Snowbirds

The Snowbirds came to town this weekend.
And no, I am not talking about the senior migration coming home from Florida.
I am talking about the jets.
The Snowbird jets that perform their rounds entertaining crowds and wowing us with their aerial aerobatics and stunt manoeuvers with an aplomb and finesse that would make anyone with anything less than ice running through their veins faint.
There's a reason Val Kilmer's character in Top Gun was called ICE.
And it doesn't stand for In Case of Emergency.  Or Internal Combustion Engine.
None of the above.
It stands for the ice ice baby, ice cold, cool as steel, cool runnings, laser focused and dead centred concentration required to operate a vehicle travelling several hundreds of kilometres an hour, several hundreds of feet in the air while in a formation with your fellow pilots who are  sometimes just six feet apart from each other's wing tips.
How is that for nerves of steel.
It is quite a sight to behold.
They fly their jets, small I guess in the grand scheme of airplanes and things, as if they are at one with them.
Tossing and turning and diving and circling, performing patterns in the sky and then, to top it off, they blow smoke out of the back of their jets and create a heart shaped pattern in the sky for all of us to see below.
And then if that's not enough, four planes, each two side by side, create a double smoke heart formation, soaring up and up and then separating at the top and each pair travelling downwards, curving out and blowing smoke and then plummeting towards earth, only to head towards each other, narrowly missing each other it appears, and crossing paths in the sky to finish off the heart shaped double smoke cloud.
It brings tears to the eyes.
What are those pilots thinking?  Perhaps they are not thinking.
Again, in Top Gun, Maverick, Tom Cruise's character, says "Don't think, just do!"
Perhaps they are on auto pilot.  
The patterns and tasks required practised and practised and rehearsed and rehearsed until they are probably doing them in their dreams.
And that is a very good thing.
Because things can go south very quickly.
And I don't mean the direction.
There have been a few casualties over the years.
Several crashes and fatalities and accidents.
In fact the team was grounded for awhile as they investigated a latest mishap.
But now they are back in the air.
Bringing out the crowds in droves, even on a cloudy day with light rain in the forecast.
It is a symbol of patriotic Canadian pride, to watch those Snowbirds.
In their Tutor jets, decorated in red and white on the underside with the Snowbirds logo, a nod to the red and white Canadian flag perhaps.
And the magnitude and significance of the event is not lost on me.
In my glory days as a reporter/anchor at a local tv station I was given the chance to fly in a Snowbird jet.
They were offering media flights as a public relations manoeuver.
The year prior there had been an accident at the Toronto Air Show and a pilot had been killed.
The Snowbirds wanted to reassure everyone that their planes and their show was safe.
And what better way than to reach out to anchors and reporters.
And because one of the pilots was a local person, that was our angle.
I made the application for the interview and flight, and it was granted.
The cameraman and I went to the airport close to Toronto.
We were briefed, and I was suited up, complete with helmet, oxygen mask, coveralls and parachute.
I was instructed on what to do if we had to eject.
The pilot assured me it would not come to that.
The DND photographer was on hand too and took a photo of me in the jet about to take off.
I believe my eyes said it all.
A little bit of trepidation.  A lot of anticipation and excitement.
The next thing I knew, we were off!
Sailing into the great blue yonder.
There were nine jets in all, and we flew in formation, just as they would during an air show.
The fog of memory has blurred many details, but I do remember the highlights.
We were flying over Toronto, and I saw the CN Tower.
The pilot asked if I wanted to fly upside down.  I said "Sure!"
So upside down we went!
When I didn't throw up after that, the pilot asked if I wanted to try Mach 1.
I said "Sure!"
And so, the speed of sound it was!
I think we did a couple of upside down loop de loops at that speed as well.
I found it exhilarating.
I could feel the pressure around my body and it was magnificent.
The pilot said they weren't supposed to do that sort of thing with media guests, but he figured I could handle it.
He was right.
It was the experience of a lifetime.
The highlight of my broadcasting career, I would say.
A career that offered many different opportunities for special things over the years.
But that had to be the zenith.
After we landed, we waited on the tarmac while the pilots all went in for their debriefing.
We waited and waited before we could interview him.
That was what the story was about after all, a local person is now a Snowbirds pilot!
By the time we finished the interview and got back to the station, it was very late.
So late in fact, that the newscast I was supposed to anchor that night was not pre-taped in time.
Everyone was waiting for me to return to tape the newscast.
No one was happy, especially because it was a Friday night.
The newscast did get taped, albeit it was late to air.
A fine end to a fine day.
A day that is forever, mostly, etched in my memory.
To this day, I still feel a special affinity with the Snowbirds.
I believe the same jet that I flew in is probably still up there, flying with a new pilot.
Their performance brings goosebumps to the skin and tears to the eyes.
I know what it is to be up there, looking down, watching the world fly by at hundreds of kilometres an hour.
And it always gives me pause.
Always takes my breath away.
And I always wish them Godspeed.
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