It’s a kind of homecoming for Capt. Arpit Mahajan of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds team as the pilot behind Snowbird 2 returns to his home province.
Mahajan, who joined the forces in 2016 and graduated as a pilot one year later, began flying shortly after high school near his home in Delta at the Boundary Bay Airport.
Mahajan was born in Chandigarh, India and moved to Canada when he was seven years old. His career from earning his private pilot’s licence in Delta to becoming a Snowbirds pilot and training over the skies in the Comox Valley was a relatively quick trajectory.
“Historically, you usually do a tour or two before coming to the (Snowbirds) squadron, to make sure you have enough experience to do the job,” he explained following a training session earlier this month. “I was at the right place at the right time - I was offered the opportunity to come to the squadron as a junior pilot after getting my wings.”
Mahajan gained experience quickly, first as a utility pilot and then a co-ordinator on the team. Initially, he would ferry jets, deliver parts and exchange planes, gaining experience wherever he could. This is his first year as a Snowbird 2 (inner right wing), but flying over B.C. brings back memories of growing up in the Lower Mainland.
“There are tons of mountains and cools things to fly over. I did some flying in the Interior over Kelowna. I love Comox, but I grew up in the Lower Mainland and that’s where my heart is.”
Although it is his first year as a single-digit pilot, Mahajan was on the team last year to take part in Operation Inspiration - the Snowbirds’ 2020 cross-country salute to Canadians doing their part to fight the spread of COVID-19. The operation ended tragically a year ago in Kamloops as a plane carrying Capt. Jennifer Casey, the team’s public affairs officer and pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall crashed in a residential area, killing Casey and injuring MacDougall.
Mahajan said while the operation ended with a tragic event, he believes the team is now in a good position to return to the skies, inspire people and provide hope and happiness through airshows.
“It’s obviously different but special. With Operation Inspiration, personally, I was unsure going into it how it was going to be perceived by the public. After doing flights across Canada and getting the reception we got … based on what I saw there, I think it is a very special year to be with this team. I hope we can have the same impact as we had last year.”
The team is honouring Casey’s memory in a variety of ways, he added. There will be something special painted on their jets and helmets in her memory and the team will be using the theme to Star Wars - of which Casey was a huge fan - in their shows.
Returning to Kamloops earlier this month while en route to Comox was a special moment not only for him but the entire team.
“Once we landed, you could see people along the fences (of the airport) - the firefighters were lined up. Above all else, it was good just to be back and show that we’re not fearful of being back, and we’re back on the road for what we do best.”
The Snowbirds will conduct their annual spring training in the Comox Valley until May 26.