The Snowbirds (official name: 431 Air Demonstration Squadron) are the official aerobatic team of the Royal Canadian Air Force. With roots back to 1954, the current team was formed informally in the late 1960s and was made official in the 1970s. The team fly nine CT-114 Tutors in their display and are based at 15 Wing in Moose Jaw.
The Snowbirds have their roots with 431 Squadron, who were tasked with performing aerial displays with four F-86 Sabres in 1954. In 1970, the RCAF began using four CT-114 Tutors left over from the nine-ship Golden Centennaires (a team which performed in 1967 to mark the nation’s centenary) for flypasts and small-scale air displays. They had grown into a fully-fledged seven-ship display team by 1971. The team was soon re-named the Snowbirds. The team was formed into its own squadron in 1978 when the 431 Squadron was reactivated and became the Snowbirds.
The CT-114 Tutor has been retired from regular RCAF service, but the Snowbirds will continue flying the type until around 2030 due to the high cost of replacing the fleet. It is not clear what aircraft may replace the Tutor, however the age of the aircraft has begun to cause serious problems for the team. A series of accidents in 2019 and 2020 were attributed to shortcomings in some aircraft systems, and two further aircraft-related safety stand-downs occured in 2022. Between this, the pandemic, and unpredictable weather during pre-season training, a typical Snowbirds season has been much disturbed and involved many cancelled appearances in recent years.
The Snowbirds’ display changes slightly each year, but it typically begins with several minutes of nine-ship formation aerobatics, following which the team breaks down into smaller groups for more dynamic manoeuvres (typically twos, fours, fives and sevens). The team re-form as a nine-ship towards the end for further formation passes and breaks.
- 10th June 1972: A pilot died after the two solo jets clipped each other’s wings during a display at CFB Trenton
- 3rd May 1978: A pilot died when his horizontal stabilizer failed and he lost control of the aircraft during a show in Grand Prarie; the ejection was not successful
- 3rd September 1989: Two jets collided at the Canadian International Airshow, killing one pilot
- 10th December 1998: A pilot died after a mid-air collision during a training flight at Moose Jaw
- 21st June 2001: A pilot and passenger ejected after a mid-air collision during a photoshoot; both survived, but the passenger was injured
- 10th December 2004: A pilot died after two planes collided on a training flight; the pilot of the second jet was thrown from the aircraft and deployed his parachute
- 18th May 2007: A pilot died when his jet crashed during a training flight at Malstrom AFB
- 9th October 2008: A pilot and his passenger, a photographer, died when their jet impacted the ground
- 13th October 2019: A pilot ejected safely from his jet when it experienced engine problems shortly before a display at the Atlanta Airshow
- 17th May 2020: Snowbirds PAO Jenn Casey died and another was injured when a bird strike causes an engine failure on departure from Kamloops; the ejector seat did not fire correctly
- 2nd Aug 2022: A Snowbirds jet crash-landed without injuries when the engine failed on departure from Fort St. John; the crash was blamed on an improperly-assembled oil filter