Snowbirds ready to take flight over Camrose
The Camrose Snowbirds are set to take to the skies over Camrose on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Supplied
All Major Denis Bandet wanted to be when he was growing was a Snowbird.
He saw the Canadian Forces demonstration squadron perform their choreographed aerobatics show when he was young in Regina. The performance inspired him to become a pilot and to serve.
On Wednesday he will lead the Snowbirds into Camrose for a 30-minute show of death-defying tricks and formations.
He has been leading this dream since last summer.
"It's very challenging," he said. "Before, when I was flying in one single position, I had to worry about just my side. Now as the team lead I have to worry about how my profile affects one side of the formation or the other. It is quite different. I embrace that challenge, you're trying to strive for that perfect show, it's very illusive but it's something you chase all the time and try to make it better and better all the time."
The Snowbirds perform about 60 shows a year throughout Canada and the U.S. and they have stopped in Camrose before. But this will be one of the most up-close and personal shows the put on at the tiny confines of the local airport. To take full advantage of this there will be a Maple Split Ice Cream Social for the public to meet the pilots on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and a chance to interact with them after the show on Wednesday.
"It's really great to have that interaction with the community at that level and it creates more of a personal relationship," said Bandet.
He knows full well how important that interaction can be. Getting to see the Snowbirds as a youngster propelled Bandet into a career in the air force. He got his wings in 2000 and was stationed in 4-Wing Cold Lake and has helped train a generation of fighter pilots. He has also flown many NATO missions in the CF-18 Hornet and was also deployed to the Middle East in 2015 during Operation IMPACT in support of the Middle East Stabilization Force.
It was not until 2010 until some of his friends encouraged him to try out for the Snowbirds and he made the squadron as Snowbird 6, outer right wing position. He flew with the nine-plane team for the next three years and was reassigned to Cold Lake when his tour was complete. Last year he returned to the group as Snowbird 1 in the lead position.
He says routines are very much a group discussion as they select from among 48 years' worth of formations and maneuvers, but when they are up in the air everyone takes their cues from him.
The team spends many hours training for the season and building up the stamina and fortitude it requires to perform tricks that will put up to six Gs of force on the body as the planes rocket up to more than 600 kilometres per hour through the air.
Bandet has two favourite tricks, the big diamond combo in the opening sequence where they roll out the nine plane and follow it with a loop. In the closing his favourite trick is called the Canada burst where all nine planes go vertical and then they split them out.
"It looks like a firework going off, it's a lot of fun to fly," said Bandet.
The show is free to the public, though there will be parking fees —$12 in advance, $20 at the gate — and carpooling or taking advantage of other means of transportation, like a free park and ride from the Camrose Recreation Centre and a bike valet run by the Camrose Sea Serpents Swim Club, are highly encouraged.
"There's room for lots of people out there, but we are encouraging people to park and ride and to car pool because airports are built with minimal access points and we want to avoid any unnecessary traffic congestion," said Camrose Flying Club board member Jadene Mah, who also reminds attendees to bring their lawn chair and bug spray.
The air show starts at 7 p.m. and gates open at 4:30 p.m. and people are encouraged to arrive early.
The best place to watch the show will be at the airport. There are major safety concerns at play, if something does go wrong emergency crews need to be able to access the area uninhibited.
As well, the show is set to be played on a very specific stage, and the airport will provide the best views of their maneuvers.
"Not unlike going to the theatre, the best place to watch the show from is going to be the airport where you can hear the full narration of the Snowbirds announcer and the music that is choreographed to the Snowbirds maneuvers," said Mah.
The Camrose Flying Club has received a Community Initiatives Program Grant through the Alberta Lotteries Fund that will go to help cover the costs of hosting the Snowbirds and to on-going public safety costs like fencing and a Foreign Object Debris sweeper for the runway.
They have also received support from the community through sponsorships and volunteers to help ensure the show remains free to the public.
Tickets for the Ice Cream Social are available at Oleo's Ice Cream Castle at Mirror Lake.