The Snowbirds have become one of Canada’s national icons – an aerial maneuvers team that is well known for their formations and positive representation of this country.
The Snowbirds were in Estevan on Tuesday afternoon, as the featured attraction for the rededication of the Estevan Airport’s runways. It was the squadron’s first appearance in Estevan since 2006.
While most of the team members didn’t arrive in Estevan until Tuesday, a few of them were here on Monday.
Capt. Blake McNaughton and Capt. Regan Wickett are advance and safety pilots for the Snowbirds who were among those who arrived early.
McNaughton has been part of the Royal Canadian Air Force for eight years, and joined the Snowbirds a few months ago.
“It was a lifelong dream,” said McNaughton. “As a 15-year-old boy, I had a poster on my wall after seeing the Snowbirds fly many times in southern Ontario, and I wanted that job.”
Once he had the credentials to apply, he didn’t hesitate. And his dream became reality when he was selected for the squadron.
“The squadron stands for a lot of values,” said McNaughton. “They represent the highest quality of professionalism in the military. We try to embody all the values that the rest of the military does, day-in, day-out, all across the world, but they encapsulate it in their flying and their performance. It’s inspiring to watch and it’s exciting to do.”
As an advance and safety pilot, McNaughton and Wickett arrive before the other nine squadron members. They won’t perform during the show, but they play an important role, because they make sure everything happens in a safe fashion and they communicate on the radio with the team lead at all times. One of them will provide commentary during the show, too, ensuring the public understands the formations.
Since he joined the Snowbirds, McNaughton has been at all sorts of airshows, but each one is unique and exciting.
“Every town is different, has different character and different people, and sometimes different challenges, but most importantly different smiles,” said McNaughton.
Major Indira Thackorie, who is the Snowbirds public affairs officer, said the entire team was looking forward to coming to Estevan. It’s a stop that’s close to home, as Estevan marked their only appearance in Saskatchewan this year, outside of their traditional season-opening and season-concluding performances at their home of 15 Wing Canadian Forces Base Moose Jaw.
“This is close to home, and you have this great runway that we love to land on,” said Thackorie.
Part of their job before they arrive is to scout the runways of an airport, and they loved landing on the Estevan Airport’s runways, since they were resurfaced last year.
“It’s the kind of thing we like to see, obviously,” said Thackorie. “Obviously a good runway is important to do our show, and of course good weather is important to do the show.”
The smaller shows, like the one in Estevan, are so much more intimate, she said. Her sentiment was echoed by McNaughton.
“The big shows are exciting because there’s lots of people, they have a lot more performers and they’re usually in large locations that are interesting to visit,” said McNaughton. “But the small shows are when we actually get to talk to people. They have a weekday experience and character. That’s where you get to see the little, behind-the-scene things you never get to see.”
After the performance in Estevan, the Snowbirds took off for the airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which is the largest airshow in North America. The Snowbirds were making their first appearance in Oshkosh in 33 years, and they were the headlining act. But that didn’t diminish their excitement at performing in Estevan, especially since many of the pilots had their families in attendance.
“We are the only nine-plane demonstration team in North America, and there are very few in the world,” said Thackorie. “To see nine planes fly only four to six feet apart is very impressive.”
At times, they will be wing tip-to-wing tip. In other formations, the wings will overlap.
The performance itself took place on Tuesday afternoon, after the Mercury went to print. For a full recap of the Snowbirds’ visit, please watch for this week’s edition of Southeast Lifestyles.