The kids are back in school today – well, for me, it’s singular this year as only my youngest is in school. And his second last year of high school at that. So it’s been an unusually quiet morning for me this morning.
Until a few minutes ago when a sad tradition occurred. The Snowbirds performed their annual flyover of Captain Michael VandenBos school. Which means that they fly over my house too and I’m treated to my own personal airshow.
My eldest son had the privilege of meeting Captain Michael VandenBos in 1998 when he’d returned home and paid a visit to the 151 ‘Chadburn’ Squadron. Michael had been an Air Cadet in Chadburn squadron in his teens and made sure to take the time to show the impressionable youngsters what was possible if they kept to their books and their goals. That even the skies were possible. He planned to help the squadron raise money by arranging for a special Snowbird airshow on the Oshawa lakeshore. Unfortunately, while the Snowbirds did the show in the summer of 1999, Michael wasn’t among their number. The December before, during a training flight out over the prairies, his plane clipped wings with another. Michael ejected, but it turned out the plane hadn’t been fitted with the proper sized parachute and he plunged to his death.
Two more pilots have died since then – the news is the last pilot died because his seatbelt malfunctioned during inverted flight – and discussions occur each time as to why these shows are necessary and the cost of replacing the Tutor Jets they fly. Whenever the topic raises its head, and someone recommends scrapping the program, something always sticks in my mind.
My son told me that as they were discussing Captain VandenBos’s death, all the air cadets were talking about why they joined the squadron, about why they’d considered a military career in the air force. Almost to a boy – man – they said they had joined after attending a Snowbird performance at an Air Show. How they were inspired by the precision of the pilots. And so they joined the Air Cadets and learned how to march and salute; how to iron and starch their shirts to a crisp edge, and shine their shoes to a mirror-finish in true military tradition; they learned air craft identification, and survival techniques, citizenship, propulsion, navigation, meteorology, and leadership; they studied hard and competed for promotion through the ranks of the squad, and for scholarships for pilot licenses. They went to Armed Forces bases like Borden and Trenton, they flew in gliders and single engine craft while being shown the principles of flight . And they learned how important our military is, and the difficulties – and sacrifices – they face. God bless them all.