The Canadian International Airshow

Text and photography by Claude La Frenière
The Canadian International Airshow, also known as CIAS, celebrated its 74th anniversary from Saturday, September 2 to Monday, September 4 in Toronto with an international-class air show. The CIAS remains a significant air show in Canada, being both the largest in terms of attendance and the oldest.
The echelon parade maneuver above the Toronto skyscrapers
Beginning in 1946, the National Aeronautical Association of Canada organized exhibitions at Downsview Airport on behalf of the Canadian aircraft manufacturer De Havilland Aircraft of Canada. The success led to the creation of a regular aviation event. In 1949, the CIAS officially moved to Exhibition Place on Toronto's Lake Ontario front, becoming Canada's first annual air show, incorporated as a prestigious event at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). Each year, the CIAS becomes the unmissable event of Labour Day weekend in Toronto.

Because CIAS takes place over water near Toronto Harbour, it provides spectators with exceptional views of aerial performances from public waterfront areas along the shores of Lake Ontario on either side from Marilyn Bell Park (Show Center). This is why the overall attendance for the four days of shows systematically exceeds one million spectators. By comparison, the Huntington Beach Air Show in California, the largest air show in the United States in terms of attendance, attracts 2-3 million spectators over 3 days.

This year, the CIAS offered an international calibre air show, with two world-renowned headliners. The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy's demonstration team, celebrated their 77th season and made a splash with their new F/A-18-E Super Hornets, marking their first visit to Toronto since 2009.

Also on the program, the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds demonstration team, a favourite of the Toronto public, celebrated its 52nd season despite controversy due to the unforeseen absence of an aircraft in its formations for the majority of the season.
This year, Captain Jesse Haggart-Smith aka 'Modem' of 410 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta, was reappointed to the CF-18 Demo team for a second year.
In addition to these impressive teams, the show included demonstrations of the US Air Force F-16 Viper, Canadian Forces CF-18, and a final lifetime performance from 81-year-old Gordon Price, aboard his Yak-50 which is bowing out and retiring.

The Exclusive Zone (VIP)

The show-center is located in the heart of Marilyn Bell Park, offering an exclusive area with the best possible view along the lake. It is divided into two sections: the Flight Deck with seats at $275 per person, including a full buffet, an open bar and meeting and autograph sessions with some of the performers, as well as the general admission section at $80 (without special inclusions, apart from a reserved seat).

Live Streaming

The CIAS offered, for the third consecutive year, an official live broadcast functionality to allow a wider audience to follow the narration of the broadcast show. Each year, this broadcast reaches around 150,000 people in 14 different countries directly. Spectators, whether they were situated in the numerous parks on the lakefront, on their boat, or even across the world, could benefit from the announcer's comments explaining the different manoeuvres, describing the planes and the performers, and viewing live video images.
Blue Angels team leader, Commander Alexander P. Armatas in jet number 1. He has accumulated more than 4,100 flight hours and 911 aircraft carrier landings.
CIAS Always Takes Place Without Static Display

All aerial performances at CIAS take place over Lake Ontario, in the heart of downtown Toronto. Like most major air shows occurring over water, the CIAS does not offer static demonstrations of aircraft on the ground. Military aircraft are based at Toronto Pearson Airport, located 15 km from the air show site, while participating civilian aircraft are based at Toronto Billy Bishop Airport, just 2 km from the show site. Except for a few knowledgeable observers who know the locations offering views of takeoffs and landings at airports, aircraft on the ground are not on public display.

Disputes Resurface Again This Year

The 2023 edition of the air event has again generated some discontent among the population. Concerns related to aircraft noise were raised, and part of the community expressed their disagreement, highlighting the inconvenience caused by these noise disturbances. In this controversial context, the spokesperson for the Canadian International Airshow stressed strict compliance with government regulations regarding noise levels. Colleen McCourt reaffirmed that the primary mission of the event is to inspire the public to pursue their dreams and celebrate the world of aviation, while taking into account the sensitivities of certain audience members. CIAS encourages continued constructive discussions to balance enthusiasm for military aircraft with legitimate noise concerns among the public. This approach reflects the commitment of the CIAS to respond to the concerns of the community while maintaining the reputation of the air show.

Jet number 4 of the Blue Angels during a level 360 degree turn.
The Challenge of Capturing Good Photos at CIAS

One constant at CIAS is that the action invariably takes place above Lake Ontario and the audience is generally positioned more than a kilometre from the action, separated by the coastline. This distance necessitates the use of long lenses to capture the desired images, while requiring photographers to face the sun (backlight) throughout the show. This year, the challenge was reinforced by strong atmospheric haze due to the abnormal September heat. This posed an additional obstacle for photographers seeking to capture the captivating moments of the air show. Their passion for aviation and commitment to capturing the unique moments of CIAS pushed them to overcome these inherent challenges to capture spectacular images.

A Diversified Show Featuring Prestigious Teams

The show started at noon and concluded swiftly around 3 p.m., for all three days. This year, CIAS presented 14 aerial demonstrations, including two Heritage Flights. The show included high-performance military jets, rescue and transport helicopters, and civilian aerobatic aircraft. These varied performances captivated the audience throughout the event.
United States Navy Blue Angels The Major Guest Stars Open the Show

The legendary US Navy Blue Angels team, led by Commander Alexander P. Armatas and comprised of 143 members (45 of whom were on tour), dazzled Toronto audiences with their spectacular aerial displays. With a 77-year history, the team has flown nine different types of aircraft over the years and is arriving in Toronto showcasing its all-new F/A-18-E Super Hornets for the first time. These cutting-edge fighter jets have added an extra dimension to their performance. Their return to Toronto was warmly received, and anticipation was high to see them in action. The Blue Angels continue to embody the excellence of the US Navy. They continue to demonstrate mastery and virtuosity in the art of aerobatic flight and they have lived up to their reputation with their extremely precise manoeuvres, their very low altitude evolutions, their crossings at combined speeds of both aircraft reaching speeds of up to 1800 km/h. They performed high-energy manoeuvres in perfect synchronization including their signature iconic Diamond and Delta formations which are always highlights. The Blue Angels' performance in Toronto in 2023 and their presence was an honour for the Canadian public.
United States Navy Blue Angels Fat Albert, Hercules C-130J

The show was opened by the beloved Fat Albert, the C-130J Hercules piloted by Major Joshua Soltan. As a vital part of the Blue Angels team, Fat Albert demonstrated his exceptional low altitude manoeuvrability capabilities. He accompanies the team to each show, providing transportation for staff and support equipment. This C-130J is a renowned tactical transport aircraft, characterized by its imposing tailgate capable of transporting up to 45,000 pounds of cargo and passengers. Powered by four Allison turboprops, this almost 30-meter-long plane reaches a cruising speed of 603 km/h. Fat Albert plays a key role in the show by participating every day, contributing to the success of the Blue Angels team. Its presence is not only functional but also adds a unique dimension to the air show.
United States Air Force – F-16 Viper Demonstration Team

The presence of Captain Aimee (Rebel) Fiedler, an exceptional pilot with more than 2,000 flight hours, at the helm of the USAF F-16 Viper demonstration team in Toronto, aroused our enthusiasm. The Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon Block 50 model that she pilots embodies aeronautical excellence. During CIAS, we had the opportunity to watch Captain Fiedler perform aerial feats over Lake Ontario, showcasing the impressive capabilities of the F-16 Viper. Her demonstration illustrated the versatility and power of the F-16 Viper. Between its breathtaking vertical climbs, high-speed rolls, sharp turns and incredible aerobatics, the team demonstrated their mastery of this iconic fighter plane, confirming its place among the elite of aerial demonstrations.
Patriotic Flight USAF P-51 Mustang - F-16 Viper

At the CIAS, a well-established tradition is that of patriotic flights and this year, Jim Beasley Jr. flew his P-51 Mustang "Bald Eagle" as part of the Heritage Flight of the United States Air Force (USAF) alongside of Captain Aimee Rebel Fiedler and her F-16 Viper. Jim, who has over 20 years of experience flying historic combat aircraft, has logged thousands of hours flying the P-51, Supermarine Spitfire and F4U Corsair. Witnessing the stirring performance of a modern fighter flying in tandem with a vintage fighter in a spectacular display of air power is always an unforgettable experience.
Gordon Price - Yakovlev 50

Gordon Price, the Canadian icon of the sky, bows out with a spectacular final act. We salute his legendary career, a former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot and exceptional airline pilot. At almost 81 years old, this legendary man split the skies like few have done. He flew CF-104 Starfighters at breakneck speeds of Mach 2.2 (2,600 km/h) during the Cold War. In the 1980s, he proudly wore the colours of Canada during three world aerobatics championships. He then spent 36 years flying for Air Canada, moving from modest DC-9s to majestic Boeing 747-400s. In 2012, he returned to the skies to show that age is just a number by performing breathtaking acrobatics. And today, he says goodbye to air shows after more than 47 years in the business. For his last flight in Toronto, Gordon Price gave a breathtaking demonstration aboard his Yak-50 (C-FYGP), performing daring manoeuvres and braving G-forces despite his 81 years. His Yak-50, this exceptional aircraft with unrivalled manoeuvrability characteristics, was his accomplice in this incredible aerial adventure.
Mike Tryggvason - Extra 330

Mike, a true Canadian aerobatics prodigy, dazzles crowds with aerial displays of exceptional precision. Born into a family passionate about aviation, he was immersed in this world from a very young age. After completing his pilot training, Mike continued his career as a bush pilot where he honed his skills for almost five years. After having embraced the world of aerobatics, Mike has distinguished himself in numerous competitions, including competing at the National Championships in the United States in 2014 and 2017. Alongside his aerobatics exploits, Mike works as an airline pilot, commanding a Boeing 737 for a Canadian airline. He remains committed to passing on his knowledge and experience to the next generation of pilots. His plane of choice, the Extra 330LC, is a two-seater monoplane specially designed to excel in aerobatic competitions. Lighter, faster and incredibly manoeuvrable, it can reach dizzying speeds of 418 km/h. The daring and breathtaking manoeuvres he performs, such as Hammerheads, Tailslides and Lomcevaks, never cease to captivate and amaze audiences. Mike truly embodies excellence in the world of Canadian aerobatics.
RCAF CH-146 Griffon - 424E Search and Rescue Squadron “Tigers”

A CH-146 Griffon helicopter, from the 424th Transport and Rescue Squadron (TIGERS) of 8 Wing, based in Trenton, Ontario, completed an impressive demonstration showcasing its excellence in search and rescue (SAR) operations and highlighting its remarkable manoeuvrability and stability capabilities by carrying out a rescue operation in an aquatic environment, during which Search and Rescue (SAR) divers rescued a person simulating distress. This remarkable tactical transport helicopter in service in Canada since 1995 is the most common aircraft in the RCAF fleet assigned to ten bases in ten squadrons. It performs various missions, including transporting troops and equipment, SAR operations, surveillance, reconnaissance, training, casualty evacuation and combating drug trafficking with local police authorities. It is equipped with GPS satellite navigation and Doppler radar systems, as well as various equipment, including self-defence devices, a powerful searchlight and a winch facilitating the extraction of people and goods from difficult-to-reach areas.
Trevor Rafferty - Pitts 12

Trevor Rafferty is a Canadian pilot who performs aerial demonstrations with a plane he built himself. The Pitts 12 is a traditional biplane with a 1930s aerobatics look, but with 400 horsepower and very light weight. He also participates in international acrobatics competitions, where he performs impressive tricks. Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, he was a CIAS guest for the first time this year. His demonstrations are impressive and spectacular, with tricks like rolls, spins, loops and sharp turns.
Ken Rieder Redline Airshows - RV-8

Ken Rieder, is a seasoned pilot from Cincinnati, Ohio, with over 35 years of experience as a pilot and has accumulated over 13,000 flight hours. As a multi-engine flight instructor, he shares his passion for aviation and pilot training. Currently, he is dedicated to the construction of his fifth RV-8, a versatile two-seater aircraft capable of reaching speeds of up to 370 km/h, with an autonomy of more than 4 hours of flight, offering it a range of more than 700 nautical miles (1296 km). It has the ability to land at speeds as low as 85 km/h, allowing it to operate from a wide variety of airports. Ken regularly flies in formation alongside his son, Austin Reider, as a member of the Ohio Redline Airshow team. This weekend, he was also on display at a second air show, the Wings Over Batavia Air Show, organised at the Genesee County Airport in New York State, located 140 kilometers in a straight line to Toronto across Lake Ontario, about a 20-minute flight. Ken shuttled between the two events throughout the three days.
Boeing CH-147F Chinook – 450th Tactical Helicopter Squadron

The 450th is the only CH-147F Chinook squadron in the RCAF and is part of 1 Wing, known as the Vikings. It is a multi-purpose twin-rotor helicopter used to transport equipment and personnel during domestic or deployed operations. Major Steve Pellerin demonstrated the manoeuvrability, power, and stability capabilities of this aircraft. With a maximum speed of 315 km/h, a range of 1,200 km, and a load capacity of more than 13,000 kg, the Chinook supports a variety of entities, including the Canadian Army, special operations forces, other government departments, law enforcement agencies, and civil authorities. It has enhanced self-protection capabilities, such as anti-missile protection systems, radar and laser warning systems, as well as ballistic protection devices.
RCAF - CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Team

The CF-18 demo, still a must-see for Toronto audiences, has proven its worth as a fast, agile, and versatile fighter, despite its age. However, the absence of thematic painting this year disappointed some spectators, a consequence of a decision by RCAF command, justified by the need to devote aviation personnel and resources to operational support and preparation for the fighter force. As part of this decision, the number of CF-18 demonstrations for the 2023 season was limited to 10 events, and the same pilot, Captain Jesse Haggart-Smith aka Modem of 410 Squadron from Cold Lake, Alberta, was renewed for a second consecutive year. The aircraft used come from the regular fleet and do not have thematic paintwork. Next year, the RCAF plans to deploy an enhanced recruitment and attraction team to the shows, with the goal of inspiring more Canadians to enlist in the RCAF in this centennial year of the RCAF in 2024. The focus will therefore be placed more on the next CF-18 demonstration team, thus highlighting a pivotal moment in the history of Canadian aviation.
Heritage Flight RCAF - CF-18 Hornet - T-33 Shooting Star

At the end of his performance, Captain Jesse Haggart-Smith and his CF-18 were joined by the T-33 Shooting Star "Ace Maker III," piloted by veteran LtCol (retired) Rob "Scratch" Mitchell, himself a former CF-18 Demo Pilot in 1999, for a second Heritage flight dedicated to present and past members who served in the RCAF. Just like the USAF Heritage Flight, witnessing the stirring performance of a modern fighter flying in tandem with a vintage jet is always an unforgettable experience.
LCOL (Retired) Rob “Scratch” Mitchell - T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker III”

The T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker III” perfectly embodies the essence of aerobatics. Derived from Lockheed's famous P-80 Shooting Star in 1948, it became a true star of air shows. The man at the controls, veteran LtCol (retired) Rob “Scratch” Mitchell, brings even more prestige to this already impressive aircraft for its age. The T-33 Shooting Star has a rich history, having served in many air forces around the world. It is especially renowned for its exceptional acrobatic performances, demonstrating that it has lost none of its superb form despite the years (75-year-old jet). But the magic of Ace Maker III also lies in the skills of its pilot who is a virtuoso of aerobatics, handling the T-33 with grace and precision. His impressive CV within the RCAF includes the role of pilot of the CF-18 Demonstration (1999) as well as that of Team Leader of the Canadian Forces demonstration team the Snowbirds (2007-2008). Scratch represents the 3rd generation of fighter pilots in his family, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Fred Mitchell who flew over 400 missions in Spitfires during World War II and his father Bob Mitchell, who flew CF-101 Voodoos, F-5 Freedom Fighters and ultimately served as an instructor on the CT-114 Tutor.
431st Air Demonstration Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force – Snowbirds

The Snowbirds, a symbol of the Canadian Armed Forces since 1971, concluded the show and continued to dazzle the Toronto public with their exceptional aerial performances at the controls of their venerable Canadair CT-114 Tutor aircraft. Based at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, this dedicated team of nearly 80 members embodies excellence in the Canadian Air Force. However, this year, unforeseen circumstances led to changes within the team. Since mid-June, the Snowbirds have had to adapt their aerial demonstrations, going from nine to eight planes. This modification was decided during the season due to a delicate situation involving one of the pilots, currently facing criminal charges. Consequently, this pilot was reassigned to non-operational roles, leaving his aircraft (Solo #9) on the ground while awaiting the results of the investigation. The process of replacing this pilot proved complex, particularly due to the completed stage of training and the start of the season. Recruiting a reserve pilot who had undergone the same training as the other members of the team proved impossible at this time. Despite these circumstances, the Snowbirds put on an impressive show. However, the absence of an aircraft (Solo #9) inevitably impacted the aesthetics of some of their formations, disrupting the symmetry that usually characterizes their aerial evolutions. Photography enthusiasts also felt this absence, deprived of the possibility of capturing these moments when solo planes pass each other at high speed and at close range.
Blue Angels shake up iconic CN Tower in downtown Toronto.

2023 was a great year for the CIAS with the performance of two internationally renowned military aerobatic teams complemented by high-performance military jets, without forgetting the last lifetime performance of the great pilot Gordon Price. Whether we reserve 2024 for the 75th anniversary of the CIAS which will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the RCAF remains to be seen. But a well-informed source tells us that the 2024 edition will be grandiose.