AirShow London’s Arrival Day Spectacular

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Every once in a while, the moon and the stars are aligned just right, and things fall together on an air show arrival day that maxes out the “Fun Meter”. Close to ten hours of aviation excitement unfolded on Friday for those who had purchased an AirShow London Photo Pass option. London, Ontario saw a series of large air shows, with great military participation, in the 1980s through the early 2000s. There was a hiatus for a dozen years, until this year’s show was fielded. Packages for air show attendance included a third and even a fourth day of excitement – a full package included a full day of the Friday Photo Tour day, full air shows on Saturday and Sunday, and a day full of aircraft departures on Monday. The two-day pass includes Friday and either Saturday or Sunday… and both Photo Tour options include early access to the grounds on the weekend (for more static photos) too. Here’s how the Friday Photo Tour unfolded, and why this option was a winner in 2016… Arrival day is a great opportunity for show enthusiasts, especially those with a camera. Offering no crowds, best available spots from which to photograph, and like-minded aviation and photography aficionados to converse with, it is a huge bonus if the weather cooperates. On the Friday prior to the 2016 air show, the weather cooperated in spectacular fashion, with blue skies for most of the day, and a sneaky sunset and moonrise to play with. With better than three dozen aircraft expected, and scheduled airline service added to the mix, there were plenty of subjects to photograph. The photo day grounds limited participants to one corner of a grassy area next to a major taxi route for most arriving static aircraft, and close proximity to the main runway. There were a handful of larger aircraft already on the ramp, mainly larger aircraft that arrived a day or two earlier. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds, eleven aircraft strong, brought their “Snowbird 12” spares trailer with them too.

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The hot ramp – where aircraft that were flying in the show were parked, was further left to the photo “pit”, and their taxi route was directly in front of the 50 to 60 photographers. For further reference, the air show center, marked by a parked truck in the grass off of the runway, was right of the group. This allowed for some great photos of “banana passes” as curved flight profiles offered some “top of wing” opportunities. Aircraft destined to be on static display were grouped into landing slots during certain times during the day. Practice for pilots and parachutists blocked the runway and surrounding airspace for long periods of time for most of the afternoon, although scheduled airliner and prior approved civilian traffic was sequenced in as well. One of the main attractions of attending a Friday practice session is that most, if not all of the weekend’s performers will get out and fly their routines. One gets to see an additional day of the flying display, and watch many more aircraft “active”, instead of them being parked statically.

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Thus, the flying began for the Photo Tour participants soon after their 9AM “show time”. A parachute demonstration (with many tandem riders) by the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team - the Skyhawks - was accomplished mid-morning. Leaping from a newer Canadian Forces CC-130J Hercules, team members and their passengers landed in front of the photo pit. A few civilian static aircraft arrived before noon, mixed with a few military aircraft. Warbirds seen during Friday included Dr. Joseph Masessa's OV-1D Mohawk, and the P-51D Double Trouble II. Static Harvards and a Cessna L-19 Birddog arrived too, as did a PZL-Mielec produced AN-2P (although an elderly design, this airframe was built in 1995!). Long-serving military designs present at London included a 1962-built KC-135R tanker, a 1978 vintage F-15C, and the Snowbirds' CT-114 Tutors; the type's first flight was in 1960, and the Snowbirds' mount since their designation as the Canadian Forces Air Demonstration Team in 1975.

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The afternoon practice sessions included the USAF’s F-22 Raptor and Air Force Heritage flight. A tribute to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan by the Canadian Forces CF-188 and CT-156 demonstration pilots, with their aircraft emblazoned in commemorative colors, was a definite highlight of the day. They joined in formation after each did their solo performances. 2016 marks seventy five years since the first BCATP crews joined the battles of World War II. The Skyhawks team did their full show, and other performers, like Ontario’s Pete McLeod in his Edge 540 and California’s Gregory Colyer in his Ace Maker II T-33 (actually, of all things, a former Canadair-built CT-133 Silver Star) did their full routines too. Practice sessions by an International Test Pilots School (ITPS), based at the London International Airport, offered multiple passes for photographers too. After practices ended, more arrivals for the show began to arrive in earnest. A trio of New Orleans-based F-15s and a quartet of Toledo-based F-16s did overhead breaks and descended to multiple approaches and low passes before landing. A pair of US Navy E-2 Hawkeyes provided nice color for the photographers pining for variety.

A recent feature of the past London International Air Shows, and current AirShow London is the “Hour of Power” – where an hour-long air show teaser is presented during the sunset hour. A few thousand fans attended this event, which was included in the price of the photo tour. After a full Snowbirds performance, more CF-188 Hornets arrived and added their afterburners to the F-22 and CF-188 demonstrations. Others, like Gregory Colyer in Ace Maker II, also flew their full routines. A full Harvest Moon rose in between layers of gathering clouds, towards the end of the evening’s flying, providing a natural pyrotechnic performance. A rather unique exclamation point to the evening (which stretched out into “Hours of Power”), was London native Captain Ryan Kean’s landing after sunset… he had intentionally lowered his tail hook, which dragged on the runway and kicked up a rooster tail of sparks as he landed. Unfortunately, Saturday’s show was entirely cancelled due to forecast inclement weather, which did arrive just about when the AirShow would have begun. Sunday’s weather was much better, and the first edition of AirShow London, some twelve years after the previous air show at the airport, was flown in its entirety. If you’re inclined to spend a long (and somewhat pricey but immensely satisfying) day taking photos of airplanes at what already has resumed being a premiere air show, a two or four day Photo Pass at AirShow London may be just your ticket to contentment. 2017’s air show was already announced to be held on the weekend after Labour Day.

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