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.
By Jason Grunsell | 10 June 2021
I am in awe of military aviation, specifically military aerobatic demonstration teams. Last year it was my privilege to interview Lt. Col Bandet the Commanding officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force aerial demonstration team, the Snowbirds. May is traditionally the time the Snowbirds team migrates from their home base of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to Canadian Forces Base Comox on Vancouver Island to complete their pre-season training schedule. I had hoped to follow up my Snowbirds article with a visit to CFB Comox to meet the team, sadly Covid restrictions did not permit me to visit the base. I was scratching my head trying to come up with a follow up article without being able to meet the team or take my own pictures. Then it hit me why not ask if it would be possible to interview one of the solo demonstration pilots and get some GoPro footage from inside the cockpit. Thanks to the generosity of Captain Gabriel Ferris the Public relations officer of the Snowbirds I was able to interview Snowbird 9 the Opposing Solo and to get a few minutes of in cockpit footage.
During my initial contact with Captain Ferris he asked me what pilot I would like to interview. My first thought was to look for a pilot native to British Columbia, of which there were several candidates but then it occurred to me to take a look at the two solo pilots on the team. When I noticed that Snowbird 9 had participated in an exchange tour of duty with the US Navy that culminated in his qualifying to fly off a US aircraft carrier I knew I had found my man. I am fascinated by naval aviation. One of my favorite documentaries is called Carrier which is a 2005 PBS documentary series that over the course of ten episodes followed the six month deployment of the US nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. Interestingly one of the aviators that was featured in the documentary was Commander Dave Fravour the commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron VF-41 Black Aces who has since come to prominence as a witness to the famous TikTok UFO video on a training run over the pacific.
In a stroke of serendipity, Snowbird 9 has a rather unique call sign. For those unfamiliar with the term a call sign is given to a military pilot and is a specialized form of nickname that is used as a substitute for an aviator’s given name. Call signs are bestowed by fellow aviators at the end of training usually relating to some event or behavior exhibited by the aviator. So you don’t get to chose your call sign and be a real cool dude like Maverick and Iceman from Top Gun fame. I only found out Snowbird 9’s call sign when I came across a YouTube video of him giving the USAF F-35A 2019 season demo pilot, Major Andrew ‘Dojo’ Olson, a flight with the Snowbirds. Snowbird 9 is Major Taylor Evans call sign ‘McLovin’. For those familiar with the 2007 coming of age teen comedy movie Superbad the name “McLovin” is synonymous with the character of Fogell who gets a fake Hawaiian driving license with name ‘McLovin’ in order to purchase alcohol for a house party. Indicative off my juvenile sense of humor I found this movie hilarious. It was icing on my cake that the solo pilot I chose to interview has this particular call sign, clearly a good omen that this article was meant to be.
So what is the story behind Major Evans call sign? Well when Major Evans went to fighter pilot training he was was of the youngest trainees in the class and as the Major recalls he looked even younger when he had a full head of hair. He looked so young that he was constantly being asked to show his identification when he and his squadron went out to the bar. People could not believe he was flying a CF-18 Hornet fighter jet let alone being the age to legally consume alcohol. During the review boards one of his fellow pilots yelled out ‘McLovin’ and everyone thought that was an appropriate call sign for Major Evans. During his exchange tour with the US Navy, Major Evans had the distinction of meeting up with a US naval aviator who also bore the ‘McLovin’ call sign. These days only an older generation recognize the call sign from the movie, while a younger audience think it has something to do with McDonalds.
Prior to becoming a Snowbird Major Evans had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program with the United States Navy. Major Evans had no idea if he would be accepted into the program or where he might go on exchange if his application was successful only that it would be outside of Canada. As luck would have it Major Evans was offered an exchange posting with the US Navy at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach Virginia as an instructor with VFA 106 Gladiators flying the legacy F-18A/B/C/D Hornet and the F-18E/F Super Hornet. The legacy F-18B model flown by the US Navy is a two seat aircraft and is used to train new pilots. It is very similar to the CF-18B model flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Major Evans had to learn to fly a whole new model with the F-18E Super Hornet (which is a single seat fighter aircraft), and the F-18F is a two seat version of the Super Hornet. While Flying F-18F Major Evans would instruct trainee Weapons System Officers (WSO). A by product of being dual qualified meant that Major Evans would fly a training mission in the morning in a brand new F-18E Super Hornet which still had that new car smell with only twenty hours of flight time on the airframe and then switch around in the afternoon to flying a thirty year legacy F-18B or F-18D model that needed some coaxing to fly. The highlight of his exchange came near the end of his tour when Major Evans was certified to land and take off from a nuclear aircraft carrier. The month and a half training was primarily carried out in simulators before commencing touch and go landings at an auxiliary airfield using the optical landing system (nicknamed the meatball or simply the ball) to give glide path information to pilots in the terminal phase of landing on an aircraft carrier. Major Evans qualified with ten daytime traps on the carrier, and four night time landings, these being the most challenging. Major Evans said the most exhilarating sensation was the three second catapult launch off the deck of the aircraft carrier. He especially remembers launching off the deck of the carrier for the first time all alone in a F-18C Hornet, “it was an incredible experience. The takeoff is wild, you can’t comprehend how fast you’re able to fly.” Upon completion of his three year tour Major Evans moved back to Canada and then in 2018 he joined the Snowbirds as the Opposing Solo. A position he once again occupies.
In addition to his call sign, Major Evans also holds a unique place within the history of the Snowbirds. Snowbird pilots usually undertake a two year tour of duty with the team before transferring to other duties. Major Evans joined the team in 2018 and was selected to fly as the Opposing Solo. The Opposing Solo will then transition to Lead Solo (Snowbird 8) in the following year which Major Evans did before leaving the team at the end of the 2019 season. The Snowbirds experienced a turbulent 2020 with the pandemic and the tragic loss of Public Affair Officer Captain Jennifer Casey in an accident in Kamloops. As a result of this several members of the Snowbirds left the team which necessitated bringing back several previous Snowbirds to fill in the gaps. Major Evans was one of those ex Snowbirds who was brought back into the team, ironically he was asked to fill the position of Opposing Solo. The Snowbird pilot who was the Opposing Solo when Major Evans was the Lead Solo is now the Lead Solo which is certainly a first time experience for the Snowbirds.
It is fascinating to glean insights into the world of military aerobatic flying. The concentration required to stay in formation often precludes the pilots from viewing some of the spectacular scenery or events they are flying over during the display. Major Evans recalled a particular moment where this happened while flying with two other military aerobatic teams, the USAF Thunderbirds and the US Navy Blue Angels. Having all three display teams flying together is a rare event, and a heavily choreographed one. Major Evans recalled only seeing the Thunderbirds from his side of the formation for a few seconds before the teams re-joined and then he was on the wrong side of the formation. “I knew the other teams were out there, but I couldn’t see them.” When I spoke to members of the Royal Air Force aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, about their historic flight down the Hudson River in formation with the Thunderbirds, two F-35 Lightnings and a pair F-22 Raptors they could only recall brief moments viewing the iconic skyline of New York. Somewhat ironic that military display teams are given permission to fly over unique venues and they are not always be able to take in the splendor of their surroundings during the display. Teams get to enjoy the scenery when they are transiting to their next show venue.
The two solo performers on the Snowbirds team fly some of the more dynamic aspects of the display. A crowd favourite is the head on pass where two aircraft appear to be on course to collide before veering away at the last moment. This is an optical illusion intended to make the audience gasp when in fact the pilots aim for the planes to be approximately thirty three feet away from one another during the pass. The most challenging/dangerous area of the solo demonstration is applying low level aerobatics where the hard deck is three hundred feet above the ground. The solos are forbidden from descending below this height during the display. The danger in low altitude aerobatics is the limited time to safely avoid an accident such as flying into the ground. Even more challenging is flying upside down and staying three hundred feet above the ground. Major Evans is rather fond of the mirror roll maneuver, which can be seen when two Snowbirds fly cockpit to cockpit, with one aircraft flying horizontal to the ground and the other aircraft flies upside down above the horizontal aircraft. Major Evans is looking straight up into the cockpit of the the Lead Solo Snowbird 8. The two Snowbirds then perform a barrel roll as both aircraft rotate through three hundred and sixty degrees. The trick as Major Evans puts it is to match the roll rates of the other pilot so the aircraft appear to be a match rather than being out of sync with one another. Training, training and more training enable the Snowbird pilots to perform these dangerous maneuvers. The solos begin training at a higher altitude and gradually working their way down to the three hundred foot hard deck. It is crucial both pilots are very consistent in how they fly the maneuver.
When flying in the Big Diamond formation. which comprises all nine Snowbird aircraft Major Evans is on the far left of the formation. His primary reference point is Snowbird 1 or the ‘Boss’ who is at the front of the Big Diamond. The ‘Boss’ flies out in front of every formation. Major Evans is constantly watching the Boss’ for movements in his wings, and control surfaces , while at the same time using his peripheral vision to scan for Snowbird 3. in addition to using reference points on each other’s aircraft to remain in formation the eight Snowbird pilots are also listening to the cadence of Snowbird 1, Major Jean-Francois Dupont, as he leads the team through the various aerobatic maneuvers. Aerobatic displays are a set of carefully choreographed maneuvers that demand specific timing, spatial awareness, hand eye coordination, and precise flying behavior. This is brilliantly demonstrated by this amazing in cockpit footage (provided by Captain Ferris) of Major Evans as he practices with the Snowbirds in formation above CFB Comox. What an absolute privilege to be given this footage and to be able share it with my readers.
Major Evans and the rest of the Snowbirds are looking forward to a full display season here in Canada and the United States in 2021. Personally I cannot wait until July 18 when the Snowbirds will be doing a flyover over my home town of Vancouver. I will be paying particular attention to Snowbird 9. I want to thank Major Taylor ‘Mclovin’ Evans for taking the time to talk to me and to Captain Ferris for making this interview possible and for providing me and my readers with the out of this world cockpit footage of Major Evans and the team practicing over CFB Comox. It was a thrill and honor to share the cockpit with McLovin himself. The Snowbirds truly are Warriors of the Air (Hatiten Ronteriios).
From Canadian Aviation News: CF Snowbirds Facebook post notes delay to 11:15 am
Canadian Forces Snowbirds Confirm Performance at Airshow London 2021
London, Ontario – June 3, 2021 – Airshow London is extremely excited to announce the addition of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds to an already thrilling list of performers for SkyDrive 2021, Canada’s original drive-in air show, taking place August 27-29 at the London International Airport.
Airshow London is proud to welcome back Canada’s national military demonstration team as they continue last year’s Operation Inspiration, uniting and inspiring Canadians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Flying under Operation Inspiration will also provide the opportunity to carry on the legacy of Captain Jenn Casey, the Snowbirds Public Affairs Officer, who was pivotal in creating this cross-country tour last year. Both the Snowbirds and CF-18 Demonstration team are honoured to continue this work and Airshow London is honoured to host both teams this August.
The air show itself will offer a rare and exciting line-up of Canadian and American Forces aircraft, headlined by the United States Navy Blue Angels. Additional confirmed performances include the United States Air Force F-16 Viper Demonstration and C-17 Globemaster Demonstration. This year’s added Friday night show will also feature a special flyby from two United States Air Force B-1B Lancers. Airshow London is looking forward to announcing more performers leading up to the show.
“As a proud Canadian air show, we look forward to hosting both our national teams in an effort to continue to unite Canadians through Operation Inspiration. We invite our community to join us, support us and get excited with us, as we get back together in a safe and responsible way,” says Jim Graham, Chair, Airshow London.
This is the second year for Airshow London’s socially responsible and physically distant drive-in format, following last year’s hugely successful sold out event and the only air show to take place in Canada.
Tickets for the show must be purchased in advance and are sold per vehicle for up to 6 passengers. Tickets can be purchased at airshowlondon.com.
For more information and the full list of performers, visit airshowlondon.com or @airshowlondon on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
By The Canadian Press | Sat., May 29, 2021
HALIFAX – Organizers of Air Show Atlantic have announced the cancellation of this year’s event because of ongoing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The air show was scheduled for August 28 to 29 in Debert, N.S.
In a news release, the Nova Scotia International Air Show Association says it has cancelled this year’s production because it can’t create a “safe, executable event” within the time required.
Organizers say they can’t be sure that they will be able to bring performers into the Atlantic travel bubble once it opens.
They also can’t currently get assurances from Nova Scotia health officials on what restrictions and quarantine requirements will be in place.
They say most critically, they aren’t in a financial position to risk mounting a show that is largely dependent on gate revenues and good weather.
Organizers say they want to be around to produce air shows for decades and as a not-for-profit, they must “err on the side of caution and live to fight another day.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2021.
18 May 2021
May 17, 2021
Kamloops, BC – Today marks one year since the devastating Snowbirds crash in Kamloops during Operation INSPIRATION. This event rocked our community and the entire nation. This morning, the City of Kamloops was joined by Captain Jennifer Casey’s partner, Captain Scott Boyd, to announce plans for a new, permanent memorial at the future Fulton Field Park, which will be located on Tranquille Road between Airport Road and Aviation Way.
“This was a tragedy that rocked our community to the core and an event that will remain a part of Kamloops history,” said Mayor Ken Christian. “The Brocklehurst neighbourhood was particularly affected, and we would like to honour the community, the Snowbirds, and Captain Jennifer Casey through curated memorials at Fulton Field Park. The park will be a place of observation, remembrance, and honour for the history of the Canadian military and the Snowbirds within our community.”
“It is hard to believe that it has already been one year since the tragic accident that claimed the life of my partner and best friend Jenn,” said Captain Scott Boyd. “The kindness, compassion, and support shown by the community of Brocklehurst, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, Shuswap Nation, and the Rocky Mountain Rangers on that day and over the past year has been absolutely incredible. The City of Kamloops will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I could not be more proud to be a Canadian and a British Columbian. “
“Once again, the City of Kamloops has shown us their unwavering support and warmth of their hearts by honouring the memory of Captain Jenn Casey and 431 Air Demonstration Squadron. We are honoured to see this park dedicated to the team and to now be an integral part of the Kamloops culture,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Denis Bandet, Commanding Officer of 431 Air Demonstration Squadron.
About the Park
Fulton Field Park will be located on Tranquille Road between Airport Road and Aviation Way and is currently in the design stage. The park vision includes flower beds, pathways, bench seating, and an artist tribute memorial to Captain Jennifer Casey and the Snowbirds as well as curated boards describing the history of Fulton Field and Kamloops’ connection to the Canadian military.
Fulton Field Park is scheduled to be constructed in 2023 in conjunction with a beautification and road project along Tranquille Road.
The Snowbirds, officially known as the Canadian Forces Snowbirds 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, are the military aerobatics team of the Royal Canadian Air Force. What began as an exercise to raise morale across Canada, “Operation INSPIRATION” turned tragic when one of the jets crashed shortly after takeoff in the Brocklehurst neighbourhood and resulted in the loss of life of public affairs officer Captain Jennifer Casey and the serious injury of pilot Captain Richard MacDougall. The tragedy took place on May 17, 2020, with the cause of the crash later determined to be a bird strike, which caused a compressor to stall and ended in loss of power to the engine.