Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) 50 years of tradition

Fifty years ago, on July 11, Canada’s newest airshow team took to the air for their first major airshow at CFB Moose Jaw.

RCAF Snowbirds team 1971
La première équipe des Snowbirds prête à décoller. (Photo by gracieuseté de Dan Dempsey)

Following in the footsteps of such eminent predecessors as the RCAF Siskins, RCN Grey Ghosts, RCAF Golden Hawks and Canadian Armed Forces Golden Centennaires, the newly named “Snowbirds” were destined to become Canadian icons with millions of fans across North America. The team adopted its name on June 25, 1971 following a “name the team” competition at the base elementary school. We now know that two young students both independently chose the name “Snowbirds” – Douglas Farmer and Cathy Tiller.

The “Saskatchewan Homecoming Air Show” that day was billed as the largest single day airshow in North America that year – and so it was. A total of 52 Canadian Forces aircraft participated in the show supported by 65 technicians with another 15 aircraft from the USAF on display. Also performing were some of the top civilian acts in North America who became good friends with the team – Art Scholl, Al Pietsch, Joe Hughes and his wing-walker Johnny Kazian to name a few. A torrential downpour the evening before the show reduced parking spots to the extent that while 45,000 folks made it onto the base that day, another estimated 40,000 did not, being stuck in a traffic jam that stretched 16 miles back through Moose Jaw and down the highway towards Regina when the show started at 1:00 PM.

Led by Major Glen Younghusband, the team’s performance that day was the first major airshow performance of approximately 2,700 official airshows the team has now flown over the last 50 years across North America. Hundreds of more flypasts have also been flown, including those flown last year and this year under “Operation Inspiration.” And proudly watching from the ground that day was the team’s founder, CFB Moose Jaw Base Commander Colonel O.B. Philp, along with the Commander of Training Command, Major-General Bill Carr, who opened the show followed by a flypast of a combined eight-ship of CF-104s and CF-5s from Cold Lake.

So a toast today to OB Philp and his vision, the 11 volunteer instructors who flew on the team that first season and the group of BAMEO technicians who supported them during their workups in Moose Jaw. They paved the way for all of the teams who have followed.

A member of the RCAF and a Snowbirds aircraft

The first Snowbirds air exhibition team ready to fly.
Scenes from the sky…the Snowbirds in flight during their first airshow in 1971

Scenes from the sky...the Snowbirds in flight during their first  airshow in 1971.

1971 Pilots
Major Glen Younghusband
Capt Gord Wallis
Capt Fred McCague
Capt Chester Glendenning
Capt Laurie Illingworth
Capt George Hawey
Capt Mike Marynowski
Capt Lloyd Waterer
Capt Tom Gernack
Capt Bob Sharpe
Capt Doug Zebedee

1971 Groundcrew Volunteers
Sgt Dick Gaff
Sgt Lorne Foster
Cpl Don Anderson
Cpl Wayne Adams
Cpl Al McFadden
Cpl Ed Torfason
Cpl Bob Nixon
Cpl Mike Thompson

As we salute the 1971 team, we extend our congratulations and best wishes to the 2021 Snowbirds who are carrying on the tradition under the challenging COVID restrictions of this summer. Notwithstanding, one only needs to follow social media posts to see how excited Canadians are to see the team back in the air again.

The volunteers who made up the original Snowbirds groundcrew in 1971. 

PHOTO: DND MI 71-0621, June 29 1971 via J.P. Baraton.

Sic Itur ad Astra
 – – – – – 

Dan Dempsey watched his first airshow as a youngster at RCAF Station Rockcliffe in Ottawa in 1959. From that early exposure grew a passion for flying and airshows that led to a 23 year military career with the Canadian Forces. A graduate of Royal Roads Military College and the Royal Military College of Canada, his military career included tours as a jet instructor, demonstration pilot with Canada’s Snowbirds nine-plane aerobatic team, fighter pilot on the CF-104 Starfighter based in Baden-Soellingen, West Germany and executive assistant to the Commander Air Command. It was during his second tour as commanding officer of the Snowbirds in 1989 and 1990 that he led the team through their 20th anniversary and 1,000th official performance. For his contribution to aviation in Canada, he was named to the Maclean’s magazine annual Honour Roll in December 1990.

Dan Dempsey – Hawk One PilotDan retired from the Canadian Forces in 1993. Dan is now employed as a pilot by Top Aces Inc, a subsidiary of Discovery Air, which provides dedicated combat support training to the Canadian Forces. He was also honoured to join the Centennial Heritage Flight in 2009, one of five pilots who flew Hawk One, the classic F-86 Sabre in Golden Hawk colours, across Canada in celebration of the nation’s 100th anniversary of powered flight.

Source: Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Dan Dempsey, CD – Guest Contributor  – News Article / August 6, 2021

An image of the program from the 
1971 Saskatchewan Homecoming Air Show

PHOTO: Provided by Dan Dempsey

Photo: RCAF Snowbirds –
The logo celebrating the Snowbirds’ 50th season. – An image of the program from the 1971 Saskatchewan Homecoming Air Show – Scenes from the sky…the Snowbirds in flight during their first airshow in 1971. (Photo by gracieuseté de Dan Dempsey – Royal Canadian Air Force

Chris Mcinerney (CANADA XairForces Editor) NORTH AMERICA NEWS  /

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