The Snowbirds are in town for the Manitoba Air Show this weekend and I was one of the few lucky journalists who got to fly along with the iconic Royal Canadian Air Force squadron.
Growing up I've had a chance to see the Snowbirds, but only from the ground. It's hard not to be impressed with the tight formations from any vantage point.
But it was not until Friday morning, while sitting alongside Captain Matthew Hart in Snowbird 5, that I truly got an appreciation for the extraordinary expertise of the pilots.
The planes fly so close, their wing tips get to within a meter of each other — something that's hard to appreciate from the ground. And so is the feeling of hoping the pilot knows exactly where to stop.
My pilot for the day, Capt.Hart, is in his second year with the Snowbirds. The Confederation College aviation grad says flying with the Snowbirds is something he's wanted since he was a boy.
"For a lot of us it was a dream since we were young. It's just one of those things that it's kind of in your blood," Hart said while we scream through the air at nearly 500 km/h.
He admitted that even after thousands of hours of flying time, it never gets old.
The seat check is the point when you pause for moment. While listening to instructions of — "in the event of an emergency" — I was told oxygen masks do not fall from the ceiling.
Instead, I'm supposed to pull the eject lever below my seat. I was told I could expect to regain consciousness while drifting slowly down to earth. Since this is the military, there is a contingency plan — in the event I wake up and my chute hasn't deployed — there is a pin I can pull to manually deploy the parachute.
Sounds risky? No one says it isn't
Capt.Hart and all the other Snowbirds know the risks. They know things can go terribly wrong. Just yesterday, a pilot with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels acrobatic flying team died when his F/A-18 fighter jet crashed near Nashville, Tenn.
While the team mourns for the pilot who passed away and the friends and family left behind, they still hear the call to duty. Hart says the team tries to minimize those risks by flying twice a day.
"We trust each other with our lives. We're pretty close with each other 12 months of the year," said Hart.
"We train like we fight and fight like we train. There are risks involved in a lot of jobs out there but that doesn't take away from the enjoyment and the pride. The ability to get out to air shows, and show people what the Air Force can do, it's profound."
For those of you interested in experiencing the Snowbirds from the ground, an exciting show is planned.
Along with the Snowbirds, the Manitoba Air Show will feature a CF-18 Hornet, a parachute demonstration from the Skyhawks, an aerobatic show from Sky Dancer, Anna Serbinenko and a few vintage military planes along with other exhibits including a car show and artisan market.
General admission is $25, kids 12 and under are free. The Air Show starts at noon on Saturday but the gates open to the public at 9:30 a.m. and aircraft start arriving as early as 9:00 a.m.