October 3, 2022 By Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Pentiction Herald
Grounded in Penticton for the last two months the Canadian Armed Forces Snowbirds are flying once again.
Just after noon Thursday, the nine familiar red and white CT-114 Tutor jets took off in a row from Penticton Regional Airport.
Rejoining over Skaha Lake in their classic Big Diamond formation, the planes did a smoke-on, flypast as a tip of the hat to the city that’s been their home away from home this summer.
“This is just a small thank you to Penticton residents for all the support we’ve received, especially the last month and a half,” said Major Brett Parker, Snowbird 1 pilot and team leader. “It’s also a way of saying goodbye to those whose hospitality was amazing during Peachfest and we just can’t thank the community enough.
“Let’s be honest, Penticton’s a fantastic city to come to, in my opinion you can’t get any better in Canada than Penticton.”
On Aug. 2 after arriving in Penticton the team got an immediate no-fly order from headquarters following the crash of another Snowbird in Fort. St. John.
The grounding of the Tutors happened the day before the Snowbirds were to perform at the Penticton Peach Festival and effectively spelled the end of their season with the cancellation of the remaining shows.
The pilot was not injured and the Fort St. John accident which was reportedly the result of an improperly assembled oil filter. After determining the cause, the operational pause on the fleet was lifted just over a week ago.
At that time the pilots began their recurrency training on the several remaining Tutor jets in Moose Jaw as required after not having flown for 30 days.
“It’s just so great to be back in the air, to go out there and pull some G (gravitational force) and get the feel back,” said Parker.
Someone else who is glad to be back in the saddle is first-year Snowbird, Capt. Thomas Thornton.
“It really is so good to be flying again , there were a little bit of nerves at the beginning for the first flight but it comes back quick,” said Thornton Thursday morning as the planes were being readied for take off. “It’s amazing to be on the team and this year didn’t turn out the way we wanted but that’s aviation and you roll with it.”
While this is the sixth season with the Snowbirds for Parker it was his first as team lead so flying again was just a little bitter sweet.
“Sure, it’s been a challenging season but even the limited opportunity we’ve had, it’s been great to be on the road and saying `hi’ to all the Canadians who have given us outstanding support,” said the 48-year-old who has over 5,000 hours of flying time with the Canadian military.
This is his second go-round with the Snowbirds, having flown with them from 2010 to 2014 and then rejoining the team in 2020.
Parker still vividly remembers what the he now calls his first “revenue” show in front of an audience.
“It was the 2010 Grey Cup and it was in Edmonton and it was my home town and pretty special for me as a new guy just trying to figure out how to do the best job that I could,” he said. “On that flight, even though I’m looking at the aircraft in front of me, in my peripheral vision I can see Commonwealth Stadium coming up and then the fireworks start and it’s, `oh my gosh, I’m doing the Grey Cup flypast in my own hometown, it’s amazing, my childhood dreams come.”’
And it’s flights like that he hopes to share with the new recruits joining the team next year.
“Being the team lead I am the oldest one but I also have the fattest log book and I’ll try to get those pilots to utilize some of my experiences to develop their own skills,” said Parker.
The Snowbirds are still scheduled to do a year-end show at their Moose Jaw home base later next month before gearing up for 2023 season.