Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tutors until 2020? Planes that flew in the RCAF...

An effort eventually (no kidding!) to have one jet as both trainer and demonstrator:
Cost cuts snare Snowbirds
Plan would keep team's ancient jets in the air until 2020 despite safety worries
7 Snowbird pilots have been killed while flying since 1972

A plan to keep Canada's ancient Snowbirds airborne 10 years beyond their lifespan would ignore previous warnings that they should be immediately replaced and could put the lives of the precision pilots at unnecessary risk.

Documents obtained by the Toronto Star show senior defence officials have asked Defence Minister Peter MacKay to approve a plan that would see the CT-114 Tutor jets perform through to 2020.

The officials say that doing so presents "technical risks" but will save a significant amount of money.

But any decision to extend the service of the Tutors would come despite internal military reports, some dating back to 2003, urging that they be replaced "immediately," in the wake of a number of accidents, including the 2007 death of Capt. Shawn McCaughey [more here].

He died when his seat belt malfunctioned while flying upside down at a Montana air show.

A final report on the investigation into his death, which exposed a delay in dealing with the lingering problem of seat-belt malfunctions, has not been completed.

Seven Snowbird pilots have perished in flight since 1972. The planes have flown since 1963 and have performed at North American air shows since 1971.

The safety of the planes – the last one was produced by Canadair in 1966 – is a sore point for the air force, which faces pointed questions each time a Tutor crashes.

It is seeking final approvals for the $116 million it will take to upgrade and maintain the jets.

Without the upgrades, it will be impossible for the Snowbirds to continue the precision and acrobatic flights after the 2010 air show season thanks to obsolete parts and difficulty servicing the fleet.

There is no longer time to replace the Snowbird fleet by 2010 so the upgrades are the only way to keep the planes in the air until either 2015 [see here] or 2020, the documents from last fall explain.

Senior air force officials, including Lt.-Gen. Angus Watt, the chief of the air staff, told MacKay that purchasing replacement aircraft for 2015 would lessen the technical risks associated with extending the CT-114 beyond that date.

Extending service of the Tutors to 2020 is a "technically challenging" option but it would allow the Canadian Forces to select a plane that could serve double duty [emphasis added] with both the air force's pilot training program [currently the CT-155 Hawk] and the Snowbirds, providing a "significantly lower cost when compared against a new aircraft acquisition."

The estimated cost to upgrade the seat, engine and navigation systems on the Tutors through to 2020 is $116 million, while buying replacement planes in 2015 "in effect increases the long-term life cycle costs of providing air demonstration capability," says the briefing note, obtained under the Access to Information Act.

There is still a risk that the NATO Flying Training Canada program, through which NATO countries send pilots to bases in Moose Jaw, Sask., and Cold Lake, Alta., for jet pilot training, will select replacement aircraft that are "not compatible with the Snowbird mission" in 2020, the briefing note says.

"If this occurs, the (Canadian Forces) would be in the position of having to purchase a unique, stand-alone fleet. ... However, it is anticipated that this risk is low [emphasis added]."

No final approval has been granted to the extension yet, said a spokesperson for MacKay, though the documents note a decision is expected before this summer.

On the Snowbirds' website, it says the pilots are "very confident flying the Tutor. It is safe and performs extremely well as a demonstration aircraft."

Former Snowbird lead pilot George Miller agreed that the safety risks that go along with flying the aging planes wouldn't necessarily be greater, noting that the seatbelt system and ejection seats have been much improved in recent years.

What is lamentable is that by the end of the next decade Canada's flagship demonstration team will be flying an obsolete plane that does little to represent the modern air force, he said."We have a great tradition as military officers of having a stiff upper lip and just doing what we're told ... so you can bet that the airplanes will be pristine," said Miller. "But down deep we know darn well it's a shame that we as a western frontline country don't have the wherewithal to represent our nation."

The only other option for the future of the Snowbirds – scrapping the team completely – is out of the question for the military.
Thank goodness for that. But whether it really is a good idea to keep the Tutors flying for another eleven years...

The last Tutor (then CL-41) for the Royal Canadian Air Force was built in 1966 [more here], so the youngest plane will be 54 years old in 2020.

Update: The Snowbirds' end might be approaching (my, my, is that "stunt" in the sub-head dismissive"; via Norman's Spectator)
Tanks, choppers trump Snowbirds' jets
MacKay cites Afghan war `equipment priorities' in postponing replacement of aging stunt planes

New planes for the iconic Snowbirds air demonstration team are less important than tanks, helicopters and bomb-proof road clearing equipment in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says.

"We have a lot of equipment priorities," MacKay said yesterday. "We base these decisions very much on operational needs and so those are the priorities right now of the Canadian Forces. The Snowbirds are a wonderful ceremonial team of pilots and acrobatic aircraft, but we haven't taken a decision yet on their replacement."

The Star reported yesterday that senior military officials want to extend the life of the Snowbirds' aging Tutor CT-114 jets by a decade to 2020 – despite admitted "technical risks" – to delay a multi-million-dollar payment for their replacement. MacKay has made no decision on the proposal...

MacKay said he's waiting for final recommendations from Lt.-Gen. Angus Watt, the chief of the air staff, before approving a plan to extend the Tutors' lifespan. A final decision is expected before summer.

"We'll examine all the options. We'll not fly aircraft that are not completely checked out and safe and we'll look at the best possible option," MacKay said...

High-level military discussions last summer and fall examined grounding the aerial acrobats.

One meeting in September said maintaining the Snowbirds is not an official requirement, but it is one the force doesn't want to give up.

"There is a significant overall benefit to Canada in maintaining an adequate level of Air Demonstration Capability simply because it has a powerful je ne sais quoi: an intangible effect that connects Canadians with the (Canadian Forces)."..


Blogger Dave in Pa. said...

An inescapable part of the fatality and accident rate of aerobatic teams is the inherent great dangerousness of jet aircraft aerobatics.

Even the US Navy Blue Angels, always having late model aircraft-currently F/A-18C/Ds, have suffered, according to their Wikipedia article, an overall 10% fatality rate of all their pilots. (One just a year and a half ago.)

The USAF Thunderbirds, also flying late model aircraft-currently F-16Ds, have also had, according to their Wiki article, two fatalities and numerous near disastrous aerial accidents and incidents.

Obviously, new aircraft are much better than old aircraft, whether for aerobatics or for operations. Nevertheless, even if those brave and highly skilled aerobatics pilots were flying brand new jets, their jobs are inherently extremely dangerous.

Personally-and I know most people will disagree with me-I (and I'm an ex-USAF aircraft tech.) question the benefit of military aerobatics teams, in light of their costs, both human and financial.

1:55 p.m., March 25, 2009  
Blogger Jay Crawford said...

Very true Dave; entropy is inescapable and disaster will catch up with you in time...especially in a demanding DYNAMIC environment like (always dangerous) aerobatics in an airshow.
However, STUPIDITY is an accelerant.
To wit:
"Extending service of the Tutors to 2020...would allow the Canadian Forces to select a plane that could serve double duty with both the air force's pilot training program [currently the CT-155 Hawk] and the Snowbirds, providing a 'significantly lower cost when compared against a new aircraft acquisition.'"
I don't normally use vulgar language but I must say this idea of using an antiquated aircraft as a trainer for pilots of (fairly) modern CF-18s is absolutely batsh#t crazy. And the retrograde idea of going from Hawks back to Tutors with associated obsolecence and maintainence "issues" is worse.
Look, you can keep half-century airplanes viable; BUFFs prove that. But SINGLE-engine JETS in the AEROBATIC environment of an AIRSHOW with additional airframe flight hours coming from "double duty" as a trainer?!?!?!
Good Lord! Is it possible that the disconnect between the CF's needs and the Canadian public's ignorance/apathy could be worse?
Everyone blew up with outrage over Greg Gutfeld's slander of the CF (though we've all seen Canadian media/personalities do worse to Americans...and impugn worse to the CF than Gutfeld). So how about this: Have Gutfeld make trash talk about the "Third World jet trainer aircraft plan of poor Canada". Maybe that could galvanize some support for trainers and perhaps save a Snowbird or two.
Aw, screw it. What I wrote above in lower-case letters needs to be in capital letters:

2:23 p.m., March 25, 2009  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Guys, I believe what the air force is saying is that if you were to try to replace the Tutors right now, you'd have to buy one fleet for them, and then another one for jet training when that contract comes up. Whereas if you extend the Tutor lifespan some more, you could synchronize the demo sqn buy with a jet trainer buy and harmonize the two tasks in one common aircraft.

I don't believe anyone's suggesting using the Tutors as a jet trainer until that time - it will still be the Hawks.

I could be misreading that, but I don't think so.

2:42 p.m., March 25, 2009  
Blogger Dave in Pa. said...


" EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) - The Air Force says an F-22 fighter has crashed in the vicinity of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California.

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ann Stefanek confirmed the crash Wednesday but had no other details. Stefanek had no information on the status of the pilot.

The F-22 is the Air Force's new top-of-the-line fighter."

Let's hope the pilot is OK.

Please don't think me insensitive but in any case, there goes a quarter billion bucks. As a wise old very senior USAF NCO once said to me, in reference to flying the then-new B-1s or any other brand new aircraft, "You don't want to be on the first crew to prang one of 'em. Unless the investigation shows the aircrew absolutely not at fault, their careers are over."

3:11 p.m., March 25, 2009  
Blogger Jay Crawford said...

Our pleasantly-conversational (hardly babbling) Brooks corrected me:
"If you were to try to replace the Tutors right now, you'd have to buy one fleet for them, and then another one for jet training when that contract comes up. Whereas if you extend the Tutor lifespan some more, you could synchronize the demo sqn buy with a jet trainer buy and harmonize the two tasks in one common aircraft."

I sheepishly respond [in my best Festus voice]:
Weeell, okay, sir. You're right Marshall, sir.

Now, humor aside, I'll acknowledge my apparently erroneous conclusion that the CF Air Force was thinking about using the Tutors for anything other than Snowbirds' shows.
My bad.
That said, I will slightly modify and then reiterate my original thesis statement to state thusly:
50+ year old SINGLE-engine JETS in the AEROBATIC environment of an AIRSHOW?!?! THIS IDEA IS BATSH#T CRAZY.

11:16 p.m., March 25, 2009  

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