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Snowbirds fly friendly desert sky
Sierra Vista Herald/Bisbee Review ^ | Shar Porier

Posted on 10/02/2008 4:57:53 PM PDT by SandRat

DOUGLAS — All eyes were turned skyward on Wednesday at Douglas Municipal Airport as the Canadian Forces Snowbirds in their red and white jets with blue stripes shot across the sky casting shadows over “D” Hill.

“So, what do you think, guys? Does that look like fun?” asked Snowbird Capt. Eric Willrich of the 2,000 students and spectators who came out for the mid-week air show.

Willrich is the newest member of the Snowbirds and has found his niche, just not in a spot between positions No. 4 and No. 6. His forte is on the ground, talking to the people.

“It’s the best of both worlds. I get to fly and I get to work with the public. I love seeing the gigantic smiles on the kids’ faces. I remember being that kid,” said Willrich, who speaks fluent Spanish. “I’ve always wanted to do this, be a pilot with the Snowbirds. I flew helicopters, and then the Snowbirds called me. But I only had 100 hours on the Tutor. I had to become an instructor and then reapply.”

His Brazilian heritage came in handy and allowed him to add to the experience of the Spanish-speaking children and adults in attendance.

The Snowbirds fly Canadair CT-114 Tutors, used by the Canadian Forces as a basic pilot training craft until 2000, said Snowbird Capt. Jennifer Jones, the public affairs officer.

Each aircraft carries just an hour of fuel, but that’s enough for them to travel around 400 nautical miles, about the distance from Las Vegas to Douglas.

Nine pilots flying in a precise formation with only a foot or two at most between them vaulted into the blue sky, hitting speeds of up to 370 mph at three times the force of gravity.

They looped, coming down with a negative G, and just a few hundred feet above ground skyrocketed back up to reorganize in one of their many formations. With spectacular rolls, flying canopy-to-canopy or belly-to-belly, they stole the collective breaths of many watching them, from the youngest to the oldest.

Smoke from the rear of the jets added excitement to the visuals. Jones said the smoke is vaporized diesel fuel forced into small pipes that open near the jets’ exhausts, which heats it.

“There are two reasons for using the smoke,” Jones added. “One, of course, is for the show and the visuals. The other is for flight safety so the pilots can see each other.”

Two solo pilots came at each other from opposite directions and crisscrossed in front of the crowd and performed a succession of scare-the-bejeebers-out of-you stunts.

Lined up in the stands and on the ground, the schoolchildren watched with mouths agape and pointing with tiny fingers following the jets as they screamed across the fields.

All 56 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students from McNeal School came and watched with wide eyes.

Fifth-graders Aaron Rachilla and Dillion Faccio were looking forward to the coming autograph session once the pilots were back on the ground. They liked the show about as much as they liked getting out of school lessons for the morning. While Rachilla thought it would be fun to fly in one of the jets, Faccio was a bit apprehensive.

“You never know when they might crash,” Faccio said.

Attending his first air show, 2-year-old Henry Yunt pointed at the jets and said “Airplane,” according to his mom, Katrina. They’re not strangers to flying. Henry’s dad, David, is also a pilot and the two have been up in the family plane more than a few times. Katrina has no interest in learning to fly.

“I’m happy just being the ground crew,” Katrina said. “This was amazing. Just wonderful.”

David Yunt, who took the day off to see the air show, agreed and said Sierra Vista Municipal Airport should host the Snowbirds.

The family attended last year’s Border-to-Border Air Show in Douglas and had a great time. But the Snowbirds’ professionalism made a lasting impression.

When asked if he wanted to climb aboard one of the jets, David Yunt replied in the affirmative.

The Snowbird pilots and ground crew flew in Tuesday afternoon and stayed at the Gadsden Hotel, which is owned by the Bekhus family. Robin Brekhus, the organizer of the air show and a similar one that is held in April, had seen the Snowbirds and wanted them to come to the spring air show.

“They only fly from May through October,” she said. “But we brought them here anyway.”

Jones said the team usually flies at small airports, such as Douglas, through the week and performs at larger cities on the weekend.

It wasn’t an easy task. Along with the booking of the show came a 69-page document that listed all the requirements for safety, security and supplies the Snowbirds needed for the show. The insurance alone called for more than a few fundraisers and pleas to the various businesses on both sides of the border.

Once in the hotel, Jones made the mistake of watching the ghost documentary on the Gadsden and ended up bunking with Brekhus’ two dogs. In spite of the possibility of nighttime visitors, she enjoyed the history of the famous hotel and the area.

Luckily, she only had to endure it for one night. She, Willrich and Capts. Steve Thompson, team coordinator, and Marc Belhumeur, the videographer, had to leave for El Paso, Texas, to get ready for the next show.

They left behind pilots Maj. Robert Mitchell, Capt. Claude Rivard, Capt. Dave Boudreau, Capt. Marco Rusconi, Capt. Denis Beaumont, Capt. Sean Hanson, Capt. Brett Glaeser, Capt. Mark LaVerdiere, Capt. Christain Dallamore and the ground crew to discover the other haunts of Douglas and Agua Prieta before take-off today.

Herald/Review reporter Shar Porier can be reached at 515-4692 or by e-mail at


• Snowbirds Demonstration Team:

• Border To Border Airshow:

TOPICS: Canada; Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; US: Arizona
KEYWORDS: desert; fair; snowbirds

1 posted on 10/02/2008 4:57:54 PM PDT by SandRat
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To: SandRat

I saw the snowbirds once at Reno and they were great. I used to go to airshows all the time but the last few times were a nightmare. The crowds were huge and the traffic was terrible. They’ve become incredibly popular.

2 posted on 10/02/2008 5:01:24 PM PDT by saganite (Obama is a political STD)
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To: SandRat
I saw the Snowbirds here in extremely sunny SoCal a few years ago. They put on a good show.
3 posted on 10/02/2008 5:19:25 PM PDT by Vroomfondel
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