First Snowbirds jet recieves life extension upgrade to allow operations until 2030

The Snowbirds’ ageing CT-114 Tutor fleet will soldier on until 2030 under a new plan, which will see their 20 aircraft recieve substantial avionics upgrades to improve safety.

According to SkiesMag, a Tutor has successfully recieved a trial upgrade package known as Tutor Life Extension Beyond 2020 (TLE 2020+), intended to improve safety while also ensuring the Tutor is complient with new Canadian aviation regulations. The $30 million contract was awarded in 2021, with the first upgraded jet having recently taken to the air.

The upgrades include the installation of an ADS-B transponder, a glass cockpit, flight data recorder, a new alert and monitoring system, digital stopwatches, G-meters and engine gauges, and DME (Distance Measuring Equipment). The aircraft is now also capable of flying RNP approaches and using airways, and is compatible with RCAF Electronic Flight Bags. The modifications have removed 64kg from the jet’s nose, which has been replaced with ballast to preserve its handling characteristics.

The completed prototype aircraft will now proceed to the test and evaluation phase before gradually refitting the entire Tutor fleet. Seven upgraded jets are expected by the start of 2024 pre-season training, and all 20 jets are due to be complete by June 2025.

The Snowbirds have used the ageing Tutor since 1970, and many of their aircraft are more than 50 years old. Although long retired from regular service, the Snowbirds have continued to operate the Tutor far beyond its intended Out of Service Date due to Canada’s limited defence budget and the high cost of replacing them. This has drawn some criticism, particularly after a string of accidents between 2019 and 2022, which prompted safety concerns relating to the aircraft’s ejection seats. Officially, the Snowbirds are due to continue operating the type until 2030.

If the Snowbirds’ CT-114s are to be replaced by 2030, a decision will need to be taken soon in order for the new aircraft to arrive in time. A replacement will also be needed for the CT-155 Hawks which succeeded Canada’s Tutors in the advanced jet training role. Options include the M345 Master and T-7A Redhawk. A winner could be announced as soon as this year.