Snowbird pilot works hard at ‘giving good ride,’ prepares for drive-in Abby air show

Abbotsford air show this year will perform for spectators in vehicles

Article content

What looks from the ground like effortless precision and symmetry by the Snowbirds flying in formation during a flypast is really a lot of hard work and constant correction in the cockpit.

Advertisement

Article content

The farther the jets are from the “boss” jet in a nine-member formation, the harder it is for those pilots on the outer wings to see the boss past those jets on the inner wings, said Capt. Arpit Mahajan, who, at 28, is the Canadian Snowbirds’ youngest pilot.

“So I have to be a little more stable and fly smoother,” said Mahajan, an inner right wing pilot, who landed at Abbotsford airport on Wednesday in preparation for the Abbotsford International Airshow this Friday through Sunday. “We call it giving good ride.”

“The reality is when you’re closer to the boss, it’s easier to fly and you have to be less ratchety, less jittery, less pitchy, we call it,” he said. That gives the outer pilots an “easier time of flying, because they’re seeing through me.”

Advertisement

Article content

Pilots don’t yell at each other for a poor ride because we “leave our egos at the door,” but they do discuss shortfalls in the post-fly debriefing.

“We take responsibility for that (shortfalls) and we’re all open to feedback and criticism. That helps me assess where the problem is” and to fix it on the next trip,” said Mahajan. “That’s what makes the Snowbirds so good.”

Preparations are underway for the annual Abbotsford Airshow. Returning are crowd favourites CF-18s.(Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG)
Preparations are underway for the annual Abbotsford Airshow. Returning are crowd favourites CF-18s.(Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG) Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

The air show, cancelled last year by COVID, is going ahead this year with a twist that will lend the feel of a drive-in theatre to the annual spectacle. Instead of parking and walking in by foot, spectators will drive their vehicles into the site and each will park in a seven-by-seven metre patch of the parking lot to watch the three hour-plus show above them.

Advertisement

Article content

They are invited to bring chairs, blankets, umbrellas and takeout or picnic food but must remain in the area about the size of a Vancouver studio apartment except to go to the washroom. Car-hopping or congregating with other spectators is not allowed.

The “SkyDrive,” as organizers call it, will allow the popular event to go ahead almost as it had in pre-COVID times.

The show itself is the same, but there won’t be the chance to meet and greet pilots or Air Force personnel, see the jets up close or buy food or merchandise from vendors, said the air show’s Jadene Mah.

“It’s kind of like a tailgate party, where you have the comfort of the family vehicle next to you,” she said.

Tickets, available only online and not at the gate, start at $119 for a vehicle, which can carry up to six spectators. Admission is limited to 1,500 vehicles for each of the four shows, she said.

Advertisement

Article content

The experience will be different this year without spectators and the chance to interact with the public and give out autographs, said Mahajan, who grew up in Metro Vancouver and attended the Abby show as a kid.

Preparations are underway for the annual Abbotsford Airshow. Returning are crowd favourites Snowbirds.(Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG)
Preparations are underway for the annual Abbotsford Airshow. Returning are crowd favourites Snowbirds.(Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG) Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

But he is looking forward to flying this weekend as the Snowbirds have been doing this year in a cross-Canada tour designed to boost morale during the pandemic and salute front-line workers.

Tragedy struck the tour on the 2020 May long weekend when pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall and public affairs officer Jennifer Casey ejected after a bird strike caused the jet’s engine to fail just after takeoff from Kamloops airport. Casey died and MacDougall was injured after landing on the roof of a house. He is recovering and has returned to work doing administrative duties at the Moose Jaw base but hasn’t yet returned to flying, said Snowbirds spokesman Capt. Gabriel Ferris.

The Snowbirds have performed at air shows across Canada and the U.S. for decades and are considered a key tool for raising awareness about and recruiting for the air force. It obtained its Tutor jets in 1963 and has used them in air demonstrations since 1971. Before last May’s crash, seven pilots and one passenger had been killed and several aircraft had been lost over the course of the Snowbirds’ history.

slazaruk@postmedia.com

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

This website uses cookies and asks your personal data to enhance your browsing experience.