Shearwater International Air Show – Hey… I Remember That

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Every few weeks or so, you’ll see a new report here about an air show or event that contains some recollections and images from a bygone era.  Some reports will review air shows no longer produced while others may feature some notable past military exercises; all will contain some long-since retired aircraft.  As we here at Classic Warbirds go through our extensive collections of images (slides and negatives as well as digital archives), we often mutter under our breaths “Hey, I remember that…”, and so, can you do the same? 


Event:  Shearwater International Air Show

Location:  Canadian Forces Base Shearwater, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada

Reported Dates:  1990 – 2002

From the 1970s through 1997, the Shearwater International Air Show was a prominent late summer military aviation event in Atlantic Canada.  Later, civilians replaced military personnel managing the show, and it was renamed the Nova Scotia International Air Show.  Notable North American civilian aerobatic and warbird performers were part of the festivities, but the headline acts revolved around military aircraft and pilots.   The Shearwater/Nova Scotia shows’ proximity to Goose Bay, Labrador’s low level flight training areas normally attracted European fast jets to the show, adding to fan interest.  Some major milestones were celebrated during the shows; the 2002 event attracted the RAF’s Red Arrows for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year, and 1999 feted the 75th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the 50th year of NATO.

CFB Shearwater military airport was established on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Harbor at Baker’s Point, Nova Scotia.  The base became operational shortly before the end of World War I; it was a U.S. Navy-operated seaplane base that provided convoy protection against German submarines.  The initial  USN base commander was just beginning his storied career, (then) Lieutenant Richard E. Byrd would blaze new trails to the North and South Poles later in life.  After the war, the airport came under RCAF control and became an important maritime, fisheries, and forest fire patrol base for Atlantic Canada.   RCAF Base Dartmouth was a major anti-submarine patrol base during World War II, and the Royal Canadian Navy based its aircraft carriers in Halifax… so the carriers’ complement of aircraft called Dartmouth their base home too.   In 1948, the base gained its Shearwater name, when the Royal Canadian Navy took over the facility.  In 1968, all Canadian Forces were unified, and the RCAF regained control of the base.  The final Canadian carrier, the HMCS Bonaventure, was retired in 1970, and helicopters and utility aircraft became the final tenants at Shearwater.  

Home to the RCAF’ s Sea King anti-submarine and ship-borne utility helicopters, rotary winged aircraft were on prominent display in the air and on the ground during Shearwater air shows.  Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans, U.S. Coast Guard, and both Canadian and U.S. military helicopters flocked to the events. One year, in a realistic training mission that simulated a real world deployment, a trio of partially disassembled U.S. Army AH-64 Apaches and their crews boarded a USAF C-5 Galaxy that carried them to Shearwater.  The three helicopters were assembled after arrival and all 4 aircraft and their crews were on display for the show that year.

During the 1990s, Sea King helicopters, CT/CE-133 Silver Stars and CT/CE-144 Challengers operated from the airport; however after the 2002 show the runways were downgraded to helicopter landing areas, and fixed wing operations ended at CFB Shearwater.  Today, CH-124 Sea Kings still call Shearwater home, awaiting replacement by the proposed CH-148 Cyclone (Sikorsky S-92 variant).  The Nova Scotia International Air Show has moved on to different venues with runways which can handle fixed wing jets and prop-driven aircraft, and the former large scale military-themed shows are but a distant memory.


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