Abbotsford International Airshow 2017 Report.
Liz & I travelled west earlier this month to revisit the Abbotsford International Airshow. It had been since 2009 so I needed a bit of a jet noise/exhaust fix. Mr. Jim Reith, who you may recall is not only a good friend and big contributor to my book "Flight Lines" but is an ex Snowbird, ex-Abbotsford Airshow veteran AirBoss and is now President of the whole lash-up. He invited me to be part of the Airshow Flying Events Team (got the shirt) and also be host and Point of Contact (POC) for the US Navy F-18 Super Hornet (aka The Rhino) Tactical Demonstration Team. (got another shirt) It took exactly a tenth of a second to make up my mind and say yes to the invite!
So we two-hopped it to Abbotsford on West Jet and landed in the smokey Fraser Valley on a Wednesday afternoon with the temp in the 30s. Right to work. (well, after a welcome BBQ at the Reith household Wednesday night that is) This airshow is a monster-- a massive and complex project that is literally being planned for the following year before the parking lot is empty for this year's show. Performers, their crews and their demands and challenges, local accomodation for hundreds, rental cars, concession and food stands, vendors, ticket sales, advertising, 700 (!) volunteers to be herded and directed, VIP and sponsored (and catered!) tents on "Chalet Row" where the heavy hitters congregate along the show line to take in the action all to be be set up, staffed and furnished. Feeding and watering of volunteers and performers, parking and traffic control, water supply, sewage and sanitation, radio, communications and the announcers' tower, RCMP aircraft security details and pass control, briefing tents, press releases...it just goes on and on. And bear in mind that this all takes place on the infield, right on the grounds of an active international airport with West Jet and Air Canada in and out several times a day plus unscheduled "scrambles" by Conair, the resident water bombing operation on the field. As you can imagine, this has been a very busy summer for them.
Jim, as President of the whole thing, was the picture of cool throughout as the pressure increased and the thousands of bits and pieces and many moving parts came together for the three day show. If things were going to go off the rails, it was usually on practice day, Thursday. On picking us up at the airport on arrival, I asked Jim how it was all going? Jim calmly replied:
"Oh, the usual. Spent most of today un-f**king things"
I laughed right out loud; "Say, can I use that?"
As part of the Flying Events Team, I had a "Hot Side" pass which allowed unrestricted access to the entire airfield and allowed some great opportunites for up close and personal pictures.
Thursday was practice day as many of the performers and static displays had arrived on the Wednesday. My "Rhino" guys snuck in a practice as the visibility in smoke was just at their limit of 5 NM. Other fast mover shows had to scrub. Below: I'm right on the ramp beside the super hornet flashing up for the Saturday show. Ear defenders highly recommended. Note the haze in the picture from the forest fires, Also note the folding wings and the monster undercarriage. This is a carrier based aircraft. We used to have one of those.
The two pictures above show the Lockheed Martin F-35 on the hot ramp. One monster engine and you could tell by the sound of it on take-off that this is a different airplane. It thumped your chest and rattled your teeth. A very impressive machine with on board wizardry that would astound. Back in my airforce days, copies of a magazine called "Aviation Week" were usually scattered around the squadron ready rooms. We used to call it "Aviation Leak" because we thought, even back in the 70s, if this is the stuff they're publishing, what are they keeping secret?! 40 odd years later, one cannot imagine.
I heard a story from Jim about a competition between the the F-35 and the F-22, two rival contenders for supremacy (and sales!) in the competition for next-gen fighters. It involved setting two F-22s on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) to defend a target from attack by two F-35s. The target was somewhere out on the range in the Nevada desert. So the CAP was set and "Fight's On" was declared. About 45 minutes later, nothing was happening. One of the F-22 pilots called up: "So are you gonna send these guys in or what?" The reply was devastating;
"They've been in and out--twice--and oh, by the way, you're both dead"
This is the same airplane that, according to our government "is not suitable for our needs"
The CF-18 Hornet in the "Canada 150" colours, flown by Captain Matt Kutryk, put on his usual spectacular show. By the way, he has a brother, Joshua, who flew in from Cold Lake in another CF-18 to say hi. Joshua just happens to be Canada's newest astronaut. Hard to compete with THAT family. Pictured below is the Canada 150 Hornet and Captain Joshua Kutryk on arrival at Abbotsford
One of the highlights of the show was a team from the US flying four Harvards. Or they may have been T-6s, the American equivalent. But they sure sounded like Harvards. A wonderful, loud, right in front of you tight formation air show with lots of smoke trails. They were called the Aero Shell team flown by four of the biggest, nicest southern drawl gentlemen I've met. To see the four of them sitting together in the briefing tent, they could've doubled for the front four for the Green Bay Packers. I don't know how some of them fit in the airplane but they put on a terrific show.
Some added pictures:
A great shot of the other "Rhino" in the team that I was hosting.
The F-16 "Viper". Put on a great show but sometimes cut pretty close to the line. This is on my list of "airplanes I'd like in my garage"
The Snowbirds lined up and ready for action, a briefing with the Snowbird Team and the Minister of National Defense on the ramp and me, taken by Tom Watt, who just proved to me that despite my failed attempts, my cell camera works just fine.
The F-15 Eagle came to visit. The didn't fly, they just parked on the static line and partied.
I spent much of the time blasting up and down the show line delivering crew chiefs, personnel and meals in this machine. Great fun! Boys and toys. The crew chiefs of some of the vintage aircraft wanted to be with the Crash-Fire-Rescue Teams on standby on the field in case their "pilot extraction" skills were needed if their bird crashed. Thankfully, they never were required.
Below, Liz and I are waiting for Steve Hinton and his vintage, mint F-86 Sabre to start and taxi for the Heritage Flight Show. You've probably seen Steve in just about any war movie that involves airplanes, including Top Gun. The Heritage Flight is a four ship showcasing four generations of American fighter aircraft; The P-51 Mustang, the F-86 Sabre, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-35. We then ferried his Crew Chief to the other end of the field to be with the fire crews, then back again when Steve finished his majestic and graceful solo show in the Sabre and taxied back to the hot ramp. It is quite possibly the most beautiful jet fighter ever built.
It was six exciting days of travel, jet fumes, ear splitting noise, smoke and spectacle. The after show parties were pretty good too but midnight seems to be coming sooner than I recall. Good news, the Show AirBoss said he wants me back next year. Best of all, our luggage arrived safe and sound both ways!
Until next time, over 'n out.