On July 13th I made my first ever trip to 4 Wing Cold Lake to shoot the Cold Lake Airshow as one of their official photographers. As a young Cadet, I had spent many summers attending camp at 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec. There was no place I'd rather spend two to six weeks of my summer than marching around the base and shining my boots along the fence line each evening as the CF-18's worked the pattern with the odd CF-5 and CT-133 mixed in (dating myself). As awesome as that was, I knew that in Cold Lake I'd see even more of the CF-18 and the CT-155 Hawk. When I arrived, I pulled over near the main entrance to make a quick call and wondered how long it would be before I starting seeing Hornet's. To my surprise, the first thing I saw was a CH-146 Griffon hauling a small car around the airfield, how's that for a different first impression?!
I met with 4 Wing Public Affairs Officer, Captain Mathew Strong and got squared away with my little home away from home in the PMQ's. With beautiful evening light outside, I made a quick trip to Cold Lake Regional Airport to meet up with the airshow Boss, Captain Erick O'Connor at his hangar to get warmed up with some photos of his Harmon F-1 Rocket. This was the first time I'd been able to workout my new Nikon D500 paired with my 80-400 lens. The results weren't bad but when I got home from Cold Lake I sent the lens back to Nikon Canada and that's a different story for a different day.
I took the ATV, chased him out to the runway and did a little work tracking him around the sky above the airfield. We got in a few terrific low passes before setting down and taking it back to the hangar for some shots with the lowering sun in the background. A drink at the new hangar bar and planning for the next day closed out the evening.
Thursday was spent trying to get a good grasp on where I'd be able to shoot from and really just getting to know the base and ramp area. Capt Strong gave me a tour of the base and we visited the tower so I'd be introduced to the controllers and go over where I'd be shooting from relative to the still active parts of the base. Overhead view of 4 Wing Cold Lake
I was asked to jump on a Griffon helicopter to get some good overhead images of the base that they may want to use in the pilot briefing. I really
haven't done much flying in helicopters but was anxious to fly with 417 Squadron for the first time. I was given a seat by the open door so I'd be able to get an unobstructed view with my camera. I honestly can't remember how long we were up there but it was probably close to an hour. We saw a few of the performers arriving while we loitered at 6,000 feet just to the south of the base. I'd spent over a week in Comox, BC in April but wasn't able to get a single shot of the specially painted CF-18 demo jet because it was sent back to Cold Lake for paint repairs the day after I arrived. I knew I'd get a chance to see it during the show but didn't imagine my first glimpse of it would be on short final from the open door of a Griffon helicopter. Didn't make for a great shot but it was still a unique perspective.
I spent the rest of the day standing out near the windsock at the taxiway intersection to capture as many of the arriving fly-by's and rolling shots as I could. Probably the most anticipated arrival was that of the B-52 Stratofortress out of Barksdale, Louisiana. Word was that they'd be doing a fly-by before landing. I could hear the inbound announcement come over the PA and not long after, people started lining the balcony's for a glimpse. The B-52 came out of the downwind with it's gear down and what they'd see was in fact NOT a fly-by, but rather a touch and go! It doesn't take a nose up attitude when it rotates, it just sort of levitates at level attitude as it rumbles down the runway. I think that was the first time I've really seen the gear retract up close. Marvelous stuff!
Friday's practice day was highlighted by an incredible display of metal with four CT-155 Hawk's and TEN CF-18 Hornet's combining for a taxi that was more like an epic parade of thrust. The Hawk The "Elephant Walk" group had left from their hangar behind my position but all ten Hornet's came by in pairs as they headed out. The sound was incredible and man was it warm! The entire group took off in pairs. I wasn't able to get many photos with the amount of heat distortion but it was awesome to just sit and watch. Hõm had asked me to position myself down along the taxi-way so I could try and capture all fourteen aircraft from a head-on perspective. I was escorted by 401 Squadron Aviation Technician, MCpl Frank Cyr ("Frank-1"). when they had exited the runway and formed up for the "elephant walk" I moved into position on the center-line. Once they came into clear view I fired away while Frank kept an eye on their distance so I'd know when to safely get out of the way. I've never seen anything like this before. I noticed a couple of familiar faces as both Capt Denis "Cheech" Beaulieu and Capt Adam "Manik" Runge went by. There was also a unique opportunity to capture Canadian Astronaut Jeremy Hanson who was piloting one of the CF-18's. Definitely an experience I'll never forget. To someone like Frank, this is more ordinary and according to him, something he probably takes a little for granted. Not the case for me at all. Snapping away on the shutter and trying to take it all in made for quite a moment. I never get tired of watching the Snowbirds taxi by, trying to nail the perfect shot of each pilot but I suspect the only way I'm going to see anything like what I saw this day is in a place like Cold Lake or Bagotville.
The weekend was greeted with a picture perfect Saturday morning. I arrived pretty early so I could make my way around the static line and ramp area for some early light (un-obstructed) photography. When the gates opened, it wasn't long before the grass and static areas filled with spectators. Static 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron's colour bird. displays covered a wide variety of aircraft and gave people a chance to visit each of the squadrons as they made their way from one end to the other. From memory, I think every squadron had its colour bird on display. I rarely (if ever) get to see those back home so this was something I really enjoyed. Starting from one end of the show area, you could visit the CC-150 Polaris and check out some of the aircraft from the Aeronautical Engineering Testing Establishment (AETE). Next, the CH-149 Cormorant, CH-124 Sea King and CH-146 Griffon. Further down there were a pair of A-10's from Kansas City, two F-16 Aggressor's out of Alaska, one piloted by RCAF Capt Mike "Shrek" Walker, who's currently on exchange with the USAF. Some of the other heavy aircraft on display included the CP-140 Aurora from 19 Wing, Comox, a C-17 from 8 Wing in Trenton, Ontario and the beastly B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. There was no shortage of vendors and informational displays from squadrons and several other organizations of interest. There was even a CF-18 pull! I may have purchased a couple of shirts to make up for the lack of clean clothes I had left from this trip and I came away with one beautiful coin from 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron.
I think my favorite of all the displays had to be the simulated loading of a CF-18. Around the jet were the various types of armament it carries, including the M161A Vulcan Gatling-style rotary canon on a stand for people to have a close look at. The crew shouted out commands and demonstrated CF-18 loading demonstration the loading procedure for a variety of both air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons. I feel pretty confident in saying that (in Canada) you're only going to see such a display at either Cold Lake or Bagotville. There was a large crowd gathered around the ropes watching and chatting with the other weapons techs. Meanwhile out on the airfield, a 417 Squadron CH-146 Griffon was hauling "someone's" car away and may have accidentally dropped it. Sound familiar?
Flying displays included our amazing Canadian Forces Skyhawks, a variety of aircraft and flying styles, ranging from RC aircraft, warbirds, aerobatics, fast cars, fast jets and of course, the formation precision by the Snowbirds. Of particular interest to me was the T-33, "Ace Maker II", owned and operated by Gregory W Colyer. He puts on an awesome show with a little of everything the jet is capable of delivering at the hands of a skilled pilot. The interesting bit is the aircraft itself. It was the last T-33 retired by the RCAF and served at 4 Wing Cold Lake. In fact, when Colyer bought it, it was painted in the red, black and white colours of the Aeronautical Engineering Testing Establishment (AETE). The aircraft had finally made its way home for a reunion of sorts with some of the people who both flew it and maintained it before it was taken off strength. The combination of the jets good looks and the beautiful demo flown by Gregory W Colyer make for a photographers dream. The Smoke-n-Thunder's jet car, driven/piloted by Bill Braack thundered by the crowd and then took on the T-33 in a drag race. That jet car sounds insane!
This was the first time I'd seen Melissa Andrzejewski perform and she flew a great show in her Edge 540. The performance included a double ribbon cut and then she got into the act with Kent Pietsch in the Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet and the "Chuck Dramamine" routine...still one of my favorites. Kent came back later in the show for both his famous landing on the world's shortest runway and a beautiful display of aerobatic flying (and landing) with the engine off. Proof positive that you don't need a big money airplane to have fun!
Canadian content provided by the RCAF included the CF-18 Demo, masterfully flown by Capt Ryan "Roid" Kean. The beautifully painted Hornet honors Canada's Capt Ryan "Roid" Kean in the CF-18 Demo jet contribution to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It's said to be the swan song of long time artist Jim Beliveau, the man responsible for some twenty-five demo jets! Word is he intends to retire after this year but insists that the artistry by the talented team at 4 Wing will go on in his absence. Roid's demo showcased the awesome agility of the CF-18 and included two of my favorites, the square loop and the awesome minimum radius turn. I still think Canada has the best Hornet demo!
Speaking of specially painted aircraft, the yellow CT-156 Harvard II in vintage Harvard markings and the CT-155 Hawk painted as a tribute to 419 Squadron's 75th anniversary and the Moosemen (more here) were both in attendance and would join the CF-18 for a special 75th Anniversary formation which included a few beautiful photo passes.
The other jet demo came courtesy of the United States Air Force and the F-16 Viper Demo Team. Piloted by Major Craig "Rocket" Baker, the F-16 put on a phenomenal display that started with a left break just after the gear came up on takeoff and included a number of powerful passes highlighted by the maneuverability that the F-16 is famous for. I hadn't seen the Viper demo in about four years and that was four years too long.
So how about that Mass Attack?! Crowds gathered at the fence line to watch a seemingly endless group of Hawk's and Hornet's take off two at a time but one pair of Hornet's launched individually into unrestricted climbs. Before you know it, the first of the Hawk's begin to converge on the base, followed by a pair of Hornet's from a different direction, all the while AV8FX pyro explodes on the field to jack up the look and feel of the display. After all the groups had concluded their passes, they formed up into two groups for an amazing formation pass, led off by four Hawk's and then followed up with eight CF-18's!
The Canadian Armed Forces Snowbirds The finale belonged to the Canadian Armed Forces Snowbirds with their precision formation aerobatics and solo routines. Probably one of the more impressive things in a Snowbird performance is how they're always in view and are able to pull the different elements back together into seven and nine plane formations so smoothly. From the ground, the teams coordinators work as both safety pilot and announcer while keeping track of the music that's playing during the show. All of this, combined with an incredible support team of technicians and their Public Affairs Officer and you get a performance worthy of highlighting any airshow.
It was an honor to be asked to participate in the 2016 Cold Lake Airshow as one of their official photographers. My most sincere thanks and gratitude to Captain Erick "Hõm" O'Connor for extending the invitation and hospitality while giving me a chance to get up close and personal with the show and the incredible people at 4 Wing. I'd also like to thank 4 Wing Public Affairs Officer, Captain Mathew Strong for all of his assistance, patience and hospitality and MCpl Frank Cyr for an entertaining Friday on the field.
The Cold Lake Airshow is a two-day event. Just about everything you've read here occurred on Saturday. There's no need to detail the events of Sunday afternoon, there's only the need to express how inspiring it is to see people come together under terrible circumstances to comfort one another and turn a time of understandable sadness into a great celebration of life for a dear friend. The number of people, stories and sentiments both during the closing hours in Cold Lake and just last week in Calgary are what I'd consider a true measure of the man. Our friend, Bruce Evans.