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A couple of weeks ago, I was very fortunate to attend the Snowbirds 45th Anniversary Reunion. Formed in 1971, the Snowbirds have become one of the most recognizable symbols, here in Canada. Coinciding with the last performance of the 2015 season, the reunion brought together team members, past and present, for a weekend of celebration and reminiscing.
The weekend started off with a casual meet and greet, where present team members and alumni gathered to catch up with each other. The scene was a who's who of Snowbird teams, as well as aerobatic teams that came before the Snowbirds. The Golden Centennaires, Golden Hawks, Red Knight and even a member of the Goldilocks teams were present at one point or another. The highlight of the evening was a chance to raise some money for a good cause. In this case, the 15 Wing Military Family Resource Center. The means to raise the money was very unique. Incoming Honorary Colonel, Les Gould, needed a "proper" military haircut. With that, donations were taken in and within minutes, over a thousand dollars was raised. With that done, HCol Gould had his locks trimmed, with the assistance of many willing volunteers. Then, to raise even more money, well known airshow sound man, Dan McLaren, had his head of hair offered up. In total, over $2,000 was raised, and Dan now has shorter hair.
Friday was show day and the weather in Moose Jaw could not have been better. Breezy blue skies greeted everyone gathered at 15 Wing Moose Jaw. Snowbird alumni, many wearing their red flying suits from their days on the team, as well as Honorary Snowbirds, team friends and family, gathered on the Belle Plain ramp to witness a very tight show, which was flown by this years team. For some, this would be their last show as a Snowbird.
After 25 minutes of loops and rolls, all with puffy white smoke in trail, the team touched down for the final time in 2015. As the jets taxied back, some of the pilots had a special surprise waiting for them where they would be parking. From spouses, proud parents, to children, in their own red flying suits, the jets taxied back and saluted the crowd by turning on the smoke, one last time. As the plume of smoke cleared, the jets were shut down, canopies opened and pilots dismounted. With many hugs, handshakes and high-fives, the 2015 airshow season was over.
As was stated earlier, for some on the 2015 team, this would be their last flight as a Snowbird. In particular was this years Team Lead, Major Patrick Gobeil. After two years as the "Boss", Maj Gobeil handed the team over to a new Lead pilot, Major Yanick Gregoire. Maj Gregoire is an experienced CF-18 pilot, flew as the 2007 CF-18 demo pilot, and flew as Snowbird 4 during the 2010/11 season. In his speech, Gregoire stated that he was very humbled to be the new Team Lead and that he was looking forward to the challenge of maintaining the high standards set by Maj Gobeil. In addition to a new Boss, other appointments included Crew Chief, Deputy Crew Chief and Technical Coordinator.
One other significant appointment was that of the new Honorary Colonel. Michael Potter, founder of Vintage Wings of Canada, has been serving as the Snowbirds Honorary Colonel since 2010. The role of the Honorary Colonel is to bridge the gap between the Snowbirds and the general public, helping to provide a public face for the unit, as well as simply spending time with squadron members. Taking over this important role would be Moose Javian, Les Gould. HCol Gould has been associated with the Snowbirds for the past 35 years, never missing a home opener or year end show. Following the ceremonies, the Snowbirds hosted a hangar party, where teams from every year, 1971-2016, gathered for team photos.
Saturday evening, a formal banquet was held to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of the team. Slideshows and videos were among a few of the events held during the evening. The guest speaker for the evening was Col (Ret) George Miller. Miller served as a solo with the Golden Hawks, then became the Snowbirds Team Lead in 1973/74. During those two years under his leadership, two significant things happened with the team. The first, was the acquisition of the iconic red flying suits. However, thanks to a local tailor in Moose Jaw, the red material used was rather unique and the suits came out with a bit of a pinkish hue. The other significant event came in 1974, when the Snowbirds received their first jet, painted in the now familiar red and white paint scheme. Col Miller stated that the team needed fully painted aircraft in order to fit in with other North American teams, such as the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. All in all, Miller gave a great speech with many interesting side stories and insights into the team in its early years.
Finally, the Snowbirds inducted three new members into its Honorary ranks. Fern Villeneuve, former leader of the famed Golden Hawks, HCol John Melbourne and HCol Michael Potter, were all named as Honorary Snowbirds by current Commanding Officer, LCol Brad Wintrup. All three were recognized for their hard work and dedication, in support of the Snowbirds, over many years.
All in all, it was a very good weekend. I was very happy to be able to cover the event and meet so many great people, who are and have been associated with this iconic aerobatic team. Many thanks to Alumni President, Dan Dempsey, Mach One Productions and Dan McLaren, Alumni, Honorary Snowbirds, as well as LCol Wintrup and the entire Canadian Forces Snowbirds, for the opportunity to attend, and photograph the event.
I look forward to doing it all again, in five years time, when the Snowbirds celebrate 50 years.