After the wildfires of 2017 forced the cancellation of SkyFest two years ago, Quesnel’s International Airshow returned this year after a four-year absence.
There were many impressive airplanes at SkyFest over the weekend with beautiful paint jobs, powerful engines and interesting histories, but the people flying — and jumping out of — those aircraft were just as impressive, and we would like to introduce you to some of them.
Canadian Forces Snowbirds
Capt. Scott Boyd, who is originally from Burnaby, flies Snowbird 4 in the First Line Astern position, while Capt. Logan Reid, who is originally from Victoria, flies Snowbird 8, the Opposing Solo. They were both posted to 431 (Air Demonstration) Squadron in Moose Jaw, Sask., in 2018, and this is their first year with the Snowbirds.
Boyd has wanted to be a Snowbird since he was six or seven years old, and being part of this team is fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“For me, it’s been incredibly rewarding,” he said of being a Snowbird. “Flying the airshow is just fantastic. Obviously the flying is amazing and what I always dreamed of, but getting to travel Canada and North America, meet people from all over the country and really show them what we’re doing and what the Canadian Forces is doing is just an incredible experience — especially in some of the smaller towns, places like Peace River, where we just were, Camrose before that and Quesnel; exposing people to something they might not see very often or get a chance to see is an amazing experience.”
Reid grew up going to airshows in Abbotsford and Comox, and he says he always inspired by the Snowbirds and the CF-18 Demo Team. When he was posted to Moose Jaw as a flight instructor, seeing the Snowbirds train really stoked that fire.
“It’s just such an extreme privilege,” said Reid. “For me, growing up wanting to be a Snowbird and getting to be in the cockpit on the other side of things is incredibly rewarding … just to be able to have that full-circle moment and inspire both young Canadians and old Canadians and really Americans all across the board to do whatever inspires them, whatever challenging thing they have in their life to tackle it head-on, and just to represent the Canadian Forces in general — that’s our job, to go out there and meet Canadians and our closes allies, the Americans, and spread the good news of the Canadian Forces and the good work we are doing across the globe and here at home and really demo that professionalism and teamwork they are doing every day.”
Reid says he has a few top airshow moments so far this year.
“I’d say the first one for me was doing our training season in Comox — it is something we do annually, which gives us a great opportunity to work in a really unique environment that we see on tour, but for me, the very first airshow I remember going to was in Comox, so to then be performing in Comox and training and flying the routine there was very satisfactory,” he said. “I think number one for me, the big moment I had in the cockpit was when we were doing an airshow in a place called Ocean City, Maryland, and it was an incredibly large show, and there were 100 thousand people-plus up and down the beach, and I was rolling out at 5,000 feet and I banked over, and I just looked down and I saw umbrellas as far as I could see. The outreach this team has is incredible.”
Boyd’s airshow highlight so far has been spending time with a veteran and his family.
“I think for me, I had the opportunity in Boundary Bay a few weeks ago to meet a veteran and his family — I think he was 92 years old, he was an ex-Canadian Forces pilot; it was kind of his last wish to come out to the airshow one last time, so I got to meet him and his family, and I got them into the VIP area and showed them the airplane,” he said. “Just to be able to see the impact I was able to have on him and his family was just an incredible thing for me. It was a really touching experience.”
The SkyHawks is Canada’s only military parachute demonstration team, and the team is based out of Trenton, Ont., at the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre. Team members are from various occupations of the Army, Navy and Air Force and from both Regular and Reserve Forces.
Cpl. Kyle VanGenne, who is from Dawson Creek, is currently posted to the Canadian Forces Environmental Medical Establishment in Toronto. This is his first season with the SkyHawks.
“Oddly enough, I got an email from another military friend of mine that I work with saying the SkyHawks were putting on a recruiting push for the 2019 season,” he said. “He and I had just finished doing our CSPA, which is our Canadian licence Level A, and we immediately fell in love with the sport right off the bat, and I decided ‘what’s the worst that can happen? I love skydiving, and I’d like to do more advanced skydiving,’ and this was an opportunity. I asked, and everything worked out.”
VanGenne has loved the experience so far.
“It’s unlike anything you’re ever going to get in the military, so far that I’ve seen,” he said. “You train as if you’re at an army field unit, just all the time, but you have so much freedom to go from one end of the country to the other, just talking to people and the media — it’s something I don’t think you can really get anywhere else. It’s an amazing experience. Our team is really close-knit this year; we all like to joke around and have a good time, but when it’s time to go to work, we go to work, and I think we put on some really great shows every time we step onto that plane.”
Master Cpl. Dustin Renz, who serves with the Military Police at CFB Esquimalt, is originally from New Lowell, Ont.
“I’ve been in the CF now for 11 years,” he said. “Last summer, I got sent up to the Yukon with work, and there was a little drop zone set up there just for a month in the summer. It was something I always thought about doing. I gave it a shot once — it was only going to be a one-jump thing – and then 13 jumps later, I got my full licence up in the Yukon. I kind of joked about being on the SkyHawks last year, but as I started doing more jumping, I realized it was something I might be able to achieve by this season. I ended up buying my own parachute and doing a bunch of jumping in Victoria, where I live, then when the opportunity came up to apply, I applied, and they took me to training camp, and I was selected for the team this year.”
Renz and VanGenne both say training camp was a lot of fun. They spent five weeks training in California.
“The best way to think about it is the way it was described to us — it’s like drinking from a fire hose,” said VanGenne. “You get hit with so much information right off the bat for a specific formation, and then you just jump, jump, jump all day long.”
“And it’s a skydiving discipline that very few people actually do — it’s called canopy relative work, which is the formation-type canopies that we do,” added Renz. “You always learn to not fly your parachute near each other, and here, you’re kind of purposely crashing into each other. It’s something that’s not unique to the military, but there are not a whole lot of people who do it in the world, so you get a lot of really cool training.”
For Renz, getting to travel across the country to places he never expected to go to is the best part of performing in airshows.
“We get to meet people from all different backgrounds and different sides of the country, and it’s kind of a cool opportunity to travel and see some pretty amazing drop zones from the sky that very few skydivers ever get to see,” he said.
The people are the big draw for VanGenne.
“I had my sister come out to two of my shows, so I’m pretty lucky in that regard, and at my last show, she said ‘it’s amazing the way the kids look at you — they look at you like you’re superheroes,’” he said. “You just think ‘maybe I changed somebody’s life, inspired them to try something new or be more adventurous, who knows.’ Being able to see the smiles on people’s faces is pretty fulfilling for sure.
“Plus, skydiving for your 9-to-5 day job is not terrible,” he added with a laugh. “Let’s not pretend this isn’t a super fun job all the time.”
Rick Kopp and the Bone Shaker Jet Truck
Bone Shaker is a 1982 International race truck, a 4300 Trans Star, with a J-79 Phantom engine out of the F4 Phantom fighter jet.
“Under National Hot Rod Association, that’s the biggest engine you can use,” explained driver Rick Kopp. “This produces 18,000 horsepower and 36,000 pounds of thrust with afterburner. It is a blast, no pun intended. Once the afterburner kicks in, it’s like a Mac truck hitting you from behind. It just takes off.”
Kopp says the truck can run 275 miles an hour.
“Tomorrow, we’ll most likely run somewhere around the 240, 250 mark, so for a truck, that’s pretty fast,” he said Friday afternoon.
Kopp got into jet truck racing after many years of racing motocross and dragsters.
“Then, we, my fiancée and I, wanted to do something we could do together where we don’t need a whole crew, just have fun and travel the country together,” he said. “We got into our original jet truck, which was called Pyro, and we did that for three seasons, and then we built this one.”
Kopp and Christine Palmer built the whole back half of Bone Shaker in six months. They have their own shop in Burlington, Ont. The couple travels across Canada and the U.S., and they will travel down to Mexico this summer.
Kopp says people “absolutely love” this truck when they see it in action.
“They love everything about it, the look of it, the colour of it,” he said. “It is amazing. Kids, adults, no matter what, everybody just loves it.”
During an airshow, the truck shoots flames out the back, which is the original afterburner. Kopp is the only driver, and Palmer plugs him in, he does the fire up, they make sure everything is OK, and then Palmer sets him loose. Kopp wears a No. 20 fire safety suit, gloves, helmet, a fire-retardant glove over his head and everything.
Kent Pietsch and his Jelly Belly plane
Kent Pietsch comes from Minot, North Dakota, and he has been flying since he was a teen.
“I grew up in a flying family, so consequently, at 16 years old, I got training enough to fly by myself, then at 17, I got my private flying licence and at 18, I got my commercial licence, and then I started flying air ambulance and charter and did some spraying,” he said. “In 1973, I bought this airplane from my uncle, and in 1974, I started doing airshows with it. It’s been amazing. I do three different acts with it. I do a comedy act where the airplane falls apart in the sky — and I do that to show people an airplane can lose parts and still fly good to give people confidence in airplanes. The other thing I do is shut the engine off over a mile high, and I do aerobatics down to the ground, and then I have a person hold their hand out — because I’m gliding with a prop stop, no power, all the way down from 6,000 feet, and I’ll come to a stop and put the prop in their hand — to show you can accurately land within an inch after losing power at over a mile high.”
The other act Pietsch does is land on top of a landing rack on a truck.
“I have about eight inches on each side to see, and I land on it and stop, and then we get it going again and take off,” he said.
After so many years of performing, Pietsch says he stays excited about it because he enjoys the people.
“And I love the flying,” he said. “I always love the flying. It’s been fun. I retired from the airline early so I could keep doing this kind of stuff.”
Pietsch has done the comedy and dead stick routines since 1974, and he started doing the truck landing in 2002.
Pietsch has flown in Quesnel a couple of times.
“I’m really glad to be back,” he said. “These people run a fantastic show. I think it’s really going to be a good one. They have a lot of entertainment here. It’s beautiful country up here. People are really friendly.”
Pietsch has been sponsored by Jelly Belly for the past 17 years, and he brings along Jelly Belly samples, which makes him even more popular with the autograph-seekers.
Pietsch flies a bright yellow Interstate Cadet that was built in 1941 by Interstate Manufacturing in El Segundo, Calif.
The airplane has a 90-horsepower engine and weighs about 840 pounds. It has a wingspan of 35 feet and is made of fabric, metal tubing for the fuselage, wooden spars, and aluminum ribs.
“It’s very light,” said Pietsch. “I like it because you can get pretty much freedom. You can fly it anywhere in the United States, anywhere in Canada, Mexico. I’ve had it over to the United Arab Emirates, I’ve been to Australia. You get a bird’s-eye-view of this place, and it’s beautiful. The problem that happens with people is they don’t get to see out of an airplane what an airplane really is — you get loaded up in a tube, you get a little window to look out, you don’t even know you’re in the air basically, and you don’t even get to see anything.”
CF-18 Demonstration Team
Based on the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)’s motto Sic Itur Ad Astra (which is Latin for “such is the pathway to the stars”), the 2019 CF-18 Demonstration Team celebrates the history of the RCAF, recognizes the innovative and driven Canadians who have led the charge for change and stand ready to inspire a new generation to take up the flame of innovation and help shape the RCAF’s pathway to the stars.
The 2019 season also provides an opportunity to highlight the RCAF’s operational role within NATO, as NATO celebrates its 70th anniversary.
This year’s jet is being flown by Capt. Brian Kilroy, who was born in Grande Prairie, Alb., and joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2006.
In keeping with this theme of inspiring a new generation, during Sunday’s show, the CF-18 Demonstration Team gave 17-year-old Josh Ironmonger from 396 City of Prince George Air Cadets a chance to get up close and personal with the fighter jet and meet the team’s technicians. Ironmonger brought his twin sister, Katerina, who is also an air cadet. They had a chance to climb up and see the cockpit and walk on the wing.
Ironmonger has been in Air Cadets for six years.
“I really like flying and airplanes,” he said. “At the time, six years ago, that was really interesting, but as I got more into it, just becoming a senior, teaching, all that really kept me in it.”
Ironmonger was very excited to get to see the CF-18 Hornet in a way most people never get to.
“It’s amazing, honestly,” he said.