REVIEW: Canadian International Air Show 2019

WORDS & PHOTOS: CLAUDE LAFRENIERE

The Canadian International Air Show in Toronto began life as a showcase for de Havilland Canada, before moving to Toronto’s waterfront and joining the Canadian National Exhibition in 1949. Now in its 70th year, the show offered a world-class aerial display from the 31st August to the 2nd September, and remains one of Toronto’s most popular Labor Day weekend events.

To celebrate their anniversary, CIAS 2019 featured aircraft representing each of the last seven decades, and was headlined by the RAF Red Arrows, as part of their Western Hawk tour, and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds from the 15th Wing in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

CIAS takes place over the waters of Lake Ontario in Toronto Harbor, near the Rose Garden and Exhibition Place. While most areas are free to attend, there are two VIP offerings: the Hornet Squadron, a seating area with an entry fee of $130, and the Flight Deck, which costs $275, with meals included. Both areas also have live airshow narration.

While there was no static display, there were a number of kiosks selling souvenirs and food, as well as tents which hosted meet-the-pilot sessions within the VIP areas. The display aircraft were based at Toronto Pearson Airport, 15km from the airshow site.

The flying display began at noon, and continued until 15:30. The show started strong with a spectacular demonstration by the Red Arrows. Toronto is one of the most important Canadian cities scheduled on the Red Arrows 2019 Western Hawk Tour, and one which the team had not visited since 2002. The Hawk T.1s used by the Red Arrows are more powerful and faster than the Snowbirds CT-114s, which allows them to perform technical feats such as the Tornado, Corkscrew and Palm Split – but the team also stands out for its historical formations paying homage to the 50th anniversary of Concorde’s first flight, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing and a tribute to the Avro Lancaster.

Later came a demonstration from the MiG-15 UTI, piloted by Richard “Coop” Cooper, affectionately. Richard Cooper is the president and chairman of the CIAS and is a former CF-18 and Snowbird pilot. We then witnessed a brief flypast from the Red Arrows’ support plane, the Airbus A400M Atlas.

A two-seat CF-188B Hornet from the RCAF’s 425nd Tactical Fighter Squadron in Bagotville demonstrated the maneuverability and combat capabilities of the RCAF’s ageing Hornet fleet. The display shorter than we are used to as it was not performed by the RCAF ‘s official CF-118 demonstration team, which was flying at the Atlantic Airshow in Grenwood, Nova Scotia, on the same weekend.

A CH-146 Griffon helicopter from 424th Transport and Rescue Squadron (TIGERS) of 8 Wing in Trenton performed a Search and Rescue demonstration, with two divers plunging into the cold water of Lake Ontario to simulate the rescue of a person in distress, and hoisting the rescued person aboard the aircraft. The Griffon was one of two RCAF helicopters flying at the show, which also included a CH-148 Cyclone from 423rd Maritime Helicopter Squadron at 12 Wing in Shearwater. The crew show us the stability and maneuverability of this state-of-the-art helicopter, often flying less than 15 meters from the water, its four huge rotor blades whipping up clouds of spray. At the end of the demonstration, a Search and Rescue airman descended by a winch cable and deployed a Canadian flag beneath the helicopter.

The civilian part of the show was opened by 77-year-old Canadian airshow legend Gordon Price in his Yak-50 prototype. Gordon has been performing at airshows since 1967 and has represented Canada three times at the World Aerobatic Championships in the 1980s. He is now celebrating his 60th year of flying with a nationwide airshow tour to encourage kids to follow their dreams and learn how to fly. The show continued with Canadian Brent Handy in the Pitts S2-B with a low altitude, high energy aerobatic display, and C-45 Expeditor 3NM “Canadian Queen”.

One of the most anticipated demonstrations of the days was a display by two USAF A-10C Thunderbolt IIs from the 163rd Fighter Squadron “Blacksnakes” of the 122nd Fighter Wing of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who performed a captivating tactical demonstration, including several simulated attacks passes.

The last part of the show was reserved to the highly anticipated Snowbirds of the 431st Air Demonstration Squadron, who captivated the crowd with their impressive and precise aerobatic maneuvers under the command of Major Denis Bandet (Snowbird 1). What sets the Snowbirds apart from the other major international aerobatic teams is that they fly on the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, a 56-year-old training aircraft capable of much slower speed than modern jets like the F -16 of the USAF Thunderbirds, for example. During their performance, the Snowbirds can fly at speeds ranging from 320 knots to as little as 100 knots, with the aircraft as little as 1.5 meters apart. The Snowbirds’ display was as impressive as expected, with tight, accurate and breath-taking maneuvers such as the Canada Burst, Heart, Downward Bomb Burst, Lag Back Cross, Battle of Britain split, Maple Split, and their final signature maneuver, a nine-ship line abreast pass.

CIAS 2019 offered a high-caliber airshow with a variety of flying performers on aircraft of all ages from the past 70 years. The performances captivated the crowd, who turned out despite the changeable weather, which saw a few rain showers and sun interspersed with cloud throughout the weekend – however, the areas with seating and narration are too small and extremely expensive to enter for the product on offer.