2013 Great Lakes International Airshow

Since there aren’t many airshows happening in the depths of winter, of late I’ve found myself continually revisiting photographs and memories from airshows past! Although I really miss summer, the season of airshows, it’s fun to look back at great airshows past and to eagerly anticipate the coming airshow season!

One of the best airshows I’ve been to was the 2013 Great Lakes International Airshow at St. Thomas Municipal Airport. St. Thomas is an old railway hub and is also my home town; and though it only has a small airport and a population of around 30,000, the biannual airshow is always fantastic!

St. Thomas Municipal Airport is situated a few minutes outside the city, amidst fields of crops and popular greenhouses. It’s a pretty setting, reminiscent of the old airfield at Duxford, Oxfordshire– and the flat terrain is perfect for watching an airshow! I attended the 2013 show with my dad and brother, and we watched from a nearby clearing outside of the airport grounds in order to avoid the crowds. Our vantage point was surrounded by a few annoying trees, and we couldn’t see any of the performers’ takeoff runs, but it did turn out to be the best spot we could have possibly picked!

Snowbird Ground GLIAS 2013

A field of something in front of a Snowbird (CT-114 Tutor) preparing for the show

The Snowbirds aerobatic team began the show, which was a bit unusual. I’m used to seeing them more towards the end of an airshow! But they put on a very nice performance; perhaps the best I’ve ever seen from them. There was some cloud cover, but we still had a wonderful view of their manoeuvres, and they performed all around and overhead which was so exciting!

Snowbirds GLIAS 2013

A beautiful sweeping manoeuvre by four Snowbirds

Snowbirds GLIAS 2013 Formation

The Snowbirds are renowned worldwide for their formation flying

Snowbirds GLIAS 2013

Precision and guts are crucial to displays like the Snowbirds’!

Snowbirds GLIAS 2013

A good view of a Snowbird’s distinctive underbelly colouring

Next out, as the sun began to show itself, were the Harvards! A favourite of mine since childhood, the Harvards always impress me.

Harvards Formation GLIAS 2013

The four sunny-yellow Harvards glinting in the sun

Harvard GLIAS 2013

A Harvard coming in for landing. All the airplanes came right past us as they were on approach

Another favourite aircraft present was the C-130 Hercules. A mainstay of the Royal Canadian Air Force for the past 60 years, this enormous plane is used for transporting troops and supplies to even poorly-appointed airfields. Four turboprops power this 38-ton aircraft, which continues to feature strongly in Canada’s military operations.

Herc GLIAS 2013

Very occasionally, a Hercules flies over my house… a real treat!

Herc GLIAS 2013

Hardly the definition of aviation elegance, but I love this aircraft

Following the large and lumbering Hercules, we watched a BAC Strikemaster dance through the air. Used as a trainer and attack aircraft, the Strikemaster is no longer extensively operated, but it has enjoyed some popularity with private owners.

Strikemaster GLIAS 2013

One Rolls-Royce turbojet is enough to provide this small plane with admirable performance

A highlight of the 2013 show was the appearance of a beautifully restored, bare-metal finish B-17. An American icon, the B-17 Flying Fortress was a heavy bomber lauded for its ability to take heavy damage and remain flying. This particular B-17, named Sentimental Journey, served in the Pacific Theatre and was also involved in post-war nuclear tests.

B-17 GLIAS 2013

I’d been really excited to see the B-17!

B-17 Low GLIAS 2013

This was a truly gorgeous plane, and we got some incredible views of it

I hardly thought the show could get better after seeing the B-17… but it could, and it did!! After a few moments of silence, we heard a roar from the direction of the airport. Although we couldn’t see anything, we knew that it could only be one thing- the CF-18 Hornet, Canada’s current fighter jet! Sure enough, it soon zipped past us with a graceful fury that was breathtaking.

Hornet GLIAS 2013

The CF-18 has excellent controllability, even at the high angle of attack demonstrated here

There’s something so amazing about jet-powered aircraft, in particular. The power they possess is insane, and they just amaze me. Even though they lack the history and nostalgia of WWII-era piston-driven aircraft, for example, they have an appeal uniquely their own. I always look forward to the CF-18’s appearance at every airshow!

Hornet GLIAS 2013

I love the vapour coming off the wings’ trailing edges in this photo

Hornet GLIAS 2013

Every year the CF-18 demo team flies a new paint scheme. 2013’s was a nice one, with a prominent maple leaf on the tail

It was during the CF-18’s demonstration that we realized what an exceptional vantage point we had. It’s customary to see a High Alpha pass, several near-vertical climbs, and a gear-down pass from the CF-18 in its performance. The manoeuvre I like the best, however, is the high-speed pass. I imagine the demo pilot must feel the same way- because this is when he gets to roar past the crowd at a speed just barely under Mach 1!

At this airshow, although I was anticipating it, I was hardly ready for the high-speed pass. The CF-18 neared us at an exceptionally low altitude, and before I could believe what was happening, it was directly overhead! The noise was immense, and I was totally shocked by how fast and low it had gone! Fortunately, I’ve overcome the fear of loud noises that plagued me as a child; so I was able to (just) get a photo of the pass instead of covering my ears!

Hornet Low Pass GLIAS 2013

I still marvel at this pass. It was unbelievable

Needless to say, we were very glad that we’d stayed away from the airshow grounds! I’m not sure the lady sitting beside us was so thrilled, however- she made an awful fuss about how loud the Hornet had been.

Hornet GLIAS 2013


The Hornet is an ungainly creature with its gears down!

“Stellar” and “exceptional” hardly describe this airshow appropriately! It was just wonderful, and writing about it on this dark December day might have given me just enough satisfaction to hold out until July, when airshows will be held again!


13 thoughts on “2013 Great Lakes International Airshow

  1. I really enjoyed this post. It resonates because you’re SO right – past air shows do stay with us for ages. I feel like I can remember every one I’ve ever been to (and it’s a good feeling).

  2. If you ever have the opportunity to tour a B-17, do it. This summer, I spent over two hours in a B-17 with a friend who is a retired pilot and a docent at an air museum. Try to do the tour at a time when there aren’t a lot of people around. Sit in the plane and let your imagination run. Anytime you can spend time in a four-engine World War II aircraft is without price.

  3. There’s some great nostalgia in these pics for me!

    I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. The base still belonged to Air Command at the time and I grew up with Hercs flying over almost everyday. I joined the Air Cadets as a teen and got a ride in one once; elegant design they ain’t, but timeless for certain.

    I also remember poking around inside that exact B-17 when it and an He-111 were brought to the Alberta Aviation Museum for a visit several years ago. Definitely not a place for claustrophobes! Sadly, in 2003, the He-111 was lost in a fatal crash in Wyoming.

    Even though we have some great demo teams in Europe, the Frecce Tricolori and Turkish Stars are personal favorites, I still do miss the Snowbirds’ show.

    Thanks for the nostalgia trip. 🙂

    • I’m so happy that my post brought back such great memories for you! I’d love to fly in a Herc someday; that must have been an incredible experience. Lucky you to have toured a B-17 and an He-111! I’m saddened to hear about the He-111- it’s such a shame when historic aircraft are lost, and it’s a further tragedy when lives are lost at the same time. I hope that someday I’ll make it to Europe to see some of those demo teams- and I hope that you’ll return to Canada to see the Snowbirds again someday! Thanks so much for reading, and for your comment! 🙂

  4. What a great vantage point you selected! And indeed sometimes, these “secret” vantage points are the best for fighter jet fly-by’s at nearly the speed of sound! I love to feel the sound waves bounce off my chest as he turns on his afterburners not far above us. My buds and i refer to them fondly as “car alarm verification” runs as nearly all the car alarms are set off by the vibrations.

    I am ever so lucky. I live near the Chino Planes of Fame of which i am a member All WWII vintage planes there fly. While i had taken this short vid of the same Sentimental Journey, I believe, there is an annoying dust ball that cannot be removed. It was taken with an older cametra that actually used video tape. B-17 Flying Fortress: http://youtu.be/ATmKlqLl1EQ

    And we need to cherish our memories of these shows as to say. With our leadership unsupportive of the needs of our brave armed forces, air shows have been dwindling… They won’t even do flyovers for events anymore. 😢

    • There’s nothing like the experience of a speeding jet flying overhead! Thanks for sharing that video with me- the sound of the B-17 sure brought back some wonderful memories. I hope that airshows will continue for years and years yet; although governments may be unwilling to support them, I think that the public is eager to see them continue!

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