Snowbirds visit Aviation Museum in North Saanich

Museum packed with visitors wanting to meet the formation flying team.

  • Aug. 13, 2015 3:00 p.m.

Berger North helped train some of the first Snowbirds pilots ever.

By Carlie Connolly/PNR staff

The B.C Aviation Museum in North Saanich was a busy place Aug. 11 as many came to shake hands and meet members of the  Snowbirds, the formation flying team of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The 11 Snowbirds greeted the many visitors, alongside veterans of the original Snowbirds team, there to share their experiences.

With 55 shows in 25 locations across Canada, the Snowbirds are a busy bunch. The Birds brought their aerobatics to the Victoria waterfront on Wednesday, offering a show  to help fundraise and raise awareness for CHILD — Children with Intestinal and Liver Disorders.

Snowbird 2, flying on the inner right wing, is Victoria’s own Ave Pyne. A helicopter pilot for six years and instructor for three, this is Pyne’s first year on the team and he says that it’s all about trust when you’re in the air.

“You have to have a lot of trust, a huge amount of trust in your teammates, and honesty in this job is absolutely critical,” he says. “People will fly a show, forget that they made a mistake and the next day they’ll bring it up because they want everybody to know about that.”

As far as the training process goes, Pyne says it’s quite intense.

“When we do our tryouts, you have an eight flight flying evaluation to see how you can perform on an aircraft you’ve never flown in your life.”

The first take off is a wing take off in formation and it’s all close flying right from the get go. Once selected to the team, a short conversion training period on the aircraft is completed and then it’s a building blocks process, he says.

Among the Snowbirds were some of the first pilots who helped create the team, one of them nicknamed “Badger.”

Berger North, as is his real name, was a senior instructor and logo designer who trained in Penhold, Alberta and Portage La Prairie, Manitoba in 1955 and 1956.

He completed two tours in the World Air Force on fighters and jet bombers. He later got married to a Canadian girl and settled in 1961. He then joined the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) and travelled to Cold Lake in 1963 to work as an air traffic controller. He would later be stationed in Moose Jaw in 1967 to be an instructor. He was there from 1967 to 1972 and became a senior instructor, teaching some of the first Snowbirds.

North says he attended art college and did a lot of art work in the military.

He and another man were asked by Glen Younghusband, the first Snowbird Lead and retired Major-General to design a logo for them.

He designed the logo for the first air show in 1971 when the Snowbirds were first formed. The following year it was thought  the show would go on for another year or two, so he was asked to design a sticky to go on a baseball cap — which is now, after 45 years, the symbol of the Snowbirds.

North says when it came to the training, it was very intense. The very first teams they had in the ‘70s were ordinary instructors who just did it in their spare time and weren’t reimbursed much. He says it was a year by year thing until it became an icon, and was made into a full-fledged squadron.

“We never ever expected it to last more than two or three years and now it’s 45 years,” he says.

With 30 years in the military and around 25 actual flying years, North said that it’s incredible to see the Snowbirds at the museum and to see how far the team has come along.

“These people weren’t even a twinkle in their mothers’ eyes or future mothers’ eyes when we were doing this because a lot of these guys are in their 20s and 30s. This is the 45th anniversary this year so its just amazing that its gone on like this.”

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