AirVenture Surprises & Snowbird Respect

By Scott Spangler on August 12th, 2019

As it seemed last year, the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels low-level fly-by at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year seemed to catch many people by surprise. I don’t mean to shatter your illusions, but nothing at AirVenture happens as a surprise, especially when it involves airplanes. Every flight is carefully planned and coordinated with the AirVenture Air Boss and ATC. And every morning at Press Headquarters, the legendary EAA communication director, Dick Knapinski, spoils the day’s surprises in detail.

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On Thursday morning, he told the handful of us in attendance (given the goodies he shares, I’m surprised more members of the media don’t attend) that the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds would, at the start of the air show, make four low-passes during their fly-by appearance as they, like the Blue Angels, traveled from one scheduled performance to the next. But the next item is what caught my attention. Around 2 p.m., a Canadian Forces Snowbird would be arriving in his CT-114 Tutor. And rather than performing, “he’ll be camping in the Vintage area,” Dick said, qualifying his camping spot by noting that his jet was made in 1964.

Certainly, the military forces of different nations can’t be that different. Flying a squadron bird from the Snowbird home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, on a camping trip to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh would be akin to me using one of the ship’s small boats to go fishing when I was aboard the USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) in the mid-1970s. My curiosity put a ring through my nose and led me to Vintage to wait.

AV4-61Right about 2 p.m., the red and white Tutor made a couple of low passes, landed, and taxied to vintage camping. A tug arrived to position it on a finger of pavement next to the grass that would be the pilot’s campsite. The aviator in the red flight suit, with Blake McNaughton embroidered on it, was obviously in command. A captain in the Canadian Forces, he’s the Snowbirds’ flight safety officer. (I didn’t get the name of his squadron mate, who was attired in standard-issue green Nomex.)

Before I could ask the obvious question, the Thunderbirds made their appearance, and McNaughton was clearly more interested in filling out the necessary aircraft paperwork and putting his Tutor safely to bed after the tug driver jockeyed it into position. “Oh, yeah, we camp just like everyone else at Oshkosh.” And when the entire Snowbirds team performed at AirVenture in 2016, a couple of us tent camped.”

But a solo camping trip? “Our chain of command understands that Oshkosh is a cultural icon. [Camping] is what you do when you come here. We don’t take ourselves too seriously; we have a good time. We set up tents and camp. It’s great! We want the full, rich Oshkosh experience.” (With no room in the jet, they made separate travel arrangement for their tents and camping gear.)

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Perhaps there are differences in the military attitudes among the national forces. On reflection, a solo camping trip to AirVenture is some genius guerilla PR, a subtle statement that supports the demonstration squadron’s ambassadorial mission. But McNaughton demonstrated an even more forceful example of the character and quality of the Canadian Armed Forces. Kneeling on the wing, digging the wheel chocks out of little compartment behind the cockpit, when he heard the first few notes of America’s national anthem, he sprang to attention. (His squadron mate, clearly sat at attention.) He stood there, in rigid contrast, as the flight line mass of U.S. flagpole patriots fluttered about in self-absorbed oblivion. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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3 Responses to “AirVenture Surprises & Snowbird Respect”

  1. Ed Chapman Says:

    “Flagpole patriots”? Not the volunteer at 10 o’clock, 50 feet, at attention and saluting. Not the three gentlemen at 9:30, 40 feet, standing at attention.

  2. Jennifer Casey Says:

    With him was Capt Joel Wilson, one of our 2020 pilots!

  3. Scott Spangler Says:

    Thanks, Jennifer!

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