Canadian Forces Flight Safety Report: CT114173 / CT114064 Tutor". 10 December 2004. Archived from the original on 10 August 2018. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  43. ^ "Canadian Forces Flight Safety Report: CT114120 Tutor.", 24 August 2005. Retrieved: 17 March 2014.
  44. ^ Bridges, Holly. "Snowbird safely ejects, Flight Safety investigation continues, p. 12." Maple Leaf, Vol 8., No. 31. 8 September 2005 via Retrieved: 16 June 2010.
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  46. ^ a b "CBC News Story." CBC, 10 October 2008. Retrieved: 13 October 2008.
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  50. ^ Official Accident Report in Canadian Forces Snowbird October 2019 Crash Released
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  55. ^ Fedy-Macdonald, Dayna (21 September 2022). "Operational pause on Snowbirds lifted after cause of accident determined, but remaining 2022 performances cancelled". Skies Magazine. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
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  65. ^ Crash shows it's time to ground the Snowbirds' aging Tutor jets, experts say. CTV News. May 18, 2020. Retrieved 10 November 2021
  66. ^ Snowbirds were waiting for new ejection seats before deadly crash. Now DND won’t say if gear was replaced. The Star. May 29, 2020. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
  67. ^ a b Dempsey 2002, p. 694
  68. ^ Aircraft used by Snowbirds aerobatic team, on the go since 1963, will be kept flying until 2030. Saskatoon StarPhoenix. May 13, 2018. Retrieved 14 May 2018
  69. ^ CT-114 Life Extension Beyond 2020 (archived). National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. Retrieved 30 May 2020
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  • Dempsey, Daniel V. A Tradition of Excellence: Canada's Airshow Team Heritage. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: High Flight Enterprises, 2002. ISBN 0968781705.
  • Ewing-Weisz, Chris. "Lois Boyle was the ‘Mother of the Snowbirds’." The Globe and 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 0921022123.
  • Milberry, Larry, ed. Sixty Years – The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924–1984. Toronto: Canav Books, 1984. ISBN 0-9690703-4-9.
  • Mummery, Robert. Snowbirds: Canada's Ambassadors of the Sky. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Reidmore Books, 1984. ISBN 0919091377.
  • Rycquart, Barbara. The Snowbirds Story. London, Ontario, Canada: Third Eye, 1987. ISBN 0919581412.
  • Sroka, Mike. Snowbirds: Behind The Scenes With Canada's Air Demonstration Team. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Fifth House Publishers, 2006. ISBN 1894856864.

External links[edit]