While not quite as loud as the sound of the Snowbird planes flying overhead, Gordon MacDonald’s voice can be heard booming call-outs of maneuvers at the top of Air Force Beach every spring for the past 10 years.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the big arrow,” he yells as the 2014 Canadian Forces Snowbird team flies into formation over the crowd of photographers and curious onlookers gathered in the parking lot on the far side of CFB Comox.
MacDonald, known as Mr. Snowbird, has been the unofficial voice of the Snowbirds for the past decade — arguably their biggest fan — and is completing his tenure as play-by-play announcer at the end of their training season on May 7.
“I saw (the Snowbirds) when I was a young kid but when I moved from Campbell River to the Comox Valley … in 2002 … I noticed the planes doing the loops and I started to take pictures of them from the Driftwood Mall,” he explains in between practices at Air Force Beach.
“I didn’t go up to (Air Force Beach) until 2004 and I noticed when I came here the Snowbirds were practising here and I started to come up and saw the big diamond roll — that’s the big loop — and saw all that stuff. And I started studying up on them, and studying the manoeuvres and formations.”
MacDonald, who now lives in Victoria, decided to make this his last year because it’s difficult for him to return to the Valley.
He came up-Island this year specifically for the team’s two week training period, and admits announcing the last practice this year will be hard.
“There’s a lot of people who listen to me,” he says while picking up a notebook filled with drawings of plane formations.
“There’s a lot of people saying it’s going to be tough times without Mr. Snowbird. They want Mr. Snowbird to continue but it’s hard because I really want to do it because if I’m not here, what are the people going to think? You look up in the sky and what do the planes look like? Where’s that Snowbird announcer?”
Sporting more than a dozen Snowbird insignia pins on his jacket — one for each twice-daily practice — MacDonald says he has memorized the formations, and researched just a few online.
“I noticed one of the manoeuvres was big diamond, a big arrow, concord and condor. There’s the palm formation, there’s the Mexican coco tree, that’s my favourite one. They go up like a big diamond and burst like a Mexican palm tree. I studied the formations on the Internet a little bit; I’ve got them all stored in my head.”
The formations easily roll off his tongue: the big diamond, the condor, the shuttle, the rocket, swept wing delta, and MacDonald says one time during a demonstration show over the Comox Marina in 2002, he almost had the opportunity to show off his skills in front of thousands of fans.
“I went to the show and they forgot to put the power on the wharf. I was (so) close to doing the show for the entire Comox Valley, but at the last minute the power came on,” he adds with a smile.
Throughout the last decade, MacDonald has met and talked with many of the team members, and looks forward to meeting them at the Comox Airforce Museum for an autograph signing May 3.
“I want to meet them at the museum for one final time. I want to go and see what the team is like this year and get their autographs (and) talk to them about the type of manoeuvres.”
Watching from the ground year after year, MacDonald notes he has never wanted to fly a plane, but would like to see the show from a different perspective.
“I can’t (become a pilot) because I have a disability with epilepsy and autism. I have been in an airplane but not in a Tutor — I really want to do that one day.”