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Back in April, I had the opportunity to travel to Comox BC, located on Vancouver Island. Every year, 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds, travels to this picturesque location, in the Comox Valley, to put the final touches on their show, before embarking on their season.
The deployment to Comox is an important one for the entire team, as this is a "dry run" of how things will work on the road, during the summer. It exposes the pilots to conditions that differ from Moose Jaw, such as flying over mountains and performing over water. In addition to the flying program, techs will work as they will on the road, in unfamiliar hangar space and ramp space, making sure that the team has serviceable jets each day; and the entire team will also time out for community relations events, such as school visits.
During their time in Comox, the team will fly two shows a day, during the week. For the first week, the team will practice over the base at 19 Wing Comox before expanding practices and performing over the waters of the Georgia Strait. Each practice demonstration is a full show, start to finish, complete with music and narration. Despite being practice sessions, crowds gathered daily at Airforce Beach. Between the blue skies, the ocean and mountains, the setting cannot be beat. It all provides a spectacular backdrop to the gracefulness of a Snowbirds show. Flying these daily practices prepares the team for the ultimate performance of the deployment, the Acceptance Show; where the show is viewed by top brass of the RCAF, as well as officials from Transport Canada and the FAA.
In addition to photographing the daily practice flights, I had the opportunity to do something I thought I would never do. Each year, a select number of aviation photographers, descends on Comox, to catch the Snowbirds as no one else can; in flight. In order to accomplish this, the Snowbirds work with 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, based at 19 Wing Comox. 442 Squadron flies the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter and the CC-115 Buffalo and performs the very important search and rescue mission. However, one of 442 Squadron's Buffalos would serve as a camera platform, so that the visiting photographers could capture images of the Snowbirds against some of the most beautiful backdrops imaginable.
Our photo flight would take place on Friday, April 22. Early in the morning, we gathered in the Snowbirds briefing room and chatted with members of the team, prior to heading over to 442 Squadron. Once there, everyone in our group would be fitted with a safety harness, which would keep all of us tethered to the aircraft, while we aimed our cameras out of the back end of the Buffalo. Once fitted, we were given a safety briefing, then we walked to our aircraft, tail number 115456. After departing Comox, we headed out to find a decent patch of sky, as the weather that morning was iffy at best. After getting established in our orbit, the ramp was opened up and the beauty of the BC countryside scrolled past, in all its glory. After about 10-15 minutes, nine white dots appeared behind us and slowly closed in. Showtime! The team made close to a dozen passes under and behind the Buffalo, in a few different formations, giving all aboard some dynamic views of the team. All-in-all, for my first time shooting air-to-air, it was a great experience. After about an hour in the air, we returned to Comox, where photos were quickly reviewed and a short debrief held between the photographers and a point person with the Snowbirds.
So, I finally made it out to Comox! I had been talking about it for years,, and it was finally time to actually do it. Photographs aside, I had a great time. Vancouver Island is amazingly beautiful, even when the sun isn't shining. Getting to capture the Snowbirds in Comox was icing on the cake.
I will be back.
I would like to thank 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds; in particular, Lt Patricia Brunelle, Team Public Affairs Officer, for arranging my visit to the squadron and securing a spot on the Buffalo flight. Also, Snowbird 10, Capt Blake McNaughton, who ran point for the Buffalo flight and 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, for giving all the photographers a great platform to shoot from.