Episode 25: The Advance Party: Flying with the Snowbirds, Ejecting from the CT-114 Tutor, and Remembering Jenn Casey - Rich

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All right, we're ready for departure. Here at the Pilot Project Podcast,

the best source for stories and advice from the pilots of the RCAF.

Brought to you by Skies magazine and RCAF today.

I'm your host, Brian Morrison. With me today is my buddy from

flight training days, Rich McDougall. Welcome to the show, Rich.

Thanks for having me on.

Yeah. Ah, man.

Um, all right, before we get started.

We'Ll go over Rich's bio. Rich grew up in Diep,

New Brunswick, and joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2006

while attending the University Tay de Moncton under the

Regular Officer Training Program. After receiving his

wings in 2011, rich was posted to Four Three Five

Transport and Rescue Squadron in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he

flew the CC 130 H Hercules. While posted to

Four Three Five Squadron, he conducted NORAD and Air

refueling missions around the globe as tanker commander and

instructor pilot. In 2017, Rich

was posted to two Canadian forces flight training school to Instruct

on the CT 156 Harvard. Two aircraft.

Rich joined the Snowbirds in 2019, flying as

Snowbird Eleven during Op inspiration in 2020.

After a lengthy recovery, rich joined the team again for the

2022 airshow season. He is with the team again for

the 2023 season and acting as advance and safety

pilot. Rich has over 2500 military

flying hours. So, we've

known each other for quite a while. We were trying to piece this together,

but I think we met on land survival training.

I think so, yeah.

Uh, I have no idea the answer to this, though. So where did

flying begin for you?

Well, it started with the Cadet program. I knew

I wanted to fly through the cadet program

before joining, so there was a bit of a strategic move

where I lived in Diep in Moncton area.

And there's, like, well, there's two or three huge

100 member cadet squadrons there.


I said, if you just go to a small town 20 minutes

away, you might have a higher ODS of getting a flying

scholarship. So I took that advice, and

for six years, I just took a bit of a further

drive to my cadet unit in Sackville,

New Brunswick okay. And went through the steps to get my

glider license there with a few good friends. Ashley

Cadet, who's here today, uh, as glider

set. And then we were again on the power course at the

Moncton Flag College there. Then joined the

forces in 2008, did my

Phase One here in Portage 2010,

started my Phase Two in Moosejaw

and onto the King Air here in 2011 for

my wings. And then that's where the military part of the

career kind of started.

So you're another guy that started out on air

cadets, a firm. There's so many of us. It's,

like, amazing the number of people that join the military

and join the military as pilots through air cadets.


How did you find your flight training experience in the forces?

I loved it. I think military flying training is

pretty unique, and it's really neat being able to do

right into military type, low level

navigation, aerobatics formation flying.

Yeah, totally.

I loved all of it.

Did you have any setbacks?



You get the odd test failure, and you're on

phase two. Every flight matters, your

score matters, and you get a test failure, and you're.

Like, oh, no, my career is over 100%.

But I think that's one of those things that everyone has to go through

to realize you can have a bunch of bumps in the road and still

get to have an amazing career and get to go where you want

to go.

Right. Did you have any tools that you used to get

through those times just.

To not stress about it, try to think, okay,

every flight, wake up every day as though it's a new day,

and, okay, today is a new flight, let's go out and do what I know

how to do. If I'm worrying about what happened yesterday,

it's not going to help with today, so just concentrate on this flight

kind of thing.

So you ended up as a tanker pilot on the herc.

Was that what you were hoping to get?

Not at all. So I think that's another lesson that I got, is

that sometimes you get sent to an

airframe or a community that you weren't expecting, and

then when you get there, you realize that it's the best

squadron in the CF, is the feeling, uh, that

I had, and I think that happens to a lot of people. You get

to your first unit, your new unit, and there's

no bad cockpit in the CF, there's no bad

squadron. Every squadron has a

unique role and contributes differently

to the greater picture. So I definitely feel like I

won the lottery from, uh, going to four, three, five and flying the

h model and doing the search and rescue otu.

So all the search and rescue training, and then the moment I got

to the unit, immediately started all the air to air

refueling flying. So it was just the

coolest six years.

I loved it.

So at four, three, five, because they are a rescue and tanker squadron,

a firm, do you specialize in one or the other, or do you do


You generally do, and it's changed every couple of years. You

can either be dual quald they did like to stream

members into one or the other because it's two complete different

training plans. So I mainly just

did tanking, and at the end, I started doing some search and

rescue training just prior to moving on to

moosejaw on the harvard there.

Very cool. Yeah.

So how did you end up on the snowbirds? Was that a lifelong goal or

something that just formed along the way?

Yeah, it's something I always wanted to do from

being 1214 years old, going to air

shows, and just anytime that the snowbirds were

coming into Moncton, where I lived, you

could see aircraft going to the airport. So we'd

always hop in the car, drive to the fence and see what

was going on. So I feel like it started there.

And then in 2014, a good friend of mine, um, on

Squadron, then moved on to the

snowbirds. So as soon as that started, it was one of those things where I

wanted to apply, okay, how do I work with you next

year? And we went through the process and, um,

basically to apply to do the role that I'm doing now.

And in discussion with the Co, it was just best for

my career to finish my tanker commander

qualification prior to moving on to something else.

So basically applied and then kind of retracted

my application for a later date.


And that's just because it's generally viewed as

best if a pilot finishes their upgrade

process on their first posting a firm.


So I ended up staying on Squadron for another three years after

upgrading, and that was the best way to do it.

I was going to ask if you were glad that that was the advice that you got and that you

took that.

Oh, 100%. Yeah, absolutely. Then moving

on to two years on the

Harvard Instructing at the Big Two. On phase two. Phase two and Phase

Three and the snowbirds are on the other side

of the ramp, so you're a lot

closer and you see a lot of your own

instructors moving on to the team and you're like,

okay, I think I could do that. And that's when the

interest reignited of, like, okay, let's apply

this year. Even a year before I thought I

would apply it's like, okay, let's just put my name in this year and see what happens.

Uh, and it worked out on the first.


Yeah, absolutely.

So I just did this interview with Blake and he was telling me about how basically,

when you try out, they might say, thanks for coming.

They might say, you're in, or they might

say, not this year, but come back.

Yeah, exactly.

And so on your first year, you got in.


And Blake McNaughton is also another big reason why

I'm on the team. I feel like, know, poked me a couple times

of, like, okay, yeah, you should probably, uh, put your name in. This would be a

good so.

That's funny.

He had a very similar story about someone doing that for



Yeah. Well, mentorship, man, it gets passed down.



He's the super snowbird.

Yeah. I love Blake. He was one of my instructors at


Oh, nice.


It's very cool to see where he's been and where he's

going. How did you find the tryout

process to make the team?

I loved it.


It's very unique. It's very

stressful. It's designed to be

stressful, uh, I think, but it was pretty cool

to have never flown the jet. And

your very first flight in the jet, you're

flying in formation. So your first takeoff is a

stream takeoff. So you're doing your own takeoff, but

you immediately rejoin with another aircraft,

another tutor, and then every flight after that is a

formation takeoff and a formation landing.

So, uh, you barely

learn enough about the jet to fly it. It's more about,

okay, can you taxi it, take off, fly form, land it's

really just to assess how you're doing and what your

learning curve, I guess.

Mhm, is it's a good thing that you had been doing the

instructing at the time then, and already doing formation flying


Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think without that, I guess,

the recency of just being on an airframe that you're flying

formalot, I think it would be more

difficult in the tryout. But, uh,

everybody is different. You might pop in there and

just, uh, be a rock star and it would just flow naturally.



Some people are just superstars.

Yeah, exactly. Like yourself.

I did all right. What kind of

person makes a great snowbird?

I think you can divide it

into two parts. You have to be

technically good at your job, good at

the flying aspect, and then there's the whole

public relations aspect of like,

how are you going to be in a crowd, how are you going to

interact with the public at the autograph line or

interviews? That kind of thing.

So you have to be a people person.

Exactly. Yeah. So I think that part is, uh,

just as important as the flying or the

maintaining and the technical aspect of it.


It's funny because I think for a lot of people, that's easy to forget

that you guys are a, uh, PR team, you're a relations

team. That's your mission.


And so that interaction piece is so huge for you




When do you think is the right time to try out for the


I think the right time to try out for the snowbirds is

after complete your first tour on

another airframe and then apply because

you really want to have a base of experience

prior to, uh, coming in. You

also need an ejection seat tour.

So you either have to be coming in from the fighter

community or you need to have had an

instructional tour on the Harvard of the Hawk kind of thing.

I didn't realize that. I thought you had to have injection seat experience.

So I thought going through as a student on the Harvard was

enough. But you actually need to spend some time instructing.

I'll have to look at the, uh.

Oh, no, you're probably right.

The loading message, it might be worded differently, but I think the

idea is that you want to know generally

more than your seven formation flights. And that makes,

uh, your phase two on the Harvard. It's much

better if you have instructed for a couple of years first or flown

something else. I think anybody can do the

job. I think if you have that

recency, you're just going to catch on way

quicker. And, uh, it certainly helps.

What about time in life? Do you think there's a best time

in life to kind of go for it?

I don't think so.

I think we have some of our pilots in their late twenty

s and into your late

40s. There's quite the range of, uh

yeah, I don't think there's a good time. It's whatever the best

time is for you, I think.


I like that. So you mentioned this

a little bit when we talked about who makes a good

snowbird. You mentioned that proficiency is important, and then

you said it's important that you're either a good pilot or a good

technician. So can you tell us more about the relationship

between pilots and technicians on the snowbirds?


I think, uh, it really reminds me of

my H model, herc days where

you're flying with a variety of trades in

your crew and where at the

end of the day, you're traveling as a family.

The rank relationship is

nonexistent. In a way, you're all there to do a

job, and the

maintainer aspect is the most important

part. So at the end of the day, I feel like it's

their aircraft and they loan it to us for

1 hour at a time. For us to do, uh, our job,

it's very important we rely heavily on our



Do you find that you form some pretty close friendships through that?

Very much so, yeah.

When you transit, they fly with you?

Generally speaking, yeah. We now have a support aircraft,

so we're able to carry extra personnel. But

generally the idea is that you would have eleven

aircraft on the road with ten

technicians and your public affairs officer

occupying all 22, uh, seats in the air.


That's awesome.

What does the advance in safety pilot job


Well, the safety

pilot aspect is what Snowbird Ten

and eleven do at Show Center,

where you're on the radios. You've got

four radios, you got your UHF VHF, you're monitoring

the boss's frequency. You have a secondary.

When you say boss, you're talking the air boss of an air show.

So boss snowbird one.

Okay, got it.

And also the AirBoss. So that's another frequency as



And the air boss, for listeners is like the coordinator of the air



It's almost like air traffic control gives the air boss

the airspace. During that four or five hour window,

the air boss controls the air.


And for our 30 to 40

minutes portion of the show. The air boss basically

gives the safety pilot the



So they act as a little bit like a mini boss. And part of

our training is that we do the air boss course as


Very cool.

And it's all about monitoring the

radios. It's about helping with certain

smoke errors or anything that might

benefit the formation to speak up

for the show.

Can you give me an example of that?

Well, very often, so we have two smoke

tanks. So the most obvious one is that

each member switches partway through the show.

So if one member is

puffing, if they're running out of smoke, it would be the safety

polish job to say, okay, six puffing. And then they would

switch sometimes inverted mid

maneuver. It's pretty slick when it's done

properly like that.

That's very cool.

And we're also there with our checklists if there was any need

to deal with any sort of red, uh, page or yellow page

emergency. And then we would clear the

airspace and assist as required.


My role this year, being the

narrator, you're kind of monitoring what

Snober Ten is doing, but you're also the connection

to the audience. So if something is

going on that is not part of the regular show, you'd be able to

communicate that to the audience as well.

Can I ask you a question?


Do you have like, an announcer voice that you use?


Introduce the snowbirds for me with your announcer voice.

Oh, goodness. Well, I would

say, uh, good afternoon,

Portage la Prairie, your

2023 Canadian

forces snowbirds and then kind of move on

with the rest of the script from there, but awesome.

Anyway, that's going to make me sound.

Funny, but no, you're good.

Yeah, I love it.

So tell me about the advanced portion of the job.

That's really kind of the meat and potatoes

of what Snover Ten and Eleven do. In a way, we're kind

of like the band manager, the tour manager, in

a way. If I want to put a tie into the music

industry when it just comes to coordinating with

aircraft control, show sites, hotels,

cars, as required, even the advanced part,

it would be just being ahead of the rest

of the formation by an hour or two to make sure that everything's

squared away on site prior to the rest of the team's

arrival. Yeah, we kind of

oversee everything to make sure that we have a smooth show



So I would imagine that that takes a certain type of person

to do that and do it well. Attention to

detail, someone who enjoys helping

others. Am I on the right track with, uh, that? Yeah, I

feel like some people's personalities wouldn't be well suited

to doing that.

It's similar to being an OPSO in a way.

You're monitoring all the pieces of the puzzle. You're

juggling, uh, everything that's being thrown at you. You make sure that

it all falls into place at the right time.

Does the advance in safety pilot go through the same tryout


I think it depends on the

individual. I think some members will go through the

tryout process and the tryout process

is all about seeing where people are best



But there also have been members who have been brought in

specifically for the advanced and safety pilot

where you wouldn't have to do that tryout, but you would

have your own conversion course to fly the jet

and to fly the formation bits as well.

So you can get headhunted basically as, uh, the advanced and safety

pilot affirm.


Very cool. Can the advanced and safety

pilot act as a backup if, say, one of the main

members are sick or unavailable to fly for some


The way I like to answer this question is that

everyone in the formation from

one to eleven is trained to do their

specific job where it would be

very difficult for any member to be taken

out and for someone else to just switch to do their

job. Whether it's flying or aspects on the

ground, everyone's trained to do their role.

I guess your routines are so intricate that it would be extremely

difficult. You would have to know every single

pilot's job throughout the show.

It probably not be very safe to exactly. To

try to do that and to just fill in.



The advantage is that we also fly the

extra jets so the spare jets. So if

anything aircraft related prior to the show were to

happen, we are able to have our jets be part of

the show with the appropriate pilot for

that position.

Okay. If that happens, do they renumber them or

does eleven go in the show?

Eleven would go in the show.

Okay. Yeah.

Ten or eleven.

Yeah. Right on.

What's a day in the life of a snowbird pilot. And let's divide

that into training and

the show season because I know that those must be super different


Okay. Training season. The

team is booked for two to three flights per

day. It depends on the week. Depends what the ops and maintenance

schedule looks like for that week. But I think if you were to

go, the 100%

push would be two main formation

flights per day plus one

solo or any other member of the squad that needs

an extra flight for like an IRT or something like



And for the listeners, an IRT is your yearly instrument


Exactly. Yeah.

That's crazy. Yeah, that's a lot.

So you would aim for ten formation

training flights per week for

the team. But, uh,

prairie winters, uh, do get in the way of that.

That's a rarity to get all ten or anything close to that.


I want to loop back to what you were saying about two to three flights

per day just so the audience can appreciate

how intense that is because you folks aren't

just doing straight and level

or you're going to do some transits, obviously, for

training and currency. But a lot of what you're

doing is really intense. Pulling G

concentration and high intensity. You

must be exhausted by the end of the day.


And you think of each flight you have

likely an hour, sometimes more of a

brief and debrief on top

of the 1 hour, 1.5 hours flight

that you did. So each flight takes up

a large chunk of your day. So if you're flying twice or three

times, you're in for a long day.


That's amazing. That must be just

exhausting. But I bet it's a good

exhaustion because if you're there, nobody gets on the

snowbirds without being passionate about being in the snowbirds.

So you're doing what you love all day.

Exactly. And then you sleep really well at night because you

have to.

That's training. What about the show season?

The show season. So we basically train

from November until the end

of March or until Easter weekend. And the goal

is to generally around that time of

year, go to Comox for three weeks to then

put the show together, if you will, with the same type

of training schedule. So you're looking at two flights per day,

or three, uh, if you need. And during that three

week period, we'll aim to

leave with a completed show to then

present as the home opener back in Moosha or sometimes

in Comox as well.

Okay. Who designs the show?

I believe it's the boss. Generally, I think everyone

has input on what could happen, but really it's the boss's

vision that puts the show together. Snowbird one.


And I imagine snowbird one is always somebody who's been on the team for a

while and has the experience.

Exactly. And once we do our

acceptance show, your

traditional year, we haven't had a normal year in

the last four, uh, years due to COVID and

everything else. But generally speaking, the

snowbirds would do a

weekend show and a Wednesday show.

So you would, on Tuesday,

transit to your Wednesday show, do your show on

Wednesday, on Thursday, transit to your

weekend show, and practice Friday, show

Saturday, show Sunday, and then Monday is your

maintenance day off. And the cycle

goes on from basically

May till October.

So from May to October, you're getting about one day off

a week.

Generally speaking, this year is a little bit different. We're not doing

midweeks, so we're getting a day or two extra

at each show site, which really helps with

public outreach. So that would have been a bit of an

intense schedule for that amount of time. Uh, and

generally we do get one weekend off in the summer as well

for, uh, kind of your leave week.



It sounds intense.


And that goes all the way up to your season, closer

mid or end October and right

into the training for the next year. So it takes all

twelve months to keep the cycle going. So, uh,

it's never much of a break and it's never a

dull moment.

It's great.

So, speaking of that yearly cycle, is it a new

tryout every single year, or do members who

are already on the team, do they have to try out again to

be on the team the next year, or how does that work?

No, once you're on the team, the tryout is

aimed at finding new members

for, uh, the formation, for the team. And,

uh, if you only find one pilot that's

suitable, that's who you're going to get for that year. So

everyone else would remain in the formation kind of thing. And then

you could, in theory, have up to four new pilots, uh, as well.

So kind of half of the show formation.


What did you find was the hardest part of being on the snowbirds

when you first started?

I'm going to have to think about that because honestly, uh,

it's definitely not easy. But I think everything we

do within the snowbirds is a bit of

a challenge and I think I love that challenge. Mhm, so I think it's hard

for me to think of something that's hard because I think I just love


You like the hard stuff.



Well, let me ask you this then, because my follow up is always,

how did you overcome that? So what keeps you excited to

keep doing the hard stuff?

I'll draw a parallel to

every show or practice we do.

We record it. Mhm, so during the

debrief, we're always looking at what errors were

made and, uh, the goal is to just always do

better on the next flight. So

I think your question was how to overcome or how to deal

with those challenges. I think you're always just trying

to get better. So I think that's what

you're focusing on. So every flight that

you do or every experience you have is a great

lesson to be better. The next show, the next

flight, the next interaction, the next brief, whatever it

is. So I think the overcoming part is

just the motivation part of striving for


It reminds me of the description of tryouts, right.

That's something they instill in you from day one is

be better, be better, always improve.

Um, what would you say is your.

Most memorable flight in the snowbirds?

My most memorable flight, I

think I always say, is a flight I did with

Jen during Op Inspiration, where

we were leaving Nova Scotia

to overfly Pei.

The main formation was going to overfly Pei, then recover

in Moncton for, um, a fuel stop.

So Jen and I

took off after the formation.

We went over to Pei, kind of

overflow the bridge, then came back. I overflow

Sackville, New Brunswick, my old cadet town.

Very cool.

Was able to smoke one jet over the city,

a circle or two and then head up towards

Moncton and, uh, just that route basically

overflow the road that I grew up on. So

I was able to overfly my house and

overfly the city of Moncton Diep

and land in Moncton, where I did all of

my private pilot training at the

Moncton flight college. And it's op

inspiration. It was early in the op inspiration, but

we land and there was probably 200 people at the

fence there to watch us, uh, just

refuel, do our thing and take off again. And my parents were

there, my brother was there, and it was my mom's birthday.

So there's just a lot of elements there that it's like, I

got to overfly my house, my old cadet town.


That's my most memorable flight of my career.

I think that's so cool.

Yeah, it was a good memory.

How neat is it to be back at the airport where you

were just struggling to fly a single engine

prop? You know what I mean? When you're a brand new baby

pilot trying to remember your checklist and stuff, and then to

be back there, who would have thought you would be back there as a



And we had Moncton and Dip was

one of our show sites this year. So

I kind of had that moment again where we're parked at

the ramp right next to the Moncton Flight college. The Moncton Flight

College were basically our hosts there.

So it's 2023. I did my private license in

2003. So 20 years after having, uh,

started flying at MFC there, pretty cool

to be bringing the team back to

where it all started for me. And to watch kids on the other

side of the fence there, where it's like, okay, 25

years ago, that was me.

That might be another snowbird.

Yeah, exactly.

So what's the craziest situation you've had to deal with

as the advanced and safety pilot?

I feel like there's always crazy

situations. Coordination wise, I

think one crazy

situation would have been it was in

Kamloops the day before the know, jen

and I land ahead of the team. The team lands. I

coordinated everywhere we go. We need

oxygen, we need diesel. So a lot of these sort

of non standard requests for a lot of aircraft

that go in operating out of, uh,


And for the listeners, FBO is, uh, actually, I

don't know what FBO stands for.

Fixed base operator.

Oh, there you go. Fixed base operator. It's basically a gas

station for airplanes.


Uh, if you have your own aircraft, uh, that's where you

gas up your plane and park.


And get hanger space or whatever you need.

And I, uh, think the weird part is

that Kamloops is not the biggest airport. There

aren't that many providers of these services.

And there was one hangar,

one provider that could provide our

oxygen and diesel,

but it wasn't where we got our fuel. And it's like. If

we parked on their part of the ramp, they could bill

us for parking. We take up a lot of room. So we ended up just

parking on the main apron. And as soon as we

landed, he was like, well, you guys didn't park on my ramp.

So I was like, oh no, yeah.

No apologies, we need to park here, unfortunately. And

then that person then proceeded to

hang up the phone, not bring us our

oxygen or nitrogen or diesel.


So we're basically now stuck at that airport because we need

all of those elements to take off the next day. So then

I'm trying to phone him back. He left the airfield. He

was not happy with us that we didn't park on his ramp.

So there was a misunderstanding there, obviously.

And, uh, he was not willing to help

us out. So I had to call other

airports. We had to have, um, oxygen and

nitrogen trucked in from 2 hours away in other airports.

So it was a very exciting evening of trying to

put all that together so that we could leave the next day. So that

was stressful, uh, and rewarding when it

all worked out too.

Oh my gosh, that is actually

legit crazy.


It's not a flying story, but I was just

so surprised of like, oh, well, we now can't leave here,

so how do I fix this?

Well, that's exactly the kind of story I was hoping for, though. I wanted

to know. I'm sure you folks deal with all kinds

of unexpected wrinkles in plans

and, uh, logistics and all kinds of

different things.

Yeah, that was one of them.

Normally we ask what your hardest day was in the RCAF, but

you and I both know the answer to that. After the

crash of Stalker 22, and with Canadians everywhere

struggling during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Snowbirds began

a cross country tour of flypass to raise the country spirits as

part of Operation Inspiration. You mentioned a

crash on May 17, 2020 in

Kamloops, BC. The tutor in which Rich and Team Public

Affairs Officer Jen Casey were taking off hit a bird

leading to a low level Ejection. Jen did not

survive. How did that day start for you?

Well, that day started, I think, with a

walk through the park adjacent to our

hotel and we grabbed some nitro cold

brews and headed to the FBO. I think

we were planning to overfly Kamloops

and other areas, but the weather just wasn't going to cooperate with

us that day. So we just

all went to the more it wasn't

IFR, but it was, uh, more of a lower cloud day.

So we kind of just knocked our plan off

and just decided to go directly to

Comox. So, um,

we're all there at the FBO planning for

that. And then Major, uh,

Wicket, who was flying the other aircraft,

and myself and Jen, uh, and

one of our maintainers were heading out to the aircraft to

depart an hour or so before the rest of the formation,

and that's the rest is history, I guess.

Yeah. So just a normal morning.

Yeah, exactly.

Can you take us through that takeoff and your experiences

through the following events?

Yeah, so I'll go through it

ah. As well as I can. There still

are elements that haven't fully

come back, so there's, like, chunks of the flight that

are more, um, of an image than a

memory. But, yeah, it was just a normal

takeoff. I was number two. So,

uh, snober ten is leading,

so I'm not looking ahead. Your eyes are glued,

uh, to the right for me, to the lead



And just if I could just jump in for a moment. For

listeners who haven't flown formation before, there's a

lead plane, and anyone who's not the lead is

just staring at the person they need to keep station

on. Um, they're making all their adjustments based

on what the other person does with power and

control, and they aren't

looking anywhere else but at that other plane.

That's right.

So we're on the

takeoff. Roll the takeoff. We clean up the aircraft, and

it's pretty much at the gear up, flaps up

confirmation, literally at

the end of the runway, the departure end

of the runway at

around 160 knots and

100ft off the ground, which is not

that's not very fast for our aircraft.

That, uh I just kind of

felt it almost kind of felt like an explosion in a

way. Like, it was a very large bang

and rumbling sound,

and it was a very small

bird. I didn't see it, uh, from the angle that I was

looking, but Jen yelled the word bird,

and, uh, at that point,

you go through your red page,

checklist response items, and

basically what you're just looking to do at that point is

exchange kinetic energy for potential energy. So

you want to exchange whatever air speed you have for whatever

altitude you can get. So you're kind of zooming straight

ahead, slightly away from lead, because the

moment you're away from lead, you don't know where they are. So for safety, you want to

create a little bit of a buffer. And at that

point, the moment it happened,

you're just at 100ft. I just kind of

see a bunch of roofs of houses

in front of me. And even in just that, like, half

second, as the impact had just happened, I already kind

of saw, uh, a change in my

energy vector, where it was like, okay, well, immediately it

looked like I was about to plow through,

like, five, six houses kind of thing. So I

was like, okay, well, evidently, I don't want to do that.

So I know that there's more of a field to the

left. There's not a neighborhood

everywhere. So I was like, okay, I'm going to try to deviate

slightly left.

And at this point, did you know, like, the engine is


I knew I wasn't getting thrust

or effective thrust. And from talking

to the lead, he basically said it literally looked like

you just started going backwards. Like it was just an

immediate just.

A loss of power.

And at that point, there's

probably three, 4 seconds that I still

don't remember at all. But I

do remember the point at which we needed to get out

of the aircraft and we were very low

level. And then when it came to the point

of getting out of the aircraft for myself, I

just remember an

entire second went by where you think, that's not a lot of time,

but it's almost like time froze for a moment

where I didn't feel the seat, I didn't feel the

parachute. I just kind of felt like I was tumbling through the



That'S it moment. It was like, okay, well, I'm just


So you've already pulled the handles.


And what did that feel like when you pulled those?

I remember from speaking with people who

had ejected previously and recently,

what they had described. So it's interesting

what goes through your mind in 0.1

2nd, uh, as you're actioning something, but

I remember the thought of, like, okay, well, I'm going to

want to watch what's going on. The

intent was to your eyes are open. You want to pay

attention so you can report back what you're

seeing, and all of that is gone. Like, I just literally remember

being out of the aircraft at that point. Like, I remember

reaching down, and I remember being out of and then you're.

Out of the aircraft.

Exactly. Wow.

I don't remember the Ejection force at

all. And after what felt like tumbling

for a bit, I do remember the feeling

of a parachute unraveling or

something going into the airstream that

was starting to slow me down. So I remember,

okay, the parachute is opening. So we

all did our training. Uh, a lot of the pilots

in the forces did their training, ejection sheet training

with, uh, Mario mhm. So I remember, okay, look

up and see if you have a canopy or what you have. And I just

remember sort of fabric kind

of moving away from me. Your fabric behind me is like,

okay, something is starting to action.

So you could see the parachute, but you didn't have a canopy


I can't even say that I saw the parachute. I think I just saw stuff

moving backward kind of thing, or stuff behind

me. And then your

next thought is, okay, I need to look down and see what's going on below

me. And I just looked down and

didn't even take half a second. It was like, oh, that's a

roof. And just boom. Uh, I just remember looking down and

colliding with a roof.


So I collided in this seated position.

I still had my seat pack on that's attached.

It's like a fiberglass box that you're sitting on with a bunch of

survival equipment and a raft, uh, et cetera.

And I remember everything very clearly after


So before we jump into that, at that

point, uh, you eject jen

ejects do m you guys have any idea where each

other are? Or boom, you're on your separate


You have no concept of where you're going. You have no concept of

whatever else is happening around you for sure.

So you've hit the roof, and what happens next?

Well, uh,

it's emotional to think about it because it was a pretty traumatic event. Uh,

but it was just excruciating pain. It was just instant.

Like, it just felt like I had broken every bone in

my body. It just felt like I had just

shattered my entire back. I definitely felt like I

had just shattered my feet. So

I just remember screaming

uncontrollably, but then a few seconds

later, you're like, okay, all right. I catch my

breath, but then it's like, okay, now I'm just going to keep screaming because

I had the essay. I was like, okay, well, if I'm making noise,

someone will know that I'm here.


I also remember a little bit of the parachute kind of

draping over my head. I didn't

know if I could move at that point. So

just from first aid training and having

my mom is a physiotherapist and hearing about a

bunch of trauma situations previously, I was like, okay, I'm

going to wiggle my toes, wiggle my fingers. Am I

paralyzed? No, I can wiggle everything

okay. But I was kind of, like, arms

bent. I didn't really want to move anything because

everything hurt. So I kind of just moved

my wrist to kind of try to pull the parachute away from

my face, because

I do remember hearing the other jet flying above

me. So it was like, okay, I'd like to see or like, maybe if I'm moving a

bit, he'll know that I'm okay. And then it was almost

immediately that someone was on the

roof with me in my face, asking me if I'm


This is like a civilian yeah.

In the neighborhood. And I believe they

were, uh, an off duty first responder.


So immediately I had all the right

people with me. And within two,

three minutes, I already had two other squadron members on the

roof with me, just because it was so

close to the airport.

It must have been good, though, to see some familiar faces at that


Yeah, it was almost confusing.

It was like, what are you doing here?

So immediately you're able to have a bit of

smile on your face and kind of forget what just

happened. So that right. There

was a lifesaver for those people to be there on the roof

with me. And they were with

me. One of them was with me all the way

to that evening, uh, in the hospital. So

I remember the fire crew had come

onto the roof. They cut everything off of

your body. They cut your boots off. They tried to remove the

boots, and by untying, I was like,

no, you're not doing that.

They placed me onto neck

brace, body brace. I was on a stretcher. And

I just remember at that point, I had nothing

on, and they were about to move me,

and I just kind of had the idea. I was like,

hey, are you able to cover me up a little?

Like you were naked, literally.


So the crew that

was there, he kind of chuckled. He's like, okay, if you're

cracking jokes and you're worried about that, you'll be fine.

Uh, and then was brought to the hospital after


Okay. It all happened.

Seemed very quickly.

That's intense.


And during this time,

were you wondering where Jen was?

Yeah, I've been told that I was asking about

her the entire time on the roof. And

my other squadron members up there had

the good frame of mind to just tell me, oh,

yeah, she was over there. There's people with there,

everything's going to be okay. Um, just

changing my focus.

Did they already know that she had passed?

They would have known.

Yeah. That must have

been really a hard thing for them as well, uh,

to do that.


And one of the members that was up there was one of our

medical personnel, and

there were already members with Jen. And as soon as he got to the site,

he knew and he

had the instinct to then go check on me because he was expecting

the same result for both. Um, so I think

when he got to me, it was just kind of a big relief.

You're like, holy crap, you're

breathing. And then that member stayed with me for the rest of the


Do they know why you were able to survive your


I think it's just a combination of the

parachute having provided enough of

a deceleration combined

with the parachute didn't open. It never reached steady


I shouldn't say.

It didn't open. It didn't open to a, uh, steady state.

Like it never completed. It never finished opening.


And then I think also the fact that I landed

on a roof took some of the

shock. And I think also the fact that I landed on

my seat pack just made it a fiberglass, was

able to all of those things

combined provide a

survivable situation. But

I'll use the word miracle and just that it

doesn't make any sense. Uh,

I shouldn't be here. And I feel very

fortunate that I am.

Yeah, we're all glad.

So you got to the hospital and they had a chance

to look you over, and

what injuries did you end up sustaining?

I do remember one moment of going

through being taken out of the

ambulance into the

emergency and kind of you're on a stretcher. Uh, all you can see is

straight up, and you're going through the

automatic hospital doors. And

I just remember in that moment, as I'm going through the hospital

doors, like, holy crap, your life has just

changed forever. So that

was a bit of a realization of, like, holy crap, you're

here. And

the, uh, injuries that, uh, I was

told at that, uh, time were that I

had broken three vertebrae and just

shattered a bunch of bones on my feet was basically the


Wow. Yeah.

What was the recovery like from that

long? I don't think they knew.

Just due to the communication between the hospital and

perhaps the military medical side, I

think the injuries were maybe described or perceived differently.

So I think at one point, uh, they

had booked an aircraft to come pick me up

just over a week later. And the idea was

like, oh, we're not going to send him home until he can walk on a plane, or

something like that. And that was absolutely not going to happen.

I was on a stretcher that entire

time. And my mom is a

medical professional, and I think the only reason why I was actually

sent home at that time, eight days later, was because my

mom was going to be with me for a couple of months at home. I

had a full hospital set up in my room,

a hospital bed. And had that not

been the case, I would have likely stayed in the hospital

for quite a few weeks.


But it was eight days, and then you were able to because of

that, we're able to go home.

Yeah. Medevac back to Moose

Jaw, and, uh, one

year later is where I

was in a wheelchair for a long

time. Your first six weeks or

so, you're not supposed to spend much time

sitting. You're supposed to be laying down for your

back to heal. So graduated from the

wheelchair to the walker to crutches to then a

cane. I remember a year later at the

anniversary, I think it was the first day that I

dropped the cane. I was like, I can now walk

without the cane and with great

difficulty. And I think after a couple of weeks, I was like, no, I still need

the cane. So another six months later, I still

have the cane at home, uh, on the OD time that I do need it, because there's the

OD bad day where I still need it.

Oh, wow.

Because, uh, I basically don't have cartilage in my right

foot anymore. So there'll always be a bit of an issue,

but manageable, and I'm doing everything that I can

for it to be as functional as possible.


So if we take it back a little bit to when you were still in

hospital and the day of

or the following days, when and how did

you find out that Jen had passed?

It was that night. I feel like I knew,

ah, after a while, I was in the emergency room kind of

asking other, uh, personnel

if Jen was there or there'd be other

people coming in with their medical emergency on a

stretcher. And I was noticing that none of

them they were saying was Jen. So I was like, either she's

completely fine or not.

And, uh, I think it was probably like

08:00 at night, different people cycled through

from the unit. And then it was our snowbird

one at the time that came in and he delivered the

news and at that point I already

knew. Um, and even just overhearing them in the hallway,

I heard a bit of a whisper like, does he?


So once you found out that Jen had passed away,

what effect did that have on you mentally and the crash


I don't think my heart rate went below

130 beats a minute for,

uh, maybe 72 hours. At that

point, you don't even fully know

what your situation there's a lot

going through your mind. You don't know if you're

going to be able to walk again. You don't really know

what has happened. You're on a

lot of drugs. Yeah, I don't know how

to answer that.

Just what, uh, effect it had on you mentally,

that's your short term, but in the long term, how did you find that this

has affected you?

Oh, it's been the single most difficult thing in

my life.


And how have you healed since? Because you're back

flying with the snowbirds. Obviously there's been a

degree of healing and obviously there's a part of this that will

never go away and will never be better.

But how have you healed from it? I don't

know that you ever

really heal from it. I think you just learn how to live with


And how have you done that?

With a lot of mental health.


Uh, the forces has been, uh,

they set me up with someone from Kamloops that has able

to help, uh, quite a bit.



So once you had some time

to physically heal and you

spent a lot of time in recovery, so you had a lot of time to think. Did

you know right away that you wanted to get back into flying?

Yeah, that was one of my first questions I asked the

doctor that night. I

just kind of wanted to know. I was like,

am I being told right now that I'm

never going to walk again? Never going to fly again? I just kind of

said, how is this looking? Just because I

felt that, uh, it was pretty bad day to

begin with. Let's just get everything out of the way. What else do I need

to be prepared for and accept? And

he right away said he's like, you know,

I've seen injuries in some cases that were worse

in a helicopter crash that they were able

to fly again. So he said, uh, I can't

speak to how you're going to recover, but I think

you could make a recovery to the point of being able to fly


And how did that make you feel?

That was motivation to push for that to


What was it like for you to get back into flying after the crash?

Did you feel like the military encouraged you to get back into the


Very much so, yeah. The chain of command,

the whole team have been there for me

and with me throughout. I was posted to the

transition center and then back to the

snowbirds this year, but I never really left the team. This is how it has

felt anyway. And uh,

two years after the fact, I

was able to get a

passenger approval. M, the idea was just

to see before they allowed me to fly

an aircraft again, they just want to see how it is to fly

in a military aircraft again. So I flew my first

flight with Eric Temple. It's number ten, just around

Moose Jaw.

So you're right back into a tutor.

Right back into a tutor. And it

put a smile on my face. It felt like I was

at home again. So I just knew from that flight I was like,

okay, this is good, I need to keep doing this.

That's so good. So you had no

trepidations, no lingering

fears from being back in that cockpit?

No, I think there always are those

things, but I think my trauma doesn't have

to do. I haven't associated it to

flying. I've definitely associated

it, uh, to loss. So I think that

bit, uh, I'm always going to have challenges with.

But when it comes to flying, that's when I can put

everything else aside and just concentrate on flying. And that's

my happy place.

I'm so happy for you. That's the way it's worked out.


I feel fortunate.

Yeah, you are.

What advice would you give to young pilots in the RCAF who

may have to recover from tragedy in the line.

Of duty that the Canadian armed forces

have the resources available and are

there for you, free to do your recovery? Uh, I don't think

I'll say anything more than that, other than the system is there for you and it


Yeah, I agree completely. People who've listened to the show

will know that I've gone through my own mental health issues while in

the military and I can't say enough good things about the

care I've received. And uh,

especially you can look at it a couple of ways. My

experience has been they care about you as a person. You're also an asset, so they have

a vested interest in you getting better. So

people who are afraid that it's going to be a system that doesn't

look out for them, it's just a misconception as far as I've experienced.


I'd like to wrap up this tough topic by remembering

jen, what do you want people to know about her.

She was a force to be reckoned with. I think, uh,

I admired her. Uh, we all did.

Just working with her and watching her

through the previous Ejection

and through other challenges with the

Squadron and Op inspiration,

it really made me feel

like anything was achievable. It was kind of

like the attitude of seeing all the barriers

and seeing how something could not happen that was

not part of her language. It was always like, well,

this is happening. We're going to find a way for this to happen and,

uh, let's do it. So I think that

has reset a

mindset in me to keep

going, even just when it comes to going back flying. Just

to never give up and just focus on the goal. And then

with Jen's mindset, uh, you'll get

there. I love that.

So we're down to our last three questions. We

ask them on every show. I think they're really great questions.

I came up with them.

Well, then they must be great.

What is the most important thing you do to keep yourself ready for your


Sleep 8 hours per night.

Yeah. Just take care of yourself, eat well, go to the

gym, sleep well. And then that gives you, um,

the focus and the ability to focus on,

uh, your job. That's what works for me.

Yeah. It's a simple answer, but it's a good one.

Uh, I'd rather sleep

than study through the night for something.

Divide your time accordingly for you to study when you're going to be

effective at studying and then take care of yourself to be

rested and able to go on to your next flight or flight test or

whatever it might be.

Yeah, I fully agree. There's a time for studying, but you need your rest.



What do you think makes a good pilot?

I would say just the mindset of

always wanting to keep learning

and having new experiences.

Different airframes, different, uh, communities,

excel in. It could be low

level VFR flying or

international IFR operations

or more tactics. So I think

a good pilot should strive to learn as

many things as they can to round

their experience.


Final question. Uh, picture in your head someone who's listening

to the show, who is maybe an air

cadet who's interested in joining, or somebody who's just applied,

or someone who is on their flight training right now in the

RCAF. What would your advice be to that new


To never give up. It took me

two and a half years. It felt like three years to

actually join the know.

I was rejected twice, so I've applied three times

to join as a pilot. One was

from one grade on my

high school diploma that was too low or something. And

they're like, okay, cool, just try again next year.


And then I was rejected a second

time for my eyes.

Which one?

I went to my Ophthalmologist he was like, my machine could be off by that much

any day. Like your 2015 vision, you're good to

go. So sometimes there's little bumps in the road

that if you just keep pushing through them, they

might just be tiny bumps. So if you see

any obstacles, just keep going right on.

Okay, Rich, that's going to wrap up the interview for the audience.

I think it's kind of a cool thing to note that we're sitting here

in my basement in Portage la Prairie. Rich is in his red

snowbird flight suit because he has taken time

out of a day where he's in the middle of coordinating a show here

in Portugal Prairie for the staff and family

members at three Cfffts. So he's

an extremely busy person, but he's still taking the time out to

be here today, and I'm really thankful for that. But I'm also

thankful, Rich, that you're willing to open up to us today about

a really tough topic in your life.


And it really means a lot to me that you're willing to share that with

us. And I'm really excited for Canadians

to hear your story and to learn a little bit more about Jen as


Thanks for having me.

Yeah, thanks for being here.


Okay, that's going to wrap up our chat with Rich about his

time on the snowbirds, as well as his journey after the

Snowbird Eleven crash and losing Jen Casey.

Remembrance Day is fast approaching and it can be a difficult

day for many of us. For my multiengine instructor

and friend, Mike Hool, it's the hardest time of the

year. For our next episode, we'll sit down with Mike and

talk about his experiences over seven tours in

Afghanistan, as well as taking part in the

repatriation of 13 fallen Canadians.

Do you have any questions or comments about anything you've heard or would

you or someone you know make a great guest on the show? You can

reach out to us, uh, at


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Episode 25: The Advance Party: Flying with the Snowbirds, Ejecting from the CT-114 Tutor, and Remembering Jenn Casey - Rich
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