There’s something undeniably beautiful about the Province of Saskatchewan. It’s easily one of Canada's most underrated places to see and maybe that's because it has a well-known reputation for being so flat. Is that it? Or are there advantages to that “flat” prairie appearance? How about unbelievable sunrises and seemingly never-ending sunsets. Miles of green and gold dotted with grain elevators, beautiful farmland and probably the only place in Canada where you can see the front and back of a freight train at the same time. About 5 years ago I paid my first visit to Saskatchewan and became a believer...except maybe in the winter. 

Of course, I had my reasons to visit which go well beyond the landscape. It’s the gateway to Moose Jaw and 15 Wing which is home to the Big 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School and 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Canadian Forces Snowbirds. This year, after a 14-year absence, it was also the backdrop for the return of the Saskatchewan Airshow.

 

 

Throughout the months leading up to the show, performer and static announcements were made through social media channels helping to build excitement for the first weekend in July. One of the earliest being the US Air Force F-16 Viper Demo Team. One of the highest energy military jet demos on display today. The show would also feature Canada’s own CF-18 Demo Team and of course, the hometown team, Canadian Forces Snowbirds. Sounds like a great show already, right? Not done. How about a Curtiss P-40E Warhawk and a legendary D-Day +9 Veteran Supermarine Spitfire MK IX? How about some high-energy aerobatics in a multitude of aircraft from the likes of Todd Farrell, Brent Handy, Kyle FowlerGord Price and then marvel at the slower but equally amazing talents of the one and only, Kent Pietsch. After catching your breath you can witness some living 15 Wing history with a pair of Vintage Harvards beautifully flown by Edmonton’s, Yellow Thunder which caps off with the Harvard Heritage Flight featuring one vintage Harvard alongside the modern-day Harvard II trainer. Finally, what show at 15 Wing would be complete without a trio of aircraft representing the Wing, the Big 2 and the Snowbirds.  A formation made up of a CT-155 Hawk, CT-156 Harvard II and the iconic CT-114 Tutor overfly a special ceremony that recognizes 15 Wing being situated in the heart of treaty four territory which is the traditional home lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dakota, Nakoda, Lakota and Métis peoples. During the ceremony, Elder Archie Weenie offered a blessing to the airshow, and his prayer was followed by a beautiful Honour Song performed by the Open Sky Retreat Drum Group. In following Indigenous protocols, Wing Commander Denis O'Reilly presented tobacco to Elder Weenie as a thank you. 

WComd Denis O'Reilly, CWO Marlene Shillington, former Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, Mrs Vaughn Schofield and 15 Wing Honorary Colonel, Lisa Franks with Elder Archie Weenie and members of the Open Sky Retreat Drum Group.

Learn more about 15 Wing Honorary Colonel Lisa Franks

Static aircraft on the ground provided great photo ops and an up-close look at aircraft flown by the RCAF as well as classic, sport and commercial aircraft. Other interesting participants included the Textron T-6C Texan ii trainer and a Bell 429 Helicopter. The biggest ground attraction without a doubt was the United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 914th Air Refueling Wing, based out of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in New York.

The USAF KC-135 Stratotanker slows after touching down in Moose Jaw.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing visitors to the Saskatchewan Airshow was the narrow, two seat trainer that flew in all the way from Switzerland. The Pilatus PC-21 Next Generation Trainer to some may not mean as much as say the Viper Demo or the Snowbirds but to many around 15 Wing and aviation enthusiasts everywhere, the PC-21 may have been the star attraction. The big surprise came when the aircraft was originally announced as a static display but actually flew a demo both days of the show. I personally found it interesting to be surrounded by current and former Harvard II pilots as the demo was flown in large part to see their reactions to what we were seeing, including the two flat spins! While the PC-21 did fly both days it did also spend time on the static line.

The shows organizers planned a perfect mix of both flying and static with a number of great display contributions from the Wing, the Canadian Army, Navy, RCMP and show sponsor, CAE.

A good site plan also includes a wide variety of food choices. You could find anything from a mini donut to a pizza and not miss a moment of flying thanks to the ideal location of the vendors.
 

No show goes without a few challenges, but a great show runs to meet those challenges head-on and finds the right solution in a timely manner. After a fourteen-year absence I think you could forgive a few hiccups along the road but admire how they were handled by this incredible team.

With weather uncertainties for Sunday’s show a great deal of attention had to be given to whether or not they could get through the entire schedule before a storm moving in from the south reached Moose Jaw. Thanks in large part to Air Boss, David White and Air Operations Director, Capt Blake McNaughton, the shows flying schedule was completely altered to conclude an hour and a half earlier without omitting a single performance. This truncated schedule would allow the show to be flown in its entirety and give ample time for a carefully planned exit strategy aimed at getting people off the field quickly and well on their way home before any weather was predicted to reach the area. It was then that the ENTIRE team at 15 Wing, including its performers and supporting cast went to work with absolute determination to tear it down before Mother Nature came to spoil the celebration. No less than four tornado warnings were issued. Crews raced to shelter remaining aircraft, tear down sound equipment and anything else they could get their hands on before leaving for the day. As someone who was a very small part of the tear-down I can’t express enough how impressed I was with how hard they worked to get the upper-hand.

Thank you to our team of Public Affairs Officers, 2Lt Sophie Quemeneur and Lt Camille Dolphin, Marketing and Communications Director, Ailsa McKeen for all your hard work and support during the week of the show.

I would like to take this time to congratulate Airshow Executive Director and 15 Wing Commander, Colonel Denis O’Reilly for putting on a top-notch show that he and the entire Saskatchewan Airshow team should be very proud of. Thank you for the continued support and hospitality. I truly love visiting the Wing and was honored to be chosen as a photographer for the airshow.

Working alongside my friend, Major Maciej “Match” Hatta (aka Match Productions) is always a pleasure. It was great to get together in a place like Moose Jaw and work together producing stills and video to help promote not only this years show but also future shows at 15 Wing. So great to have it back.

Finally, congratulations to Airshow Director, Major Regan “Sticky” Wickett and Air Operations Director, Captain Blake “Naughty” McNaughton for orchestrating such a fantastic show. It was an absolute pleasure to work with two people I so greatly respect. Watching the show come to a successful and safe conclusion on Sunday made me incredibly happy for both of you. Well done.

Until next time, Saskatchewan. You’re beautiful.

 

Performers

 

Canadian Forces CF-18 Demo Canadian Forces Snowbirds USAF F-16 Viper Demo Kent Pietsch Airshows Brent Handy Aerobatics
Kyle Fowler Yellow Thunder Gord Price Todd Farrell Dakota Territory Air Museum
    Provincial Airways    

 

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Brent (and Evan) Handy on the red carpet Pilot safety briefing CAE tent (static area) CAE chalet
CF-18 Dirty Roll A souvenir from Kent Pietsch Tattoos from 15 Wing ATC Gord Price
Harvard Heritage Flight Kyle Fowler CT-156 Harvard II CT-155 Hawk
CT-114 Tutor NFTC /431 AD Sqn formation P-40 Warhawk Supermarine Spitfire MK IX
Pilatus PC-21 cockpit Kent Pietsch prop stop with WComd Provincial water/ag drop demo Autograph line at hotside fence
Snowbirds! Yogi Roll USAF F-16 Viper Demo Yellow Thunder