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Snowbird Pilot Uninjured After Emergency Landing

British Columbia Incident Under Investigation

The Snowbirds—known also as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron—are the military aerobatics flight demonstration team of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The team comprises eighty Canadian armed forces personnel, including 11 pilots and 24 show-team members who travel with the squadron. The aircraft in which the Snowbirds have performed since their 1971 inception is the CT-114 Tutor—a single-engine, jet trainer manufactured by Canadair and employed as the Canadian Forces’ standard training aircraft from 1960 through 2000.

On Tuesday, 02 August 2022, a Snowbirds aircraft suffered what Canadian military officials are calling a hard landing while departing North Peace Regional Airport (CYXJ) in Fort St. John, British Columbia. The aircraft’s pilot is said to have escaped serious injury.

Emergency crews from the North Peace Regional Airport Fire Department converged on a hay-field southeast of the departure end of CYXJ’s Runway-11. The City of Fort St. John Fire Department reportedly arrived to find the fire resultant of the incident already extinguished.

Though the actual cause of the incident remains unknown, a witness reported hearing a sound akin to a plane with engine trouble.

Major Trevor Reid of the Snowbirds Public Affairs Office asserted: "The aircraft did have a hard landing and the sole occupant, the pilot, did not suffer physical injuries but is being medically assessed as per RCAF policies.” Major Reid added: "Our chief concern is with our pilot right now. He's not physically injured but certainly we're cognizant that this is a serious incident for him."

In a Tuesday evening tweet, the Royal Canadian Air Force stated it will be investigating the incident, but released few details.

That military demonstration teams suffer accidents and incidents is a tacitly but universally accepted axiom. Civilians deem the pomp and rush of patriotic fervor inherent watching their nations’ best military pilots roar overhead in breathtaking displays of airmanship worth the intrinsic dangers. Likewise, militaries—the oldest players in the business of risk—are content to expend vast sums of money, tactical assets, and the occasional pilot’s life for solid recruitment numbers and favorable public opinion. The compact falters, however, when strapping young pilots are lost in antiquated aircraft—and therein lies the rub with the Canadair CT-114.

The last CT-114 Tutor was built in 1966. Since 1992, no fewer than five accidents and three incidents involving Snowbird CT-114s have been attributed to mechanical failure. Since 1987, the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds flight demonstration teams have each suffered only one 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 CT-114. Criticisms were also raised about the Tutor’s worsening failure to represent a modern air force.

FMI: www.rcaf-arc.forces


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