Adrian Lang was in London, Ontario for the London International AirFest held over 25-27 June. All pictures by the author or as credited.
Once again, the London skies were clear of clouds for the annual International AirFest and it promised to be one of the most spectacular air shows in North America this year with its diverse aerial line-up and static displays.
As far as the static displays are concerned, AirFest boasted a fabulous line-up with lots of variety. Among the seventy-eight-plus aircraft could be found three KC-135s (Alabama, Iowa and New Hampshire ANGs) and an RC-135 Cobra Ball; four USMC Harriers; four T-38s; two EA-6Bs (one USN, one USMC); four F-16s; four F-15A and C models as well as the F-15E; three T-45s, a C-141B, KC-10, B-1B and many other various fighters and trainers.
The weekend began on Friday evening for London's traditional 'Hour of Power' display. Starting at about 19:00 hrs, the hefty crowds that had gathered were treated to a fantastic display of afterburners and lots of noise as many of the aerial acts for the weekend took to the skies. The crowds were in awe as the Canadian Forces CF-18 Hornet, USAF F-16 East Coast Demonstration Team and US Navy F-14 Tomcat flew their routines and then added some burner passes, putting smiles on the faces of everyone. The USAF C-17 Demo Team also flew in the evening hours, making for incredible photo opportunities. Also on the list was an F-15E Strike Eagle, EA-6B Prowler, C-144 Challenger, B-1B Lancer, the USAF Heritage flight with Ed Shipley flying his P-51 Mustang alongside the F-16 and of course, Canada's own 'Snowbirds' Air Demonstration Squadron performing a twilight show.
This year, London paid tribute to D-Day by opening the airshow with a parade of Canadian Forces veterans whom were wearing numerous medals of war on their uniforms. As they marched in front of the crowd waving flags and banners, the trumpet sounded its emotional song and after a very silent two minutes, the C-144 Challenger with its D-Day markings flew by to honour them. Canadian Harvards then flew a missing man formation to pay homage to those who were lost during the two World Wars. This was closely followed by the national anthems played over the loudspeakers as former members of the Canadian Skyhawks parachute team leaped from the Griffon helicopter flying above to officially open the 2004 AirFest.
Both the Saturday and Sunday aerial displays were wonderful to watch under blue skies. The Sunday show had a few more acts, namely the Prowlers and Talons, which made for an even more incredible display. First up was Captain Dave 'Super Dave' Pletz of 425 Squadron piloting his CF-18 Hornet. If you have never seen a Canadian pilot put the Hornet through its paces, then you've missed out. 'Super Dave' really knows how to crank that jet into the vertical, especially while demonstrating the square loop. The second display came in the shape of both the USMC and USN EA-6B Prowlers, which I'm sure violated the noise abatement zones around the airport - man are those jets loud!! A great tandem take-off and then single-ship flybys with simulated carrier landings made for a cool display.
The next act was a rare treat on the air show scene, a two-ship of T-37 'Tweety-bird' trainers. These small jets are used by the USAF and are seldom seen flying outside of their home base. After a few tandem and single-ship passes, the 'Tweet's landed and a Wyoming ANG C-130 Hercules took to the sky to show off what Hercs do best. A combination of slow flight and 'high-speed' passes always makes the C-130 a crowd pleaser. A four-ship of T-38 Talons from Moody AFB were to fly next and they didn't disappoint, putting on an awesome display of four-ship, two-ship and single-ship fast passes. For such a small jet, it sure makes a lot of noise!
As the mix of acts went from small aircraft to large, the display following the Talons was a real crowd-pleaser. The C-17 Globemaster III took to the skies to perform its full routine. The East Coast Demo Team from Charleston AFB really put on one of the most jaw-dropping displays you can ever see a heavy perform. The short take-off and landing capabilities, as well as the very tight turns it makes for an aeroplane of that size, is just incredible to watch. This is a must-see act if you've got the chance to see one this year!
Soon the crowd was in awe as two KC-135s flew by together (in rather loose formation) followed by two Michigan ANG F-16s. One of the tankers flew a solo demo, meaning intermittent passes, as the other KC-135 made numerous fly-bys with both F-16s in various formations. After thirty minutes of flybys, the tankers came around solo for a couple of fast passes and then prepared to land. The Vipers, however, were not finished with their routine - they continued by making a few more passes in full afterburner which made for some incredible fireworks out of the back of those jets.
After the four aircraft were recovered, the C-144 Challenger returned to the air to put on its own demo. Complete with D-Day markings on the wings and in its near-black colour scheme, it looked beautiful gracing the skies of London. After about six passes, it landed to once again leave the sky open for the next act.
Continuing the aerial display, Ed Shipley took off in P-51 Mustang 'Bald Eagle'. It was a vintage Shipley departure, keeping the WWII plane very low along the runway and then pulling out hard left to resume a holding pattern for his entrance to the USAF Heritage flight. In the meantime, The Viper East Demo Team, from Shaw AFB, took to the skies as Captain Geoff 'Hak' Hickman turned, rolled and looped the F-16CJ through a very fast-paced demonstration. This is definitely one of the most aggressive demos I've seen in recent years from the F-16. Upon finishing his display, Hickman joined up with the P-51 and together they made about four passes, the last one flying overhead the crowd and breaking at show centre. The Heritage flight has been a show favourite for all as we get to see the contrasts between the old and the new generation of aircraft.
With two acts left and already a lot of noise and burners throughout the day, we found ourselves wanting more! Well, the final fighter to go up was the F-14 Tomcat. Last, but, certainly not least, the Tomcat was incredibly entertaining as always. Seeing as how this is the last year for the F-14 flying demonstrations at airshows, the audience in London was welcomed by the demo team with a ton of noise and trailing burners at least fifty feet long. There is nothing like the sound of a F-14D's engines - absolutely fantastic.
Finally, the Canadian Forces Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds, took to the skies to perform their 'aerial ballet' in an incredibly choreographed routine. They impressed everyone this year with a very crisp demo for the crowd which included new up-to-date music, which is a u-turn from the usual tranquil tunes we are accustomed to. The Snowbirds have just been clicking perfectly this year and they once again show why they are an integral part of the Canadian Forces.
Overall, the London International AirFest was a huge success! The flying display and static combined have made this truly one of the greatest air shows in North America.