Skip to comments.Snowbirds fly into controversy
Posted on 10/04/2002 11:15:53 PM PDT by Black Powder
Aerobatic team to perform at home of squadron that killed Canadians
The Canadian military's elite aerobatic team, the Snowbirds, will perform at the home base of the U.S. fighter squadron involved in the Afghanistan friendly fire incident and might even fly alongside the pilots who dropped the bomb that killed four Canadian soldiers.
The Snowbirds will appear this month at Air Rendezvous 2002, an annual show held at Capital Airport in Springfield, Illinois, home of the Air National Guard's 183rd Fighter Wing. Two pilots from that unit -- Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach -- face possible courts-martial on involuntary manslaughter charges for their roles in the accident last April.
The Snowbirds are aware of the awkward coincidence but did not consider cancelling their appearance because they had committed to attend the show last fall, long before the friendly fire incident, according to a public affairs officer.
"What happened deeply saddens everybody in the Canadian Forces, but the Americans are our closest ally, and we're not going to hold a grudge," said Capt. Stephanie Godin of 15 Wing in Moose Jaw.
The Snowbirds fly their Tutor jets at about 70 air shows annually and aim to make 70 per cent of their appearances in Canada. They do not charge for their participation and are funded entirely by the Department of National Defence, which pays about $13 million a year to maintain the troupe. Rising insurance costs have forced some Canadian air shows to cancel Snowbird appearances, including the Saskatchewan Air Show in the unit's hometown of Moose Jaw.
The Snowbirds' performances on Oct. 12-13 will be their first in Springfield since 1987. Air show co-ordinator Kim Curry said she had been lobbying the Snowbirds to come to Illinois for several years.
"We're all very saddened by (the accident)," she said. "But we love to host the top-level performers."
As the local unit, the 183rd Fighter Wing participates in the show every year and provides ground support to visiting flyers. Pilots from the 183rd typically perform a fly-by in their F16 fighter jets. It is unclear whether Maj. Umbach or Maj. Schmidt will be allowed to participate in the air show. Although both pilots were recalled to active duty when the air force preferred charges against them, it is at the discretion of their commanding officer whether to let them fly. A spokesperson for the unit did not return calls.
In June, the 183rd returned home to its base at Capital Airport after a three months of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unit's base newsletter called the deployment an "outstanding accomplishment" that makes it "one of the best F16 units ever," but made no mention of the deaths of the four soldiers from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
The air show will also offer a Canadian culture booth, with exhibit on trade relations, a display of Canada geese, and an RCMP officer in his red serge uniform. The booth is sponsored in part by the Canadian Tourism Commission.
The air force will call Maj. Schmidt and Maj. Umbach before Article 32 hearings later this year to determine whether there is enough evidence against them to proceed to full courts-martial.