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Aerial acrobatics in Kelowna via the Canadian Snowbirds

The Snowbirds fly across the sun during their aerial demonstration in Kelowna on Wednesday afternoon over Okanagan Lake. - Doug Farrow
The Snowbirds fly across the sun during their aerial demonstration in Kelowna on Wednesday afternoon over Okanagan Lake.
— image credit: Doug Farrow

If your arm weighs 10 pounds and you’re in a jet pulling 50g, it feels like you’re lifting 50 pounds to move it, says one of the Canadian Snowbirds who attended a special reception at the Delta Grand Hotel this week.

The Snowbirds are a large attraction in Kelowna, regularly making stops in this city to wow audiences along the waterfront with their aerial acrobatics; but Wednesday’s visit was special.

Lisa MerrickOrganized by local advocate Lisa Merrick, the chairperson for this event, the visit should help raise upwards of $40,000 for the CHILD Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children with intestinal issues.

“When I was 16, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The CHILD Foundation stands for Children with Intestinal and Liver Disorders and I heard about the foundation because the Snowbirds were doing a show for the CHILD Foundation in White Rock. I was living there at the time, and my dad used to be a Snowbird back in the ’80s, so it was this cool connection and I started doing work for them,” said Merrick.

The CHILD Foundation is the baby of long-time B.C. politician Grace McCarthy, who has vowed not to retire until she has a cure for Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowl disease and the other health problems CHILD addresses.

McCarthy was in town to watch the show and thank the Snowbirds personally for their impressive performance.

With tricks like the comrade loop, seven-planes strong, the seemingly death-defying kaleidoscope and the mirror image, a move made famous by the movie Top Gun’s shot of one pilot flying flip-side in his plane over another plane, impressive might even be an understatement.

As it happens, one really does have to be a ‘top dog’ to fly these patterns.

Every one of the pilots spends four to six years earning their military wings and needs an additional 1,200 hours in an ejection seat, or high-performance aircraft, to apply.

heart“Once you have those conditions, the wings and the hours, he or she applies to the team and if it looks good they come to Moose Jaw, fly the plane for a little bit, we check out their hands and their feet and see how well they learn and adapt to formation flying…how well coordinated they are; and then we take four of them,” said Thomas Edelson, Canadian Snowbirds public affairs.

A new batch of pilots has just arrived at the training centre, 15 Wing in Moose Jaw, Sask.

Come this time next year, they’ll start their two-year stint as part of the performance squad.

Their job right now is to train and train and train some more.

“It’s not scary once you’re proficient. It’s like some people would think maybe ice skating is scary; but if you grew up on skates and skated every night for years and years and years and had somebody teach you and train you and drill you, it’s quite easy,” Edelson said.

By the time they take to the air, their precision understanding of aerodynamics and aircraft instrumentation and sheer body strength translates more as art than a science.

From the white smoke ribbon produced for the last man to die in Afghanistan to the plumes of jet-stream left by their dog fights, each manoeuvre leaves the audience more enamoured—until two planes finally produce a giant heart.

As they fade away into the sunny evening, streams of visitors pour from Waterfront Park, City Park, Stuart Park and, really, the entire downtown core.

Merrick knows already that her crew sold every T-shirt produced as a fundraiser for the event. Whether it yields the $40,000 expected or the $60,000 a Snowbirds performance for the foundation often manages to pull in with extra donations from the awestruck audience, seems a moot point. Everyone who saw a plane in the sky in Kelowna this week, listened to the radio interviews the Snowbirds gave or was greeted by one of CHILD Foundation’s collection volunteers, knows what CHILD stands for now.

And with that kind of power behind them, the sky is the limit on what this foundation can achieve.

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