Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mild Blue Yonder: Edmonton Air Show 2015

I've lamented my long absence from airshows for quite some time now; I blogged about it five years ago when a refurbished Corsair landed in Edmonton. The last airshow I attended would have been in Wetaskiwin in 2005, and even though it was kind of small-time, they did have the Snowbirds.

The Edmonton Airshow failed to garner a lot of my interest at first due to the lack of any military flying displays, either current or vintage, but as the day approached, its appeal steadily grew.  The flight demos scheduled were fairly tame, but there were WWII aircraft among the static displays.  Since I was due to drive Fenya to the south side of the city for an all-day driver's ed class anyhow, I asked Glory if she might be interested.

To my delighted surprise she said "Sure!", with no hesitation, which made the entire event just that much more palatable. She remembered nothing at all from the Wetaskiwin Airshow, having been only 3 years old at the time, and she was looking forward to the novelty of it, as well as a chance to get a little more practice with her camera.

After dropping Fenya off near Century park, we gassed up, grabbed a couple coffees at Starbucks and made our way west of the city to Villenueve.  We were likely to arrive early but I was unsure how big the crowd might be, so when we arrived at 9:40 and behind more than a hundred people waiting to pass through the gates when they opened at 10:00, I was glad we hadn't dilly dallied at all.

We hurried through the crowd and set our lawn chairs up right in front of the fence, close to center stage, and about ten yards shy of the taxiway where some of the aircraft would be rolling by, an air show first for me.

The mellow, family-oriented crowd meant we felt comfortable leaving our chairs and lunch by the fence, so we meandered over to the static display to check out the aircraft.

Two of my favourite WWII aircraft were on display, the P-51 Mustang and B-25 Mitchell bomber. Getting a chance to check out the 'Cadillac of the skies' up close and personal was a real treat.

There was an opportunity to climb inside the Mitchell, but between the lineup and the very real possibility of becoming stuck, I gave it a pass.  Gorgeous bird though, and representative of the model that flew with Doolittle's Raiders!

The warbirds will always be my favourites, new or old, but there were a few other neat things on the static line, including this homebuilt (!) 5/8 scale Hawker Hurricane:

A couple of really fast looking cars, and with one of them being RCMP, the chase scene practically writes itself:


And some very evocative (potentially provocative, I suppose) nose art:

The Civil Defense Corps (are they still around?), had a great display, with vehicles, tents, and some great old posters from the cold war days.

There was also a motocross demo with some X-Games style moxie presented by the FMX Demo Team, which gave Glory her first opportunity to work with some higher shutter speeds.

Looking at the pictures afterwards, I was pretty impressed that the spokes were actually discernible. It was at this point I pretty much put my own little point-and-shoot camera away. The stunts were impressive too, I should say!

We made our way back to the flight line and finished our sandwiches just in time for the aerobatics show.  There was a very impressive remote control flight display that was a little too far away to capture, and then the show proper opened with a few high speed passes and loops from a Czech jet trainer from the 1950s, the L-29. Glory got some of her best shots of the day here, and the light gleaming off the aluminum fuselage was absolutely gorgeous.

If I had to quibble, I would have to say that having three stunt bi-planes felt a little redundant.  AT the end of the day, there is only so much you can do with one of them, and I am not nearly knowledgeable enough about aerobatics to tell a good job from a great one, but the level of skill displayed was uniformly brilliant.  Stefan Trischuk was the first of the three and kept us all mesmerized with his precise maneuvers.

He was followed by the Harvard Formation Team who call themselves Yellow Thunder for the bright yellow hues associated with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. This program was the reason so many of these aircraft were seen here on the Canadian prairies during WWII, and they have been an airshow staple ever since,

To be honest, I wasn't really expecting that much from the Harvards (known as the T-6 Texan in the U.S.), having seen them an awful lot as a kid, usually shoehorned between the (at the time) more exciting military jets as well.  But hearing the mighty drone of those Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines as the two planes took off so close to us raised the hairs on my arms considerably, and I was in awe as they did their requisite loops and passes.

The next biplane performer was Bill Carter, who went inverted maybe a second after his gear left the ground, and started his routine with an outside loop from that position.

For a finale, he returned to inverted flight, and used his tail (fine, vertical stabilizer) to cut a ribbon held perhaps 20 feet off the ground; bold stuff!

I want to say this trainer is a T-6 Texan of a later vintage than the Harvards, but I don't recall any of them having three-bladed props.  Nifty paint scheme though, don't you think?

Brent Handy was the final biplane pilot, and put his craft through its paces just as you would expect from an ex-F-18 jockey and former Snowbird.

Nice shot kid; like a postcard! 

The last act we got to see before returning to Edmonton to pick up Fenya was the wing walker, Carol Pilon.  I think this was a first for me, and Glory got some great shots of her atop her Stearman biplane, from when they were taxiing to takeoff...

Through a high speed pass while hanging onto a wing strut...

And onto an inside loop with her on the top wing!

And a triumphant landing and massive applause from a massive crowd (25,000 over the two days, apparently).

It's a shame we couldn't watch the last performer,Pete McLeod in his Edge 540 Red Bull racing plane, which may have been the fastest thing I saw all day, including the jet, but it ended up taking us 45 minutes to escape the parking lot, even with an early departure. If we come back next year, maybe we will have time to wait around and let the crowd disperse.

We did take a little video, apologies for the focusing in places.

So, all in all, an excellent time at the first Edmonton Airshow in over a decade.  Apparently there are performers already lining up to be part of next year's event, so hopefully it will be even bigger and better. I know some people were underwhelmed by the lack of military aerobatics and more flashy aircraft, but you have to start someplace.  Personally, I would have loved to see the Snowbirds again, but at least Glory and I got to go on a brief helicopter ride...

Gosh, totally forgot to mention that, didn't I? Right after the static display, we went and took some pictures of the Bell Jet Ranger that they were giving rides on, and the crew were super friendly, with the pilot even offering to take our picture in front of the bird. "You can always tell people you went up..." he quipped.  

I asked how much and how long the flights were, and he said $60 for about 6 minutes. Glory and I walked away and talked about it, and decided we both wanted to do it.  We hit the porta-potties first and then hustled back before a line formed.  

It turned out you need 4 passengers to go up, but just as we were about to give my cell number and trudge off, a lady and her grandson came along wanting a ride.  Moments later, we were strapped in, headsets on, and then we were in the air. (And the three-year-old did really well once he got his headphones on!)

This was my first time ever in a helicopter, and as short a flight as it was, it was very gratifying being able to view the airshow grounds from such a height, especially looking at the lineup of cars to get in.

Glory got the front seat when one of the crew saw her big camera with the 200mm lens on it and gave her dibs, which I thought was very cool.  After landing, we got some kettle corn and she admitted her knees were still a little rubbery from being able to look between her feet and see hundreds of feet below the chopper's nose.

All in all, a wonderful way to spend a Saturday, but instead of scratching my airshow itch, the inflammation has spread, and now I'm already looking at bigger productions in Abbotsford and Oshkosh for 2016.  In fact, this year's Oshkosh show let attendees purchase rides on a B-17 bomber...Time to start doing some sit-ups, I reckon!

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