A notch off my birthday bucket list was sky high

A trip to the annual air show near Edmonton in this week’s Hammertime column

My 75th birthday is still a week or so away, but last weekend I got a fabulous gift of a lifetime and another notch ticked off my ‘bucket list’.

My wife Joyce treated me to the thrilling 2017 Edmonton Air Show at a jam-packed Villeneuve Airport.

The really big show was called ‘Sky’s The Limit’ and it didn’t take very long for the 15,000 plus of us to know why — as four magnificent, noisy and adrenaline pumping hours unfolded courtesy of some magnificent men and women in their vintage flying machines as they roared back and forth and high into the deep blue sky with coloured smoke trails streaming behind them, and then rolled and tumbled back towards the ground while performing spectacular stunts at breakneck speeds that literally took your breath away from start to finish.

The two day event was colourfully themed and dedicated to our gala 2017 Canada 150 celebration, but it was also a wonderful and exciting re-creation and heartfelt salute to this Nation’s long, spectacular and barnstorming glory days of our amazing aviation history.

Special recognition was also extended to those dedicated personnel, leaders, builders and inventors, as well as a host of great pilots and characters who bravely experimented and then flew by the seat of their pants both on the ground and in the sky and have proudly led the way over land and sea for ten amazing decades and counting.

The performance was led by our famous Canadian Forces Snowbirds 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, which was formed in 1967 and has turned in countless hundreds of exciting performances at 600 kilometres an hour throughout Canada, North America and the world.

Our skilled Snowbirds team of pilots and support personnel proudly represent our Army, Navy and Air force and were decked out in the multi-colours of Canada.

During their thrilling 30 minute presentation, the nine CT-114 Tutor Jets fly in a tight formation where their wing-tips are only five feet apart. Unfortunately the classic Canadian Forces Parachute team, who have performed for 75 million spectators throughout the world over the past 40 years, were not able to perform on Saturday because of a strong wind.

Most of the planes taking part in the air show, which will now be an annual event every third weekend in August, were powerful bi-wing planes and single-wing models of many years gone by and going all the way back to service in the wars, and are now proudly performing year-round throughout the world.

All of these highly skilled pilots have flown, worked and instructed in all facets of the lucrative aviation industry for many decades, with some logging over 20,000 hours of flying time. Many now being well into their sixties and loving every moment of their ‘fast freedom flings’ up among the clouds.

Among the wild and wonderful acts were: Kent Pietch a comedy flying dare-devil from North Dakota, who has been performing with his 1942 Interstate Cadet called ‘Jelly Belly’ in over 400 airshows since 1973 and loves to turn off his engine off at 10,000 feet and glide to a marked spot on the tarmac; the powerful single-jet 1942 DeHavilland DH-Vampire Jet which served as an interceptor in WW2; and Bill Carter, a local Alberta boy who flew for 39 years as a commercial pilot, but now puts his Pitts Special S2S through thrilling manoeuvres that include tailspins, snap rolls, hammerheads and then ends with a spine-tingling mile long upside down adventure that finally snips a ribbon only 15 feet above the air-strip.

An exhilarating World War II fly-pass, complete with original WWII music and commentary featured the defensive antics and mighty power of the Lockheed P-38 Tangerine, the P-51 Mustang, the P-47D Thunderbolt, the Curtis P-40E Kitty Hawk, the F4U Corsair #40, as well as a Russian Yak 18T and three of those extremely noisy early Harvard trainers, two of which are housed here at the Ponoka Airport.

Gary Ward, who has been flying since he was 16 years of age, now performs in his ‘pumped up’ MX2 carbon fiber monoplane and takes part in airshows throughout North America, Canada and beyond on most weekends of the year.

The wily 67 year old veteran defines it best for all of these highly skilled, meticulous, and safety conscious stunt pilots and their crews — “Flying is a wonderful sensation because of the sense of freedom and magic that we feel up there, where if we aren’t living on the edge, we are likely taking up too much room.”

They all want to share their passion for aviation as well as to encourage the next generation to take to the skies.

As for myself, I guess most of the dare-devil has now been and gone, but I really enjoyed that once in a lifetime air show just sitting in my comfortable chair on the ground sipping coffee and nibbling mini-donuts among really great company. Have a great week, all of you.

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