Christopher Connors · June 13, 2021
SYDNEY, N.S. — Ever since Capt. Steve MacDonald was four years old, he knew he wanted to be a member of Canada’s iconic Snowbirds aerobatics team.
And now, after a brief hiatus flying commercial airplanes, the New Waterford native is back in the cockpit of a CT-114 Tutor jet helping the squadron prepare to wow audiences across the continent this summer.
“Becoming a Snowbird was always a lifelong goal to me,” said MacDonald, who will turn 45 later this month. “I enjoyed it immensely the first time and I missed it since I left.”
MacDonald credits his father, Daryl MacDonald, with helping him fall in love with flying. They would travel every year to the Shearwater International Airshow where he would stand at the fence line to collect autographs from the elite flight demonstration pilots as they walked off the tarmac.
“I realized they were humans and not superheroes, which they seemed to be when I was a kid.” “I would go to that airshow every year religiously. I was just hooked,” he said, adding that the Snowbirds encouraged him to make his dream a reality.
MacDonald said he’s honoured to be able to do the same now.
“That is our motto on the Snowbirds is to demonstrate the professionalism, skill and teamwork of the Canadian Forces in general — we represent all three, the army, navy and air force — we’re a recruiting platform. I was an inspired kid and I just absolutely love the opportunity to be able to give that back.”
Daryl MacDonald said he recalls the moment he knew his son was destined to join the air force.
“I have a picture of him with the headset on sitting in the pilot’s seat, hands on the control. The smile on his face — I just knew it — he was on his way. That was his trail.” “I have a picture to prove it,” he said. “One of our trips up to Shearwater, they had a lot of static displays there, planes that you can go on and get a tour of, and he got into the Aurora and they took him right up into the cockpit.
When he was 12, Steve MacDonald joined the 587 Whitney Pier Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron where he earned his glider licence and then private pilot’s licence.
His mother, Alice MacDonald, said she clearly remembers the first time she flew with her son.
“I was so nervous, but I thought, ‘I have to do this to show him that I believe in what he was doing.’ I wanted him to have a normal career, like a teacher or an engineer, but he said, ‘Mom, if I could fly, I’d feel like I was on vacation every day of my life,’” she said, noting that he got his pilot’s licence before he obtained his driver’s licence.
“So, I went on that flight with him, and when I could hear him talk to the air traffic controller, that’s when I realized this boy knows what’s he’d doing,” she added.
“And he was so respectful of me and his family because every time he would bank, he would say, ‘I’m going to bank to the right, or bank to the left,’ and he said, ‘We’re going to be hitting some turbulence, but I can’t control that.’ So, it was after that flight that I knew he had to fly, and I had to let go of my nervousness for me as his mother.”
ALWAYS A SNOWBIRD
After receiving his Canadian Forces wings in 2002, Steve MacDonald was posted to Greenwood, N.S., where he flew the CP-140 Aurora, a long-range patrol aircraft used for various missions over land and water.
In 2012, he was selected to join the Snowbirds and spent 2013 and 2014 with the team before he was posted back to the 404 Squadron and once again instructed on the Aurora. In 2015, he retired from the Canadian Forces to become an airline pilot for WestJet, and then Air Canada, while also serving as a reservist with 413 Search and Rescue squadron.
However, MacDonald said when the Snowbirds asked him to return, he did not hesitate.
“They say once you’re a Snowbird, you’re always a Snowbird,” he said, “and they tend to migrate back if they have the opportunity to.”
Chris Connors is a multimedia journalist at the Cape Breton Post.