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From the Pass to working with Snowbirds

Rossi with Captain Ari Mahajan, a former Snowbird pilot he is currently training to fly the Dash 8 aircraft in November 2023. In his current role as chief training pilot at 402 squadron Rossi's job is to train pilots to fly the aircraft. Submitted photo.

Nicholas L. M. Allen

Nov 8, 2023

Looking at a Crowsnest Pass native’s journey to flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Looking at a Crowsnest Pass native’s journey to flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force. When he was a kid, Dan Rossi became interested in flying after watching the Challenger space shuttle explode.

“For whatever reason, that really awakened me to aeronautics and astronautics, and I really wanted to be an astronaut and then I became interested in rockets like every young boy probably does with some kind of machine growing up in the Pass,” said Rossi.

Rossi explained how he and his best friend were always on snowmobiles, quads or dirt bikes and how from that, he knew he wanted to operate “some kind of machine” as a job.

He read more into the way that flight is on the very edge of what humanity can do and his imagination was captured.

“My parents and I used to go to Penticton every summer and while we were there, there was an air show that I saw. At the air show there was an F-18 fighter jet (McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet), and I saw that and was like, I have to do this,” said Rossi.

When he graduated in 1993, the military wasn’t taking anybody. He still knew he wanted to be a pilot but didn’t know how. 

“Growing up in the Pass, there’s not a lot of pilots around, so I looked into it just by chance. I was working at the Mohawk in Coleman and one of my coworkers had a brochure for Mount Royal College in Calgary and one of their programs was aviation,” explained Rossi. 

He was accepted into the program and then graduated in 1996. Rossi was then instructing for the college for about a year when the military called him. From there, Rossi entered the Canadian Armed Forces in 1997, finishing all his basic training and flying training in 1999. 

At the time, he was selected to fly Sea King helicopters out of 443 Squadron in Victoria, B.C. He flew the Sea King until he had an accident in 2000. In his first deployment the helicopter crashed into the ocean. 

“After that, the military gave me a new start. I went to multi-engines and I started flying the Dash 8 (De Havilland Canada DHC-8) here in Winnipeg,” said Rossi.

He flew the Dash 8 starting in 2003 and in 2009 he was selected to be an advance and safety pilot for the Snowbirds for the 2009 to 2011 show seasons. The Snowbirds, which are officially known as the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, are the flight demonstration team for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

As the advance and safety pilot, Rossi wasn’t in the plane doing all the stunts, he was on the ground.  He had to know what the formation was doing and warn if there was somebody out of position, even something as “mundane” as their nose light burned out. 

The thing he enjoyed most about the Snowbirds though was going all over North America.

“We were on the on the road for nine months of the year, going all over North America to different show sites from cities as big as New York and San Diego to Manitoulin Island for 300 people, so it was it was pretty amazing that way,” said Rossi.

After travelling with the Snowbirds, he went to a headquarter job back in Winnipeg for two years before eventually going back to the Dash 8’s which he flies currently. Looking ahead to Remembrance Day. Rossi explained how complicated it is for people in the military. 

“People think it’s about World War Two, World War One, Korea, Afghanistan and it is, but it’s to remember all those who fell in service of Canada. I’ve lost friends in crashes; I almost had my own. I’ve lost friends in peace time, and I’ve lost friends in war time. Why it’s complicated in the military is, it’s not to celebrate war, it’s to remember the price of when diplomacy fails,” said Rossi.

Rossi added he had friends who didn’t make it in Afghanistan, a student of his from the Dash 8 passed away and he had one student that was on a Cyclone helicopter that crashed into the ocean off of Greece and died. 

“I had a friend of mine who was on Sea Kings, she passed away in a crash in Goose Bay. It’s always complicated, but that’s our job,” said Rossi.

He continued by explaining how it’s people who pay the price and not just the people who are fighting, pointing to the current situation in Israel and Palestine as an example.

“When you’re in the military you realize that the price of war is the human beings that are standing around you,” said Rossi.

He encouraged people to take the time to remember, even if it’s only the minute of silence at 11.

“Take the time to remember those who have fallen,” said Rossi.

To Rossi, it was a job he always wanted to do, and he finds it strange when people thank him for his service.

“I’m just a normal guy who decided he wanted to do a thing. I appreciate it and it’s something I love to do, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t take a super person to do it. You just need to want better things for your country,” said Rossi.

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