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Fri, Sep 23, 2022

RCAF Snowbirds Team Returns To Duty, But No Shows ‘Til 2023

Following Forced Landing in August, Tutor Fleet Paused for Inspection and Cleared for Duty

The Royal Canadian Air Force has cleared its demonstration team for flight once again, but air show fans will be disappointed that they will miss the rest of the 2022 season.

The pause followed a failed takeoff that occurred in Fort St. John in early August that brought the fleet to a stop while investigators began to cast a critical eye at the aging, haggard Canadair CT-114 Tutors in use with the team. While no injuries were sustained in the accident, the near 63-year old aircraft has been a frequent topic of concern for those in the RCAF hoping to speed up the plane’s leisurely replacement schedule.

The Tutor functioned as Canada’s standard jet trainer for nearly half a century, serving faithfully from 1960 through 2000 before being retired in favor of the CT-156 Harvard II (a turboprop contender for its aerobatic replacement) and CT-155 Hawk. Of course, the Tutors used by the Snowbirds demonstrator team live a much harder life than their flight training predecessors, straining and stretching over the lifetime of the aircraft. Many an air show fan have raised an eyebrow at the juxtaposition of Canada’s best aviators representing the country with a trainer plane last produced in 1966. Similar units, like the RAF’s Red Arrows display team, long ago moved into the Tutor’s replacement, changing over to the BAE Hawk T1A.

Perhaps it’s a sense of national pride or the desire to break from the norm, but Canada has not shown much interest in following the same recipe and fielding their CT-155 Hawk to replace the Tutor, only going so far as to acknowledge a Snowbird Aircraft Replacement Program sometime between 2026 and 2030. Those plans may not last, however, should the investigation into August’s takeoff incident bring bad news for the well-worn, high-mileage fleet. The fleet has collected its fare share of groundings, from failed fuel systems to operator error, and each high-profile incident increases the chances of a premature - but well deserved - retirement.

Given the time they’ve gone without performance or practice, the Snowbirds have announced a curtailed 2022 season and plans to return the Tutor fleet to their home in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. They plan to attend the 2023 air show season, however, and will use the remaining months in the year to “take the necessary time to re-train and get back in the air.”

FMI: https://www.canada.ca/en/air-force/services/showcasing/snowbirds.html

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