The Ottawa Citizen is reporting the RCAF has added a new ejection seat to the list of upgrades planned for the fleet of CT-114 Tutor aircraft. The change in a previously announced life extension program (to 2030) comes in the wake of a fatal crash in May that raised questions about the original seat’s effectiveness in low-level ejections. Capt. Jennifer Casey, the team’s public affairs officer died after she and pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall abandoned the Tutor they were in shortly after takeoff from Kamloops on May 17. The ejection occurred only a few hundred feet above the ground while the aircraft was in a rapid descent and at least one witness said Casey’s parachute didn’t open. MacDougall was injured when he slammed into the roof of a house. The investigation is ongoing but a bird strike may have precipitated the chain of events. Last October, Snowbird pilot Kevin Domon-Grenier reported problems with the ejection seat when he punched out of a Tutor with engine problems near Atlanta.
The Snowbirds were originally slated to get an avionics upgrade to add electronic navigation and communications gear, including ADS-B when the Air Force announced the life extension program last year. The latest description of the program includes a new ejection seat. The cost of the life extension program has also increased from about $26 million to as much as $99 million, far less than the $500 million to $1.5 billion needed to replace the Tutors for the air demonstration team.