Organizers of the Lethbridge International Air Show pulled out all the stops in order to celebrate the event’s 25th anniversary in grand fashion.
As a result, the three-day show boasted an impressive lineup of performing planes and static displays to properly showcase the milestone. The show included Canadian highlights such as the Canadian Forces aerobatic team, the Snowbirds, as well as the CF-18 Demonstration Team.
Among the highlights from south of the border was the United States Marine Corps’ MV-22 Osprey, which was making its Canadian debut at the Lethbridge air show.
Darrell Garton, director of flight operations for the air show, said organizers had been working for three years to get the Osprey as part of the Lethbridge lineup and they’re delighted it finally worked out. The Osprey crew was also pleased to be in Lethbridge, he noted.
The Osprey is a rare bird in aviation circles in that it features both vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities. The aircraft was designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft.
“It was very popular,” Garton said of the Osprey. “A lot of people love the aircraft. . . It’s just neat to see these aircraft. It’s not something you see up here. They’re very rare.”
Being able to have a plane like the Osprey in Lethbridge “is huge for us,” said Garton. “It was its first time coming out to Western Canada.”
The Osprey was far from the only attention-grabbing aircraft at the show. The massive transport plane, the C-17 Globemaster, was also on hand for spectators to view up close — three of them, in fact, two from the U.S. and one from Canada’s 429 Bison Squadron.
“We had a lot of big planes come up,” said Garton.
The U.S. Navy’s P-8 Poseidon was also among the aircraft that made up the ground display. Hailing from the naval air base at Jacksonville, Fla., it was another feather in the cap for the Lethbridge air show organizers as “there are only three or four in the U.S.,” said Garton.
The static ground display lineup also included the RCAF CC-177 Globemaster III, the CT-156 Harvard II, the RCAF CH-146 Griffon helicopter (used in search-and-rescue missions), the RCAF CT-155 Hawk, the ISAF C-5 Galaxy (one of the world’s largest aircraft), the USAF MQ-1B Predator, the USAF C-130 Hercules, the USAF MQ-9 Reaper, the USN C-2A Greyhound, the USN P-8 Poseidon (the Navy’s newest maritime, patrol and reconnaissance aircraft), and Airbase Arizona’s commemorative Air Force B-25J Mitchell.
The performance lineup also featured the Mustang High Flight Aerobatics’ Dornier Alpha Jet, Greg “Wired” Colyer’s T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker II,” and a rare 1950s-era de Havilland DH-115 Mk 55 Vampire jet, as well as Geoff Latter’s Nanchang CJ-6A, Ontario’s Pete McLeod’s precision flying performance, and Rifle Airshows’ RV-8.
Garton said the Lethbridge air show is able to attract such an impressive lineup because of the reputation it has built up over the past 25 years.
“We’ve got the reputation because we’ve been around so many years,” he said. “In 2015 our crowd size helped out quite a bit.”
While attendance at this year’s show wasn’t as large, hindered by having to shut down early on the Saturday because of thunderstorms in the area which actually produced a lightning strike at the airport.
“It all has to come down to safety,” Garton said. “It’s no different when you fly out of Calgary International.”
Overall, however, organizers were pleased with attendance at this year’s show.
“I’m quite happy with the turnout,” said Garton. “It can always be bigger.”
The weather, which some years has rained on the event, co-operated for the most part this year, with sunny, hot conditions.
“The weather was awesome,” he said.
While Lethbridge Airport is not large as airports go, it does have the advantage of a long stretch of runway — “6,500 feet, which is big,” said Garton. That compares with just 5,000 feet for the Edmonton airport which hosts the Edmonton air show, as well as the Springbank airport.
“They can’t land a lot of the bigger planes on that,” he noted.
With the 25th-anniversary show now completed, organizers will turn their attentions to the next air show, likely to be held in 2019, though Garton admits he would like to see one every year.
“I’m an air show guy. I like air shows.”