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Seasoned North Okanagan-Shuswap pilots maintain formation as the Vernon Snowflakes

Group known for their show of respect with Remembrance Day service flyovers
Vernon Snowflakes pilots take in some winter flying. (Photo contributed)

John Crook

Special to the Observer

In the Shuswap you may enjoy the sound of Canada geese honking overhead, but at times there is another sound that can be heard overhead, that of a double diamond formation of small single-engine homebuilt RV aircraft.

This team of RV fliers (named for designer Richard VanGrusven) often fly from Vernon to enjoy Salmon Arm Flying Club’s Wednesday morning coffee. After flying over the airport, they break formation, land and taxi to the ramp in good order. With the planes shut down, the pilots proceed to share Tim Bits, coffee and hangar yarns.

The RVs, called the Vernon Snowflakes, are a highly disciplined formation flying team of eleven pilots, with combined flying times of almost 10 years aloft. Some built their own RVs while others acquired them. Two members are building an RV-10 and a RV-7 respectively, with help from forgiving wives and enthusiastic friends.

The Snowflakes team flies tail draggers, tandem seaters, side-by-siders and tricycle designs. They include: RV-4 C-GEAU Chuck Ross; RV-6A C-GRBK, Rob Kennett; RV-7A C-FUXI, Franz Fux; RV-7A C-FBJV, John Swallow; RV-9A C-GLGG, Steve Swallow; RV-7A C-FRVJ, Stuart McLean; RV-8 C-FIFF, Ron Townson; RV-4 C-GWYR, Hammy McClymont; RV-9A C-GVYT, Steve Foord; RV-6AC C-GDMF, Dave Fish; RV-9A C-FAJO, Mike Hewson.

The Snowflakes started formation flying in late 2003, led by three pilots: Chuck Ross, Larry Williams and Rob Kennett. Two years later, Stan Nelson, Franz Fux and Roman Rotach joined. Chuck, Rob and Franz are still active in the group.

The name Snowflakes was suggested by Stan’s wife when someone made the somewhat disparaging remark that the team thought it was the renowned Snowbirds aerobatic team. The Snowflakes logo was developed by Roman in 2009 when Stan, Roman and Rob participated in the cross-Canada flight to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada.

Read more: Local pilot takes part in Salmon Arm’s first Remembrance Day flyover

Read more: We will remember them: Salmon Arm Legion hosts Remembrance Day ceremony

Things got more organized when John Swallow began to lead the group. He had flown Canadair-built RCAF CF-86 Sabres in Germany and was selected for the Golden Centennaires, the RCAF’s contribution to Canada’s 1967 Centennial celebrations. This was the first formation team to fly Canadair CT-114 Tutors, before they became Snowbirds.

The Snowflakes practise often, summer and winter. The job of leading the flights is shared among members as they practise flying different formation positions. Preparation takes them to various airports throughout the Southern Interior.

Well known throughout the Okanagan-Shuswap, the Snowflakes are invited to fly over major community events, including the Vernon Winter Festival and Salmon Arm Fall Fair. Nevertheless, the first priority is Remembrance Day, November 11. Community Remembrance Day services are miles apart, so arriving over an 11 a.m. service requires careful planning. In 2022, nine aircraft flew over cenotaphs in eight communities to honour Canada’s war dead. The Snowflakes also fly salutes for veterans celebrating significant birthdays, and have flown memorial flights for fellow pilots who have “gone west,” often with the “missing man” formation.

Brad Armstrong, pilot, aircraft owner and Snowflakes friend enjoys making amusing videos of Snowflake flights.

Many Snowflake pilots have retired from careers as airline or commercial pilots spanning the world, bush flyers up north, or as military airmen. They are proud, skilled formation flyers. Nevertheless, they are a fun bunch who can be a bit goofy on the ground. Such tom foolery comes out in Brad’s videos.

Come to the Salmon Arm Regional Airport Emergency Expo on June 25 and have a cool chat with Snowflakes.

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Vernon Snowflakes pilots fly in formation as they approach the Salmon Arm Regional Airport. (Photo contributed)