Frequently asked questions

  1. What kind of aircraft do the Snowbirds fly?
  2. How many Snowbirds are there?
  3. How many shows do the Snowbirds perform each year?
  4. How much time do the Snowbirds spend travelling?
  5. How does someone become a Snowbird pilot or technician?
  6. How long does each Snowbird stay with the Team?
  7. How is the Snowbird Team Lead (Boss) chosen?
  8. How do I get the Snowbirds to fly at our air show?
  9. What does the Snowbird crest symbolize?
  10. Why is there a blue stripe painted along the side of the jets?
  11. Where did the Snowbirds get their name?
  12. How fast do you fly?
  13. How close are the jets when they are flying in formation?
  14. When the two solo aircraft perform their head-on passes, how fast are they flying and how close do they get to one another?
  15. How is the white smoke made?
  16. I've been to an air show and saw only eight aircraft flying instead of all nine. Was one of them broken?
  17. What happens if the Boss gets sick?
  18. How can I go flying with the Snowbirds?
  19. Can you send me pictures of the Snowbirds?

The Snowbirds fly the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, a Canadian-built jet that was used by the Canadian Forces as a basic pilot-training aircraft form 1963 until 2000. The Tutor weighs approximately 7,170 lbs (3,260 kg) and is powered by a J-85 engine producing 2,700 pounds of thrust.

The 431 Air Demonstration Squadron consists of approximately 80 Canadian Forces personnel, 24 of whom comprise the show team that travels during the show season. The Snowbirds' demanding schedule is met through the dedicated teamwork of not only the eleven military pilots and technicians, but also the entire home team.

The actual number of shows flown by the Snowbirds varies slightly each year. On average they will fly approximately 60 air shows at 40 different locations across North America.

The Snowbirds leave their home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and travel to Comox, British Columbia in April each year for about two weeks to practice over different terrain. Starting in May until mid-October each year the team travels across North America performing at various air shows. Throughout the six month air show season, the Snowbirds return to their home base about four times for a couple of days to perform some maintenance on the aircraft.

All members of the Snowbirds are Canadian Forces personnel who have accumulated years of military experience prior to joining the squadron. Each year, military pilots and technicians who aspire to be in the squadron apply for a position with the Snowbirds. They are selected based on skill and experience. Additionally, pilots undergo a rigorous series of try-outs to evaluate their formation-flying proficiency.

Normally the tour of duty for the pilots is limited to three years each; each year, one third of the pilots changes. This benefits the team by allowing the second and third year members to train the new first year pilots which maintains consistency in Snowbird operations. To ensure on-going training within the Squadron, making sure skills and expertise are developed for the long term sustainment of our mission, technicians can stay for a number of years with 431 Squadron.

The Boss must hold the rank of Major and have flown as a Snowbird earlier in his career. Recommendations for the position are provided by the current Boss to the Wing Commander and Commander 1 Canadian Air Division. The Commander 1 Canadian Air Division then offers the position to the pilot they feel is best suited to handle the demands of the job.

In the "Hosting" section of this site, an application form to have the Snowbirds perform at your show is available. This form must be filled out and sent to the Snowbirds' office no later than 1 September of the year preceding the planned air show. This form should include all of the details of your event such as the proposed and alternate dates and times of the event, location of the planned performance, purpose of the air show, etc. Once these letters are received, our coordinators review the requests and select those sites that will give exposure to the largest number of people and cover the greatest number of geographic regions in Canada.

This design originates from the location of the Snowbirds' home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. As a prairie province, one of Saskatchewan's main crops is wheat. As a tribute to their home province, Saskatchewan, the Snowbird crest displays four speedbirds, in formation, resembling an ear of wheat. The speed bird is also shown on the bottom of each Snowbird aircraft.

The Snowbirds' predecessor, the Golden Centennaires, was a nine-plane aerobatic team formed in 1967 to commemorate Canada's Centennial anniversary. The bottom of their CT-114 Tutor aircraft was painted blue. The Snowbirds decided to paint a blue stripe along their aircraft as a tribute to the Golden Centennaires.

A "Name the Team" contest was held at the local base elementary school in June of 1971. The winner was a Grade 6 student by the name of Doug Farmer. Mr. Farmer was able to join the team on a media ride at the Abbotsford, BC Airshow in 2000.

The top speed of the aircraft, with smoke tanks attached, is 412 knots (470 mph or 750 km/h). During a performance, the Snowbirds will fly at speeds ranging from 100 knots (115 mph or 185 km/h) to 320 knots (370 mph or 590 km/h).

The distance between each Snowbird jet in many of the formations is about 1.2 metres (4 feet). When flying at speeds of 600 km/hr a large amount of skill is required by the pilot to maintain this distance throughout the performance.

The solos aim to be approximately 10 metres apart when they cross. With a speed of close to 600 km/hr for each jet, the closure speed of the jets is very close to the speed of sound.

Underneath the jets there are two fuel pods (tanks) which contain diesel fuel. There is a tube from each tank to the exhaust at the back of the engine. The pilot squeezes a trigger on the control stick which starts the flow of diesel from the tank to the engine exhaust. When the diesel fuel enters the exhaust, it immediately vaporizes and creates a white smoke trail. To stop the flow of diesel fuel, the pilot squeezes the trigger one more time. This smoke trail dissipates before it reaches the ground and is considered harmless.

The Snowbirds have two jets that are flown by the Coordinators that are used as spare aircraft for the performance. If at any time during the performance one of the nine jets becomes unserviceable, the pilot lands the jet and uses one of the spare aircraft. Since the Snowbirds do not have any spare pilots, if one of the pilots gets sick, then that person cannot fly in the show. The Team will then make minor changes to their performance and fly without that one pilot.

That is a more serious problem since the Snowbirds don't have a spare Boss. If the Boss cannot fly, then the Snowbirds will not fly.

Unfortunately the Snowbirds are not permitted to take the general public flying with them. There are occasions when they are authorized to take a member of the media on a designated flight that does not involve aerobatics. These people are carefully screened to ensure they are healthy and the flight would not endanger themselves or the pilots flying the aircraft. The purpose of media flights is to share with them the exhilaration of military formation flying so that they can pass this information to the general public in their publication or television show. In return, the media provide excellent exposure to the Canadian Forces, the Snowbirds and the air show. The Snowbirds would enjoy sharing with many people the thrill of flying the Tutor aircraft and formation flying, however as you can imagine the requests would be overwhelming and impossible to administer. Since they cannot take the general public flying with them, they do attempt to meet as many spectators as they can at the air shows before and after performances to describe the flying experience and answer questions.

Providing photos is extremely costly and not within the Snowbirds annual operating budget. However, the Snowbirds provide a colourful brochure which includes history of the squadron, air show schedule, photos of each Snowbird person, and an exciting poster. These brochures are available at each air show site where the Snowbirds perform or can be obtained by writing a letter, including your address and phone number, to them at:

431 (AD) Sqn
15 Wing
Box 5000
Moose Jaw, Sk
S6H 7Z8

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