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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Moose Jaw Nine from Air & Space Magazine

I’m in the left seat of Snowbird No. 4’s aircraft as the team practices an arrowhead loop formation over a flat January landscape the color of faded wheat near its home base of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. On the pullup and during the float over the top, I keep an eye on Snowbird No. 8, Captain Mark LaVerdiere, the outer wing man, three airplanes away on my left. He maintains his position but there’s a bit more movement than I’m seeing from the aircraft to my immediate left. As we come down the back side, with the call “Power coming up” from the lead aircraft, I try to picture what it must be like keeping LaVerdiere’s outer wing position in a nine-aircraft line-abreast formation. Like the end of a crack-the-whip.

I’m flying with Captain Dave Boudreau, who is the first line-astern position with Canada’s 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Snowbirds. It’s the first half of practice season, and the team hasn’t yet worked up to its nine-airplane formations. But when it does, airshow announcers could well alert the crowds with the Monty Python introduction: “And now for something completely different.”

The Snowbirds don’t even try to mimic their U.S. counterparts, the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds, who fly top-of-the-line jet fighters. There are no high subsonic afterburner-blasting passes; Snowbird performances aren’t about blinding speed and chest-thumping military might. They’re designed, quite simply, to keep the crowds entranced with their formation routines.....

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