I just got home. I’m exhausted.
Mark managed to convince Curt at Aviation.ca to get us accredited as media to the Wings and Wheels Niagara airshow. Wings and Wheels is a very small show, but the Snowbirds would be there, and I’m mad keen for the Snowbirds. I haven’t seen them in a few years, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make the Canadian National Exhibition airshow next week. Besides, small airshows have a charm all of their own.
The media pass came with some nice perks. Access to the performers and planes. Entry to the “Evening with the Snowbirds” dinner at the “Oh Canada Eh?” dinner theatre. Maybe more – it was all being worked out between the organizers and Aviation.ca even as we were heading to the show.
I took my film camera instead of my digital. The digital has a longer effective zoom, but I don’t trust it as much for being able to get exactly what I want. Unfortunately that means I’m going to spend a fortune in developing, and I won’t have any pictures for several days.
The “Oh Canada Eh?” theatre was quite entertaining. Surprisingly entertaining even – I thought the concept sounded pretty hokey, but it was well done and fun. That’s where I got to meet Petra, the public affairs officer for the Snowbirds. She turned out to be extremely helpful today. They put all the Snowbirds at different tables, so there was one at each table. We didn’t get a pilot, we got the guy, Dan, who drives their big truck. But he was friendly and had some nice road stories. And he says he’s thrilled to be working with the Snowbirds and really hoping they’ll pick him for next year as well.
Today we got some pretty good access to the flight line and I think I got some good pictures. Unfortunately there were a few little mixups and miscommunications as to where we were allowed to go and when. I’m not complaining – you’ve got several conflicting groups who want to balance exposure and publicity against safety for both the performers and planes and the crowd. For instance, at one time we talked to Petra and Airboss, and they both said we could go to the end of this taxiway to take pictures of the Snowbirds taxiing out, and then retreat to the corner of a hangar once they were in the air. We were assured that this location was outside of the “aerobatic box” protected area. They even sent a security volunteer out with us. I think I got some great pictures, as the Snowbird pilots waved and saluted as they rolled past. But then after they took off, the organizers sent out a couple of more security people to tell us to move back to where the paying crowd was kept, because the Snowbirds were refusing to start the show until we cleared out. That was too bad, and I sorry that I am at least partially responsible for holding up the show. I wish things had been made clearer what zones we were allowed in and when. I would like to suggest that the organizers consider having a briefing on the media day to make sure the different people with the different requirements, from the airboss to the public affairs people to the security volunteers to the pilots and media people are all on the same page.
There were several modifications to the show. The US military people didn’t show up because something came up. The Canadian Forces parachute team showed up in a very strangely painted CASA because their normal Buffalo was having problems, and were only able to get a couple of jumpers through some holes in the clouds. (There is nothing more disappointed looking than parachute jumpers getting out of a plane on the ground.) The Sukoi and Julie Clark did pretty much their usual shows. The CF-18 did its usual good job, with without the trademark afterburner climb up out of sight. Well, he did but he was out of sight at about 5,000 feet. And the Snowbirds did their “low show”.
The “low show” maybe is missing some of the cool maneuvers of their “high show”. But because the planes make lots of low passes, it’s easier to get some good photo shots. At least I hope so – I’ll let you know when I get the PhotoCDs back. Like I said before though, I haven’t seen the Snowbirds in a few years, and I’d never seen them do opposing “duos” with two planes in each direction. That was pretty cool.
The Snowbirds show got cut short by a few minutes when they reported that Snowbird 1 had hit more than one bird. Sometimes when one plane hits a bird or has a mechanical, the pilot comes back and takes Snowbird 10 or 11 (depending on whether he needs a left handed or right handed plane). But as he was doing a precautionary emergency landing, along comes Snowbird 5 doing the same. In the autograph line afterwards, Snowbird 1 said that 1 and 5 weren’t the only ones who hit birds – evidently the combination of a show near the lake shore and a low show puts both the birds and the Snowbirds in the same airspace.
Until I get my pictures back, I have to say my best souvenir of the show is my laptop. My laptop has a custom vinyl skin I created by getting a picture from the Snowbirds official site and sending it to a site that creates custom skins from submitted pictures. I had a thought last night that I could get it signed by them, and so I dragged it all over the field today. And it was worth it. I got not just the 9 pilots who fly the shows, but also Snowbird 10 and Snowbird 11 who provide the ground support, and Petra their public affairs officer (who I believe is the only non-pilot who gets to wear the Snowbirds red uniform). A lot of them thought it was a cool idea when they saw it, and asked me where I got it. I’ll try to get a picture of it up later.
So in closing I’d like to say a big thank you to Curt at Aviation.ca, to the organizers, to the Snowbirds and especially for Petra, to the Airboss and security for putting up with us, and to Mark for suggesting this.