WORDS AND PHOTOS: CLAUDE LAFRENIERE
After two difficult years, Aero Gatineau-Ottawa managed to return to normal for its fifth edition, held from September 16-18 2022. With a total of more than 60 aircraft present, the show was bigger than ever – spurred on by the need to compensate for the missing Canadian Forces Snowbirds, who were still on a safety stand down.
After taking over in 2017 from “Wings over Gatineau”, the organizers have managed to make this air show one of the most important aeronautical events in Eastern Canada. The impressive flying display programme includes a strong mix of vintage, military and civilian aircraft, accompanied by a static exhibition that featured such types as the Boeing 737, Canadair CL-415, and explore the hangars of the Vintage Wings of Canada collection, even getting up close to several aircraft that are still in the process of being restored.
At Aero Gatineau-Ottawa, aircraft participating in the flying display are parked just a few metres from the crowd, while the linear layout of the site, perpendicular to the runway, offers an excellent unobstructed field of view. Photographers could also invest in a photo pit ticket for $100 per day, or $250 for both show days and Friday’s training day; the photo pit offers perfect unobstructed views towards the main taxiway just 15 metres away. Also offering good views towards the runway was the exclusive “Front Row Club”, featuring private seating and catering. This costs $150 per day, making it very reasonable value compared to other Canadian events.
Causing some frustration this year was the organisation’s decision to stop selling tickets on the gate, moving to online-only ticket sales. This caught out some regular visitors who arrived without a ticket and had to turn back or buy one on their smartphone. Nonetheless, enthusiasts responded in large numbers to the show; last year’s drive-in event was limited to 5,000 spectators over the weekend, while this year attracted 12,000 visitors, most of whom attended on Saturday due to bad weather on Sunday. Sadly, a large part of Sunday’s show was ultimately cancelled due to low cloud cover.
The flying display included a total of 30 performers, beginning at 10:30 rather than the usual time of 11:30 to accommodate the extended line up. The show started with the PZL-104 Wilga, a strange Polish aircraft with long landing gear legs and a cockpit allowing excellent visibility. Pilot Patrick Cloutier showed off the STOL capabilities of the aircraft.
As is the tradition in Gatineau, the four emblematic training aircraft of the RCAF pilot training program of the 1940s paraded through the sky of Gatineau; the Fleet Finch II, Fairchild Cornell, de Havilland Chipmunk and North American Harvard Mk.IV. Another jewel of the collection Vintage Wings of Canada, a special “Fox Moth” owned by Edward VII, Prince of Wales, also took to the air.
Vintage Wings of Canada aircraft in the flying display included the Westland Lysander, Spitfire Mk.IX and Hurricane Mk.XII. The Spitfire and Hurricane joined up for passes in close formation, in addition to their solo displays.
For the first time at Gatineau, three P-51D Mustangs came together to perform in the flying display. P-51D Mustang “Double Trouble II” was piloted by Mackenzie Cline joined Louis Horschel’s TF-51D Mustang “Mad Max” and TF-51D Mustang “Little Witch”, owned and piloted by Ariel Frank Luedi. Each of the three Mustangs gave a solo performance to demonstrate the impressive qualities of one of America’s finest WWII fighters, while two (Mad Max and Little Witch) performed duo aerobatics. Later, “Mad Max” returned alone for a heritage flight with an RCAF CF-18. A fourth Mustang appeared on static display in the hangars of the Vintage Wings of Canada.
One of the most beautiful aircraft to fly in the skies of Gatineau for a long time was this magnificent CT-133 Silver Star piloted by Bill Calberson. It was restored in 2008 and painted to proudly display its Canadian heritage in the colours of the 414th “Black Knights” Combat Support Squadron, winning the “Best Jet Restoration” award at EAA Air Venture in Oshkosh in 2019.
Civilian performers included former Snowbirds pilot Mario Hamel in his Salto glider, Kyle Fowler in the Rutan Model 61 Long-EZ, Trevor Rafferty in the Pitts Model 12, Rick Volker in the Su-26M, and Canada’s youngest aerobatic team, the Northern Stars, flying three Pitts S-2Bs. Starting with precise close formation aerobatics, the routine quickly transitions to more dynamic solo manoeuvres before re-assembling in formation. Team leader Brent Handy also performed a solo demonstration, which differed from the team display with its higher-energy, low-altitude manoeuvres.
The Canadian Armed Forces contributed several performances in the absence of the Snowbirds, starting with the Skyhawks parachute display team. The team jumped in two waves: first, a flag jump with three large flags representing Canada, the United States and Quebec, and secondly, “parabatics”, demonstrating their famous figures such as the “biplane” (double canopy stack), “Tri-by-side”, “Three Stack Drag” and their famous “Canadian T”.
Two CT-155 Hawk jet trainers from 4 Wing at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta, flew over the airport in formation for some non-aerobatic passes. One of the two Hawks was painted to commemorate the squadron’s 75th anniversary (2016), its colours representing the unit’s history as part of RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War.
Always a favorite of the Gatineau crowd, this year’s CF-18 Demonstration Team is piloted by Captain Jesse Haggart-Smith from 410 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta. This year’s paint scheme theme is “Fighter Operations at Home and Abroad,” rendered in the color operational gray with a geometric pattern that references the wings of the CF-18’s namesake, the Hornet.
One of the most keenly-awaited appearances of the weekend was that of a CL-415 Super Scooper water bomber from the Quebec Government Air Service (SAG). Spectators were able to visit it on Saturday for their greatest pleasure among the static display. It was scheduled to take part in the flying display, including with a drop of 6140 liters of water from its tanks, on Sunday, but this was unfortunately cancelled due to the weather conditions.
Finally, the most anticipated moment of the day was the presentation of the USAF A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team, flown by Major Haden Fullam of the 354th Fighter Squadron, Davis-Monthan AFB. Major Fullam gave a very convincing demonstration of the manoeuvrability and close air support capabilities of his jet with simulated attack passes accentuated by audio recordings of the sound of his seven-barrelled 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun.
Aero Gatineau-Ottawa pulled out all the stops for its return to normal, presenting us with a full and entertaining show coordinated on the fly thanks to its very efficient operational and logistical management team. We are already looking forward to the 6th edition next year.