04 JUL 2017: I celebrated Canada’s centenary as a youngster in west Toronto; where my family walked up and down the street with our neighbours banging our pots and pans. Yes, we hooted and hollered whacking our mismatched, dented aluminum cookware and no one got grounded. It was a perfect day, and how I wished every occasion could be feted.  

Fifty years later my celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial year since confederation reached aerodynamic noise levels.

I attended a performance of the Canadian Snowbirds at the Hanover/Saugeen Municipal Airport. My only prior viewing of the CF Air Demonstration Squadron had been limited to a fly-by over the dome at Roger’s Centre on a Labour Day weekend.

In May some performances were cancelled, with Major Patrick Gobeil, the Snowbirds team lead advising the squadron needed more training. It was reported that some jets were out of position at a show in Orlando, and in this line of work there is no settling for “close enough.”

By the time of the Hanover show on June 21, the 431 Demonstration Squadron was in meticulous form, flying nine single-engine Tutor jets in a series of formations often just 1.2 metres apart.

For anyone who appreciates synchrony in sport this event delivers in splendour but it is a feat in aerobatics, delivered through the teamwork of avionics technicians, maintenance officers, logistics engineers and training teams, with a sharp brave decisive pilot at each cockpit.

The audience was appreciative; often gasping in unison, particularly when two solo pilots performed the head-on pass about 10 metres apart when crossing. Jets in this demonstration reach a speed of nearly 600 km/hr, close to the speed of sound.

Two little boys were watching the show with their dad, one wondering out loud if it was dangerous. His brother said no it wasn’t, because the pilots practised. Dad was asked to make a final decision on that and he told them that they were both right, it was dangerous but the pilots were professionals, and had years of practice.

In fact, all members of the Snowbirds are Canadian Forces personnel who have accumulated years of military experience prior to joining the squadron and are selected based on skill and experience and a rigorous series of try-outs to evaluate their formation-flying proficiency.

We marvelled at the aerodynamics but collectively sighed with a group “ahhhhh” as solo pilots released smoke to make the formation of a heart. And then in a way that I could not describe the jets released smoke in measured paths to mimic a maple leaf, causing the airport of onlookers to break into applause.

One of the little boys commented that the jets were close to the sun and he hoped the pilots were wearing sunglasses.

Yet, despite his observation of the height the pilots reached, he and his brother waved to the squadron as they flew above us.

Well, we all did.

Images by Tony Block

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Pam Stellini

Pam Stellini is an original. Her quirky outlook and wry humour defy categorization. Readers have compared her to Erma Bombeck and Art Buchwald with a travel spin – and we're not about to argue. 

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