Airshow LONDON 2022 - London International Airport / Canada
Update: 2022/15/10 by Shawn Clish / CHK6
From September 9 to 11, 2022, Airshow London presented SkyDrive at the London International Airport (CYXU). This was the seventh instalment of this event since it restarted in 2016 and the third year in a row it has featured the drive-in format. A sold out crowd of approximately 2500 cars were parked across six coloured zones each day with an estimated 30,000 visitors over the weekend. Thanks to a relaxation of the restrictions that initially led to this layout, spectators were able to leave their 20×25 foot parking spaces and explore the static display that was once again part of the show. There were a pair of themes this year. The first celebrated the 75th anniversary of the United States Air Force (USAF), which was officially formed as an independent service on September 18, 1947. A second theme, referred to as the “Eagles Nest”, honoured one of the finest air superiority fighters ever created, the Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F-15 EAGLE. The Eagle, which has a staggering record of 104 to 0 in aerial combat engagements, first flew on July 27, 1972, when test pilot Irv Burrows applied power to a pair of Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-100 afterburning turbofan engines at Edwards AIr Force Base (AFB) in California.
Operations gurus Gerry Vanderhoek and Mike Lewis have an impressive track record when it comes to attracting aircraft from the Canadian and American Armed Forces and their abilities were on full display again in 2022. Less than four weeks before the gates opened on Friday September 9, Airshow London announced the addition of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds. Major demonstration teams like the Thunderbirds publish their schedules two years in advance, but thanks to a cancellation of their appearance at the Maryland Fleet Week & Air Show and the impression made by the team in London during the Thunderbirds recent appearance in 2020, the Air Force’s Ambassadors in Blue were welcomed and fit perfectly into the USAF anniversary theme.
The addition of the Thunderbirds should have meant two aerobatic teams at Airshow London, but two weeks prior to the show, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds, confirmed they would not be participating due to an accident that took place on August 2 as the team was leaving Fort St. John, British Columbia. The resulting investigation forced a number of cancellations and left the team with a cloudy future, as the latest issue marked the third time the team had been grounded in the last three years. The Canadair CT-114 TUTOR was designed in 1957 and first flew on January 13, 1960, and is certainly showing its age. The Snowbirds use of the Tutor means they are the only demonstration team in the world that fly an aircraft that is not in service with their country’s armed forces.
The return of the static display meant a much busier arrivals day on Thursday September 8 than recent shows, especially in 2020, when the majority of performing aircraft staged from Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan. The weather was perfect for the entire day and a quiet morning turned into a busy afternoon, highlighted by the arrival of thirteen Lockheed Martin F-16 VIPERS. The first four from the 112th Fighter Squadron “Stingers” showed up in two sections. The “Stingers” are known for their impressive flying so it was no surprise when the first pair appeared and beat up the pattern around the airport to the tune of seven passes. The second pair turned up with company, as each Viper was joined by an RCAF CF-188B HORNET. While the Hornets were in town serving as backup display jets for the CF-18 Demo Team, they had departed earlier in the afternoon, possibly to conduct air combat maneuvering with the Vipers. The third pair of F-16s, flown all the way from South Florida’s Homestead Air Reserve Base, arrived in style by flanking a Boeing KC-135R STRATOTANKER. The “Fighting Makos” pilots also put on quite the show, not just for the fortunate few allowed on the grounds of the airport but also for the many photographers and enthusiasts parked south of the fence on Creamery Road. After some reshuffling to maneuver larger aircraft, the six Air National Guard (ANG) Vipers were parked together, lined up smartly in the static display along Charlie Taxiway.
The Air Ops team has a fondness for the military variant of the Boeing 707 airliner and as usual there were multiple airframes in attendance. Two ANG KC-135s arrived on Thursday afternoon, one from Arizona while the other, wearing a colourful 100th anniversary scheme applied to its tail, was from Alabama. They were joined by a rare Boeing RC-135W RIVET JOINT wearing the classic white over grey paint scheme that was so prominent during the Cold War. This Signals Intelligence platform has been very busy in recent months collecting operational data while conducting missions over Eastern Europe. Multiple other aircraft arrived for static on Thursday to take part in the USAF anniversary theme, including a McDonnell Douglas KC-10A EXTENDER, an F-15E STRIKE EAGLE and, serving as the Thunderbirds support aircraft at the show and using callsign Thunderbird 14, a Boeing C-17A GLOBEMASTER III. The rest of the Thunderbirds arrived later in the afternoon and flew their usual site survey for about an hour, becoming accustomed to the landscape and sun angles while providing a small preview of their full routine.
Ahead of the highly anticipated Friday evening “Hour of Power”, quite a few static aircraft still needed to arrive, many belonging to the RCAF. Whether it had been planned all along or was due to the cancellation of the Snowbirds, the RCAF was well represented at Airshow London. Awaiting the Friday arrivals were a pair of training aircraft that had arrived on Thursday: a Beechcraft C-90B KING AIR and a Bell CH-139 JET RANGER. Joining them in the static display were a CC-177 Globemaster III, a Bombardier CC-144 CHALLENGER and a rare Lockheed CP-140M AURORA. The flying display was also full of Canadian participants including a Lockheed Martin CC-130J HERCULES, a BAE Systems CT-155 HAWK, a pair of Raytheon CT-156 HARVARD IIs, and the beautiful Government of Canada Airbus CC-150 POLARIS. Finally, the CF-18 Demo Team was in town with a special paint scheme to honour 40 years of Hornet operations at home and abroad. Just like in 2021, the special jet suffered a malfunction when it arrived on Wednesday, but unlike last year, the maintenance team was able to rectify the issue and the jet was made serviceable for the weekend.
On Friday afternoon, the gates were opened early to offer spectators the opportunity to watch the Thunderbirds perform their practice routine, which featured Thunderbird 8 operating as a photoship while flying loosely around the formations. The show officially started around 1730 and included a United States Marine Corps Bell Boeing MV-22B OSPREY that demonstrated its unusual tilt-rotor configuration that combines helicopter and fixed-wing capabilities. The highlight of the night was the arrival of six Boeing F-15C/D EAGLES. The first four belonged to the 173rd Fighter Wing from the Oregon Air National Guard, a unit that is in the process of transferring and retiring its aging fleet. The four Eagles performed the most enthusiastic passes of the weekend, especially the leader, who flew three spectacular passes that included a topside right bank, a sharp left crosswind and a pull to the vertical, all in burner. As the Oregon jets landed, two more Eagles arrived from the “Bayou Militia” out of New Orleans, completing the “Eagles Nest” that organizers had hoped for. The Oregon F-15s were put in the static display after the completion of the Friday night show while the Louisiana jets parked on the south end of Golf Taxiway in the hot zone.
Warbirds have not participated regularly at Airshow London, but there were three at this years show, including two from the Yankee Air Museum based in Michigan. The museum’s Boeing B-17G FLYING FORTRESS “Yankee Lady” and Douglas C-47 DAKOTA “Hairless Joe” performed two passes in stunning golden light, then were followed by North American P-51D MUSTANG “Double Trouble Two”. Major Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson then demonstrated the most advanced air superiority aircraft in the world, the Lockheed Martin F-22 RAPTOR. The Raptor’s incredible flight envelope allows it to perform movements that other military fighters cannot accomplish, such as the Falling Leaf, J-Turn and Tail Slide. The final display of the night belonged to Captain Jesse “Modem” Haggart-Smith of the CF-18 Demo Team. His routine is filled with impressive maneuvers but highlighted by the afterburner takeoff at dusk and then on landing, with the tail hook dragging the length of the runway, trailing a shower of sparks that look mesmerizing at night.
Saturday September 10 was another beautiful day that presented a full opportunity to view the static aircraft, meet the crews and shop for merchandise. A Boeing KC-46A PEGASUS had joined the group of non-flying participants which meant all three examples of USAF tankers were on display. The aerial display started at 1300 and was opened by the CF-18 Demo Team. The C-130s, MV-22B, Canadian trainers, warbirds and the beautiful Polaris all took turns flying, with the Thunderbirds closing the show around 1700. The Raptor Demo Team and the Louisiana ANG F-15Cs flew ahead of the Thunderbirds and between their individual routines joined together for a rare three-ship formation that paid tribute to both anniversary themes. Planning for a pass like that takes months with many levels of approval and may have even received help from the demo pilot “Cabo” for it to occur. There was also a special guest appearance by a Boeing E-3C SENTRY, with its distinctive 30 foot diameter rotating radar dome. Although it has a different designation than the tanker and reconnaissance versions on static display, it was another example of the versatility of a design that traces its lineage back to the Boeing 367-80 prototype.
Unfortunately Sunday’s weather was not as nice as the preceding days, but that didn’t dull the enthusiasm of the crowd when a Northrop Grumman B-2 SPIRIT performed three passes to open the show. It is amazing that the aircraft is already 33 years old, having flown for the first time on July 17, 1989, and that its replacement is due to be publicly unveiled before the end of the year. The B-2 was airborne for memorial flypasts in honour of September 11 and its inclusion in the show was quite the opportunistic addition by the team at Airshow London.
Verdict: Canada’s top air show and one of the best in North America was at it again in 2022, promoting aviation power and military heritage while raising money for the Children’s Health Foundation and Veterans Charities. Terrific weather supported a strong lineup that suffered few cancelations and maintenance issues. The sold out event proved the popularity of the drive-in format, SkyDrive, which was announced as a permanent fixture for future shows. Airshow London will return from September 8-10, 2023.
Shawn Clish / CHK6