Air boss John Smutny stands in the field that will soon be filled with spectators watching the Snowbirds, SkyHawks and more during SkyFest Aug. 2-4 at the Quesnel Regional Airport. Smutny arrived in Quesnel July 31 to prepare for this weekend’s performances. Lindsay Chung photo

Snowbirds, SkyHawks and more set to wow audiences at SkyFest

The sky above the Quesnel Regional Airport will soon be filled with military parachutists, red and white CT-114 Tutor jets being flown by the famous Canadian Forces Snowbirds, the impressive CF-18 fighter jet and pilots performing incredible aerobatic tricks.

After a four-year absence due to the 2017 wildfires that cancelled the show two years ago, SkyFest is back in Quesnel this weekend (Aug. 2-4).

The list of performers includes the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, Kent Pietsch with his Jelly Belly airplane, Capt. Brian Kilroy and the CF-18 Demonstration Team, Team Rocket Aerobatics, Manfred Radius and his Sailplane, Kyle Fowler and his Long EZ, Rick Kopp and his Pyro Jet Truck, Jacquie B and her Extra 300, and WWII-era planes from the Erickson Aircraft Collection.

Throughout the weekend, there will also be opportunities to get a close look at different types of aircraft and vintage cars in the static display area, and there will be children’s games and entertainment.

SkyFest air boss John Smutny arrived in Quesnel Wednesday afternoon (July 31) to prepare for the show. As the air boss, he is responsible for keeping SkyFest safe and secure for the performers, crew and audience.

“I kind of liken it to a cross between air traffic control and a circus master,” said Smutny. “A lot of what I do pre-dates the show — it’s doing all the paperwork with Transport Canada, getting everything set up to have the airspace secure and notifying the correct agencies that we’re going to be taking over the airspace for the event. During the show, it’s basically coming up with an entertaining sequence of events and watching out for them and making sure they are safe while they’re flying.”

Smutny has been an air boss since 2006, and he does about eight to 10 airshows a year.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I enjoy it a lot.”

Smutny became an air boss after competing as an aerobatic pilot.

“It was progression,” he said. “I got involved with an airshow in their flight operations department, and they had me shadow the air boss as a backup, and I thought ‘well, this is kind of fun.’ So I went to Air Boss Academy and air boss training, done by the International Council of Airshows, and since 2006, I’ve been doing shows on my own.”

This will be Smutny’s first airshow in Quesnel.

Smutny says there is a lot to look forward to with this weekend’s show.

“Every performer has a strong point,” he said. “The Snowbirds are obviously the Snowbirds and are the headliners, but you have Bud and Ross [Granley], who are a father and son team, and Bud’s been flying airshows for over 55 years. Kent Pietsch with his comedy act is one of the most fun ones to watch. And then there are newcomers like Kyle Fowler, flying with his dad in very high-tech looking airplanes, Long EZs.”

Smutny believes having a good cross-section of entertainment makes a good airshow, and he feels SkyFest has that key ingredient.

“Some people like the old World War II airplanes, some people like the flip flops, some people like the jets, so you have to have a mix of everything,” he said. “This show has a really good cross-section of performers, from young to old.”

Working in airshows, Smutny always hopes they can inspire people and get them excited about aviation.

“As an industry, we try to inspire people to enter the sciences and particularly aviation because aviation is in dire need of pilots, mechanics, air traffic control,” he said. “You’re never too young or too old to get started.”

The Twilight Show originally scheduled for Friday night was moved to Saturday night due to rain and a low cloud ceiling.

For Saturday and Sunday’s day shows, gates open at 9 a.m., and the shows begin at 11 a.m.

On Saturday, the day show will be followed by the Twilight Show at 8:15 p.m. Gates open at 7 p.m.

Friday passes will be honoured at Saturday’s Twilight Show, according to SkyFest.

In addition to the performance, there will be a kid zone, food vendors, a beer garden, an autograph booth, aircraft and vintage car displays, and an O Zone, which is a designated area where you can get up close and personal with the performers and their aircraft.

There will be no ATM on-site, and pets, outside alcohol and large bags and coolers will not be permitted. Ticket-holders are encouraged to bring sunscreen, a hat, an umbrella for shade, a lawn chair or blanket to sit on, earplugs and a camera.

There will be passes available at the gate, payable by cash or credit. Youth passes are $10 plus tax and fees, while a adult pass is $30 plus tax and fees. A family pass is $65, and you can purchase combo passes and a full weekend/camping pass.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit quesnelskyfest.ca.

READ MORE: Book about Linda the Giraffe’s adventures with CF-18 Demo Team debuts at SkyFest


Lindsay Chung
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