AIRSHOW LONDON 2019 - London Int. Airport / Ontario / Canada
Update: 2019/11/18 by Shawn Clish / CHK6
Airshow London was held from September 12-16, 2019 at the London International Airport (CYXU) in Ontario, Canada. From the glory years of the London International Air Show to the turbulent years of the London Airshow and Balloon Festival, London has always been a great place to see modern military aircraft. This year’s show didn’t disappoint as the very Canadian flying display included two of Canada’s first jets, the de Havilland Vampire and the Lockheed CT-133 SILVER STAR, two of Canada’s current jets, the Boeing CF-188 HORNET and the BAe CT-155 HAWK and of course the iconic Canadian Forces SNOWBIRDS. The static display was very impressive as it contained a variety of fighters, tankers, helicopters and even a Boeing B-52H STRATOFORTRESS. This was the fourth edition of the show since it’s rebirth in 2016 and although it was the smallest of the four, the organizers overcame numerous challenges to put on a spirited display. As with most aviation events weather presented a significant obstacle. Before the show even started, verbally confirmed Coast Guard and cargo aircraft were allocated to assist with Hurricane Dorian relief efforts. And Friday’s thunderstorm activity erased multiple aircraft from the static display and caused the cancellation of the twilight air show.
One of the best aspects of this event has always been the lighting for photography. The show is oriented on the airport’s longest runway, 15/33, with visitors facing east. Due to the timing of the show in mid-September and the start of flying activities at 12:30pm, the sun angles for the show are marvellous and improve as the day progresses. Friday’s schedule includes the ‘Hour of Power’, a three hour evening display that showcases some of the weekends acts but also allows arriving aircraft to beat up the pattern before joining the static display.
Both show days feature the same flying schedule, opened by the Canadian Forces SkyHawks parachute display team flying their signature Canadian flag parachutes. The SkyHawks are represented by members of the Army, Navy and Air Force from both the Regular and Reserve Forces. Their display starts with a large Canadian flag flown during the anthem and is followed by multiple formations and the crowd pleasing candy cane.
The most colourful display of the weekend featured Jerry Conley’s camouflaged Vampire flying in formation with two Silver Stars. The ‘Red Knight’, belonging to the locally based Jet Aircraft Museum, is painted after an RCAF CT-133 that performed aerobatic displays from 1958-1969. The ‘Black Knight’ is a duplication of a paint job from 1999 by 414 squadron to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the RCAF. None of these planes or their pilots had flown together before Airshow London and credit must be given to the great job they did making multiple passes for the crowd.
The best display of the weekend belong to the Air Combat Command Fairchild A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team. Major Cody ‘ShIV’ Wilton’s display showcased the unique combat capabilities of the Warthog including multiple simulated attack passes and the aircraft’s exceptional maneuverability. Although lacking the typical DM and tail flash found on most A-10’s, the display airplane made up for it’s simplistic paint scheme with an impressive number of mission markings carried below the cockpit on the right side.
Three of the previous four Boeing CF-188 HORNET Demonstration Team pilots performed at this year’s show. Captain Brian ‘Huzma’ Kilroy had the privilege of displaying this year’s ‘Ad Astra’ jet, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the NATO alliance with a special purple tail. Although this was the first time in four years that the CF-188 did not have a full length livery, Captain Kilroy did a very nice job presenting the aircraft for the crowd. This included a very spirited Saturday morning arrival, due to some last minute maintenance required to make the jet serviceable. Captain Ryan ‘Roid’ Kean, pilot of the 2016’s British Commonwealth Air Training Plan jet and Captain Matthew ‘Glib’ Kutryk, who got to display 2017’s beautiful Canada 150 jet, returned to the skies over London in a pair of CT-155 HAWK´s. Their Hawk display started with a formation departure and the two stayed together for a subsequent pass. They were joined in the air by a pair of U.S. Air Force Northrop T-38 TALON from the 80th FTW out of Sheppard AFB, Texas.
Bjarni and Mike Tryggvason, father and son, added a special family element to this year’s show. Bjarni was a payload specialist on STS-85, a twelve day mission onboard the Discovery Space Shuttle in 1997 to study the Earth’s middle atmosphere and test potential International Space Station hardware. He was at the controls of the ‘Red Knight’ CT-133 during the Heritage flight with the CF-188. Mike, one Canada’s top aerobatic pilots, performed his hard hitting, competition style aerobatic display in his Giles 202 for the second straight year. During the Sunday show, Bjarni and Mike got to fly together in one of the least likely formations you have ever seen, with the 190 horsepower Giles leading the vintage CT-133. The show was closed in typical fashion, by the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron. Still flying the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, their classic nine-ship display is the definition of teamwork. Described as an aerial ballet and performed to classical music, the precision of the Snowbirds routine is always a sight that brings pride to Canadians while inspiring the next generation of aviators.
From a pair of forty year old Boeing F-15C EAGLE belonging to the Massachusetts Air National Guard to a newly upgraded Lockheed C-5M GALAXY all the way from Travis AFB, California, Airshow London had a strong presence of military hardware on static display. One of the highlights was the third straight appearance of a fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35C LIGHTNING II. At the previous two shows, VFA-101 flew one of their test jets north from Eglin AFB, Florida. Their initial appearance in 2017 was one of the first displays of the aircraft at any air show, and was probably the first display on foreign soil. Due to the U.S. Navy’s decision to deactivate the Grim Reapers on May 23rd, a new squadron was needed to continue the streak, so VFA-125 stepped up to fill the void and the F-35C was once again part of the show. The flight from the west coast required some assistance which the Navy fighter received from an Air Force KC-10 tanker out of Travis AFB. Crossing the continent together, the Boeing KC-10 EXTENDER provided fuel to the F-35C for the five hour flight and carried the ground crew needed to support the fighter on arrival. The KC-10 wasn’t the only tanker to drag a fighter to the show. An Arizona based Boeing KC-135R STRATOTANKER brought a couple of Lockheed Martin F-16 VIPER with it and the Alaskan based KC-135R picked up an F-15E Strike Eagle from Mountain Home on its way. It was supposed to be two Strike Eagles but when the lead jet went unserviceable the decision was made to send just the wingman with the tanker. The lead crew, determined to enjoying the Canadian hospitality, found another plane and fuel stopped their way to the show. Other statics included an Illinois ANG Lockheed C-130 HERCULES and a Marine Corps BELL MV-22 OSPREY.
As nice as it is to see fighters, the most exciting aircraft on display over the weekend was the B-52H Stratofortress. Tensions around the world keep the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s Global Strike Command very busy. The 23rd Bomb Squadron crew that visited that weekend had already been part of 2019 deployments to Anderson AFB, Guam, RAAF Base Darwin, Australia and RAF Fairford, United Kingdom. On arrivals day when the B-52’s wheels touched down on Runway 15, it marked the first time in 20 years that a Stratofortress had been in London.
Verdict: Airshow London is a truly exceptional event. It’s a blast from the past that prioritizes military aviation in both it’s flying and static displays. Access is available for all five days of the show allowing close proximity to aircraft movements while the sun position guarantees exceptional lighting and phenomenal pictures. All of these strengths combine to make Airshow London one of the premier aviation events in North America. 2020 is already showing promise with the confirmation of the only international display of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
Special thanks to Mike Lewis and Gerry Vanderhoek, the Air Operations Team, for making this year’s show an unforgettable experience.
Shawn Clish / CHK6