Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hawkish on new jets for the Snowbirds

Babble on.

It's high time the Snowbirds got new jets.

A Snowbird pilot managed to eject safely from his jet, just seconds before it crashed into a rural field in the northern Ontario city of Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

The Department of National Defence said Capt. Andy Mackay, Snowbird 8, was released from hospital after being treated for undisclosed injuries.

Maj. Ian McLean said he was told in a brief phone conversation with Mackay that the downed plane experienced a loss of engine thrust.

Experience has shown us that at some point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in with older aircraft. I'm not the first person to suggest it, but the CT-155 Hawk appears to be perfectly suited as a replacement. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be a priority:

Even if the Snowbirds survive the budget cuts, they'll still be flying obsolete aircraft for the next several years. In December 2002, Col. Dave Burt, the officer in charge of buying new aircraft for the Canadian Forces, said he's in no hurry to replace the Tutors and said they'll be able to fly safely until 2020.

In 2003, a military study recommended replacing the Snowbirds' Tutor jets with the British Aerospace Hawk T1. The Canadian Forces currently uses the Hawk as its advanced training jet at CFB Moose Jaw. The Red Arrows, the British demonstration flying team, also use the Hawk.

Here's a suggestion for Bill Graham, gratis: start thinking creatively about ways to find the money for new planes. Make the case for sharing the capital costs of the Hawks through the Department of Canadian Heritage as a cultural icon, as an international Canadian symbol, and pitch it to Cabinet. The reality is that the Snowbirds provide far more value as a cultural symbol than they do as a military unit, and it's not unreasonable to expect they be funded accordingly.

Then slap some red and white paint on ten Hawks, and mothball the Tutors. The quicker, the better.

Babble off.


At 12:29 p.m., Blogger Brian Mertens (Free Advice) said...


I always thought they were called "Tudor" jets, but Google has now convinced me otherwise.

At 1:14 p.m., Blogger Chimera said...

I almost can’t remember the Tutors not being around, having grown up on several Air Force bases, and then being in the military myself for awhile. It would be a shame if they scrapped them altogether. The problem with them is that while the jets themselves are just fine, the engines really need to be replaced.

If I remember right, the engines used to be Pratt & Whitneys. The CAF decided to replace them with General Electrics. Somehow, the thought of a military jet being powered by a manufacturer of stoves and refrigerators is not soothing.

At 2:20 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

I hear ya, Chimera. I'm sure there are Sea Slug pilots and crew from back when they had more flying than maintenance hours who'd feel the same about those beasts. But they still need to be replaced.

By the way, GE makes good engines - check out the list of aircraft they push through the skies.

At 2:46 p.m., Blogger Chimera said...

LOL. No argument that they're good. They're actually more powerful than the Pratt & Whitneys. It's just that jet engines are not what usually come to mind when you see/hear "General Electric."

At 8:52 p.m., Blogger Chris Taylor said...

I have never really understood the logic behind an air demo sqn flying trainer airframes and not their normal combat aircraft. Air demo units are recruiting tools and showing off your trainee equipment, rather than the mud-movers and pointy-nosed fighters, sort of baffles me.

The USN's Blue Angels air demo sqn flies the F-18 Hornet, just as our combatant units do -- and the Angels, like the Snowbirds, are essentially a recruiting tool.

The USAF Thunderbirds, in contrast, go to war with the very same F-16 hardware they fly air demo in -- and on more than one occasion in the air demo paint job, too.

Canada bought about 120 MDC CF-188s, 80 of which will be modernised in IMP, and of those 80, only 60 will see squadron service. Surely out of the 20 remaining IMP'ed airframes, or the 40 inactive F-18s, there are enough viable low-time airframes for the Snowbirds to fly, allowing for fleetwide part spares and so on?

At 10:15 a.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Chris, you're forgetting that an hour of airtime in a Hornet is much more expensive than an hour of airtime in a Tutor, or even a Hawk. Not to mention the cost difference if your flight path has an unintentional intersection with the horizon.

Besides, having seen all the demo teams you've mentioned, the Snowbirds are the best show. Slower aircraft make for better demos.

At 11:05 a.m., Blogger Chris Taylor said...

Well the cost differential is big, certainly. I was thinking of their value as a recruiting tool, mostly. I never, ever wanted to be a Snowbird precisely because they kept flying ancient training aircraft. Who wants to leave behind their regular line combatant aircraft for two years, to go back to the trainer? It's like going back to Huggies after you've been wearing boxers for decades.

Sure, you can do some really neat stuff in slow jets, and there's no question that the Snowbirds are the superior show, but their job is to put bodies in uniform. Does that superior showmanship translate into more bodies joining the CF, or just more people at a given air show?

If the CF announced they were buying F-35s or even F-18E/F Super Hornets and C-17s, I'd go reg force fulltime tomorrow, whether or not I made it to aircrew qualification. Now I actually like the slower-moving stuff like tac- and strat-airlift, but with the CF's current assets I would rather ground-pound in infantry than be an airedale in equipment like the Airbus CC-150 (just an A310 combi, not a real strat-lifter) and ancient CC-130Es. And I suspect there are a lot of people who feel likewise.

At 11:17 a.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Make you a bet the pilots flying the red and white dinosaurs get more flight time than those flying the 18's. Flight time is a big perq in today's CF.

At 3:22 p.m., Blogger Chris Taylor said...

No bet! I'm sure 431 racks up more logbook time than anyone else, too. And they probably would even if they flew the most expensive jets on the market today. Even the feckless Liberal Party would probably flinch from standing down such a cultural icon.

At 3:31 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Wait a minute! Are they a military unit whose "job is to put bodies in uniform" or are they a "cultural icon"?

I think the military justifications for a unit like this are flight skills, service pride, and recruiting - none taken out of context from the others. But none of those justifications is sufficient unless you add in "cultural icon" as well. That's why I think some unit funding should come from outside the DND budget.

At 4:01 p.m., Blogger Chris Taylor said...

You need to do a whole other post on that -- when and where is it appropriate to mix DND funding with that from other ministries!

My fear is that if their funding does become mixed it will result in a watering-down of their military capabilities and recruiting message, in favour of being co-opted for various high-vis Heritage ministry wastes of time.

The last thing we need is even more political co-opting of the military for non-strategic "look good, feel good" missions -- i.e. Snowbirds opening "Young Canada Works for Aboriginal Urban Youth" centres and so on.


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