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Following an accident earlier this month involving a CT-114 Tutor jet operated by the Canadian Forces Snowbirds (431 Air Demonstration Squadron), an operational pause has been ordered on the entire Tutor fleet.
On Aug. 2, the Snowbirds were scheduled to depart Fort St. John, British Columbia, for Penticton for a performance the following day. The second-last Tutor aircraft to depart Fort St. John Airport experienced an “emergency” during takeoff. The pilot, who was the sole occupant, was able to return to the airfield immediately, but experienced a hard landing that caused damage to the aircraft. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) confirmed in a statement that the pilot did not sustain any injuries.
An investigation into the accident is currently underway by the RCAF’s Directorate of Flight Safety to determine the cause, and whether it poses any risk to continued flying operations. If so, the RCAF must determine “what mitigation measures can but put in place to lower those risks.”
MGen Iain Huddleston, Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division, confirmed that until an operational airworthiness risk assessment can be completed, the Snowbirds’ Tutor jets will not fly.
“We will return the fleet to flying operations when it is safe to do so, and in accordance with our rigorous airworthiness program,” said Huddleston.
The accident has so far affected the Snowbirds’ scheduled performances in Penticton, Abbotsford, White Rock, and Edmonton; with the fleet now grounded, the remainder of the team’s 2022 season is uncertain.
The current operational pause comes almost exactly two years after a previous operational pause of the CT-114 Tutor fleet was lifted. That operational pause was implemented in May 2020 following a CT-114 accident in Kamloops, British Columbia, which resulted in the death of Snowbirds Public Affairs Officer, Capt Jennifer Casey. A single, small bird was ingested into the engine of the aircraft following takeoff, which resulted in a compressor stall and a loss of thrust.
Future of the fleet
The current CT-114 Tutor fleet consists of 20 aircraft total, which are based at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Utilized as the primary trainer for the RCAF until 2000, the Tutor jets are nearly 60 years old now, and are scheduled to be used by the Snowbirds until 2030.
In early 2021, the Canadian government committed $30 million to modernize the Tutor jets to keep them flying until the end of the decade. Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) awarded a $26.1 million contract to L3Harris in March 2021 to support the design and acquisition of a new avionics suite on the Tutor fleet.
The avionics suite is to include an electronic flight display system (EFDS); Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B); new navigation/communication (NAV/COM); distance measuring equipment (DME); and, cockpit voice recorder/flight data recorder (CVR/FDR).
The contract also covers upgrades to other sub-systems, such as digital engine displays, digital standby instruments, and associated cockpit layout changes.
The installation of the new avionics suite is part of a separate contract, also being fulfilled by L3, which will make up the remaining $3.9 million of the $30 million budget.
Department of National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande told Skies that initial operating capability of four modified aircraft is “still currently scheduled for October 2022.” However, “the timelines are under review due to additional time required for prototyping and testing.” Modifications to the remaining aircraft are expected to be completed by the end of 2024.
More updates on timelines are anticipated in early fall.