1969 saw the appointment of a new base commander at CFB Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. On his first tour of this new command, Col. O.B. Phillips discovered, tucked in a back corner of one of the hangars, four of the Tutors assigned to the old display team called the Centennaires. They were put together for Canada’s 100 year birthday in 1967. The aircraft still had all their display equipment mounted and this gave the commander an idea that would become the eventual display team we now know as the Snowbirds!
The Colonel created a four ship team flown by instructors at the school. They were given the title of 2 CFFTS. Their first display was at the Abbotsford Airshow in the summer of 1970. It was a basic display as the higher ups hadn’t cleared the team to fly any sort of aerobatics. Still they wowed the crowd with close formation flying doing basic flight maneuvers that the students were learning back in Moose Jaw. Following the success of the year’s flying, the other 3 Tutor aircraft were pulled out of storage and shipped to Moose Jaw to make a full team. The Aircraft were still in the original Centennaires’ colouring of white on red which they stayed with until the start of the 1974 display season.
The name “Snowbirds” was given to the team after an on base draw that was won by a student pilot named Doug Farmer. The first display flown under the name ”The Snowbirds” was at the Saskatchewan Homecoming Airshow on July 11 1971.
In 1972 the team saw its final expansion to a 9 ship display. The addition of the final two aircraft was to add the two solo pilots. This expansion meant that a full complement of ground crew was needed to ensure not a single show was missed due to mechanical problems. By the end of 1972, the team already had a reputation of excellence in Canada from sea to shining sea!
1973 saw that not only the public held the team in high regard but also the government and Air Force command was beginning to see the benefits of having such an incredible example of what our armed forces were capable of. With this recognition came the approval to finally include a full aerobatics display.
For the beginning of 1974 season, the pilot selection became an open competition among all Air Force pilots. All those applying had to have a certain degree of experience. If accepted for further selection, everything that they did from that point on was watched and assessed, both in and out of the aircraft, and on and off duty!
Every year only four pilots are accepted. It was 1974 that the team started coming to CFB Comox for its final few weeks of training. This now allows the people of the Comox Valley to see and hear the show that will be presented to the North American public. In 1974, the team made history when they became the first aerobatic team to display north of the Arctic Circle.
1978 put fears of the team being broken up to bed. They were given full squadron designation as they became 431 Squadron RCAF. They were extremely proud to accept this squadron number, as 431Squadron had battle honours from the European theatre of World War II. When the Germans capitulated in May of 1945, the squadron moved to the far east to take up the fight against the Japanese. With the sudden end of fighting, the squadron once again moved home to be disbanded in September of 1945.
As the years have progressed, the team has gained an ever increasing honour as one of the top display teams in the world. The number of young children who have watched a show and then known exactly what they wanted to do after finishing school can’t be counted. The team is a shining example of teamwork, dedication and hard work.
This has been a story that barely scratched the history behind the team. On April 13th, the museum starts a summer movie festival. The first movie will be the history of the Snowbirds, showing members of the team, some of the flying and the enormous amount of work that goes into getting a world renown display team into the air.