Group of Okanagan residents builds bonds while airborne

Bonds built in the sky

Chelsey Mutter

Vernonites who spotted planes flying close together and leaving a trail of smoke in the sky on Saturday will have seen the Vernon Snowflakes mid-flight.

The iconic group hosted its first ever fly-in on Saturday, where pilots of homemade planes were invited to fly-in to the Vernon airport for a meet-up.

The group saw a number of pilots fly in from around BC and even Alberta.

Lead pilot Steve Foord says the Snowflakes are a group of people from all different backgrounds that are brought together over their love for flying.

A group of eight pilots were out Saturday morning in the Vernon airspace showcasing their flying skills. The snowflakes are a group of 10 pilots total who have trained and learnt to fly in close range to one another.

Before taking flight, the snowflakes talk through their flight plan and what each aircraft will be doing. Pilots fly their “RV” planes in formation over Vernon.

The RV planes are sold as a kit from Van’s Aircraft. The name RV comes from company founder Richard VanGrunsven. But Foord says building the plane is not taking pieces out of a box and putting them together, it’s “a real airplane that needs to be built piece by piece by piece.”

Some of the snowflakes bought their planes, while others built their own.

Foord says he started building his first airplane after seeing the RV’s and a pilot took him up for a flight.

“Did that flight, and yeah that flight cost me a lot of money because I then decided I’m going to build one of these airplanes,” said Foord. “I looked at what it took to build them, and really, it doesn’t take any special qualifications, just the crazy desire to take on a big project.”

It took Foord six years to build his airplane. He says his wife is a good riveter, and she helped him build it. He took his first flight in the aircraft five years ago, and has logged about 500 hours in the RV.

The planes are all maintained by the owners, and Foord says if the planes are well maintained they can outlive their owners.

“There's nothing in an airplane that’s time limited…the airplane needs to be maintained, and that’s our job as builders and owners, we maintain the plane. The engine, if it's well looked after, can last thousands of hours before it needs to be just overhauled, but that doesn't mean the plane (needs to be scrapped).

“There are many planes flying from the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s and 60’s, and they just keep going, they just need to be maintained they have no limited lifespan, they’re not like cars where eventually you see cars going into the trash heap.”

John Swallow helped teach the snowflakes how to fly in formation. From his input and coaching the group learned to fly together and manage larger groups. Two, three and four people can be a challenge flying in formation, and the snowflakes can fly with 10.

The group can be spotted in the skies often, as the Foord says they fly together about three times a week. The Snowflakes fly in tight knit formation and maybe even with a trail of smoke behind them.

The group includes an ex-military pilot from South Africa, one of the original westjet pilots

“Doesn’t really matter what your background was, that’s my favourite part. It’s a great group of people and we have a lot of fun together,” said Foord.

Foord said the group does Remembrance Day fly overs and have done two special flights to celebrate a Veteran turning 100 years old. Something he says is very special to him, just sitting and listening to the life those men have lived.

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