Saskatoon's 'Canada Remembers' Airshow 2005, 20-21 August
Andrew Bates takes in a Canadian airshow
Halfway through a very enjoyable summer holiday in western Canada, a welcome opportunity was taken to sample a Canadian airshow for the very first time. This was the 'Canada Remembers Airshow', held at Saskatoon's John G. Diefenbaker International Airport, in the province of Saskatchewan, over two very sunny days in August. As well as proving to be a most enjoyable experience, the event itself has a very special and important theme, to honour and remember the veterans, hence the title. The 'Canada Remembers Airshow' was created in 1995 as part of the Canadian Government's National 'Canada Remembers Program' and as a salute to the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It is Canada's only annual attraction dedicated to the remembrance of Canadian veterans, as well as paying tribute to Allied 'vets'. It has since been heralded as Canada's largest annual salute to all the veterans and, over the last ten years, it has entertained and educated well over 300,000 people. Thanks to the fine weather, a further 33,000 people would eventually file through the gates over the two days of the show.
Prior to the flying, there was ample time to peruse the static display, which from a UK enthusiast's viewpoint was full of 'goodies' not usually seen elsewhere. It was not an especially large static park, but it was a case of quality rather than quantity. Visiting from CFB Moose Jaw was a CT-155 Hawk and CT-156 Harvard II from the NFTC, whilst from CFB Cold Lake, just across the border in Alberta, a trio of aircraft from the AETE, comprising of a CH-146 Griffon, CT-114 Tutor and CF-18B Hornet, all resplendent in the AETE high-viz red/white/black colour scheme. Also from Cold Lake, there was another two-seat Hornet in the more conventional grey scheme, from 410 'Cougar' Squadron. Completing the CAF static display was a CC-138 Twin Otter from 440 'Vampire' Squadron, which was visiting all the way from Yellowknife in the North West Territories, along with a CT-142 Dash-8 from 402 'City of Winnipeg' Squadron based at (obviously) Winnipeg in Manitoba.
There was another small contingent of modern military on static display courtesy of the USAF. These comprised of a Rhode Island ANG 143rd AS C-130J, a 314th ARS/940th ARW AFRC KC-135T from Beale AFB and finally a 303rd FS/442nd FW AFRC A-10A from Whiteman AFB named 'Thunderbolt of Kansas City'. Additionally, there were also a number of privately owned historic aircraft including examples of the Tiger Moth, Harvard, Chipmunk, L-19 Bird Dog and B-25J Mitchell. The B-25 was appropriately named 'Miss Mitchell' and was visiting from the Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. One further item of interest was a Canadair CL-215 fire bomber operated by the Government of Saskatchewan.
Just prior to the start of the flying displays, the main focus of the event was brought to the fore with the opening ceremonies of the show. This is what the entire weekend was all about, honouring the veterans. There were apparently over three hundred Second World War and Korean veterans in attendance and their tribute was kicked off in true military fashion with a stirring rendition from the Scottish Lowland Military Band. They were closely followed by the North Saskatchewan Pipes & Drum Band, and then shortly afterwards, to much applause from the crowd, the true heroes of the hour, the 'vets' were proudly marched in ranks in front of the audience. Then, after listening to a number of anecdotes and stories of remembrance from a few dignitaries, 100-year old veteran Peter Haddow was chosen to take the veterans' salute. This was then followed by a minute's silence that was only interrupted by the unmistakeable sound of a solitary Harvard flypast, which was closely accompanied by a twenty-one-gun salute. Finally, after the last veteran had marched out of the arena, the Canadian national anthem 'O Canada' was heartily sung by one and all, with the entire throng of people standing to attention. As foreign visitors, the wife and I did were not familiar with the words, but we were more than happy to stand up with everyone else to pay our respects during this spontaneous show of patriotism. After such an impressive ceremony, it was difficult to avoid that lump at the back of the throat, stirring stuff indeed.
With all the formal proceedings complete, it was time for some airshow action, and first up was the Canadian Forces parachute display team, the 'Sky Hawks'. Earlier on, the team had been taken aloft in the back of a 442 (Transport & Rescue) Squadron CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox in British Columbia. Jumping from about 12,500 ft, one of the first out was Master Corporal Steve Bates, a long lost relative perhaps! After some impressive freefall demonstrations from both solo and group parachutists, all the team landed crowd-centre in time to take the salute as the Buffalo flew past. This was then the cue for the crew of this versatile aircraft to show the audience what the CC-115 was capable of, with demos of low and high speed passes, STOL performance and runway manoeuvrability.
The next two items on the itinerary were both aerobatic routines from two dissimilar types. First up was Gene Soucy in his Grumman G-164 biplane. This type may have been designed with agriculture in mind, but there was nothing agricultural about the performance. For a biplane it certainly had some 'get up and go' and was it LOUD or what!? Gene was destined to fly again later in the show, but with a brave wing walker attached to his top wing. The second aerobatic demonstration came courtesy of John Mrazek in his Mark IV Harvard 'Pussycat II', during which it was likely that he explored the entire flight envelope of this famous training aircraft. There was more piston power shortly afterwards with a contribution from the Commemorative AF with a lengthy display from another example of a B-25 at the show, the immaculately finished 'Pacific Prowler'. After a number of simulated bombing runs, complete with some ground based pyrotechnics for additional effect, the bomber landed and was taxied right up to the static arena to enable the crowds to get a closer look. The entire aircraft was so highly polished, you could literally see your face in the reflection.
After a tactical display from a Canadian Forces CH-146 Griffon, it was time to turn up the heat. This firstly entailed a stunning routine from Captain James 'Buca' Kettles in his CF-188 Hornet, complete with some very colourful and patriotic tail art. Then, a short while later, it was the turn of the USAF F-15 East Coast Demo Team from the 1st FW at Langley AFB with an equally impressive display. Difficult to say which of the two was the best, so I'll sit on the fence and say honours even.
Naturally, the finale to the show was reserved for the Canadian Forces Display Team, the Snowbirds, and their nine CT-114 Tutors. It's no exaggeration to say that the team is held in high regard and affection by the Canadian public, and it was clearly the highlight of the show for many of those present. They treated the audience to a precise and flawless demonstration of formation flying, with grace and panache a plenty. From a personal point of view, this was actually the second time your scribe had seen them, having been lucky enough to witness their display at the USAF 50th Anniversary Golden Air Tattoo at Nellis AFB in 1997, so it was really good to see them again.
And so, as the last Snowbird landed, the show had reached its conclusion and achieved its main aim; to remember the veterans. This is a most admirable goal and long may it continue. Overall, there were a few gaps in the display from time to time, but generally these had been filled by some of the routine airliner movements. Also in-between the flying, there was the additional entertainment of car crushing with the 'Sheer Insanity' monster truck. However, after the show had finished, there was the added bonus of a mass balloon launch into the still air of late afternoon. So, it was a case of getting out the picnic, sitting back and relaxing, which was a very civilised way to end a most memorable day out.