Snowbirds fly high in Manitoba skies

by Derek Gagnon

Southport Airport near Portage la Prairie hosts the Snowbirds, and lots of other entertainment both in the air and on the ground, on Saturday, June 4.

Snowbirds 10 and 11 were at Southport to pre-scout the facilities on March 4, making sure the facilities met the standards for a performance. The Snowbirds have not performed in Manitoban skies since 2009.

Captain Blake “Naughty” McNaughton and Captain Regan “Sticky” Wickett spoke about the importance of the Snowbirds returning to the area.

“Our mission is to connect with Canadians all across Canada,” said Capt. Wickett. “This is an especially important show for us this year, because it’s been a long time since the Snowbirds have had a presence in Manitoba and we’re thrilled to be doing a show back here to reach out to everybody in the southern Manitoba area.”

Wickett promises an impressive aerial show that demonstrates the teamwork of the Canadian Armed Forces.

“It’s nine aircraft in close formation doing dynamic and graceful manoeuvres. It’s everything that gives the thrill of flight, all rolled up into 35 minutes.”

Capt. McNaughton describes the feeling off calling yourself a Snowbird.

“It’s a dream for most of us! We get to do some amazing things with this airplane. We get to travel all across North America with, essentially, our best friends. Visiting with Canadians and Americans young and old and enjoying the air shows and interactions with the public.”

So what’s the primary role of the Snowbirds?

“To inspire,” said McNaughton. “We want to inspire the next generation of pilots to enter Canadian aviation, whether that be civilian or military. Hopefully we’ll encourage them to go towards the military. We want to demonstrate to them the skills, the professionalism and the teamwork that the Canadian Armed Forces represents so that they want to be a part of our team.”

What do you say to a young Canadian who aspires to be a Snowbird
“If you work hard, you can achieve excellence. That’s what we strive for on every mission.

What is the road to becoming a Snowbird? Captain Wickett joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2004, and earned his pilots wings in 2008 and became a Snowbird in 2012. Captain McNaughton started his flying career as a cadet before joining the Forces in 2002. Like Capt. Wickett, he also earned his wings in 2008. McNaughton became a Snowbird in 2015.

For McNaughton, the dream of being a Snowbird has existed since he show them perform when he was 13, but he admits achieving his goal was difficult.

“It’s lengthy, and it’s not an easy road,” said McNaughton. “You have to build up a vast amount of experience and credibility to even be invited to a tryout. Then you go through a tryout process to be selected to the team. Not everybody is successful. You have to be willing to put yourself out there to show who you are as a person. We want good personalities and good representatives of Canadian Armed Forces members, and we also want strong pilots.”

“[The camaraderie is] fantastic. You can place that faith in them because you know they will be dependable. They are like family, and after the amount of time we spend with each other each year on the road they really are family. It’s an amazing experience like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”

“My favourite part about being a Snowbird is seeing the enthusiasm on other people’s faces. They love it, and I see myself in them when I was 13, and I love giving that back. The flying is awesome too!”

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