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Snowbirds Pilot Honoured On U.S. Memorial

When one of Canada’s famed Snowbirds aerobatic team members died in a stunning plane crash last year, American veterans in Montana felt they could not overlook the tragedy in their own back yard.Captain Shawn McCaughey died May 18 while the team was practising for an air show at the Malmstrom Air Force Base, near Great Falls, Mont. While the accident made headlines in Canada and led to a temporary suspension of the Snowbirds regular air demonstration schedule, local veterans thought it was fitting that the Canadian pilot be honoured on their local memorial.“He was a brother,” said Sam Pappas, the sergeant-at-arms of the Montana Department of the American Legion. He and other American Legionnaires made the trip to Lloydminster in October to attend the convention of Saskatchewan Command of The Royal Canadian Legion and tell how they had honoured the young pilot.Pappas showed delegates photos of McCaughey’s name being added to the Montana Veterans Memorial in Great Falls, 520 kilometres south of Calgary. The memorial is a wall with the names of local people who have served in the military. “We have a name from the Civil War there. It is mostly people who served in World War I, II and Korea and of course the current wars,” said Pappas. “It’s a living memorial. Great Falls didn’t have a memorial of any kind. We wanted to create something that was all inclusive.”The memorial was first conceived by a committee that formed in 1999. “The land that the memorial was built on was donated for veterans use some time ago,” said Pappas, who is also chairman of the memorial. “(Over the years) the city became the owner and we are the trustees.”Construction on the memorial began in 2003 with great assistance from the 819th Redhorse Squadron of the U.S. Air Force, 219th Redhorse Squadron of the Montana Air Guard and the U.S. Navy reserve in Helena, Mont. Work was completed in 2006 and formal dedication ceremony was held in May that year.A 21-foot Warrior Angel statue was created by artist Marvin Brewster and erected in September 2005.The plaque that has been added to the memorial reads, “In honour of Capt. Shawn McCaughey, Canadian Snowbirds Pilot.” As well, a maple tree was planted at the memorial with McCaughey’s name on it to recognize his nationality.McCaughey, 31, from Candiac, Que., was in his second year flying with the Snowbirds. He had a degree in physical geography from Concordia University in Montreal and commercial pilot’s licence when he joined the Canadian Forces in 2000. He was posted to Canadian Forces Base Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan as a flying instructor in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Flying Training in Canada program.After successfully completing the tryouts for the Snowbirds in 2005, McCaughey began flying with them in the 2006 season. He had more than 1,400 hours military flying time at the beginning of the 2007 Snowbirds performance schedule. McCaughey was to marry his fiancée, Claudia Gaudreault, in June.A preliminary investigation into the accident found that McCaughey’s seatbelt had come undone while flying upside down, causing him to fall out of his seat and lose control of his Tutor CT-114 aircraft.The manoeuvre called an Inverted Photo Pass required the lead Snowbird to fly across the show line upright while McCaughey in SB 2 flew inverted on his left wing. SB 3 was inverted on the lead’s right wing and SB 4 was inverted above and behind the lead plane. The accident occurred as McCaughey rolled into the inverted position. The aircraft hit the ground on a 45 degree angle before the pilot had a chance to eject.Preventive measures taken as a result of the investigation included modification to the pilot restraint system as well as new procedures and changes made to the Aircraft Operating Instructions.Once the suspension had been lifted, the Snowbird pilots returned to Montana to get their aircrafts. As they left to return to Canada, they performed a flypast at the Memorial in honour of the fallen pilot.

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