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Snowbirds take to skies above Nanaimo harbour for show

The Snowbirds take to the skies above Nanaimo harbour Wednesday (July 31) at about 6 p.m. - Photo contributed
The Snowbirds take to the skies above Nanaimo harbour Wednesday (July 31) at about 6 p.m.
— image credit: Photo contributed

Canada’s famous aerial demonstration team will perform over Nanaimo Harbour to entertain the crowds and raise awareness sky high for the CHILD Foundation.

The RCAF Snowbirds 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, known the world over for its unique form of precision formation flying, will fill the skies over Nanaimo Harbour Wednesday (July 31) at 6 p.m. with the roar of jet engines and music accompanying the show.

The last time the demonstration team performed here was in 2009.

Each year the Snowbirds fly under a theme, which for the 2013 season is The Pursuit of Excellence.

For 2013 the team is also celebrating the 70th anniversary of its formation as a bomber squadron plus their 50th anniversary of flying the Canadian designed and built Canadair CT-114 Tutor jet aircraft, which has proven its longevity and durability in its trainer and demonstration roles.

People can expect to see the Snowbirds’ world class performance with a few changes, said Capt. Thomas Edelson, team spokesman.

“Each year we change the order of the manoeuvres and the formations,” Edelson said. “We add some manoeuvres and formations and some get dropped as well, but it’s a 35-minute show – timed to music – in duration.

“It’s still nine planes in the air and it’s still what people come to expect from the Snowbirds.”

Team members perform with the squadron for two years with about half the team rotating through at a time, ensuring a continual blend of seasoned pilots training new team members.

The squadron has 11 aircraft. Nine are flown in shows with two spares kept in reserve.

During the 35-minute performance, pilots and aircraft will pull G-force loads ranging from minus-two to plus-six.

At six Gs, or six times normal Earth gravity, a man who weighs 80 kilograms will feel as if he weighs 480 kg.

In other words, if the average person’s arm weighs nine kg, at six Gs it will weigh 54 kg. Snowbird pilots endure those physical stresses, while working their aircraft’s controls and maintaining mental concentration, all without the benefits of G-suits, normally worn by jet fighter pilots, that help maintain blood flow to the lungs and brain to prevent pilots from blacking out under high-G manoeuvres.

Snowbird pilots wear normal flight suits.

Edelson, although not a pilot himself, has flown in the backseat for several shows, describes what appears to be an aerial ballet to observers on the ground as a fight in the cockpit.

“It’s quite exhausting, that’s for sure,” Edelson said. “It’s a very intensive 35 minutes with a lot of focus. A lot of people don’t know actually how physical it is when you’re in a very confined little space. It’s very warm and you’re fighting the G forces a lot, so it’s not a walk in the park.”

Edelson, speaking from Fort Saint John where the team had just arrived for a performance Thursday, said audiences are rarely aware of the training, preparation for the shows or even the logistics of simply moving 11 aircraft and 24 air and ground crew around Canada and the U.S.

The Snowbirds also have one support truck that follows the squadron, otherwise the team has to travel light.

“It’s essentially like going camping in a [Mazda] Miata all summer,” Edelson said.

The Snowbirds will fly for Nanaimo Wednesday (July 31) at 6 p.m., but they will arrive at Nanaimo Airport on a special mission today (July 30) where they’ll fly an aerial demonstration before meeting with children suffering from intestinal and liver disorders, their caregivers and CHILD Foundation representatives for a private barbecue at the Nanaimo Flying Club.

The team will base their aircraft at Nanaimo Airport overnight prior to performing Wednesday.

The Snowbirds started promoting for the CHILD Foundation in 2002.

The foundation raises money to find a cure for children suffering from inflammatory bowel disease.

“Each year we participate with one of our primary charities and do a show for the public, but there are aspects of that show where it’s a private social function for some of the kids and families who are working through life with various intestinal and liver problems,” Edelson said. “We just basically bring visibility to their organization.”

The team is encouraging the public to come to the waterfront, watch the show and buy Snowbirds T-shirts and WestJet raffle tickets, proceeds from which support the CHILD Foundation.

For more information on the Canadian aerial demonstration team, please visit www.forces.gc.ca/en/snowbirds/index.page.

Safety zone in effect during show

The Nanaimo Port Authority will start clearing a safety zone in the harbour at 5 p.m., with a full closure to all shipping and aircraft in the harbour in effect by 5:30 p.m. All craft must have cleared the safety zone before the show can start.

The harbour will be re-opened to traffic at 6:50 p.m. pending confirmation that all aircraft have cleared the area.

The safety area perimeter will be marked with white buoys at its corners and yellow buoys along its sides. Harbour Patrol vessels will be positioned outside the safety area.

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