ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE (RCAF)
What is most exciting about writing and researching about Greek and Greek parentage pilots in service with other Air Forces is when I meet one of these remarkable men who are willing to tell their story by themselves. The following is written by one extraordinary man and pilot who had a great career as an aviator which only recently came to its end. But as they say, "once an aviator, always an aviator". I'm very enthusiastic to present to the Greeks worldwide and also to any aviation enthusiast all over the world, John Politis, a member of the famous Canadian Aerobatic Team, the Snowbirds. In his own words:
"I was born in Athens in 1956. I immigrated to Canada as a two-year-old in 1958. My father was from Thouria, Kalamata and my Mother was from Athens. I can remember wanting to grow up and be a pilot since I was five years old. Flying lessons were expensive. My hard-working parents, who had only immigrated to Canada 14 years earlier, did not have the means to finance my training. So every night after school I worked full time, delivering food for a restaurant owned by my uncle, to earn the money required. I was 16 years old, the legal age to fly solo. Over the next 12 months, I flew as often as possible; at 17 years of age, I received my Private Pilots License. The following year, just after turning 18, I was accepted into the Canadian Air Force. I boarded a train (it was 1974) and waved a tearful goodbye to my parents and my Papou. I received my pilot’s wings two years later graduating from course 7505 at number 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School (2CFFTS), the jet pilot training school My first posting was to remain at 2 CFFTS as a flying instructor (called QFI in the Air Force). The jet trainer used at that time was a single-engine turbojet aircraft named the Tutor. It weighed approximately 5000 pounds, had 2700 pounds of thrust, a top speed of 420 knots, and could climb to 43,000 feet. It was a fun airplane for a twenty-year-old to throw around the sky. A few months later, I qualified as a C Category QFI, and then a few months after that as a B Category QFI. Three years later in 1979, I upgraded to A Category Instructor and was assigned to the Standards Flight. The Standards Flight was responsible for testing pilot students and flying staff.
In 1980 I applied to the Canadian Air Force aerobatic team (The Snowbirds) and was invited for a tryout that fall. The try-out was a two-week competition among eight pilots selected to compete each year. Of the eight candidates each year, four will make the team. At the end of the tryouts, I was delighted to learn that I was selected to be the new Solo Pilot (#8) for the 1981 and 1982 show seasons. What followed were among the best memories I will ever have. To be able to fly low and fast, performing nine-plane formation aerobatics as well as the two-plane solo routine consisting of head-to-head, belly-to-belly passes was thrilling. I was posted off the team in 1983. My new posting proved to be quite a bit less exciting than airshow flying. I was posted to the Air Force’s Central Flying School as an instructor. Specifically, to the Instrument Check Pilot (ICP) School as a staff instructor. Each squadron is assigned ICPs (Instrument Check Pilots) to conduct the Instrument Rating Tests which are a required annual evaluation for each Air Force pilot. Each squadron ICP must graduate from the ICP School. The duration of ICP course was six weeks long. Its purpose was to train instrument rating examiners to conduct the instrument rating test. Although sedate, I did enjoy this tour. My duties included teaching class as well as instructing in the air. I continued to fly the Tutor, which was used as the platform to train the jet pilot candidates. However, I was also fortunate enough to succeed in convincing my commanding officer to approve a check out for me on the ancient DC-3, which was the aircraft used at the ICP School to teach the transport pilot candidates. The DC-3 (affectionately known as the “Dak”, short for Dakota) was a big, 30,000-pound, twin-engine, World War 2 troop transport....it was built 15 years before I was born. A forty-year-old airplane in 1983, it is still flying today, 40 more years later. The DC-3 remains a flying workhorse in the Canadian arctic and many other remote places on the globe. The DC-3 is a tail dragger. Among the pilot community, tail draggers are known to be tricky to fly during take-offs and landings. The DC-3 was considered to be the trickiest of them all, with a well-earned reputation for embarrassing new pilots....and I was no exception. After my first few embarrassing attempts at flying her, I fell in love with the airplane. I thoroughly enjoyed, and am very proud, of the 600 hours I logged on this legendary aircraft. I was now approaching 30 years of age and I had to make a career decision. At this point, I had logged approximately 4000 hours of flying time (3300 on the Tutor and 700 hours on the DC-3). All military pilots will at some point struggle with the decision of whether to leave the military and pursue a civilian airline career. In the 1980’s airlines still frowned on hiring pilots beyond 30 years of age, so the decision was one better made sooner rather than later.
I choose to leave the Air Force in 1986 and resigned from my commission. The airlines were extremely selective when hiring pilots and heavily favored applicants with multi-engine jet experience. Although I had plenty of single-engine jet time, I lacked the multi-engine jet hours. So I decided that a job flying corporate jets would be the way to go. I began flying for a Company called Execaire out of Montreal. It was a great Company to work for. It catered to the flying needs of the Canadian rich and famous. The Company had a well-earned reputation of excellence and employed 60 pilots on a fleet of 20 of the most modern corporate jets. They took their flying standards very seriously, which pleased me, and spared no expense to ensure their pilots maintained the highest standard. This included attending simulator training twice a year; plus a once-per-quarter, two-hour flight training session in the actual aircraft. Practicing emergency descents from 35,000 feet, in-flight stalls, engine failures, unusual attitudes, circling approaches, and missed approaches in a real airplane is unheard of outside the military. For one reason, it is very high risk; and a second, because of the high cost involved. This practice is longer used anywhere in civilian flying operations since the availability of extremely realistic computer simulation, with full motion, has made in-flight emergency training a thing of the past. After a short period of time flying the line I became a training captain, then a Designated Examiner on behalf of the Department of Transport (DOT), and eventually the chief training captain on the HS-125. I really enjoyed corporate flying. There is a saying that 75% of corporate flying jobs are awful, but that 25% of them are magic. Execaire was definitely in the 25% category. In any case, I accumulated 2000 jet multi-engine flying hours and was now ready to move on.
An official Snowbird portrait photo of John Politis, the #8 or SOLO pilot of the RCAF aerobatic team. (John Politis Archive)
A great inverted formation photo of the Snowbirds showing us their precision flying skills. (John Politis Archive)
John posing with his plane, serial 114036, spotting his name under the canopy. (John Politis Archive)
The Canadair CT-114 Tutor, 114036, #8 was the jet used by the Greek Canadian pilot John Politis, during his tour as a Solo, with the RCAF aerobatic team, the Snowbirds, circa 1981-82. Canadair started the design of a jet trainer in 1958, the first flight being in January 1960. The Tutor has side-by-side seating and a single turbojet engine built by Orenda Engines in Canada. The Tutor was built in two versions between 1963 and 1967; 190 CL-41As for the RCAF and 20 CL-41Gs for the Royal Malaysian Air Force. With the Canadian Armed Forces, the Tutor is designated CT-114. It was used from 1963 until 2000 when it was replaced with the CT-156 Harvard II and the CT-155 Hawk as primary jet trainers. The controls and systems of the Tutor are relatively simple with hydraulic power to the landing gear, flaps and nosewheel steering, and manual flying controls. The cabin is pressurized and zero-level ejection seats are fitted. It is fully equipped for navigation, instrument, and night flying training. The Tutor is best known in North America for the formation aerobatics of the Snowbird team who have performed from the Northwest Territories to Mexico. Officially known as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the team has fifteen Tutors, eleven of which travel with the team during the airshow season. (Copyright Tom Cooper, further info by https://www.awm.gov.au/)
As much as I enjoyed my corporate flying job, the allure of joining an airline and flying a commercial airliner was just too strong. In 1991, I accepted a right-seat position on the 747 with a Hong Kong-based airline company named Cathay Pacific. I packed up my young family and moved to Hong Kong. I spent the next 30 years with Cathay Pacific and flew throughout Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. In 1993 I converted from the old 747 Classic and upgraded to the 747-400. The “400” was a two-pilot airplane designed to be flown without a flight engineer. It was equipped with modern electronic instrumentation and flight management systems. The 747-400 will always be my favorite airplane. A delight to fly....The Queen of the sky. Carrying 400+ passengers plus crew (or alternatively 100 tons of freight), in all types of weather, at weights near 400 tons, climbing at Mach .83; cruising at Mach .86, .87, .88, or even Mach .89, it was delightful. Cruising majestically high above the Pacific for 16 hours, or a quick eight-hour hop down under to Sydney, or a 12-hour flight across The Himalayas to Europe — I loved every minute. In 2000 I was selected for Command Training and converted onto the Airbus A330 for my training. Following my upgrade to aircraft commander, I spent the next five years flying the Airbus A330, A340, and the big A340-600. I didn’t mind the Airbus, and I particularly enjoyed the big “600”, but as any Boeing pilot will tell you candidly, the Airbus was....well, different. I’ll leave it at that.
I became a Training Captain in 2004 and then a Senior Training Captain (STC) in 2007. At Cathay Pacific, a Training Captain conducts conversion and upgrade training, while a Senior Training Captain (STC) is an examiner that conducts all pilot testing plus has licensing authority on behalf of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). In 2007 I learned that the airline was short of trainers on the 747-400 and wanted trainers from the other fleets to transfer to the 400. I threw in my request, made my case to upper management, and was approved for the transfer. Since I had been off the 747 for over five years, I was required to undergo conversion training to requalify on the 400. It was amazing how quickly the airplane came back to me. She was still the Queen of the Skies. What’s more, it was a thrill to Captain a 747. After six months of line flying to become fully reacquainted with the airplane, I received approval to begin conducting training and testing on the 747-400. As well, due to a large amount of training at that time, I found myself spending a great deal of time teaching in the full motion simulator. As an airline, Cathay Pacific had grown from 600 pilots when I joined in 1990, to over 4000 pilots in the 2010s. So a great deal of training and testing was always underway.
In 2012 I was assigned to the 777 and sadly left the 747 for good. I completed the 777 conversion course and after a few months began training and testing on the new airliner. The 777 was a huge twin-engine aircraft with a maximum ramp weight of 365 tons. Each engine produced 115,000 pounds of thrust. A long way from the 2700 pounds of thrust I had on the Tutor. The 777 was built so airlines could take advantage of the new extended twin-engine operations (ETOPS) rules which allowed them to fly twin-engine aircraft on long straight routes over water. Up until the 1990s airlines were only allowed to operate three-engine or four-engine aircraft across oceans. Twin-engined aircraft had always been restricted to remain within 60 minutes of a suitable airfield. ETOPS changed all that, allowing twin-engine airliners like the 777 to operate directly over water routes, 180 minutes (or more under special conditions) from a suitable airport. Using two engines instead of four requires significantly less fuel and hence offers huge fuel savings for the airlines. Although I enjoyed flying the 777, as I said earlier, the 747-400 will always be my favorite airplane. There was nothing like the feeling I experienced sitting in the left seat of a 747 and turning my head to gaze out the cockpit window and seeing the big engines hanging below the wing...each engine belching out a long, thick, white contrail. Plus, the 747 had four engines. I preferred that as it made me feel more safe and secure — whether I was out somewhere high over the arctic, or in the middle of the Pacific and thousands of miles from any runway. It all ended for me in February 2021 when I retired at 65 years of age. During my 49-year career, I had accumulated north of 30,000 flying hours and 10,000 hours in the simulator. I cherish the memories I have. I do miss it sometimes, especially when I look up and watch an airliner’s contrail, but after a long and exciting career, I find I’m now content to just play golf and spend precious time with the people I love.
In 1981, during his first year on the Snowbirds as the #8 Opposing Solo pilot, John flew in the upper right side of this three-plane “Mirror” formation; while his Lead Solo, #9 Dan Dempsey, flew upside down in the lead position. (John Politis Archive)
John Politis signing autographs after a show. (John Politis Archive)
Infront of a Tutor, probably during his days as an instructor at No.2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School. (John Politis Archive)
Being a 'solo'
I served on the Snowbirds for the 1981 and 82 show seasons. Some day when I reflect back over my life I know that l will consider those two years as having been the best two years of my life. Today, twenty years later there is not a day that goes by that I don't cast my mind back and remember. I draw a rush of emotions from it. Sometimes a feeling of disbelief will overwhelm me. I will say no way could l have been a part of that, no way could we have accomplished such things in the air. If making the Snowbird Team was exciting, then being selected as one of the two solos was intoxicating. On the night of my selection, I was just twenty-four years old. I suddenly found myself bursting with the anticipation of flying at near ground level and performing head-on passes with an opposing airplane. In addition, the prospect of flying the outside right position of the big diamond formation was daunting. The beauty of the solo pilot's job was that it encompassed both worlds of display flying: formation aerobatics and solo aerobatics. The whole show began in a nine-plane formation with the two solos temporarily performing the functions of a formation pilot. That is each tried to fly smoothly, never jerky, or rough with the controls. While in formation, they would never come close to full-scale deflection with the control stick. To watch from the ground the big nine-plane formations moved in a fluid and poetic motion. At about the five-minute point of the display, the two solos would break out of the formation and their dynamic show would begin. This is where the solo pilot's "fangs came out". This is where they would now need to use full-scale deflection of all the controls to squeeze the necessary performance out of the airplane.
The solo's job encompassed the best of both Snowbird worlds. For the solo pilot, the road to achieving show standards was a long one. From the very first moment in pilot training, military fixed-wing pilots are taught NOT to fly close to the ground. The exception, of course, being fighter pilot training, which comes much later, and only for a selected few. In fact, non-compliance with the low-flying rule would result in instant dismissal. Young pilots are taught to fly high above the earth and, except for the formation phase of training, very far from other airplanes. Anything else, student pilots are told, was reckless and unprofessional. Thus, pilots developed an instinct to always fly high above the ground. Never, unless taking off or landing, flying below 1000 feet. This instinct had to be broken the day one made the Snowbirds. In fact, from that moment onward, you were taught to ignore just about all the conventional rules about low flying. The ability to fly low, and perform aerobatics at near ground level, was the new solo pilot's challenge. Thus, a new solo would embark on learning this skill. He would start slow, flying various loops and rolls at 500 feet and working himself down as he gained confidence. It was much like that part from the movie Dambusters where a squadron of Lancaster bombers was tasked to practice low-level flying. As a solo, you had the military's blessing to fly upside down at ground level to your heart's content. What a pulse-racing kick this was! After just a few sorties, I discovered that it was the equivalent to being granted a 'license to kill'! I learned that the only real limitations were to avoid flying low over built-up areas or groups of people. Sometimes straying from this was inevitable. To this day, it is just as well that some of the things we did during our practices were not noticed by the guy with a #1 stenciled on his flight jacket. Seriously though, there was so much more to the experience than just the thrill, there was the extreme challenge of performing to exact standards that are difficult to put into words. At the risk of sounding cliche, words like 'split-second timing' would be an understatement. You eventually achieved a marvelous level of flying proficiency. There wasn't anything you couldn't make the Tutor do. You were confident and calm flying in any attitude, or under any stress loading within the airplane s flight envelope. In fact, you relied on the G meter to keep from overstressing the airplane. During an airshow, your adrenaline was pumping so hard that without a G meter to gauge how much to push or pull, you would likely overstress the airplane. With time and practice, the airplane and you became one. It became an extension of you. A mechanical entity that came to life when you strapped it to your back. Never again have I had the opportunity, the shear concentration of flying time on any one airplane, to feel the same way. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event! ln formation flying the first thing the new solo was expected to master was flying the difficult outside point of the big diamond. For those that have never flown close formation, you must understand that formation flying is a challenge with only two airplanes. Nine jets with wings overlapped, looping, and rolling, was a phenomenal achievement. In fact, it was not unusual for the new solo to initially hold back the team development as he grappled with learning his dual role of formation pilot and Solo pilot.
During the winter training months, the seven members of the main formation spent most of their days practicing their formation flying, while the new solo would spend most of his days learning solo maneuvers. He would spend only a small amount of time learning to fly the 'outside wing'. Nonetheless, he was expected to keep up and achieve show standards by spring. In reality, most solos didn't blossom on the outside wing until well into the summer show season. Maintaining your position in a large formation of jets, especially in the power-limited Tutor; flying in the boiling summer turbulence found below 3000 feet was never easy. If the turbulence got too bad, all nine airplanes would begin to bounce and jerk about in what we referred to as each pilot's 'box'. If uncontrolled bounces and jerks grew too large your teammate would begin to venture outside his 'box' and into your airspace (your box). Keep in mind that your neighbor was flying with four feet of his wing overlapping your wing. If it got too bad, any one of us was expected to announce this by calling out "wingtip". This was a signal to everyone else that the airplanes around you were beginning to bounce outside their ' boxes'. On the first "wingtip" call (sometimes two or three exited ''wingtip» calls would suddenly come at once) all of us would move out and establish a looser position that ensured wing-tip clearances between airplanes. The amazing thing was that no matter how bad the turbulence got, no matter how big the bounces were, when viewed from the spectator's perspective, 99.9% of the movements and oscillations didn't even get noticed! Here's a tip, watch the smoke trailing the airplanes. If the smoke trailing behind the jets is nice and smooth there is little turbulence. However, if the smoke trails are jerky and ragged, then look closely at the jets as they fly by, and you will probably notice that all nine airplanes are bouncing (all within their 'boxes').
The other major problem with flying large formations in the little Tutor was its lack of power. In rolling the big diamond, for example, the pilot on the inside of the roll would have his thrust somewhere near idle while the pilot on the outside of the roll would need close to full power to keep from falling out of his position. At the halfway point of the roll, both pilots would experience a reversal. The inside pilot would now find himself on the outside requiring full power while the outside pilot, who only a moment ago needed full power, was now on the inside of the roll and required idle power (and probably a bit of speed brake action as well). Missing the exact point of reversal meant that one plane would fall out of the formation while the other plane would slide uncontrollably INTO the formation! The team lead (the number one airplane that flew at the front of the formation) had to set an exact power setting, a setting determined from months and months of never-ending trial and error. This is where the Tutor's lack of power was a real hurdle. If the team lead varied his power as little as one or two percent, it would have huge consequences for the planes on the outside of the formation. A fractional power increase by the lead at the wrong time would toss the outside plane right out of a rolling maneuver because that plane would not have enough power to hold its position. While the plane on the inside of the roll would find itself careening into the formation because its pilot could not get the power off fast enough!
Tenth Aniversary promotion poster during 1981, when John Politis joined the Snowbirds. John flies in the outside right of the nine-plane formation. (John Politis Archive)
Inside the cockpit. (John Politis Archive)
The nine-plane diamond formation with John at the outside right of the formation, the place covered by the Solo pilot. (John Politis Archive)
The team postcard for the 1981-82 season with the Greek Canadian pilot kneeling second from the left. (John Politis Archive)
The Tutor had so little power to spare it made flying some formation changes difficult. Thus, many of the formation changes were assisted by way of physics. If during a loop, for instance, you wanted to change formation and move back, you would move your plane lower aiming to drop slightly below the plane you were flying beside. In physical terms, this meant you were flying a bigger circle than your reference plane, and for the same speed, therefore, you would slide back. Vice versa to move forward: You would fly high on your reference plane, and this would help you move forward. Needless to say, this took a greatly deal of practice to accomplish confidently and was all you had to rely on when you found yourself 'out of power'. You were 'out of power' when you needed to move forward but discovered that even though your throttle was full forward you were still moving backwards. In a situation like this, you learned to use the laws of physics to your advantage. Another element that regularly came into play when flying on the outside of the formation was 'crack-the-whip'. That was when a small movement or bounce by an inside airplane would cause a larger movement or bounce for the wingman, and then an even bigger movement or bounce for the next wingman, and so on. Sometimes this oscillation could become so violent it would literally flick the outside wingman right out of the formation.
In spite of the never-ending formation flying challenges, formation flying was not the solo pilot's main focus. A solo pilot's forte, or reason for being, was the head-on cross. Spine-tingling to get right, downright dangerous to get wrong! The two solos would begin 'the head on' at about one or two miles apart nose to nose, at about 100 feet above the ground. Initially, each pilot could see, and begin his line up on, the other plane's nose light, and maybe even the other's smoke trail. Hopefully, there wasn't a cross-wind blowing, because that would mean that the other plane was crabbing at an angle into the wind which would make the lineup references harder to gauge. They would be flying at a combined closing speed of approximately 700 miles per hour. Out of the comer of their eyes, they could see the crowd as they sped toward center-stage. When the two planes were at just the right closing distance the lead solo would call "Solos, Roll NOW" at which time both pilots would slam into their rolling maneuver and cross only a few feet apart. Theoretically, it was the opposing solo that was responsible for the miss, and the lead solo that was responsible for staging the cross to occur in front of the crowd. The truth be known, however, no lead solo in the history of the Team was going to let himself be purposely cut in half by the opposing solo. His will to live was too strong. One or both would tighten, or loosen, the cross to a personal comfort level. The comfort level grew closer with time. Early in the show season, the miss distance might be as much as 50 feet as the season progressed, however, and the skill level of the two Solos increased the crosses would become much tighter. In fact, I can remember that over the top of the opposing Co-Loop maneuver we would pass each other with as little as twenty- or thirty-feet distance between us. Close enough to hear the other jet 'whoosh' past. A thrill that I can only describe as heart-stopping. If at any time the opposing solo misjudged the line-up, and the impending cross was deemed dangerously close by the lead solo, the lead solo would call "Solos Break It Off''! On this command, both solos would immediately throw themselves into predetermined escape maneuvers. Fortunately, this didn't happen too often.
Some show sites were harder to fly than others depending on the characteristics of the surrounding terrain. Many shows took place away from the airport so the first time you saw the area was when you were flying inverted down the show line. You simply had to have a good map. If the Team Co-ordinator was able to dig up a map with a scale that offered a decent amount of relief (l1:50,000 scale was preferred) you felt really lucky. An overhead photograph of the show site was a rare treat. You could count the number of times that happened on one hand. You needed to spend a lot of time during the pre-flight preparation studying the map. Memorizing it as much as possible, and mentally flying your run-ins. Tills was crucial because, once airborne, putting your head down to look at a map meant you weren't looking outside. A real no, no! If the show was over a runway, you felt really blessed because you knew that the head-on setups would now be a piece of cake. Runways offered natural reference lines from which to gauge your run in towards each other. Each solo could use the edge or the centre of the runway to line up on each other or to confidently nudge the miss distance a bit closer. More often than not however the show took place over a field, or a location with nondescript ground features, angled or curved roads, or worse of all over the water. Flying over the water was a particularly difficult task because in addition to the difficulty of no outside lineup references, the extreme difficulty with depth perception, or judging height over the water, was a real danger. If the water was glassy and calm, it was almost impossible to tell whether you were flying upside down at l 0 feet, 100 feet, or 1000 feet. Over the water, you needed to rely on your altimeter to survive. For instance, a Tutor required approximately 3000 feet to complete a loop. At the top half of a loop, you had to know you had 3000 feet below you before you would want to start the second half, referred to as the pull-through. Just before I started the pull-through, I would look UP through the canopy and DOWN at the water. At this point, I would always mouth a silent prayer and hope that my altimeter was indicating accurately because as far as I could tell the water looked damn close and I was about to dive into it!
The Team Co-ordinators would always try to get the airshow site organizers to arrange for some boats on the water. Discernable objects on the water would provide the necessary scale and backdrop by which to judge height and depth perception. The annual airshow site of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto is located along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. This site has been the location of many airshow disasters and is a testament to the extra care and planning that must go into flying airshows over the water. One of the most challenging aspects of the solo job was the staging. That is to ensure that the head-on miss occurred at centre stage, right in front of the crowd or VIP stand. This task was the sole responsibility of the lead solo. The opposing solo would guarantee that he would fly at an exact speed. As well, the opposing solo would not turn in towards the stage area until commanded to do so by the lead solo ("Solos, Turn In NOW). As well, the lead solo would always attempt to begin the solo maneuver five to ten seconds after the seven-plane, or main formation finished theirs. Any wind blowing along the show line would displace the maneuver left or right of centre stage. The lead solo would constantly make adjustments for this. For instance, a common solo maneuver would begin with both solos crossing at centre stage, flying away from each other for a few moments, completing a vertical reverse maneuver, and then returning to centre stage for an opposing head-on cross. If a 30-knot wind component were blowing down the show line, the lead solo would call for the opposing solo to begin his vertical reverse maneuver a full six seconds before the lead solo would begin his ("Solos, Pulling UP'). Both solos would end up flying their vertical reverses at different times, but they would cross at centre stage together. Any further staging errors, caused by a changing wind, for instance, would be called out by the coordinator on the ground ("Solos 1/4 Second Left" or "Solos 1/2 Second Right") and the lead solo would factor this into his staging calculations. The last amazing thing that I learned was how fast two years could go by. As challenging as the solo role was, the hardest and most difficult task I faced during those lovely years back in the early 80s was not the job itself. Ultimately the hardest part was at. the end, saying goodbye to all that I had come to love and enjoy. It hurt me to the very core of my being. In spite of what I have written above, it does not begin to describe what a thorough honour and privilege it was for me to have been a Snowbird, and I thank God for it all. In all my flying before then, and since then, there has been nothing else like it! The memories will always nourish my soul.
In 1982, John progressed to the Lead Solo position; and in this photo can be seen flying the upside down in the lead position of this “Mirror” formation. (John Politis Archive)
The two Solo's famous head-on crossing is one of the most hair-raiser maneuvers of the Snowbirds. (John Politis Archive)
John Politis inside the Tutor cockpit for a publicity photo. (John Politis Archive)
As usual, John flies in the outside right of the diamond formation. The Snowbirds, officially known as 431 Air Demonstration Squadron (431e Escadron de démonstration aérienne), are the military aerobatics flight demonstration team of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The team is based at 15 Wing Moose Jaw near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The Snowbirds' official purpose is to "demonstrate the skill, professionalism, and teamwork of Canadian Forces personnel", provides a public relations and recruiting role, and serves as an aerial ambassador for the Canadian Armed Forces. The Snowbirds are the first Canadian air demonstration team to be designated as a squadron. They fly 11 CT-114 Tutors: nine for aerobatic performances, including two solo aircraft, and two spares, flown by the team coordinators. Additionally, 13 are maintained in storage. Approximately 80 Canadian Forces personnel work with the squadron full-time, and 24 personnel are in the show team that travels during the show season. (John Politis Archive, further info by Wikipedia)
Dimitrios Vassilopoulos and the rest of the Greeks in Foreign cockpits team would like to thank John Politis for writing entirely this article, Dan Dempsey from www.CanadasAirshowHeritage.com who provided several pictures for Johns archive which we use, and Eva Adamou for helping us to establish contact with her cousin, John Politis. Without her, we most probably won't make this tribute page.