Canadian Warplane Heritage 40th Anniversary Airshow Report

Saturday 16th June - Sunday 17th June 2012

As you approach the terminal of the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, the sight of a CF-104D Starfighter on a pole outside a large building with a glass triangle roof ought to tell you that this is somewhere special. As well as being Canada's largest operator of vintage aircraft, The Canadian Warplane Heritage is also its premier aviation museum, and it celebrated its 40th Anniversary in grand style over the Father's Day weekend. Despite a number of cancellations and the difficulties associated with running an air show at a functioning commercial airport, and with a little help from the weather gods, the long months of hard work and planning paid off, and aviation enthusiasts were treated to an unrivalled selection of aircraft rarely seen displaying individually, let alone together.

Sean Kelly reports for UKAR. All photography by the author.

Visitors, who were able to park in the main lot that serves the commercial terminal, were greeted by the sight of lines of DC-10s and Boeing 727s. A few of the 727s had been cannibalized and were missing engines or a nose radome, but most of them were operational, under the auspices of Cargojet and Purolator. Hamilton is a major hub for air cargo, the busiest in Canada in fact, and seeing lines of functioning three-holers (interspersed with the odd 757, just to remind us that we were still in 2012!) was a treat, hearkening back to the days when these beauties ruled the commercial airways and there was nary a regional jet in sight. While most of the freighters were at rest for the day, conducting their business nocturnally as most cargo haulers do, spectators did get to view two Cargojet 727-200s arriving over the course of the day.

But nobody came to Hamilton to see airliners, even venerable old 727s. Historic military aircraft were the order of the day, and the menu was packed with delicious items ranging from the fairly common to unique examples of airworthy types. One had to purchase a special ramp pass to gain access to the aircraft that would later take part in the flying display, and this was certainly worthwhile, especially early in the day when crowds were sparse and conditions were ideal for photography. The main static display was dominated by a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130J Hercules from 436 Transport Squadron, which arrived early on the Saturday. The only other participant from the Canadian Forces was a CT-156 Harvard II. Further modern military hardware came in the form of a pair of U.S. Air Force A-10s from Whiteman AFB, Missouri. The Canadian Warplane Heritage had almost all of its aircraft on static display, including two current restoration projects, a Bristol Bolingbroke and a Grumman Avenger, both of which will be returned to flight. The CWH inventory also includes a CC-115 Buffalo in United Nations markings as a memorial aircraft 461 which was shot down over Syria in 1974, the famous tiger-schemed CF-104 Starfighter, and examples of the CF-101B Voodoo, CF-100 Canuck, CF-5, CT-114 Tutor, CS2F Tracker, CT-133, Vampire, Hurricane, Anson, Cessna Crane, Kiowa, Chipmunk, Cornell, and Yale. Visiting warbirds included another T-33, C-47, Nanchang CJ-6A, and a T-28.

The flying display got underway just before noon with the "Yellow Wings" flight, consisting of the Canadian Warplane Heritage's trainer fleet of a Tiger Moth, Stearman, Fleet Finch, Chipmunk, and the world's only flying Fleet Fort 60K, all doing several circuits around the field. The flight should have included the PT-26 Cornell, but after taxiing into position and performing a run-up, it promptly taxied off the runway and made its way back to the hangar. The official start to the show involved some local parachutists jumping from the CWH's C-45 Expeditor with the Canadian and US flags and the respective national anthems being played.

Following this came some truly spectacular formation flypasts from the CWH fleet. The first formation involved the museum's flagship, the Avro Lancaster known as the "Mynarski Lancaster" (so named for the Victoria Cross recipient Andrew Mynarski who died saving his crewmate from a burning Lanc in 1944), leading the B-25 Mitchell "Hot Gen" and the enigmatic Fairey Firefly AS6. Then came the Consolidated Canso leading the C-47 Skytrain "Canucks Unlimited." The C-45 that acted as a jump ship for the parachutists was supposed to fly in formation with an immaculate Lysander Mk IIIa, but the crew of the Twin Beech must've thought it was a race, for they blew past the crowd at what couldn't have been far off the aircraft's top speed, leaving the poor old Lizzie in their wake! This did provide a welcome opportunity for the Lysander, in its striking target-tug scheme, to give us a pleasant topside pass.

In an apparent bid to outshine the home team, Vintage Wings of Canada arranged a stunning formation wherein an immaculate FG-1D Corsair led a Spitfire Mk XIV, a Mustang Mk IV in a gorgeous camouflage scheme, and a P-40N Kittyhawk in equally lovely desert warpaint, with a Canadair Sabre Mk 6 in the markings of the Golden Hawks aerobatic team bringing up the rear. The Hawker Hurricane, also painted in a luscious desert camouflage, sadly did not take part in the flying display despite being stationed on the hot ramp. After the formation broke the Corsair and Sabre were put through their paces in superb solo displays. Following the VWoC displays a trio of World War I biplanes from the Great War Flying Museum deftly illustrated for the crowd the tactics used by the earliest fighter pilots. In this scenario, a German pilot in a Fokker DR.1 managed to shoot down a RAF SE.5a, only to find himself on the wrong side of the gunsight of the rear gunner in a Sopwith 1-1/2 Strutter.

The Royal Canadian Air Force featured prominently in the flying display, starting with a fine demonstration by a CP-140 Aurora from 405 Maritime Patrol Squadron at CFB Greenwood in Nova Scotia. It is always a pleasure to see a large aircraft displaying at air shows, especially one as agile as the Aurora. The show also featured the Snowbirds, and the organizers must be given credit for placing them midway through the display instead of following the standard North American air show format of having the jet team close the show, and thus possibly mitigating the mass exodus that inevitably follows such a schedule. That having been said, the queues for the shuttle buses leaving the show at the end were still quite harrowing! The Snowbirds gave a fine display as always, although it did seem quite distant at times with some formations seemingly being flown over Toronto!

United States Naval aviation was represented by the Military Aviation Museum's TBM-3E Avenger and the Commemorative Air Force West Texas Wing's SB2C-5 Helldiver. While the Avenger is a relatively common warbird in North America, they don't often make their way into the sky at air shows, and of course the Helldiver is the only airworthy example in the world, though fortunately its air show appearances have increased substantially over the past few years, and it was a definite treat to see both of these aircraft in flight together. Alas, they spent much more time holding for a WestJet arrival than they did displaying. It must have been quite a sight for the passengers and crew of that 737, as it taxied down Runway 24, to see a Helldiver screaming in overhead! Modern precision aerobatics were ably demonstrated by Pete MacLeod in a Red Bull sponsored Edge 540 before the stage was turned over to a nine-ship formation of Harvards. Following the formation flypast three of the Harvards, comprising the display team of the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association, offered a splendid selection of solo and formation aerobatics.

The Beech 18 is not exactly an aircraft that was designed for aerobatics, but Matt Younkin wouldn't have you believing that. His first ever performance in Canada was a huge hit with the audience, although it could be argued that the next performer, the Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet, stole some of his thunder. The 2012 display Hornet wears a very attractive scheme (this, mind you, coming from someone who does not particularly care for most display schemes) and the display itself was very well-flown, if seemingly quite distant. The show was closed in grand style, with the Canadian Warplane Heritage's Lancaster forming up with the Commemorative Air Force's B-29 Superfortress "Fifi" and the Military Aviation Museum's B-17G "Chucky" and escorted by the Cavanaugh Flight Museum's P-51D Mustang. This grouping of rare and immaculate warbirds will probably never be seen again. The American warbirds landed as the Lancaster gave a brief solo display to draw down the curtain on an incredible air show.

Due to the nature of operating vintage aircraft, cancellations are an unfortunate reality, and this show was no exception. The first aircraft to cancel its appearance was Vintage Wings of Canada's Fairey Swordfish, followed by the Commemorative Air Force's B-24 Liberator "Diamond Lil" which suffered a landing accident in North Carolina in May. As the day approached, several more aircraft had to pull out at the last minute, among them the Vintage Wings of Canada Westland Lysander, robbing us of a rare opportunity to see two of these ungainly unsung heroes together in the air. Another pair of painful no-shows was from the Military Aviation Museum, namely a FlugWerk 190 that was due to perform a solo display and an AD-4 Skyraider. To deal yet another blow, a CT-133 that was due to be on static display suffered a hydraulic failure on landing at Hamilton and spent the weekend on two wheels, its left wing propped up on a jack and looking very sad. It is hoped that all of these aircraft will be repaired and returned to flight soon.

The weather for the show was varied, with mostly blue skies in the morning giving way to high clouds in the afternoon and comfortable temperatures throughout the day on the Saturday. The only minor gripe I have lies with the pacing of the show, due in no small part to several WestJet arrivals and departures. Otherwise, the Canadian Warplane Heritage offered up a fun day for enthusiasts and the general public alike.