Taking flight in a Snowbird

Mission editor Jason Roessle was offered the opportunity to fly with the Snowbirds Thursday

The Snowbirds perform daily Aug. 10-12 at the Abbotsford International Airshow at 4:30 p.m.

Crisp, early morning air greeted me Thursday morning at Abbotsford International Airport; a bit of low-hanging fog spread a vibrant orange glow across the neatly lined up squadron of RCAF Snowbird planes.

Soon, I would be in one, jetting across the skies with some of the highest trained and  amazingly talented pilots in the Canadian Forces.

All the required safety checks, lessons on how to exit the aircraft in an emergency, and being fitted with a flight suit, helmet and gloves were all mundane, but terribly exciting for this long-time aviation enthusiast.

And I hadn’t even sat in the plane yet.

The Tutor CT-114 jet weighs about 7,170 pounds and the J-85 engine produces 2,700 pounds of thrust, catapulting it to a top speed of 412 knots (750 km/h).

And yeah, it was fast.

Even take-off was amazing. The power up, the signal from the tower and the lead, rocketing down the runway, and then we’re aloft.

The Fraser Valley suddenly seemed smaller.

Trusting my life to pilot Capt. Brent Handy in the number nine jet, the team followed Snowbird one — flown by Maj. Wayne Mott — east towards Agassiz and left towards Harrison Lake.

Handy is an affable man, and from where I sat, a hell of a smooth pilot. The precision with which they all fly is awe-inspiring, even to a non-aviator.

At one point when we’re making a left formation turn over the lake the ex-CF-18 pilot says, “You’ll have to tell me if it’s nice outside.”

His gaze was firmly fixed on the wing of his team member that was mere metres away, and he made all his speed and stick inputs based on the other Snowbird’s position.

And in the interest of full disclosure, no, I did not lose my lunch, but my stomach was definitely annoyed.

When I’m given the opportunity to fly, I seize on it immediately, but a bit of trepidation overcomes me, and I don’t launch into a hard split-S I always imagined I would do if given the chance to try.

In looking below and to the left at one point on the return voyage home, I see some of my media cohorts flying in other planes don’t have the same motion limiting genetics. One pilot takes his passenger through about three rolls. There might have been four, but I couldn’t watch any longer.

The team headed back towards Abbotsford, and we made a couple circuits over Cultus Lake while waiting for the CF-18 pilot to finish his practice run.

Capt. Handy’s expert touch allowed us to land with nary a bump.

My respect for these pilots and the rest of the members of the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron was immense before this journey, and this first-hand experience has done nothing to reduce that.

I’m forever grateful for the opportunity, and would never imagine turning it down, and I’ll be happy for the rest of my life to continue watching the Airshow.

But from the ground.


• For more photos, check out our photo album.

• The Abbotsford International Airshow runs Aug. 10-12, and the Snowbirds fly daily at 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.abbotsfordairshow.com.

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