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Fri, Aug 12, 2022

RCAF Snowbirds’ CT-114 Tutor Fleet Grounded

Airworthiness of 1960s Jets In Question

The CT-114 Tutor aircraft flown by the Canadian Royal Air Force’s Snowbirds flight demonstration squadron have been ordered grounded until a deliberate, detailed, and broad airworthiness risk-assessment can be completed.

The move was ordered by the Operational Airworthiness Authority for the RCAF, Maj. Gen. Iain Huddleston, with consultation from the Directorate of Flight Safety, and experts from Canada’s Department of National Defense.

General Huddleston somewhat prosaically stated: “Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft cannot be flown unless they are determined to be airworthy and safe to fly.”

The grounding comes in the wake of a 02 August 2022 incident that saw a Snowbirds CT-114 make what Canadian military officials called a hard landing in a field southeast of Runway 11 at North Peace Regional Airport (CYXJ) in Fort St. John, B.C. The pilot of the downed Tutor—despite an impact-site fire—escaped harm. The cause of the incident remains under investigation.

Referring to the August occurrence, General Huddleston added: “Given that the cause of this accident remains to be determined by the Airworthiness Investigative Authority, I have ordered an operational pause on the CT-114 Tutor fleet as we continue the investigation and commence a thorough operational airworthiness risk assessment process. “We will return the fleet to flying operations when it is safe to do so, and in accordance with our rigorous airworthiness program.”

Built by Canadair between 1963 and 1966, the CT-114 Tutor is a rudimentary, low-wing, two-place, training aircraft powered by a single General Electric J85 turbojet engine producing 2,650-pound-feet of thrust. The Tutor—after the fashion of training aircraft—is an inherently stable platform with a maximum speed in the 420-knot range and a service ceiling of 44,500-feet.

Since 1992, no fewer than five accidents and three incidents involving Snowbird CT-114s have been attributed to mechanical failure. Comparatively, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration teams have—since 1987—each suffered only a single accident attributable to mechanical failure.

A 2003 study conducted by Canada’s Department of National Defense recommended the immediate procurement of new aircraft to replace the Snowbirds’ CT-114s by 2010.  Subject report posited that "with each passing year, the technical, safety and financial risk associated with extending the Tutor into its fifth decade and beyond, will escalate.” Engineers party to the report cited the inevitability of metal fatigue and parts failure, outdated ejection seats, and antiquated avionics as reasons for replacing the Tutor.

Regardless the outcome of the pending airworthiness assessment, the CT-114’s lackluster safety record cannot be expunged any more than its age can be diminished. That Canadian officials—despite the urging of credentialed boffins to the contrary—have seen fit to prolong the Snowbirds’ use of the antiquated Tutor is vexing. Trudeau and his cronies ought bear in mind that public favor curried on governmental expense forms is quickly and irrevocably lost on pilots’ death certificates. 

FMI: www.canada.ca

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