Last week, I spent several days in 1941, flying the aircraft that were the backbone of Canada’s British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. At more than 230 sites, "the Plan" trained 131,553 aircrew from four nations. Had this not all taken place nearly 30 years before I was born, I suspect that I would have been one of the "draft dodgers in reverse", the more than 6,000 Americans who "fled" to Canada to learn to fly and fight in the days prior to Pearl Harbor. I might even have been persuaded to leave my belov’d Tiger Moth behind, if it meant a turn in a Hurricane or Spitfire.
Tragically, about the time I was tasting the life of the vintage Royal Canadian Air Force, a real pilot in the modern-day Canadian Forces Air Command, Capt. Shawn McCaughey, lost his life and his body was brought home. McCaughey was killed in a crash just three weeks before his wedding while practicing for an airshow with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds in Montana.
Even when I was a kid, long before I found myself with a second life as an honourary Canadian, the Snowbirds were my favorite (favourite) team. There was something about seeing 9 airplanes in the air at once, as opposed to the US teams with their 6, that was always remarkable. The Snowbirds have flown the same aircraft, the CT-114 Tutor, since their inception in 1971. Unlike the frontline fighters of their US counterparts, the Tutor is a low-powered trainer, with a relatively low top speed of just 470 mph. The Snowbirds routine is much more about finesse and energy management than it is about speed and raw power, since their 40-plus-year-old airplanes have so little of both.
Anyone who has never seen them perform should try to catch one of their appearances during the remainder of their 2007 season, which the team has dedicated to the memory of Capt. McCaughey.