Saturday, August 6, 2016

Just Plane Fun - Edmonton Airshow 2016

To be fair, it didn't exactly take a lot of pushing from Glory to convince me to go the second Edmonton Airshow today, despite having gotten up at 5:00 am for my third day of volunteering at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. There are darned few opportunities to see aerobatics in these parts, and the lineup was significantly more diverse than last year's which wasn't half bad itself.

In fact, hearing there were some vintage aircraft in the lineup was enough to convince Audrey to come as well, so once I was off-shift, we made our way out to Villeneuve Airport, arriving a little before noon.

Once we got our chairs set up, we made out way over to the static displays, with my favourite WWII aircraft beckoning me like a siren of yore: the F-4U Corsair. 

[Please note: all photographs are courtesy of Miss Glory!]

In the time it took us to explore the rest of the line (and the tremendous assortment of food trucks), another plane from the Pacific theatre had made an appearance: the P-38 Lightning, one of the most uniquely shaped aircraft of the conflict (and damned effective too; I'd had no idea this 'Fork-tailed Devil' had accounted for more Japanese aircraft kills than any other!).

Land-based speed was represented too, including this vintage Pontiac racer, done up in classic RCMP livery! (If you get a chance, be sure to ask Audrey what it's like to drive one of the regular cruisers..)

The show opened with a 737 taking off while we were checking out the static line displays, but we almost missed the military component kicking off with a massive parachute drop out of a C-130 Hercules, courtesy of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

After that, we hustled back to our seats to enjoy the aerobatic displays beginning with Brent Handy in his Pitts Special. A great way to start things off, this ex-Hornet jockey put his little biplane through a grueling routine, displaying almost preternatural precision.

Brent was followed by Anna Serbinenko, whose plane boasted a little less horsepower and speed, but more than made up for it with grace and poise.

After Anna, is was time for airshow legend Bud Granley to take to the air in his Russian Yak-55, joined by his son Ross in a Yak-18T. Beginning with an opposed take-off, with both planes taking to the air within meters of each other, they displayed some incredible close formation flying, as well as some impressively aggressive aerobatics individually.

The next performer was a new one for me; I'd never seen an aircraft from the People's Liberation Army Air Force before, but Geoff Latter from B.C. and his Nancheng CJ-6A "Nancy" from China put on another impressive display.

The Harvard demonstration team Yellow Thunder bring a lot to the table, both in terms of their history with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) and the impressive roars of their 600hp Pratt & Whitney radial engines. The Watson brothers are no slouches in the pilot's seat either, and their bright yellow paint jobs are a joyful sight in a clear blue sky.

One of the most common criticisms of last year's Edmonton Airshow was the lack of jet, with no modern fighters in attendance. This year made up for this in spades, first with the F-16 Viper demo team from the USAF.

I will always have a soft spot for the Fighting Falcon, as it was the star of the first serious flight simulator I ever played on my Commodore Amiga. Despite my dated but extensive familiarity with the jet, I had never seen one flown until now, and no computer speaker could do justice to the deafening roar of 30,000 pounds of thrust when the throttle gets pushed to 'full military'.

Pilot Craig "Rocket" Baker put his ship through its paces admirably, taking high-g turns that left contrails peeling off the fuselage.

Better still, the Viper was joined by a beautiful P-51 Mustang ("Cadillac of the skies!") for a series of Heritage Flight passes.

Despite returning to propellers for the next act, things didn't slow down much, as Gary Ward's MX2 stuntplane boasts an all carbon-fibre body and an engine pumped up by the manufacturer, Lycoming. The high thrust to weight ratio made this plane capable of doing some astonishing things in the hands of an expert pilot.

Then it was time for another Pitts Special flown by local pilot Bill Carter, who we had seen last year as well, who repeated his trick of cutting a ribbon perhaps 5 meters off the ground, while inverted, with his tail.

I was delighted to discover that the P-38 Lightning was going to leave the static line in order to demonstrate its speed and power! It probably had the smoothest sounding engine of the warbirds we heard that day, and cast an impressive silhouette with its unusually shaped design.

I am jealous of tomorrow's audience, however, as they will get to see (and hear!) the Corsair instead of the Lightning.

The penultimate act was another impressive display of not only speed, but a series of 10-G turns, this time from a modern air racer sponsored by Red Bull, and its pilot, Canadian Pete McLeod.

They wrapped up the show brilliantly with Canada's own CF-18 Hornet Demo Team, out of Bagotville, Quebec.. In addition to being a powerful, twin engine combat jet that is currently in service, this Hornet was also painted in a yellow scheme with blue accents, in honour of the BCATP.

And best of all, the pilot caught everyone unawares by announcing over the speakers that he was perhaps ten minutes out, then came screaming in from behind the crowd two minutes later, at just below the speed of sound and perhaps 200 feet off the deck. One of my favourite air show gags, even if a lot of the smaller children found it somewhat unsettling.

The icing on the cake was another Heritage Flight, this one quintessentially Canadian in nature. The yellow-liveried Hornet, callsign Hawk 1, was joined by a Harvard Mk. II trainer, Hawk 2. This monoplane was painted to match the plane piloted by John Gillespie Magee Jr., an RCAF pilot who died in a mid-air collision in 1941 in England, but is perhaps best remembered for his poem High Flight:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
 Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

A truly touching way to end a memorable airshow; I'm already anticipating next year's version!


  1. I've been on the tarmac with F-16s way back in grade school visiting Malestrom AFB in Montana... those will liquefy your insides PDQ. I'd describe it as insane.

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  3. Great post! I love the sound of fast aircraft, whether prop-jobs or jets.

    1. I actually told Audrey that if I ever lost my sight, I would still want to come to airshows. I think the coolest sound came from those twin Harvards, and I think the Hornet was marginally louder than the F-16 (what with the extra engine and all), but nothing tops the B-1 bomber taking off from CFB Namao back in '91, already deafening on full throttle, and then angling away from the crowd so that the engines were pointed right at us. Spectacular!

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  4. Great post, Steve. Hope I can make it next year - Corsair and Lightning...mmmmm. Was a little confused on your use of 'static line' though until I realized that it was probably a clever pun.

    Static Line -- noun; a length of cord used instead of a ripcord for opening a parachute, attached at one end to the aircraft and temporarily snapped to the parachute at the other.

    1. Hmm, no, I may have misremembered it from my childhood, but that was how Dad referred to the lineup of aircraft on static display... but the parachute definition is far more established!