Canadian International Air Show 2022

Text and Photography by Claude La Frenière
For its 2022 edition, the Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) finally returned to its usual format with its reserved area located in the heart of downtown Toronto, directly on the Lake Ontario waterfront and in front of the iconic CN Tower, during the Labour Day weekend of September 3 to 5.
The CF-18 demonstration aircraft flying past the CN Tower in Toronto, showing the heat effect of the engines in the sun's reflection in the tower.
A return to normalcy

For 74 years, the Canadian International Air Show has been Canada's largest (in terms of attendance) and longest running airshow. Last year, in 2021, it was back after a one-year absence, due to the pandemic, in a form that was free to all Canadians, with no exclusive areas of festivities.

As the CIAS takes place entirely over water, near the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto Harbour, it could also be enjoyed from several linear parks along the 14 kilometers of lakefront on either side of Marilyn Bell Park (show centre). This vast public space along the waterfront allowed spectators to see the aircraft in flight from anywhere.

CIAS Executive Director Lori Duthie reported that last year, one million people lined the shoreline of Lake Ontario to watch the show and a record number of boats filled the harbour.

As a comparison, to visualize the spectator attraction on this huge 14 km stage in downtown Toronto, imagine an air show in New York City facing Long Beach on the waterfront and try to estimate how many people would flock to its shoreline.
Major Wolfe's routine highlighted the agility and maneuverability of the F-35A. Here it can be seen deploying flares.
Live Broadcasting

Since the only place to hear the show's narration properly is in the newly expanded exclusive ai show area, which still only seats about 2,500 people, CIAS broke new ground this year by offering an all-new official live streaming feature, and spectators could choose between a narration-only stream or a narration stream with video.
People watching the show in the many parks along the lakefront or from their boats, or even from anywhere in the world, could hear the narration and see live video footage. It was an added benefit for all spectators to be able to hear the announcer explain all the different maneuvers, describe the planes and introduce performers. Last year, in experimental mode, the livestream reached over 120,000 people in 14 different countries.

The Exclusive Zone (VIP)

As in previous years, the CIAS offered access to an exclusive zone to enjoy the best view possible on the lakefront for $80. There was also a flight deck chalet package with access to exclusive seating in the air show area, as well as a fully catered buffet, an open bar, and one of the meet and greets and autograph sessions with some of the performers. However, this package was not cheap and cost $275.

CIAS is always held without a static display

All of the aerial performances at CIAS are performed over Lake Ontario in downtown Toronto and like most large air shows that take place over water, there is no static display of aircraft on the ground. All military demonstration aircraft were based at Toronto's Pearson Airport, 15 km from the air show site, and participating civilian aircraft were based at Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport, 2 km from the show site.

The protests are back every year

Although many were looking forward to the CIAS, not everyone is passionate about the warplanes that make an incredible noise over the city. With each new edition, disgruntled residents express their frustrations. Some object to the noise created by the planes participating in the show and others object to military participation.
But this seems to be quite marginal as a major Toronto media outlet polled the citizens of Toronto with a multiple-choice question on whether citizens thought it was time to cancel the Canadian International Air Show, and a total of 73% of respondents answered either "No, it's a tradition that honours our military" or "No, it's an inspiring show and good for tourism".
The F-35A at full power.
Difficulties for photographers

One thing that doesn't change at CIAS is that the action takes place over Lake Ontario and spectators are far from the action, which is often a kilometer or more from the shore. This forces photographers to use long lenses and the orientation of the site forces them to take pictures against the sun (backlight). Add to that the fact that this year it was hot one day and the other day it was foggy, as the lake produced significant atmospheric blur (haze).

When a main attraction is missing

The much-anticipated Snowbirds from 431 Air Demonstration Squadron at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan had to forfeit their participation in this year's CIAS. The squadron, which has been wowing crowds with its impressive high-precision aerial manoeuvres year after year, was grounded after an accident during take-off at the North Peace Regional Airport in Fort St. John, B.C., on August 2.

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) suspended the Snowbirds' flights and ordered an operational pause of its fleet of venerable Canadair CT-114 Tutors on August 10. The Snowbirds were not to fly until a detailed and extensive operational airworthiness risk assessment had been completed.

The weeks of inaction by the Snowbirds accumulated and although the organizers of the CIAS hoped to receive good news about the team's possible participation in the show until the last minute, they were reluctantly forced to make the announcement on August 27 that the Snowbirds would not be participating in the show, because at the time the cause of the accident was not yet known.


The 74-year-old CIAS has not had a fatal crash since 1995. Organizers and coordinate its safety procedures with Transport Canada, Toronto Police and Emergency Services and the Canadian Army.

All aircraft must adhere to strict safety rules and perform aerobatic maneuvers only in a designated area over Lake Ontario, away from spectators and buildings. Without exception, all aircraft must have a recognized Certificate of Airworthiness, and pilots and crews must hold a recognized Aerobatic Proficiency certificate.

Fighting the elements

The weekend of the CIAS had however started under beautiful weather. On Friday, during the rehearsal, and especially on Saturday, during the first day of the show, CIAS activities took place under a radiant sun with a temperature warm enough for the beginning of September.

However, on Sunday, the organizers of CIAS had to juggle due to the weather and cancel the show to ensure the safety of the performers, crews and spectators. Only one performer with a small plane was able to take to the air at 12:30 to test the weather conditions. Upon his return to the ground, he mentioned that the weather conditions were too limited with a ceiling that was not at 1000 feet; no other pilot was able to take off before the cancellation.

The Monday show was able to take place as a low show with slightly better conditions under a completely overcast and humid sky with a ceiling that was sometimes borderline.

A shorter but diversified program

The CIAS starts at noon and ends fairly quickly around 3 pm. Compared to pre-pandemic years when the programme featured 13 to 14 performers, this year's list was slightly shorter with a total of 12 aerobatic and demonstration teams, including military jets, helicopters, civilian aerobatic aircraft and parachutists. Despite the absence of the Snowbirds, the CIAS was able to put together an exciting program to keep spectators on their toes.
SkyHawks team members with their banner at the media presentation at Billy Bishop Airport in front of the iconic CN Tower.
The Skyhawks - The Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team

The Canadian Forces Parachute Team, the SkyHawks, Canada's only military parachute demonstration team, is based at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario. The team is made up of regular and Reserve Force members. The SkyHawks have performed for over 75 million spectators worldwide since their inception in 1969 and are still proud to fly their parachutes with the Canadian flag.

At the CIAS, the Shyhawks did not perform their usual jump formation, as they had to land in the water. For each jump, they performed a different formation. It had been 12 years since the Skyhawks had participated in the CIAS in Toronto, but they caused a sensation with each jump by landing directly in Lake Ontario.
The SkyHawks made a splash with every jump as they landed directly into Lake Ontario.
Lockheed Martin CC-130J Super Hercules – RCAF

Over the weekend we witnessed a CC-130J Hercules from 436 Transport Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton demonstrate its low-level manoeuvrability capabilities. The aircraft was also used to drop members of the Canadian Forces SkyHawks parachute team.
CF-18 Demo Team – RCAF

This year, Captain Jesse Haggart-Smith, AKA ‘Modem’, from 410 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta, is the CF-18 Demonstration Pilot. True to his predecessors, Captain Haggart-Smith demonstrated the maneuverability and combat capabilities of his CF-18, painted in the operational gray color scheme to reinforce this year's theme of “Fighter Operations at Home and Abroad,” while the geometric pattern referenced the wings of the CF-18's namesake, the Hornet. The honeycomb painting was designed by Capt. Jeff Chester and completed by technicians at 1 Air Maintenance Squadron, 4 Wing, Cold Lake.

The team brought also a replacement aircraft. Both aircraft needed the good care of their technical team during the weekend. On Friday, Captain Haggart-Smith was able to fly his official demonstration aircraft (188794) during the rehearsal, while on Saturday neither of the two jets were able to fly. If Sunday's show had not been cancelled, he would have flown the replacement aircraft as he did on Monday.
CF-18 demonstration pilot Capt. Jesse Haggart-Smith with his technical support team: Cpl Marc-Andre Brault, Cpl Roxanne Gauvreau, Master Cpl. Pierre-Luc Tremblay (Crew Chief) and Master Cpl. Kelly Blanchard (Deputy Crew Chief).
Northern Stars Aeroteam

Northern Stars Aeroteam is a new Canadian aerobatic team, formed in 2019 by Brent Handy with Todd Farrell. It become the only three-plane aerobatic team in Canada with the addition of Greg Hume-Powell in 2022.

Brent Handy, the team leader, became a CF-18 Hornet pilot at age 26 and flew with the famed Canadian Forces Snowbirds team in 2012 / 2013, while Greg Hume-Powell the left wing was part of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
 Todd Farrell, the right wing, has accumulated a total of 31 years of flying experience, 21 of which were in the Royal Canadian Air Force, having flown the C-17 Globemaster III, among 40 different aircraft types during his lifetime.

The aircraft flown by the Northern Stars Aeroteam trio, the Pitts Special S2 biplane, is amazing in its own right, a modern, stronger and more powerful version of a 1940's style aircraft, with a design that has not changed much over the years. Their formation aerobatics routine combined discipline and precision with adrenaline-filled tumbles, torque rolls and loops that made spectators’ hearts race.
Kyle Fowler with The Long EZ

Kyle Fowler was back at CIAS 2022, flying his unique-looking 1986 Long EZ with its bright yellow delta canard. He described his demonstration as “high energy and glider type aerobatics; it's all about looping and rolling gracefully, but at the same time I reach over 200 knots consistently throughout my routine”.

His aircraft, a Rutan Model 61 Long-EZ, is a two-seat, homebuilt tandem aircraft designed by the Rutan Aircraft Factory in 1979. It has a canard plan, swept wing with wing tip rudders, 160HP Lycoming engine with a pusher type propeller and tricycle landing gear. The aircraft is designed for fuel-efficient long-haul flight and can fly for more than 10 hours and up to 2,500 kilometers on 200 liters of fuel. A 2021 census indicated that 833 Long EZs were registered with the FAA in the United States.
CH-146 Griffon 424 Search and Rescue Squadron 'Tigers' – RCAF

A CIAS regular, the CH-146 Griffon helicopter from 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron (TIGERS) of 8 Wing at nearby RCAF Trenton, Ontario, demonstrated the aircraft's capabilities. A Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter (UTTH) that has been in service in Canada since 1995, the Griffon displayed its search and rescue (SAR) capabilities, where two Search and Rescue (SAR) divers could be seen diving into the cold water of Lake Ontario and rescuing a person who was simulating distress.
Gordon Price and his Yak-50

Gordon Price, the legendary Canadian pilot now almost 81 years old, announced his retirement at the end of this season. The man who flew CF-104 Starfighters at Mach 2.2 (1632 m.p.h.) during the Cold War, who in the ‘80s represented Canada at three World Aerobatic Championships and who was an airline pilot with Air Canada for 36 years, flying airliners ranging from DC-9s to Boeing 747-400s, and who had returned to aerobatics in 2012, is leaving the world of airshows.

But before leaving, for the last time in Toronto after four decades of shows, he gave us quite a display of aerobatics with his YAK -50 (C-FYGP), with which he performed high-energy maneuvers at the limits of the human body.

Gordon's 2022 season ended on a high note with a call from Lieutenant Colonel Denis Bandet, Commanding Officer of RCAF Snowbird Squadron 431, to inform Gordon that he will be inducted as an honorary Snowbird. Happy retirement Gordon.
Gordon Price, the legendary pilot of the Canadian aviation world, now almost 81 years old.
Brent Handy and his Beautiful Pitts S-2B Special

Canadian Brent Handy, the team leader of the Northern Stars Aeroteam, which impressed us more than anything in the show, returned for a very exciting solo performance flying his PITTS S-2B Special in the AERORECIP colors. His solo routine was very different from the team one, with low altitude movements and high-energy maneuvers at high G’s with smoke, that gave the audience chills.
CT-155 Hawk from15 Wing Moose Jaw – RCAF

One CT-155 Hawk used to train frontline fighter pilots at 15 Wing Moose Jaw made a very short (two passes), non-acrobatic appearance, quite far from the shore in front of the thousands of spectators lining Lake Ontario.
Louis Horschel with the P-51 Mustang 'Mad Max'

Louis Horschel, a veteran pilot with over 1,000 hours of flight time on Mustangs, flew his first display at CIAS. He gave us a very convincing demonstration of the power and maneuverability of his Mustang, whose 12-cylinder Allison engine sound is incomparable.

‘Mad Max’ (NL51MX) has undergone many transformations over its history. Originally designated as a P-51D Mustang in 1944, it was redesignated as an F-51-D in 1948 when the USAF introduced a new designation system, changing from ‘P’ for ‘Pursuit’ to ‘F’ for ‘Fighter’. In the 1960s, Trans-Florida Aviation converted it to a two-seat ‘TF-51D’ dual control Mustang Cavalier and finally rebuilt it in the mid-2000s at Fort Wayne, IN, using a new fuselage and components from two other USAF Mustangs.
CC-150 Polaris – RCAF

As with the Hawk, an RCAF CC-150 Polaris aircraft came from 437 Squadron located at 8 Wing in Trenton, Ontario, to make a very short (two passes) non-acrobatic appearance for spectators lining Lake Ontario. The Airbus CC-150 Polaris is the military designation for civilian Airbus A310-300s that have been converted into long-range, multi-purpose jets for VIP passengers, cargo, medical and air-to-air refueling operations for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team, Hill AFB. – USAF

For the second year in a row, Toronto aviation enthusiasts were offered the chance to see F-35A Lightning II maneuvers with Major Kristin ‘BEO’ Wolfe, a fighter pilot with an impressive track record for her young age, including over 800 hours of flight time and instructor pilot ratings on both the F-22A Raptor and the F-35A Lightning II.

Major Wolfe's approximately 18-minute routine highlighted the capabilities of the F-35A, including its agility and high-gravity maneuverability, and this year a very important addition has been made. During several maneuvers such as the half Cuban eight, the minimum radius turn and Lightning loop, and the square loop, Major Wolfe launched real anti-missile thermal decoys (flares), a total of about 50, during the routine.

Note that this new addition to the routine is only possible for events held over water as it uses real combat flares that emit very intense heat.

The USAF F-35A demonstration team of about 13 maintenance and support airmen joined us from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, but in an unusual twist, the aircraft used during the weekend by Major Wolfe had the ‘VT’ emblem on the tail, as they were loaned and flown to Toronto by the Vermont Air National Guard, the ‘Green Mountain Boys’, from Burlington, Vermont.

Captain Kip D. Sumner, the team's public affairs advisor, told us that it was simply more practical and less expensive to do so for the USAF. Moving two planes from Utah involved several hours of flying with in-flight or ground refueling and all the logistics that entails, whereas for the “Green Mountain Boys” to fly two planes to Toronto from Burlington, involved a 30 to 40-minute direct flight without refueling.
Now that the Canadian government's choice of aircraft to replace Canada's aging CF-18 Hornet fleet has been determined to be the F-35A, this year's demonstration was of greater interest to many Canadians who were curious to see our future 5th generation, multi-role, agile, versatile, high-performance and 9g-capable fighter; an aircraft that combines stealth with unprecedented situational awareness for pilots offers game-changing interoperability and lethality for Canada.

The CIAS 2022 offered us another great show, despite the forfeit of its flagship attraction the RCAF Snowbirds. The performers from both sides of the border offered spectacular performances with a variety of aircraft from different eras.

For its return to a regular format, the public was there despite the rather capricious weather on some days, and to compensate for the fact that the pay site was the only place where one could hear the narration in the past, this year the CIAS innovated by offering the live stream broadcast of the show, allowing the hundreds of thousands of spectators gathered along the 14 km of Lake Ontario shoreline to hear the narration simultaneously.

We are already looking forward to the 2023 edition, for which we have confirmed the arrival of the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels air demonstration squadron.
Like his predecessors, Captain Haggart-Smith demonstrated the maneuverability and combat capabilities of his CF-18.