The Volaria Aeronautical Festival at Mirabel Airport

Text and photography by Claude La Frenière
An airshow out of the ordinary that made us live an aerial experience as we had never known in the region, with a new breathtaking night show.
The Aeroshell aerial demonstration team performs maneuvers with three North American AT-6 Texans
As the latest Canadian airshow in 2022 in Canada, the organizers of the’ Volaria Aeronautic Festival’ wanted to distinguish themselves with the mission of celebrating aeronautics the ‘Montreal way’, by bringing together families, aviation enthusiasts and the many companies in this industry under the banner of fun, discovery and thrills.

Although aircraft were the central attraction, the festival was not only for aviation enthusiasts. It included thematic exhibits and family activities, with a bit of focus on automobiles, as it was organized by the International Center of Advanced Racing (ICAR), a large motorsport complex adjacent to Mirabel Airport runways.
CF-18 Demo Team with its unique painted theme this year, with a geometric pattern that references a hornet.
A little history

The Montreal-Mirabel International Airport (YMX), located in Mirabel, 45 km north of Montreal, has been in a long decline since its opening and has been converted into a cargo airport since the last passenger flight in 2004. Nowadays, it is only used for air cargo, flight schools, regional airlines, aircraft manufacturers (Bombardier and Airbus) and companies related to aircraft maintenance located on the airport site.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Montreal Mirabel International Airport (YMX) hosted many large airshows attracting large crowds to its tarmac. The last one was held in May 1997 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first supersonic flight. It featured the Blue Angels of the US Navy and was attended by approximately 30,000 people. After a 25-year hiatus, Montreal Mirabel International Airport (YMX) hosted the Volaria Aeronautic Festival, a new major aviation event on September 24 and 25, 2022.

Initially scheduled for the year 2020, the festival had to be postponed due to the worldwide pandemic that greatly affected airshows. The year 2021 still had too many health uncertainties in Quebec and it was decided to postpone the event to 2022. This gave the organizing committee three years to continue developing the project and put in place all the elements of the festival that finally took place this year.

The challenge of creating a new event from scratch

The organizers had a large playground at their disposal to set up the site of their aeronautical festival for the first time and the logistical challenge was significant, as everything had to be done. The ICAR site is large, spectators could walk about 1 km from one end of the site to the other and it offered the advantage of easily accommodating all the elements of the festival.

A high calibre job fair

Among the themed areas we were able to visit, the festival included a first-of-its-kind Aerospace Job and Training Fair, which was clearly the largest of its kind we've ever seen at such an event, where visitors could meet leading companies in the sector and discover the incredible career opportunities they had to offer.

When we visited on Saturday, there were not as many visitors as one might have expected. Perhaps this was because the fair was not located on the main festival site, but rather inside the administration building of the ICAR complex, about 250 m outside the main festival area. Visitors arrived at the site through the entrance and explored exhibition areas, but to get to the job fair they had to turn around and go back through the entrance to the large building in the distance, which discouraged some.

Almost all of the major employers and educational institutions in the Canadian aerospace and technology sector present in Quebec were on hand. We were able to visit the booths of the following companies: Aéro Mag 2000, Montréal Airports (ADM), Air Transat, Airbus, Bell Textron Canada, Bombardier, CAE, ÉNA, Heroux-Devtek, L3Harris, Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Transports, NAV Canada, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce Canada and Swissport Canada, to name a few.

The list of the many career, employment, internship and training opportunities offered and currently available within the Canadian Aerospace Sector was truly impressive. Positions, training and internships were offered in mechanical and electrical engineering, design, systems, automation, continuous improvement, structural integration, artificial intelligence, assemblers, operators, mechanics, warehousemen, machinists, aircraft maintenance technicians, logistics, purchasing, finance, human resources, IT, communications and more.
The Aerospace Job and Training Fair, where visitors could meet leading companies in the industry, such as these representatives of Bombardier Aerospace.
The uncontrollable risks of weather

As always, weather is the uncontrollable element that can help make or break the best laid plans for an airshow. With the late September date in Quebec, organizers had to hope for good weather as well as good mercury. Finally, the weekend went well with clear skies on Friday and Saturday and overcast skies on Sunday under a slightly chilly temperature with gusty winds ranging from 15 to 40 km/h, according to Environment Canada data for the Mirabel area.

Initially, Volaria would have been held earlier in the season and take advantage of the milder weather, but the date was moved to ensure the availability of the Snowbirds, but then the squadron cancelled for technical reasons.

A carbo-neutral show

The Volaria festival was certified Level 3 (GOLD) carbon neutral thanks to Bombardier Aerospace, through the organization Carboneutre Québec. The greenhouse gases emitted during the weekend were offset by the purchase of carbon credits.

Volaria wanted to break out of the traditional airshow framework mainly by its futuristic positioning and its focus on technological and ecological advances in the aeronautics industry. The players in this industry are committed and mobilized to find solutions to environmental issues and it was a priority for the festival to be part of the solution and to take advantage of the opportunity to convey a message with various eco-responsible initiatives. Among other things, they encouraged composting and recycling among all their partners on site, particularly in the restaurant section, where food truck was invited to use compostable materials for food distribution.

In addition, Volaria added to its programming the thematic zone ‘Neighborhood of the Future’ , an area dedicated to the demonstration of ecological alternatives and the progress of the aeronautical industry in the face of environmental issues.

Access and parking management

The organizers had to put in place important logistics for the management of crowds and vehicles on the site. Public safety services were called upon to successfully manage access to the site and numerous volunteers and security guards were mandated to effectively manage the safe movement of crowds through the various festival areas. Given that the old airport parking lots no longer exist, on-site parking (for a $10 fee) was limited. Therefore, the festival provided incentives to use public transportation with shuttle buses and for those who wanted to drive to the site, carpooling was encouraged by offering free parking to any car with 4 or more people in it.

An experienced aviation operations management team

To ensure the success of an airshow, the management of aviation operations must be assured by experienced specialists and those in charge of the ICAR complex, true professionals recognized in the automotive world, had the genius to call upon the entire team of aviation operations coordinators of the Aero Gatineau-Ottawa airshow.

Denis Godin, Director of Ground Operations, Michel Côté, Ground Logistics Manager and David McColl, Air Marshall at Aero Gatineau-Ottawa, controlled the aviation operations under the direction of Jean-François Sills, the Air Boss, to offer spectators a show that was controlled to the letter.
Jean-François Sills the Air Boss (centre) from the Aero Gatineau Ottawa aviation coordinator team
Access levels to reserved areas for all budgets

Volaria offered four levels of access to its site; General Admission, Premium Zone with stage, VIP Area with reserved seating, exclusive food and bar services (for a fee) and the Elite Chalet located right on the show line with table seating under a tent with unlimited food, open bar and VIP parking included.

The price for a day pass in the General Admission zone was $70 on Saturday and $54 on Sunday, and in the Premium Zone $94 on Saturday and $74 on Sunday. The weekend pass was priced at $88 for General Admission, $131 for the Premium Zone, $175 for the VIP Area and $577 for the Elite Chalet.

An RV zone was set up on site with a capacity limited to 50 motorized vehicles and was offered at $347 for both days in addition to the weekend passport in the category of their choice for the occupants.

Volaria was a great success

The festival benefited from an siginificant and well-targeted promotion in all the media of the Montreal area with its spokesman Paul Houde, a well-known TV host and a great popularizer of the aviation world who is present on all media platforms. The beautiful weather without precipitation helped despite a rather chilly temperatures. Aviation enthusiasts responded in large numbers to the call of the organizers while the site of the Complex ICAR was filled with visitors. All indications are that the event was a great success as close to 50,000 aviation enthusiasts attended this very first edition.

No photo-pit zone

Many experienced photographers and aviation enthusiasts were disappointed because, unlike most airshows, the ticketing offer did not include a level of access to a photo-pit area. There was no area with an unobstructed view or on a raised platform above the barriers and crowds, usually reserved for serious, experienced photographers with all their gear, and the media to capture the images needed for their stories. It was a bit of a shame because the spectators were quite far from the action and the fences were high and obstructed the view. Even in the VIP and Elite Chalet areas the spectators had their view obstructed by fences.

A static exhibition with Wings and Wheels

For a first edition, the ground display was interesting, but the number of military aircraft was a bit limited as some of the RCAF aircraft announced in the programme, such as the CP-140 Aurora and two helicopters, were absent. Despite this, visitors were able to get a close look at some 15 aircraft ranging from private helicopters to small vintage aircraft, an Aero L-29 Delfin military jet, a business jet, two Boeing 737-300s in cargo and passenger versions as well as aircraft from regional airlines like Air Inuit, Max Aviation, Chrono Aviation and Nolinor. But the big star of the static display was undoubtedly the huge and powerful USAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster III coming directly from Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. As we were on the site of a motorsports complex, a large number of muscle cars and exotic cars were also on display.
The big star of the static display was undoubtedly the USAF Boeing C-17 Globemaster III from Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
A high calibre flight programme for a first edition

Just like the Toronto CIAS and Aero Gatineau-Ottawa, the festival had to deal with the absence of its main attraction, the 431 RCAF Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds, which was grounded following an accident in British Columbia in August. Despite this, the programme offered to visitors was quite respectable with a dozen exciting performances, including those of the RCAF CF-18 and USAF F-16 Viper demonstration teams.

The civilian part of the airshow was provided by great performers of the new and old generation

Pete MCleod, one of Canada's most popular aviation figures, known worldwide as one of the star pilots of the Red Bull Air Race, put on quite a show in his Extra EA-300/LC (N26AM). In addition to his solo routine, Pete raced once against a Ferrari F458 and once against a Pitts S-12 Monster with Mario Hamel of the Yak Attack team.
To fill the void caused by the absence of the Snowbirds, the organizers succeeded in integrating a display by the AeroShell Aerobatic Team, composed of four experienced pilots with tens of thousands of hours of flight. They were flying North American AT-6 Texans. Unfortunately, only three of them were present due to mechanical problems with the fourth aircraft that remained at their base.

The team members performed their aerial maneuvers in tight, precise and impressive formation during the daytime programme, but they gave spectators a big surprise when they returned after dark to participate in the night show. Their tight formation maneuvers in the dark of night with fire seemingly coming out of the engines, caused by burning oil in the exhausts, was unheard of in Quebec.
The Yak Attack Airshows Team was made up of Daniel (Dan) Fortin, a seasoned commercial pilot and private jet commander qualified on many types of aircraft including legendary jets such as the Aero L-39 Albatross, the Aero L-29 Delfin, the Hawker Hunter and the Fouga Magister, and his partner Mario Hamel, another Canadian aviation legend who participated in over 500 airshows during his career, and former member of the famous RCAF Snowbirds demonstration team for the 1994-95 seasons. The two thrilled the crowd with the diversity, precision and gracefulness of their maneuvers. For the weekend, Dan flew his Nanchang CJ-6A, a Chinese basic trainer built by the Nanchang Aircraft Factory in 1985 for the Chinese Air Force and Mario, owner of several aerobatic aircraft, flew his Pitts Model 12 Monster.

Manfred Radius, a 78-year-old pilot at the controls of his H101 Salto glider gave us a demonstration of aerobatics. During the night show on Saturday night, he flew with pyrotechnics at the end of his aircraft’s wings, lighting up the sky and projecting trails of fire behind him in the darkness.

Nathan Hammond, AKA ‘GhostWriter’, is an American professional pilot from New York State with over 7,000 hours of flight time under his belt. He has been competing in the North American airshow circuit since 2016 with his aircraft, a De Havilland Chipmunk DHC-1, completely transformed by 3,000 hours of work to make it the finest known example of a Super Chipmunk. With its more powerful engine, the former Royal Canadian Air Force trainer of the fifties can now boast a cruising speed of 240 Km/h (150 mph) with a range of over 800 Km (500m). It can climb at a rate of 750m (2500 feet) per minute with a ceiling of 5300 m (17,500 feet).
In addition to its impressive aerobatic display during the daytime show, the ‘GhostWriter’ returned after sunset to light up the night with its 4,000 LED lights and over 100kg (200lbs) of pyrotechnics attached to the aircraft. It used the sky as a backdrop for its streaks of sparks and explosion of bright colors in the great night show of Volaria.

An amusing aspect of the programme and rarely seen here in Quebec was the airplane race. Indeed, two civilian aircraft participating in the show: Mario Hamel with his Pitts Model 12 and Pete MCleod with his Extra EA-300/LC, competed in a friendly race of two laps on an oval circuit of about 6 km above the airport. Pete, who is a star of the Red Bull Air Race circuit, gave his friend Mario a hard time. Afterwards Pete completed his day by racing against a Ferrari 458.
Martin Hivon captivated the spectators with his high intensity and energetic demonstration at the controls of his Yakolev-55M, nicknamed ‘The Toy’, because its registration letters are C-FTOY. It is a competition plane of Soviet manufacture built in the 80s and equipped with a powerful engine of 370 hp. Martin is a retired 20-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, was a CT-114 instructor, a CF-18 pilot and instructor and is one of the few Canadians to have served for three years as an F-18 pilot on an exchange programme with the U.S. NAVY on an aircraft carrier. Now retired, he owns a flight school. He returned at the end of the programme with a flypast, training with a regional airline Chrono Aviation aircraft.
Military and governmental demonstrations

The presence of the RCAF CF-18 Demonstration Team, piloted this year by Captain Jesse Haggart-Smith AKA ‘Modem’ from 410 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta, was much appreciated by the audience. Modem, who has been a fighter pilot on the Hornet since 2016, demonstrated the maneuverability and combat capabilities of his fast, light and agile aircraft. Each year, the aircraft is painted with a unique theme, and this time it sported the ‘Fighter Operations at Home and Abroad’ theme rendered in the operational gray colour palette with a geometric pattern, that references the wings of the CF-18 namesake the Hornet.
The Canadair CL-415 Super Scooper is an amphibious water bomber manufactured by Bombardier Aerospace (formerly Canadair) in Canada and then by Viking Air, a British Columbia-based company since 2016. It is the main aircraft specialized in fighting forest fires in Quebec, France and elsewhere in the world. Spectators at Volaria on Sunday were treated to a flight demonstration of its maneuverability and power at low altitude, capped by a runway-side drop of 6,140 litres of water from its tanks while flying at less than 100 meters altitude.
The Canadian Armed Forces Demonstration Skydiving Team, the SkyHawks, were on hand in Mirabel to demonstrate their mastery and the incredible courage required to defy death with every jump. The SkyHawks team is easily recognizable by their red and white Canadian flagged parachutes that create magnificent figures in the sky as they close together and assemble to create formations.
As usual, the SkyHawks jumped in two waves from a CC-138 Twin Otter from an altitude of 6,000 feet. The first wave was for flag jumps where team members jumped with the large 450 square foot flags of Quebec and Canada and a second wave of jumps where the team practiced Parabatics or parachute aerobatics. Their canopies can be stacked on top of each other, or sometimes they are linked together by their arms and legs.
The most anticipated attraction at Volaria was the USAF F-16 Viper demonstration team. They came directly from the 20th USAF Fighter Wing based at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina with VENOM, the F-16 with a special-colored livery assigned to the team and inspired by the F-16's nickname, the Viper. Its livery, which featured snake scales painted on the airframe in the team's signature black and yellow colors, was designed as if the aircraft were an extension of the snake painted in the logo on the tail, to the front of the jet, which represented the snake's head with eyes painted under the cockpit.
Captain Aimee Rebel Fiedler, who has more than 2,000 combined flight hours, was the pilot and commander of the eight-member team for the 2022 season. Rebel conducted high intensity precision air maneuvers that demonstrated the unique capabilities of her F-16CM, a single-seat, multi-role fighter capable of performing both air-to-ground and air-to-air roles.
A first in Eastern Canada, a night airshow with sounds and lights

The Saturday night show was without a doubt the highlight, but more importantly, the most surprising moment of the weekend. Never seen before in Eastern Canada, the organizers of Volaria pulled out all the stops and the surprised crowd was in for a treat. It was a unique show that broke away from conventions of classic airshows with the GhostWriter, Manfred Radius and the AeroShell aerobatic team spitting out fire and sparks in an enchanting display of colour as they performed aerial acrobatics in the dark.

These in-flight performances were accompanied by a large, beautiful multimedia show on the ground with tens of thousands of watts of sound projecting the music of Quebec DJ Kleancut, accented with lasers, projections, pyrotechnics, light shows and columns of fire, all installed on a long device around a main stage.
In conclusion

The organizers of the aeronautical festival Volaria wanted to leave the traditional framework of airshows. They took a different position by programming a great night airshow with sounds and lights that were a sensation among the spectators. With the large thematic exhibition on the technological and ecological advances of the aeronautics industry and the industry job fair, they have set a new standard for this type of event in Canada.

Of course, there will be minor adjustments to make for the 2nd edition, such as having a photo pit and media area close to the action. It would benefit from a better sound system all along the show line for the narration and the soundtracks of the performers, because as soon as we were 50 to 60 metres from the center of the show, there were no speakers and the spectators could not hear the narration. Relocating the job fair to a more optimal location on the site, and perhaps rearranging the overly high fences along the flight line to allow spectators to see the action directly, would also be ideal.

After three years of planning and development of this project that finally came to fruition, Maude Paquette, general manager of the event, said that the entire team of about 1,000 employees, volunteers, security guards, caterers and partners who put their hearts into ensuring the smooth running and safety of the festival, felt a strong sense of pride.

It was a success with close to 50,000 visitors during the weekend who experienced this great celebration of aviation. Few airshows in Canada can boast of having attracted so many people, and even fewer for a first edition.

This success has already translated into their presence at the recent ICAS convention with the signing of the prestigious USAF Thunderbird demonstration team for 2023. We look forward to the 2nd edition which will take place much earlier in the season on September 8, 9 and 10, 2023.