The Toronto International Air Show is Canada’s largest and longest-running aeronautical event and it happens right in the heart of the city’s downtown, over Labour Day Weekend. Thanks to the Covid pandemic, the show was cancelled in 2020 but it was back for the 2021 edition.
It all started in 1946 when the National Aeronautical Association of Canada organized the first event at the de Havilland Canada manufacturing plant, located at the Downsview Airport. In 1949 it was transferred to the Exhibition Place, in downtown Toronto.
The TIAS is a bit different from other air shows in North America since it is not held at an airport, which means there are no static displays, only the airplanes performing maneuvers above lake Ontario.
My wife and I went to see it for the first time on Sunday, September 05, and we concluded that the lack of static display is perfectly replaced by the charming Toronto’s Waterfront, the event’s attendees had 14 kilometres of stunning beautiful Lake Ontario beaches, adorned by well-trimmed gardens. We sat on our camping chairs in the shade of a tree, the day was sunny but not too hot, 26 degrees Celsius; a Sunday afternoon doesn’t get any better than this.
The show is a 3 days event, Friday is reserved for practice, from 10 am to 2 pm and Saturday and Sunday the pilots perform their stunts from 12 to 3 pm.
Here they are, the most interesting participants of the show:
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
Perhaps the most anticipated performer this year was the controversial F-35 Lightning II.
The stealth fighter was piloted by major Kristin “BEO” Wolfe, she is the first female commander of the USAF’s F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team, leading a 13 member squad. The performance was breathtaking, it was truly amazing seeing the Lightning II in action, right in front of us.
Canada has a complicated relationship with the F-35, the country was invited to be part of its development and then to acquire it as a replacement for its ageing fleet of F-18 Hornets but when the Lightning II finally became operational, the Canadian government refused to place an order, alleging the high costs of maintenance and the fighter’s capabilities are much above the necessities of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The F-35 was born already bearing a huge responsibility, to live up to the name of its predecessor, the Lockheed P38 Lightning, one the most advanced and successful American fighters in WWII.
The F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighter, with a singular advantage, the main design can be modified to adapt the aircraft to the necessities of the three American military branches, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines. The development has been plagued with all sorts of problems, from severe design flaws to ballooning cost and orders delay. The Lightning II is the most expensive weapons program ever, expected to cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion over its 60-year lifespan.
McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet.
No Canadian air show is complete without the presence of the CF-18 Hornet, the Canadian variant of the American Navy fighter AF-18. The plane has been performing the fighter duties for the RCAF since 1982, and now that its lifetime is pretty much over, the Canadian government is having a hard time finding a replacement, since they don’t want to spend a lot of money. Even second-hand Hornets from the Australian Air Force are being considered as a good option.
P-51 D Mustang “Quick Silver”
Probably one of the most beautiful P-51 you can find now a days, the Quick Silver is a father and son project, Bill and Scooter Yoak built this plane from over 200 Mustang parts and projects.
According to the website quicksilver mustang.com, Bill Yoak did all of the metalwork and a lot of parts are handmade. Unlike the hurried war effort parts, these are made with the skill and care of a master craftsman and obtain the utmost attention to detail necessary to restore this Mustang to a condition better than factory new in 1945.
It is impossible not to have goosebumps seeing the Quick Silver in action, the sound of the V12 Merlin and the powerful meaning of the black and white D-Day stripes make the performance one of the highlights of the show.
Canadair CT-114 Tutor
The Tutor was the primary jet trainer for the RCAF from 1963 until its retirement in 2000, generations of Canadian fighter pilots had their first contact with a jet plane at the controls of a Tutor, and for that reason, the little jet has a special place in their hearts.
The plane was chosen to equip the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron when it was created, in the early 1970s, the squadron, more popularly known as “The Snowbirds”, is a guaranteed presence at any Canadian air show, and the public just love them.
The CT-114 Tutor is a simple, sturdy and reliable machine but the RCAF can’t keep them flying forever, the avionics, ejection seats, and brakes are utterly outdated and on top of that, there is the natural difficulty of finding spare parts. The consensus among the military is that a jet plane designed in the late 1950s doesn’t reflect the image of a modern air force and the procedures to find a replacement began as early as 2003, but the Canadian government decided to modernize the Snowbirds Tutors instead of replacing them, pushing their life to 2030.
Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina
I am fascinated with old flying boats since I was a kid and seeing one in action that day was just amazing. The Catalina probably was the most widely used seaplane of WWII, thanks to its incredible long range of 4,000 plus km and its load capacity of 2000 pounds of bombs and torpedos. The Catalina fought extensively against the German U- boats in the Atlantic and also during the Pacific War against the Japanese Navy.
The Canadian Catalinas are known as “Canso” and they were built by either Boeing Canada or Canadian Vickers, the one that performed at the show belongs to the Canadian Heritage War Plane Museum which has an amazing collection of airworthy warbirds, including an Avro Lancaster. https://www.warplane.com/
A little history lesson
Cansos served with eleven RCAF Squadrons in WW II. They operated from both coasts and were employed in coastal patrols, convoy protection and submarine hunting. RCAF No. 162 Squadron, when stationed in Iceland and Scotland in 1944, accounted for the six German U-boat sinkings made by RCAF Cansos.
After the Second World War, Cansos served with the RCAF in photo reconnaissance and search and rescue roles, until they were finally retired November 1962.
The Museum’s Canso was manufactured in 1944, by Canadian Vickers in Montreal and served with the RCAF until 1961. It continued in commercial operations until 1995. The Canso was acquired in 1995 through generous donations from Canadians Resident Abroad Inc. It is now painted in the colours and markings of RCAF No. 162 Squadron and is dedicated to Flt. Lt. David Hornell, VC, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. On June 24 1944, he and his crew sank the German submarine U-1225. During the attack, the aircraft was shot down and Hornell and his crew spent more than 20 hours floating in the cold Atlantic, before being rescued. Sadly, Hornell died from exposure shortly after his rescue.
The uncertain future of the show.
For those who crave speed and the sound of engines, air shows are like paradise, but for some residents of the downtown Toronto area, the TIAS is just a nuisance. Certainly, the noise and the traffic jam can be pretty annoying and during a time when the Canadian government is trying to cut down the carbon emissions, an event where hundreds of gallons of fossil fuels are burned in the name of entertainment really seems odd.
Another concern is that Toronto has a large population of refugees who came from war-torn countries and the sound of military jets blasting over the city can bring some painful memories and accentuate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But for thousands of Torontonians, the show is a delight, undoubtedly it is an inspiration for the kids to one day become a pilot or an aeronautical engineer. The show can also be a history lesson, another opportunity to remember those who gave so much fighting for our freedom.