Homecoming for alumnus and lead pilot of the Snowbirds
Mount Royal alumnus landing in Calgary to perform at the Wings Over Springbank Airshow
When the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds land in Calgary to perform at the Wings Over Springbank Airshow on July 27 and 28, it will be a homecoming of sorts for the team’s lead pilot and Aviation Diploma alumnus Maj. Denis Bandet (1997).
Bandet started his professional flying training at Mount Royal, roaming the skies above the Springbank campus hangar from 1995 to 1997, but he didn’t always have his sights set on the sky.
After finishing high school, Bandet worked for the family business in heavy electrical for nearly a decade. It was only on a chance visit to the Regina Flying Club open house where he found his true calling.
“I started private flying right after that. A few months later I went to the Moose Jaw air show and saw a CF-18 and the Snowbirds perform. From that moment, I had my vector,” Bandet says.
When he looked into it, though, he learned the Canadian Forces were undergoing a reduction program and the air force was basically getting rid of pilots. Undaunted, Bandet shifted focus and continued to pursue flying as a civilian.
“A friend offered me some advice, he said that all the ‘college guys’ get the good jobs. So I did my homework and found Mount Royal’s aviation program,” Bandet says.
With the dream of flying fighter jets still at the back of his mind, Bandet stayed in touch with a Canadian Forces recruiter while working on his diploma. Just as he was graduating, the air force was once again looking for pilots.
Bandet entered the military along with five other classmates. Thanks to their strong education from Mount Royal, they were able to advance straight to jet training. From there his career trajectory took off.
“Most of the instructors at Mount Royal at that time had previous military experience. Butch Foster, Ralph Langeman, Ron Elliot, Dave Oldford, Dave Deere and Burt Marcotte were all great mentors,” he says.
In 2010, after more than a decade flying CF-18 Hornets and CT-155 Hawks, Bandet was invited to try out for the Snowbirds and was selected to join the team. He served his first three-year tour as Snowbird 6, the outer right wing and by the time he left in 2013 he had a feeling he’d be back. His intuition proved right when he rejoined the team for the 2017/2018 season as its team lead, number one, a.k.a. Boss.
In most workplaces, being the boss means seeing the big picture so employees can do their jobs. In the air, that’s even more literally the case as eight other pilots match their flying off the wings of Bandet.
“If I roll too fast to the left, I’m going to leave the right side in the dust and the left side of the formation is going to get a very different view of my airplane.”
Is performing in the skies with eight other pilots in tight formation worth the effort? To him, the Snowbirds serve as a vital conduit between the military and the Canadian public.
“I realized early on that most Canadians have never seen a jet up close, nor met a person in a uniform. The awesomeness that you see at the airshows is indicative of the skill and dedication that you could expect from any of the men and women in uniform throughout Canada.”
One of Bandet’s fondest memories of flying with the team occurred in 2012 when he met an Inuk grandfather and his grandson at the Inuvik airshow. “He told me he waited his whole life to see the Snowbirds in the North. I remember that year specifically because we created a formation called Inukshuk and flew it at every airshow across North America.”
When asked what prepared him for the lead role, Bandet was pragmatic in his response. “You’re the sum of all your experiences. I don’t think I could have done this job 10 years ago.”
At the end of the 2019 airshow season, Bandet will leave the team in the capable hands of a new Boss and await his next mission. His advice for emerging leaders? “Embrace the moment, keep working towards your goal, and remember to respect and appreciate those around you.”
Read about other Mount Royal alumni who have flown with the Snowbirds in Summit magazine online.
July 17, 2019 — Dave McLean