The Canadian Forces Snowbirds will have a new Team Lead heading into the 2024 season.
Major Brett Parker recently handed the reigns of Snowbird 1 over to Major Brent Handy.
For Parker, this was his second posting with the Snowbirds, the first being from 2010 to 2015. This most recent stint started near the end of 2020. He took over the Team Lead position in October of 2021.
Parker had dreams of becoming a member of the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron since he was a kid.
"Obviously the flying is amazing but to be honest the people are ultimately what makes any kind of job probably worth those memories. I've had the amazing opportunity to work with some top-notch professionals throughout my time on the Snowbirds. I've always enjoyed getting out there and meeting the public which of course is a large job of what the snowbirds are," he said. "I really enjoy that opportunity and that was something that I had a passion with, with going to schools and hospitals alike and just putting a smile on people's faces."
Parker, originally from Edmonton, joined the Canadian Armed Forces in September of 1999. Upon receiving his pilot's wings in 2003, he was posted to 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School (CFFTS) 15 Wing Moose Jaw where he instructed on the CT-155 Hawk.
He says as a Snowbirds pilot, they spend a huge amount of time training in the off-season.
"Most of the time, what people see is the final product of eight months of hard work, not just from the pilots, but also from the ground crew that are learning their trades and all the little ins and outs on the aircraft to make sure that we show up and are able to give a performance everywhere we go. From a competitive point of view, it is competitive and rightfully so. When you get awarded that patch at the end of tryouts...it really is a huge sense of fulfillment and then you get on the team and you realize it's just probably one of the best jobs in the world."
While Parker has flown in front of some huge crowds, including Canada Day in Ottawa, it's the smaller events that he'll remember the most.
"You show up with 11 aircraft in a town that's got 5,000 people and pretty much the entire town treats you like you are their child," he remarked. "They open their arms wide. I've had the opportunity to do those shows where you just feel so enveloped by the warmth and the gratitude from the communities and that always obviously strikes a memory."
Performing fly-overs in Ottawa during Canada Day was another highlight for Parker, who also had the opportunity to fly in the United States, acting as an ambassador for Canada.
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds wrapped up its 2023 show season with a performance at the Moose Jaw Municipal Airport on Oct. 13. The show was meant as a 'thank you' to the people of Moose Jaw for all their support.
"I know every time we fly overhead, we get a lot of accolades online. I know that was emulated there on Friday night in terms of trying to give back a little bit to the city and I hope they realize that it's great to have the team here and look forward to the future," added Parker.
Unfortunately, the season finale was cut short due to a large amount of birds in the area. That was just one of many challenges that the team faced during the 2023 season as it performed across ten provinces and also in the United States.
"We've had weather challenges, maintenance challenges, pilot challenges, you name it, it's been there but at the end of the day the entire team continued to work towards what ultimately is what our aim is, which is to be out there demonstrating the skills, professionalism and teamwork of the Canadian Armed Forces."
Parker was excited to hand over the Boss helmet to his longtime colleague Major Brent Handy, originally from Wyevale, Ontario.
"He's been an instructor, he's been an F-18 pilot, he's been on the snowbirds before, he brings a huge breadth of experience to the team. Handing over the helmet over to him, obviously, I'm really happy for him being selected for it but I also know that the team is being handed over to someone, who's in good hands, and Brent's going to continue to do what needs to happen as the boss and I know he's going to do a fantastic job."
Handy re-enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2021 and has 20 years of service. In addition to flying the F-18, Handy has also served as a jet instructor pilot, and as lead solo pilot for the Snowbirds jet demo team.
Parker will be returning to his home province to continue his military career in Cold Lake, Alberta. He's looking forward to being reunited with his family.
"It's going be great to be able to get back home and reestablish myself back with my family, which is awesome, but also know that I leave here with so many cherished memories and can't thank the people that have been involved in my career to make it happen to this stage. I can't thank them enough for allowing it to happen. I look forward to the next chapter for me."
Major Brett Parker leaves Moose Jaw with over 5,000 hours of military jet flying experience.
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