This year marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. To mark the anniversary of the first confrontation won entirely by air power, the Abbotsford International Airshow built their 2015 show with the theme, “Aces, Warriors & Wingmen”. A fitting tribute to those brave airmen dubbed, the “Few” by Sir Winston Churchill at this, the 53rd running of the iconic show from the Pacific Northwest.
2015 would quickly become one of the most highly anticipated years for the Abbotsford International Airshow not long after the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) convention let out in late 2014. It was there that the shows organizers would formally and officially announce that the Breitling Jet Team was going to make its first ever Canadian appearance in Abbotsford as part of its upcoming two year American tour. The Breitling Jet Team, while based in France are owned and operated by the world famous Swiss chronograph company and perform with seven Estonian registered, Czechoslovakian made L-39 Albatros jets. They travel with a spare jet and a Fairchild Metroliner support aircraft.
Breitling would join our own Canadian Forces Snowbirds, giving the show a two-team lineup to build on. The Snowbirds, who also dedicated their season to the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, are commemorating their 45th season as a demonstration team. The jets were marked with the 75th anniversary logo on the tail and the specially designed 45th anniversary logo just behind the canopy. The team would once again be led into Abbotsford by second year team Lead, Major Patrick Gobeil. Maj Gobeil is no stranger to the big stage in Abbotsford. This year would mark his fifth season performing as a member of one of Canada’s demonstration teams. He flew the #6 jet (Outer Right Wing) in 2005-2006 with the Snowbirds and would return in 2012 as the CF-18 demonstration pilot in the beautiful “True North Strong and Free” themed jet.
More of the Roar…
One of the most popular jets on the North American airshow scene was Canada’s own specially themed CF-18, flown by Captain Denis “Cheech” Beaulieu. This is actually the same jet flown by the team in 2014 by Capt Adam “Manik” Runge but was repainted to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The paint scheme featured a full topside camouflage pattern and markings resembling one of the more famous Hawker Hurricanes that fought in the confrontation.
It’s no secret that it had been a few years since Abbotsford, or any Canadian show for that matter, had been able to boast any US Military jets in their flying lineup or static areas. Budget cuts would remove funding for the US Military to send its aircraft (both static and demonstration) north of the border and for one year, would be completely removed from any/all airshows in the US as well. This included the standing down of both their military formation teams. Organizers scrambled to fill the void and sadly, some shows didn’t survive. Canada still had its CF-18 Demo Team touring across Canada and both they and the Snowbirds were helping to pick up the slack for their US neighbours as well. 2014 saw the standing up of both the US Military formation teams, the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, both with full US schedules and limited participation from single ship demos at some US airshows. Canada’s teams would continue to support shows south of the border while the slight loosening of purse strings in the US was still not permitting their aircraft to head north to destinations like Abbotsford or Toronto.
Finally, in 2015, the news organizers in Abbotsford had been hoping for was about to come to fruition. The highly coveted United States Air Force F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team announced that it would be coming to Abbotsford. F-22 demo pilot, Major John “Taboo” Cummings noted that the he and the team were anxious to get to Abbotsford and repay the continued support of the Canadian teams during the period known mainly as, “sequestration”. The F-22 had been on the Abbotsford schedule in years past but an issue with the entire fleet would ground the demo for the entire season before sequestration took it from them a second time. But have no fear, not only did the F-22 finally make its long awaited debut in Abbotsford, it also landed and staged from Abbotsford after there had been talk of the jets staging in nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington. Another first for Abbotsford!
So how about the US Navy? With a somewhat late and very welcome addition, they sent a pair of F/A-18 Super Hornets (Rhinos) from the VFA-122 Flying Eagles at NAS Lemoore, CA. This would be the first time that Abbotsford would be host to a single-seat E model, which was piloted by LT Brice “Rihanna” Wheeler. The USN TAC Demo team also sent a long a two-seater F model, piloted by LT Brett “Lobster” Jakovich with his WSO, LT Nolan “Fat Hands” Lucas.
That’s THREE unique jet demos, in case you’re counting at home!
Warbirds and more…
No airshow is complete without a good selection of piston pounders. With the theme of the show centering around the Battle of Britain it was imperative to have aircraft that related to the confrontation. For yet another Abbotsford first, the Flying Heritage Collection from Paine Field in Everett, WA would make their Canadian debut with their Supermarine Spitfire MK Ve and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, “Tallahassee Lassie”. FHC had originally intended to send their Hawker Hurricane but were forced to keep it at home and instead graciously offered to send the Thunderbolt in its place.
The show also boasted a pair of P-51 Mustangs, a B model from Historic Flight Foundation, flown by John Sessions and a D model from Heritage Flight Museum, piloted by Lt Col Greg Anders (retired) that would fly the USAF Heritage Flight with the F-22 Raptor. There was also the mighty A-1 Skyraider (pilot Alan Anders, Heritage Flight Foundation), the oldest flying B-25 Mitchell, “Grumpy” (from Historic Flight Foundation, piloted by Vera Martinovich), the famed (and local) de Havilland Mosquito, “F for Freddie”, piloted by Steve Hinton, owned by Mr. Bob Jens). The warbird contingent was rounded out nicely with a pair of North American Harvard’s. The Mk IV owned by Bill Findlay and Vic Bentley (flown by Bill Findlay) and an earlier MK II, owned by the Canadian Museum of Flight and flown by George Kirbyson.
Brent Handy, out of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, made his second consecutive trip to Abbotsford with his Pitts S2-B. In his second season as a solo aerobatic performer, Brent comes with a wealth of flying experience that includes a military career with both the CF-18 Hornet and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds. North Dakota’s own Kent Pietsch returned with his 800-pound, Jelly Belly sponsored Interstate Cadet and “world’s smallest” airport. Kent is a crowd favorite wherever he goes and one of the truest gentlemen of the airshow industry. Geoff Latter, a local to the Abbotsford airport and West Jet First Officer would make his debut at the show with his CJ-6 Nanchang, affectionately known as “Nancy”. You don’t see many solo performers doing aerobatics in the Chinese built warbird but Geoff can show you how it’s done. Gene Soucy and Teresa Stokes were added to the show early on in an effort to bolster lineups for both the daytime weekend shows and the Friday twilight show. Not only do Gene and Teresa do a phenomenal wing walking/aerobatic routine in the daytime, Gene is also a very accomplished performer in the night sky with aerobatic flying, complimented with pyrotechnics on his wings. The twilight show also offered the soaring guru, Manfred Radius with his sailplaine and Dan Buchanan with his motorized hang glider. Both performers, each with their own flying styles, include vibrant pyrotechnics with each of their routines.
The Static Line…
Abbotsford welcomed back the United States Air Force in a big way with a B-52 Stratofortress from Barskdale AFB in Louisiana and a C-17 Globemaster from Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska. The Canadian Forces sent their own CC-177 Globemaster from CFB Trenton along with a C-130J Hercules, the new CH-147F, CP-140 Aurora and many others to round out a full static line that included Nav Canada’s RJ, the Commemorative Air Forces (Arizona Wing), B-17 Flying Fortress,” Sentimental Journey”, a PBY Catalina from the Catalina Preservation Society in Victoria and a vast array of GA aircraft.
The show was easily the best I’d seen in Abbotsford since 2012. As with just about every show I’ve ever been to in Canada, this one was opened with a stunning display of precision parachute flying by the Canadian Army’s, Skyhawks. Breaking formations at near fifty feet from the ground was enough to win over the crowd and get things rolling in the right direction.
It’s probably safe to say that the F-22 Raptor demo stole much of the show with its incredible power and maneuvering ability. The flat turn was by far and away one of the most impressive things seen all weekend but sadly can’t be done any justice with a photograph. You just have to see it for yourself. With a slot opened in the twilight show, the F-22 stepped in which came as a surprise to many, but if there’s a better way to make your debut at an airshow, I’d like to see it.
2015 was the second year for the very popular twilight show at Abbotsford. There are fewer backdrops that beat Mt. Baker on an August day after 6PM. Both jet teams, a trio of Merlin powered warbirds, the Raptor and the CF-18 led the way and the evening was capped off with the night performances of Gene Soucy, Dan Buchanan, Manfred Radius and a tremendous fireworks display.
Both daytime shows were incredibly entertaining and included the USN TAC Demo F/A-18 Rhino demo team who weren’t flying a demo on Friday. Fans were treated to the E model on Saturday and the F on Sunday. Other notables during the show were the entire cast of warbirds, grouped by engine type, Brent Handy racing the Smoke ‘N Thunder Jet car in a weekend long grudge match and mind blowing pyro from the incredible team at AV8FX.
Sunday’s show was capped off by an announcement over the PA that was made by Snowbird Lead, Maj Patrick Gobeil as the team flew the 9-ship line abreast pass over center stage. The announcement; that long time airshow announcer, Roy Hafeli of H2A2 Airshow Announcers was being made an Honorary Snowbird. Most sincere and heartfelt congratulations to my friend, Roy. Well deserved!
Until Next Year…
Putting on something of this magnitude doesn’t happen in the week leading up to the show when things are noticeably busy, even chaotic. The work on next year begins almost as soon as this year ends. It takes hard working and committed staff and a massive group of dedicated volunteers to build the show, set it up, pull it off and tear it down. I’ve been getting more and more involved with the show over the last four years and my appreciation for the blood sweat and tears aspect of Abbotsford is at an all-time high.
Thank you to everyone who helps to make this show as great at as it is. It’s just not possible without you. It's an honour and a privilege just being a small part of what makes it so incredibly awesome.
See you again soon.
Click here for the up to date gallery of images from the 2015 Abbotsford International Airshow
(Images will be added and/or replaced over time)
As if there's a better way to close this out...
A video put together by Match Productions and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.