Saskatchewan Aviation Chronology 1970-79

1970 - Origins of the Snowbirds aerobatic team: CFB Moose Jaw's Tutors had made flypasts at Saskatchewan Roughrider football games in 1969, a tradition that continued the next year. Also in 1970, base commander Col O.B. Philp authorized a special "2 CFFTS Formation Demonstration Team" to perform at the Abbotsford airshow. The next year the team was expanded to seven aircraft. See Best In The West, pages 154-55, which says the Snowbirds were christened on June 28, the "the name having been selected as the winner in a competition among Moose Jaw school children". The team performed at 25 airshows that summer.


1971 - An aerobatic team was established at CFB Moose Jaw on an unofficial basis, using volunteer instructor pilots and crews. The "Snowbirds" name was first used at an airshow at the base in 1972.


1971, Nov. 12 - A tense drama occurred in the night sky over Saskatchewan, Alberta and Montana after an Air Canada DC-8 en route from Calgary to Toronto was hijacked by a man later identified as Paul Joseph Cini. Growing increasingly erratic and claiming to have explosives and a gun with him, Cini initially told the pilots to land at Regina for refueling. But before that happened, he ordered it to head to Great Falls, MT., where the passengers and some crew members were allowed to leave the aircraft. In time, cabin crew members gained his trust and we able to knock Cini senseless with the blunt edge of a fire axe. Stewardess Mary Dohey, who had refused the hijacker’s offer to leave, was later awarded the Cross of Valour, Canada’s highest award for bravery. See or the recollections of long-time Regina Air Canada employee Dave Scott, printed in the CAHS Regina chapter’s newsletter, The Windsock, in November-December 2005.

April 1972 - Under contract from Transair, Prince Albert-based Norcanair took over Transair’s Prince Albert-Saskatoon-Regina route, using Twin Otter CF-AIV, which was still in the colors of Transair subsidiary Midwest Airlines, from which it had been dry-leased. Norcanair eventually gained permanent authority for this route.

1972 Spring -- Two CH-118 Huey helicopters were assigned to CFB Moose Jaw for base rescue and utility duties -- the first military helicopters to have been permanently stationed in the province.

1973 -- Norcanair, intent on building an north-south route system that connected with Air Canada at Saskatoon and Regina, bought the first of five Fairchild-built F-27Js from Hughes Air West. A 1974 rumor that Allan Blakeney’s NDP government (elected in 1971) would try to rebuy Norcanair passed uneventfully.


Dec. 12, 1973-Jan. 3, 1974 - One of the largest air searches in Saskatchewan history took place as military and civilian aircraft and helicopters scoured northern Saskatchewan for a Cessna 180 that disappeared while carrying four men on a flight from La Ronge to Cumberland House. The aircraft had left La Ronge on Dec. 12, carrying pilot John Paul, 22, and Lionel Deschambault, plus two employees of the provincial government: Rod Morrison and Cliff Stanley. The wrecked aircraft was found near the Mossey River, about 25 miles northwest of Cumberland House; all aboard had been killed. This search has been described as one of the largest in Saskatchewan's history. (Source: Smeaton & District Newsletter, January 2006)

 1974 -- With Trans-Canada Airlines and Perimeter Airlines having both earlier ended service to Yorkton, Brandon and Dauphin, the federal government announced a project called "Skywest". Under it, two examples of the Saunders ST-27, built in a factory supported by the Manitoba government, were to be dry-leased to an existing operator in order to provide scheduled air service to Yorkton, Dauphin and Brandon (from Saskatoon and Winnipeg) as an economic development tool.

 Even after the collapse of Saunders Aircraft, this project remained alive. As late as July 1977, no fewer than five private firms were in the running for the Skywest contract and subsidy: Norcanair, Lambair, Perimeter Aviation of Winnipeg, Edmonton's Gateway Aviation -- and "Irv's Sky Fleet" from Dauphin, Man.! The Skywest project terminated in 1978. Perimeter served the area briefly until giving up in the face of consistent losses.

1975, January 22 -- two young children miraculously survived the crash of a Piper Cherokee in which their parents were killed. The aircraft, flying from Winnipeg home to Regina, clipped the overpass at the intersection of Highway 10 and the Trans-Canada Highway near Balgonie, east of Regina, then somersaulted and came to rest on its nose. Killed was the pilot, Hubert Prefontaine, the provincial government’s deputy minister of social services, and his wife, Carol. (Source "Two young children found alive -- Prefontaines die in plane crash at Balgonie", The Leader-Post, Jan. 23, 1975.)

 1975, November 29 -- a new Saskatoon airport terminal building was officially opened.

1976 -- Norcanair added a daily flight from Regina to Minot, N.D., where passengers could transfer to North Central Airlines (based in Minneapolis) or to Frontier Airlines (with its hub in Denver).

1977 -- Pacific Western Airlines bought its much-smaller rival, Transair. As part of this deal, PWA dropped the Winnipeg-Toronto route it had inherited from Transair in return for licences to fly between Calgary and Winnipeg via Regina and Saskatoon. See Wing Walkers, Page 271.