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Snowbirds flight helmets 
 
by: Ron Taylor
The Canadian Snowbirds were born out of the seed planted by the Golden Centennaires. Colonel O.B. Philp, the commanding officer of the Centennaires, became the base commander at CFB Moose Jaw. Col. Philp wanted to ensure that the traditions of aerial perfection established by teams such as the Golden Hawks and his own Golden Centennaires were not lost. So, he established an unofficial "formation" team at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1971.

The helmets used by the early teams were based on the Gentex DH41 series introduced to the RCAF in the early 1960's. The DH41 helmet was a unique close-fitting helmet, similar to an armourer's or tanker's helmet. It had a white fibreglass shell and a red coloured liner helmet. The liner acted as the communication platform as well as a platform to secure the oxygen mask. The liner had two basicNote the large ABS earcups configurations. The first was a liner completely covered by red cotton material. The second configuration was designed for pilots who could not fit a standard-sized liner. This liner was made of the same red cotton material but had two large openings at the ear position. Large ABS plastic earcups used to house the earphones were integrated right into the liner. While their natural colour was white, the Snowbirds painted the earcups red to match the liner.

For the 1971 and 1972 teams, the aircrew helmets were painted red with a 5 inch wide, white stripe painted down the centre. Within the white stripe were red maple leaves. These leaves were painted down the DH41 - 1971 Teamcentre with the stems pointing towards the back. There were usually three, sometimes four leaves. The edging of the helmet was black and the helmet had a snap-on visor that operated via two external hinges that were secured to the helmet with screws and self-locking nuts. The visor was protected with a chamois cover. The pilot's name was painted on the chamois in red. The type was Old English script. Team lead Major Glen Younghusband used a variation of the DH41 helmet. Major Younghusband's helmet was painted identically to the snap-on visor helmets but instead of a chamois visor cover, a SPH-3 dual visor kit was added. His name was painted in red on the plastic visor cover in the same Old English script.

Unlike many other military air demonstration teams, the Snowbirds do not have support aircraft to move their equipment and ground crew. The team is totally self-contained with 11 tutor aircraft. Ground crew fly with the team from show to show. In 1971 the ground crew used the same DH41 helmet with the snap-on visor and chamois visor cover. Ground crew helmets were painted white but their names did not appear on the visor cover.

DH41 - 1973 TeamIn 1973, the Canadian Air Force adopted the DH41-2 flying helmet. This helmet was basically a standard DH41 with a C2308 dual visor kit. The DH41-2 helmet incorporated a mechanism that required the pilot to raise or lower the visor by pressuring and sliding one of two control buttons on the side of the helmet; one button for the sun visor and another for a clear bird protection visor. New team lead Major George Miller felt that this procedure was a safety hazard for team members and the DH41 helmet with the single snap-on visor was retained. However, a new paint scheme was introduced in 1973. The helmets were painted red with 3 white speedbirds and a diamond down the center. The diamond started at the back and contained the pilot 's position number. Then the speedbirds started small from the back and increased in size to the front. White helmet edging replaced the black edging of earlier helmets. The chamois visor covers were identical to the previous years.

The ground crew switched to the dual visor DH41-2 in 1973. Their names and ranks were super-imposed in red over a white maple leaf outlined in red, flanked by 3 speedbirds and a diamond. The diamond was also in red.

There were no changes for 1975 but in 1976 the ground crew helmets were painted blue. In addition, the same combination of three white speedbirds and a large diamond was used. The ground crew's position number was located inside the diamond.

DH41-2 1984 TeamBy 1977 aircrew had adopted the dual visor DH41-2 helmet. The helmet was painted red with the same design of 3 speedbirds and a diamond. This helmet and paint design was used until the 1989 season.

However, there were two known variations during the period leading up to 1989. Major George Hawey was team lead for the 1983-1984 seasons. Maj. Hawey had an exchange posting flying RF-4C Phantoms from 1977 to 1980 and managed to persuade the USAF to let him keep his fitted helmet. His helmet was a HGU-26/P type complete with the camouflage tape. The camouflage tape was removed and Maj. Hawey had the 3 speedbird paint scheme applied to this helmet. The Gentex HGU-26/P helmet consists of a HGU-22/P shell with a PRU-36/P dual visor cover.

In 1986, Captain Don Brodeur joined the team as opposing solo. It is believed that Capt. Brodeur Capt. Don Brodeurused a Gentex HGU-55/P helmet with a single dark visor and an EEK-4A visor cover. The same speedbird paint scheme was used. At that time, the HGU-55/P and EEK-4A combination was also used by the US Navy Blue Angels and the USAF Thunderbirds.

1986 also saw the introduction of the Gentex 190a helmet in to Canadian Air Force service. The 190a is very similar in appearance to the HGU-55/P helmet. However, there are some important differences. The 190a employs the integrated chin and nape assembly. The visor stops are twice as tall as those on the HGU-55/P. The face opening is cut slightly higher on the 190a. And most significantly, the centre leather patch on the 190a is much larger and resembles more of an oval shape than the narrow leather strip on the HGU-55/P. Many of the original features of the 190a are now incorporated in the HGU-84/P helmet.

The Snowbirds retained their DH41-2 helmets until the 1989 season. However, photographic evidence indicates that 1987 team lead Major Dennis Beselt used a 190a helmet during his two year tenure. Maj. Beselt's 190a - 1990 Teamhelmet was as issued in its original combat grey paint.

It wasn't until Major Dan Dempsey joined the team as team lead in 1989 did the aircrew adopt the 190a helmet. The helmets were not painted red but remained in the same issue grey paint. The visor cover was made of red leather with chamois backing. A white leather speedbird was sewn in to the visor cover. The ground crew continued to use the DH41-2 helmet in 1989.

In 1990, both aircrew and ground crew where issued the Gentex 190a. This helmet continues in service with the team for its 30th Anniversary. Aircrew helmets are painted red and ground crew helmets are painted blue. There are three white speedbirds and a large diamond down the centre, starting small from the back and increasing in size to the front. The aircrew or ground crew position number is located inside the diamond. The edging on team helmets is black and the leather patches are completely removed from the helmet. The Snowbirds use either a single snap-on dark sun visor or a snap-on dual visor. The dual visor Aircrew and Ground Crew Helmetsconsists of a clear bird protection visor and a dark sun visor. The choice between using a single visor or a dual visor is a personal preference. Some team members don't like to attach the dual visors because they have to be careful to avoid scratching the one visor while pulling down the other. When you are travelling at 300 mph and and your wing tip is overlapping that of another aircraft, worrying about your visor is the last thing you need to think about.

In 1971 the team started with a simple helmet with a snap-on visor. The Snowbirds have come full circle, employing a simple helmet with a snap-on visor. I hope you have enjoyed my look at Snowbird flight helmets.

 

 
Sources:
Snowbirds, From the Beginning - O.B. Philp/Bill Johnson
Canada's Air Force Today - Larry Milberry
431 Air Demonstration Squadron 20th Anniversary Program
Flying High, Canada's Snowbirds Celebrate 25 Years
Snowbirds, Ambassadors of the Sky - Robert Mummery
CAF 431 Air Demonstration Squadron (Snowbirds) Website

 

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