Volaria Aeronautical Festival

Text and photography by Claude La Frenière
In an exciting return, Canada's newest major air show, the "Volaria Aeronautical Festival," soared from September 9 to 10, 2023.
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US Air Force Thunderbirds
Boasting the renowned Thunderbirds, the stellar USAF demonstration team, as the headliners, it drew in nearly 50,000 enthusiastic visitors. This year's extravaganza aimed not just to celebrate aviation but also to forge connections between families, aviation aficionados, and industry trailblazers. The event was meticulously crafted to blend entertainment, exploration, career prospects, and an adrenaline rush. What sets Volavia apart is its ability to attract not just aviation enthusiasts but families as well, offering a wide array of family activities, thematic exhibitions, and an extensive job fair.
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CF-18 Hornet
A Brief History:

Nestled at the Montreal-Mirabel International Airport (YMX) in Mirabel, just 45 km north of Montreal, Volavia's stage was set. Following the transfer of the last passenger flight to Pierre-Elliot Trudeau Airport (YUL) in 2004, YMX found a new identity, exclusively dedicated to air cargo, flight schools, regional airlines, and heavyweights like Bombardier and Airbus, along with onsite aircraft maintenance companies.

Building upon the triumph of its inaugural edition, the organizers utilized their prior experience to fine-tune the event's structure, elevate the venue, and address most of the hiccups from 2022. Leveraging the vast expanse of the "ICAR" complex, they orchestrated a seamless space to accommodate all festival elements, harnessing the full potential of this awe-inspiring location.

Increasing Opportunities: Volavia's Prestigious Aerospace Jobs and Training Fair
Volavia once again took center stage in the industry by hosting an impressive 'Aerospace Jobs and Training Fair', cementing its position as a pivotal event in the field. This edition established itself as an extraordinary one, endowed with unprecedented grandeur in its category. Responding to the concerns of the previous year, the fair nestled in the heart of the festival under an impressive 150-meter-long marquee, attracting crowds of visitors to the exhibitor stands.

The aerospace industry is poised for substantial growth, with approximately 38,000 positions expected to be created in the coming years. As seasoned professionals retire, positions become available, providing a significant opportunity for a new wave of talent to join this growing sector. Companies are actively seeking a diverse pool of people to drive innovation and support the development of environmentally friendly aircraft, engines, and components.

As the aerospace field evolves, there is an increasing emphasis on training a new generation capable of implementing environmentally friendly practices and pioneering advances in aviation technology. The range of opportunities presented spanned a broad field, encompassing roles from mechanical engineering to artificial intelligence, systems, automation, logistics, finance, human resources, and beyond. The career prospects, employment opportunities, and training programs in the Canadian aerospace field were unmatched.

The event saw a gathering of major employers and educational institutions, including Bell Textron Canada, Airbus, Pratt & Whitney Canada, L3 Harris,
Mecachrome, Nav Canada, Air Transat, Rolls Royce Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, and a myriad of other industry giants. This impressive congregation highlighted the dynamism of Canada's aerospace and technology sectors. We believe that other major air shows should emulate this unique initiative.
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US Air Force Thunderbirds
An Earlier Festival in the Season with a More Pleasant Temperature

Learning from past weather-induced disruptions, this year's Volaria anticipated and dodged potential climate issues. Acknowledging the unpredictable nature of weather impacting outdoor events, the organizing committee exercised caution by advancing the event by two weeks. This strategic move harnessed milder temperatures than usual, avoiding previous weather woes. Despite a bout of precipitation on Sunday afternoon, the event largely enjoyed a more favorable climate.

Sustainability at Its Core: Embracing a Carbon-Neutral Approach

Volaria has taken an extraordinary step in sustainable development by obtaining Carbon Neutral Level 3 (GOLD) certification in collaboration with Bombardier Aerospace. This certification marks a significant step forward since the weekend's greenhouse gas emissions were fully offset thanks to the acquisition of carbon credits via “Carboneutre Québec”. Since its creation, Volaria has been a stakeholder in eco-responsibility, highlighted by widespread composting and recycling initiatives among all partners on site. This commitment to sustainability sets a benchmark for the industry and highlights Volaria's commitment to driving environmental stewardship within the aviation community.

Efficient Logistics and Access Management

Ensuring seamless visitor flow and managing vehicles stood as pivotal aspects of the festival's organization. Local public security authorities played a pivotal role in supervising site access, supported by a substantial number of volunteers and security professionals, facilitating secure movement within the festival's various sectors. Despite the disappearance of the old airport parking lots, organizers adeptly created parking spaces in surrounding fields, albeit limited, and offered at a price of $15 this year.

Expert Air Operations: A Key to Success

The mastery of air operations lies in the hands of seasoned professionals. The "ICAR" complex's management, esteemed in the automotive realm, entrusted their confidence in the flight operations team from "Aero Gatineau-Ottawa," renowned for their expertise. Denis Godin, Director of Ground Operations, and David McColl, Air Marshall at “Aero Gatineau-Ottawa,” led under the guidance of Jean-François Sills, the “Air Boss.” Their collaborative effort ensured precise and controlled flight operations, presenting spectators with an air show of unparalleled precision and safety.
Diverse Access Options: Tailored for All

Volaria offered various access rates based on zones: General Admission, Premium Zone, Premium Lounge Zone, and the Chalet Engel & Volker. Prices ranged from $45 to $1,500 per day, with weekend packages available at attractive combined rates from $99 to $2,000. This range of options allowed every visitor to select access that suited their preferences and budget.

Unprecedented Popularity

The Volaria festival soared in popularity thanks to a meticulously crafted promotional campaign across all Montreal region media platforms, backed by influential spokespersons. Favorable weather conditions acted as a catalyst, attracting a multitude of aviation enthusiasts. The "ICAR" Complex transformed into a hub of attraction, drawing nearly 50,000 aviation aficionados for the second consecutive year, showcasing the escalating enthusiasm for this aeronautical spectacle.
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Addressing Lacking Spaces: The Absence of a “Photo-Pit” Area

Once more, the absence of a dedicated "Photo-Pit" area at Volaria left seasoned photographers disheartened. Unlike traditional air shows, this event lacks a ticket option granting access to an exclusive space along the "flight line," crucial for capturing unobstructed and high-quality images. This shortfall not only disappointed aerial photography enthusiasts but also hindered media outlets seeking precise visuals for their coverage. It underscores the critical necessity for designated areas catering to photographers and media during such events, ensuring an optimal viewing and capturing experience.
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A Diversified Static Exhibition

Volaria’s static exhibition in its second edition showcased a diverse array of grounded aircraft, although the display of military planes was relatively limited. Visitors had the opportunity to closely admire a dozen aircraft, private helicopters, and vintage planes. Notable highlights included two RCAF CF-18s, two Nolinor Aviation Boeing 737s, an Air Inuit Dash 8, and several HéliCraft Robinson R22 and R44 helicopters.
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Boeing 747 SP by Pratt & Whitney, Nicked the 5-Engine Jumbo Jet

However, the true standout of the static display was Pratt & Whitney's monumental "Boeing 747 SP," dubbed the 5-engine Jumbo Jet, making its public debut. This Boeing 747 is regularly fitted with a fifth engine installed on a nacelle on the right side of the cabin, positioned just behind the cockpit. This configuration enables Pratt & Whitney to conduct engine tests under real-flight conditions, utilizing the aircraft as a flying testbed to evaluate new engine designs before full production. These tests simulate extreme conditions, including temperature fluctuations and high-speed thrust delivery, crucial for engine approval.

Internally, the aircraft boasts multiple workstations for flight test engineers, each capable of measuring various engine parameters and adjusting configurations in real-time to optimize engine performance. These tests, spanning up to eight hours or more to replicate standard commercial flight durations, provide a comfortable testing environment.

The Canadian Armed Forces

The ground exhibition at Volaria prominently featured the 34th Brigade Group of the Canadian Army, a segment of the Army Reserve within the 2nd Canadian Division. Their showcase included an array of military vehicles, providing visitors with a close-up view. Spectators at the air show were treated to a remarkable demonstration of hostile territory insertion and tactical extraction by soldiers rappelling from a CH-146 Griffon helicopter from the 438 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based in Saint-Hubert.
Beyond the live demonstration, soldiers hosted an exhibition booth highlighting various trades and specialties within the Canadian Armed Forces. Festival attendees had hands-on experience with certain equipment and accessed a specially designed trailer to engage with a shooting simulator for the C7 assault rifles. This immersive setup offered a deeper understanding of and appreciation for diverse military specialties.
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A High-Caliber Program for a Second Edition with a Singular Schedule

Valaria's second edition presented an exceptional program, featuring 13 in-flight aircraft performances throughout the day and evening. The schedule incorporated a robust participation of civilian aircraft, including well-received acts from the inaugural edition and new-generation pilots. The military segment was particularly striking, headlined by the impressive performance of the US Air Force demonstration team, the “Thunderbirds.”

Notably, the festival's schedule was distinctive: on Saturday, doors opened to the public at noon, emphasizing festive family activities until 3:30 p.m. The air show began with five in-flight performances until approximately 5:00 p.m., followed by a break. The last five daytime demonstrations occurred before a brief intermission preceding the nighttime programming starting at 7:30 p.m. This segment comprised three additional in-flight performances, concluding around 8:30 p.m. in darkness, providing a unique aerial experience. The site then transitioned to family-oriented activities until 11 p.m.
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F-35A Lightning II – Vermont Air National Guard 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington VT

The Volaria show began with a spectacle by two F-35A Lightning IIs from the Vermont Air National Guard, based in Burlington. Performing two low-altitude flybys over the enthusiastic crowd, their display, though impressive, was scaled down due to operational constraints, disappointing some fans expecting four aircraft.
For many spectators, it was a debut glimpse of the future fifth-generation fighter aircraft intended for service with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2026.
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The AeroShell Team

The AeroShell aerobatic team, a North American favorite renowned for precision maneuvers, graced the event for the second consecutive year. Comprising four highly experienced pilots flying the North American "AT-6 Texan," a historic training aircraft, the team wowed audiences with expertly executed acrobatic figures in close formation during the day program. Their true showstopper arrived at night. Returning for the nighttime spectacle, they performed dazzling maneuvers illuminated by flames from engine exhausts, a rare and visually striking display that captivated spectators with its intensity and beauty.
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Canadian SkyHawks Celebrate 50 Years of Virtuosity in the Sky of Volaria

Celebrating 50 years, the Canadian SkyHawks, the Canadian Armed Forces parachute team, brought their unparalleled aerial virtuosity to Volaria. Since 1971, these 15 members have embodied professionalism, commitment, and teamwork within the Canadian Armed Forces.

Their daring performance showcased remarkable acrobatic prowess as they executed precise formations in the sky. These contact-wing demonstrations, demanding exceptional parachuting mastery, highlighted their expertise and impeccable physical conditioning.

At Volaria, identifiable by their parachutes displaying the red and white
Canadian flag, the SkyHawks delivered a breathtaking spectacle in two segments. First, jumps featuring enormous Canadian and American flags, followed by parachute tension demonstrations. The SkyHawks amazed the audience with distinctive techniques like the “Bi-Plane” and “Tri-By-Side,” demonstrating their mastery of Canopy Relative Work (CRW).
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Launching from an SC-7 Skyvan Aircraft at a Maximum Altitude of 6,000 Feet

The parachutists of the Canadian SkyHawks made three passes from an SC-7 Skyvan aircraft at a maximum altitude of 6,000 feet, showcasing their professionalism and competence. This year holds special significance as the SkyHawks celebrate their 50th anniversary of performances.
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The “Thunderbirds of the US Air Force” Ignite the Sky of Volaria

The renowned Thunderbirds team of the US Air Force delivered a sensational performance at Volaria, marking their sole overseas appearance for 2023. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Justin "Astro" Elliot, this 130-member troupe, with 90 on tour, made a significant return to Quebec after a 13-year hiatus. The pilots of the 2023 edition, each boasting over 1,000 flight hours and collectively totaling more than 15,000 hours, delivered an unforgettable performance. Notably, Major Lauren Schlichting, with 2,000 flight hours, held the position of Slot Pilot #4, bringing welcomed diversity to the team.

Established in 1953, the Thunderbirds team has evolved through five aircraft models, from the Republic F-84G Thunderjet to three variants of the F-16C/D. Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2023, the team showcased a demonstration, revamped for the first time in almost 40 years in 2020, seamlessly blending formation and solo maneuvers at a consistent speed of 650 km/h, occasionally defying gravity sometimes at less than 100 meters above ground.

Within 35 minutes, approximately twenty maneuvers were executed, alternating between the Diamond formation and Solo flights. Eight distinct formations, consisting of 4 to 6 aircraft flying synchronously, were showcased, at times maintaining an astounding distance of only 45 cm, notably observed in the Arrow Head formation.
The two solo planes demonstrated the extreme capabilities of the F-16, executing maneuvers at less than 100 meters above ground and crossing each other at a combined speed of 1,300 km/h, occasionally creating a visual effect with the shock cone, nearly brushing against the sound barrier.

The grand finale, the Thunderbirds' trademark "Bomb Burst" maneuver, left an indelible mark. The diamond formation of four planes ascended vertically, dispersing in different directions, while a solo plane ascended vertically to an altitude of 5 km. This display of impeccable timing and precision will linger in the memories of Volaria spectators.
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Kyle Fowler and His Strange Long-EZ

Kyle Fowler made a remarkable debut at Volaria with his distinctive Long-EZ aircraft, featuring a canard delta wing and a vibrant yellow hue that captured attention. Displaying "high-energy glider-style aerobatics," Fowler executed graceful loops and rolls while maintaining a constant speed of over 200 knots throughout his routine.
The Rutan Model 61 Long-EZ, designed by the Rutan Aircraft Factory in 1979, stands out for its canard design, swept wing with wingtip rudders, a 160 horsepower Lycoming engine propelling a rear-mounted propeller, and a tricycle landing gear. Fowler's performance not only showcased his piloting skills but also highlighted the unique capabilities of this efficient aircraft, capable of traveling up to 2,500 kilometers on just 200 liters of fuel. He returned during the nighttime segment, illuminating the sky with pyrotechnics, leaving long trails of light in his path. 
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Canadian Armed Forces Demonstration

The Canadian Armed Forces showcased a spectacular flight demonstration, led by the Army's 34th Brigade Group in collaboration with the 438th Tactical Helicopter Squadron from Saint-Hubert. Their simulation involved a dramatic insertion into a hostile zone and a tactical extraction of a hostage from a building.

The precision and speed of the demonstration were striking. A CH-146 helicopter approached the extraction site with a rapid, low-altitude tactical approach, stabilizing its flight and pausing approximately 20 meters above the ground for a brief 4 to 5 seconds. Six armed infantrymen quickly rappelled down, securing the building, and successfully freeing the simulated hostage. They then maintained a secure perimeter for the CH-146's swift return, completing a perfectly synchronized and highly precise demonstration showing the Canadian military's exceptional skill and coordination in delicate tactical operations.
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Pete McLeod and His Extra EA-300/LC

Pete McLeod, a Canadian aviation icon and Red Bull Air Race pilot, enthralled the audience with his captivating performance aboard his Extra EA-300/LC (N26AM). Known for pushing aeronautical boundaries, McLeod's daring and skilled execution of breathtaking acrobatic figures showcased his mastery of aerial maneuvers. His partnership with Red Bull has elevated him to global aviation icon status, inspiring thrill-seekers worldwide. Additionally, McLeod engaged in a race against a "Nascar Pinty" class racing car driven by Justin Arsenault, offering a unique spectacle that merged aviation and auto racing worlds in a striking manner.
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Redline Airshows, a Father-Son Duo

Redline Airshows, led by a father-son duo Ken and Austin Rieder piloting Van's RV-8 planes, demonstrated tight formation aerobatics with precision. Flying the two-seater tandem models with exceptional versatility, capable of speeds up to 370 km/h and an endurance exceeding 4 hours, the duo showcased impressive maneuvers with proximity as close as two meters between them. Ken Rieder's expertise in kit aircraft construction, currently working on his fifth RV-8, amplifies their practical understanding of these aircraft's aerodynamic performance. Their afternoon aerobatic performance displayed exceptional mastery, followed by an evening aerial fireworks show, adding an artistic dimension to the spectators' experience.
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RCAF CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Team

The absence of thematic painting on the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-18 Hornet demonstration team disappointed many at Volaria this year. This decision, mandated by the RCAF command, aimed to prioritize resources and personnel for fighter force operational readiness, limiting CF-18 demonstrations to only 10 events for 2023, with Volaria being privileged to be among them.

For this brief season, Captain Jesse Haggart-Smith, known as “Modem” from 410 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta, returned for a second consecutive year. The aircraft used were regular fleet units (Ex: Royal Australian Air Force) without thematic paintwork, prompting anticipation for the next CF-18 demonstration team, expected to mark a significant moment in Canadian aviation history amidst the RCAF's centennial in 2024.
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A Multi-Sensory Night Experience

Volaria continued its night air show tradition, offering a multisensory experience. Spectators witnessed aerial performances by the AeroShell team, Kyle Fowler, and REDLINE Airshows accompanied by pyrotechnics that painted the night sky with vivid colors. On the ground, a spectacular multimedia presentation featuring music, lasers, visual projections, pyrotechnics, and light shows created an immersive ambiance, merging technology and aerial art for an unmatched experience.
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The Final Word

In wrapping up, the "Volaria" air festival wowed audiences once more with the dazzling performance of the spectacular USAF Thunderbirds and its captivating nighttime show, seamlessly blending sound, lights, and pyrotechnics. The event reached new heights this year, notably with successful logistical adjustments, particularly relocating the Job Fair to the heart of the activities, enhancing visitor experience and parking management.

Despite these strides, some enhancements could perfect the event further. A comprehensive sound system spanning the entire flight line is essential for ensuring clear narration and performer soundtracks are audible throughout the venue. A lack of speakers beyond 50 meters from the main stage led to complaints from spectators about inadequate sound coverage, impacting their experience.

Introducing a designated “Photo Pit and Media” area would cater to aviation photo enthusiasts seeking an exclusive vantage point. This addition, often sought after and always popular at major airshows, could significantly improve the experience for these enthusiasts. Usually, this area is the first to be sold out at most major airshows.

With nearly 50,000 attendees celebrating aviation during the weekend, Volaria once again showcased its exceptional allure. Few Canadian air events match its wealth and appeal. Attention now turns to the upcoming "ICAS" congress in January, eagerly awaiting the headliners Volaria will attract following the Thunderbirds' success this year. However, concerns linger regarding weather conditions as the 3rd edition returns to its previous calendar slot on September 20-22, 2024.