Saturday, December 11, 2004

Snowbird Sorrow

Canada has lost another hero and the Snowbird family and the Canadian Forces are in mourning. Captain Miles Selby had served his country faithfully and fearlessly for thirteen years; saw combat over Kosovo; and was part of what is Canada's best ambassador to the world - the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.

It is at times like this that some people like to rush to judgment. There is no question that the Canadian Forces is in very serious trouble due to government neglect and negligence that approach criminal levels. To simply call for the Snowbirds' disbandment because of an accident shows a deep lack of understanding of the value and importance of this Canadian icon.

For thirty-two years, the Snowbirds have thrilled millions of spectators at airshows around North America. They have become just about the most recognized symbol of Canada and, along with the RCMP Musical Ride and the Canadian Forces Skyhawks, they are much better ambassadors for our country than any politician from any party could ever be. I'd be hard pressed to lose money in saying that more Americans have heard of the Snowbirds than have ever heard of Paul Martin or anyone else in Ottawa.

I have known many, many Snowbirds over the years and have had two trips with the team during practices, one on Canada Day over Parliament Hill. Having organized several airshows; having seen the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, USAF Thunderbirds, RAF Red Arrows, Patrouille de France, the Russian Knights, many non-jet teams, and having flown with the Italian Frecce Tricolore; there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Snowbirds are at the top of the ladder. That doesn't mean that they have the most spectacular aircraft or the flashiest "side-show". It means that, in the air and on the ground, they are consummately professional and precise, and engender nothing but pride in the hearts of any Canadian who is around them. Their professionalism is matched by their easy-going and fun-loving attitude, in contrast to some of their more anal contemporaries. Airshows are simply better with the Snowbirds than with any other team.

Accidents happen and they are a part of doing the business of military aviation. Instead of jumping to a convenient conclusion for political reasons, let's look at ways to continue the great contribution that the Snowbirds make to military aviation, recruitment, and Canada's image with the public, at home and abroad.

I have advocated in the past that the Snowbirds are much more than an Air Force Squadron. For reasons I have already alluded to, they are a national program and a national treasure. As such, they should be financially supported by more than the Department of National Defence.

The Snowbirds represent a lot more Canadian Heritage than many of the things that we waste taxpayers' money on today. I think that more Canadians would go to watch an airshow than would trek into the forests of Manitoba to view a work of art paid for by you and me and called "A Salute to Putrefaction", consisting of dead rabbits hanging to rot from tree branches. I think that more Canadians would rather get a ticket to an airshow in the mail than a small Canadian flag from Sheila Copps, the rabbit lady. Two pieces of art hanging in the National Gallery are particularly "marvelous". One is a very large canvas that is all black. It is called, duh, "Shades of Black", and the other is a very large canvas with two large red and one large blue stripes (or the other way around). I'm not sure what that one is called, but "Thanks, Suckers" would be appropriate.

Other departments should be financially involved. Health has used the Snowbirds in some of their children's play-safe programs. Industry and Trade should be using the Snowbirds to promote Canadian industry. Foreign Affairs should be taking advantage of the Team's ambassadorial qualities.

The Tutor is getting long in the tooth, as is so much of the CF's inventory. I think it's safe to say that the age of the Tutor had nothing to do with yesterday's accident. It is a reliable aircraft, that is well maintained, and it is very well suited to its role with the Snowbirds. That is not to say that it shouldn't be replaced. Because the CF does not use it for pilot training any more, fewer and fewer future Snowbird pilots will have flown the aircraft, and fewer and fewer technicians will have worked on it. This presents challenges that can be safely overcome, but they are challenges, nonetheless.

The ideal replacement for the Tutor would be the BAe Hawk, being used as the CF's advanced jet trainer. It is also used by the RAF Red Arrows. It would probably mean reducing the team to six aircraft from nine, due to cost considerations, but the Hawk would better represent the CF's current programs and Canada's current state of industry and technology. Critics will say that the aircraft does not represent Canada, since it's built in the U.K., and that is true. It still represents the level at which the CF is operating and the strength of our commitment to free world military pilot training.

The alternative would be the Harvard II, and that would probably allow the team to continue as a nine-plane. Unfortunately, the show would be far less impressive and would put us in the same league as many third-world air forces. That may be a regrettably true statement of affairs, but I'm not ready to go there, yet.

Whichever option might be chosen, an "outside the box" aircraft leasing, maintenance support, and operational funding arrangement would be required. Rather than throw up their hands, politicians on all sides should be focusing on a positive solution that moves the yardsticks ahead and doesn't simply burn them.

All of the above is moot, at the moment, and we should pause to remember a fallen comrade. Captain Selby is the latest in a long list of men and women who have died in their service to Canada. Here's a nickel on the grass to you, my friend. Per Ardua Ad Astra.


Blogger iggy said...

re: Black canvas passed off as art.

While it is arguable that a canvas painted black is art or not, I must protest that any artist who proclaims that such a creation is hers/his is , in fact, reproducing a previous 'created' work of 'art'.

Years ago I saw a work of 'art' that fits the description of this canvas. It was a canvas, painted black, with the title "Shade". It was produced by a rather depressed child of a neighbors.

I humbly demand that the 'current' artist pay royalty to this now 18 year old young person who only wishes to be recognized for their 'work'.

Failing that, the 'work' will be offered on EBay with a reserve of 125% of the cost to the Canadian taxpayer for the cost of this new knockoff. the original artist will donate all proceeds to the Canadian National Endowments for the Utterly Gullible Small Minded Public Servants.


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