Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Anyone who's known me for any length of time, particularly since high school, knows that I used to be minorly obsessed with military aircraft. It drove my dad crazy because while I couldn't remember how to spell fairly basic words, I could instantly memorize entire tables of arcane facts and figures about any type of military aircraft, modern or WW2 era (and I can still recite most of them off the top of my head).

So, when I passed around Lac Sainte-Jean in Quebec, and found out that WHAT THE HELL, there was a historical military airshow going on that day?! How could I resist that?

They had designated motorcycle parking, which is usually right next to the entrance, but in this case was AS FAR AWAY from the entrance as it could possibly be. Ah well, I guess I needed the exercise.

Most of the other bikes there were Goldwings or similar bikes that were farkled to the hilt. Mine was the only one there with any mud on it.

As soon as I walked into the airshow area, though . . .

The A-10 Thunderbolt/Warthog. I had thought the USA had retired these a few years ago, but I guess not. They're fairly universally viewed as one of the ugliest aircraft ever put into combat production, and a glance around it shows why. The proportions and dimensions are just weird.

They were excellent at what they were meant to do, though. They were built to "Play in the mud", to do up-close direct ground support, providing assistance to troops on the ground. Designed to be able to withstand lots of damage from small arms and ground-to-air fire, they are able to stay flying with large portions of the airframe missing. Even when fully retracted, the wheels still protrude from the bay by half their diameter, to make crash-belly-landings more survivable, and they can still maintain flight with up to fifteen feet of either wing blown off. The engines are mounted high up and far away from the body and each other, minimizing the chance that an explosion on one engine will damage the other engine, or compromise the airframe.

Their main prey was enemy armor, hunting down and killing tanks with either that 30mm nose-mounted canon firing depleted uranium shells, or with ordinances hung off one of it's TWELVE wing pylons. The amount of weaponry these things were capable of carrying is nuts, seeing one of them fully loaded with Hellfire missiles and conventional heavy bombs and ECM (Electronic Counter-Measures. Radar jamming) pods hanging off them is a very impressive sight. No bombs here, though. Just the fuel tanks.

Moving onto prettier, sexier, more elegant aircraft, they had a couple of F-16s.

Just look at the size of that engine!!! Mmmmmm, power . . .

There were a slew of F-18s there.

For $10, they'd let you climb into the cockpit and take your picture. Oh, I was tempted. I was so tempted. But the line was huge, and I think it was oriented more for children. Not . . . goddamit, it's weird being a pseudo-grown-up. (Also, I'm not joking when I say that I might have started to tear up if I sat in there. Yes, I'm strange. But I really love these aircraft that much)

The F-18 is a carrier-based aircraft, and as such is designed to survive carrier landings, which can best be described as barely controlled crashes. Look at the size of the shock on the landing gear, christ.

And to the "Historical" part. There were a group of what I assumed were perfectly-preserved, meuseum-kept planes that never saw flight anymore. Still, they were pretty and just awesome to be able to walk around and oogle.

There was this, a Lancaster. Not nearly as sexy looking as the more famous B-17 Flying Fortress, but a great aircraft and used to much effect, especially in the famous "Dam Buster" raids in Germany.

Those massive wings provided some very welcomed shade, as well.

A couple of fighter aircraft of the same time period. A Corsair, Hurricane, and while I feel like a failure admitting this, I can't identify the yellow one. I want to say it's a Wildcat, but I think the cockpit is too long.

Going into one of the hangers made engineer-me pee my pants with happiness. They had whole tables lined out with all the parts of the various aircraft, and all the mechanics there, explaining the systems and talking to people.

Including the most awesomest (yes, that's a word. It is because I say so) computer game setup EVER.

I want one for my birthday!

The engine out of an F-18. The front part is the main turbine, the rear section is the afterburner.

Braking and hydraulic systems.

Now that's just cool!

Airplanes weren't the only sexy, testosterone-laden machines there.

Okay! That's enough wandering around looking at stuff! The crowds all started to move to the runway, and although all the loudspeaker announcements were in french, it was pretty clear that something neat was going to happen. The guys who work there got dibs on the good seats, though..

And out of NO WHERE (well, okay, behind the crowd), this guy blasted onto the scene under full afterburner. I was so thankful I'd already put in earplugs, because the crack was . . . awesome.

He flew back and forth a bit, mostly . . . well, showing off. He was joined by an F-16 who actually pulled off some more impressive aerobatic manuvers, flying down the runway upside-down, sideways, and even near stall at an astonishingly low speed.

He did a lot of high-G sweeping turns over the crowd, under full afterburner, of course (Because I think people simply expect to see flames shooting out the rear of fighter jets.) Check out the contrails coming off the wing roots!

Both the F-16 and the F-18 touched down soon after, although the F-16 pilot did show off and held the nose up for most of the length of the runway. Who doesn't love a good wheelie, anyway?

After landing, they taxied by the crowd, waving and generally being cocky and looking incredibly cool.

Oh, to be that guy . . . I can't even begin to explain what I wouldn't give to be that guy. It's basically the only thing that makes me wish I wasn't a screw-up who generally fails at school.

Next, we had skydivers.

Awwwwww, man, can't we get away from the whole AMERICA, FUCK YEAH! thing for a while? I mean, I was TECHNICALLY in a different country.

Maybe THAT'S how skydivers have sex! Mystery solved.

And, of course, they glory-walked past the crowd after landing. Hello, tattoos.

Next up was a stuntplane.

Check out the bits where he stalls the aircraft, flipping it end over end before coming back on power. That's just way too much awesome.

During breaks in they fast-and-loud action, a bunch of these guys came out and did a bunch of trick repelling. Think of those rope-dancers and things that you'd see at places like Cirque du Soleil, only instead of hippy music and gay costumes, you have helicopters and guys in full battle gear. Which means it's like . . . well, again, more full of awesome!

And then the loudspeaker started babbleing something, which I didn't understand, but it ended in the word "Toilet". Wait, what?

There is no better use for a jet engine, of this I'm sure. EVERYTHING should be jet-powered! Especially porta-potties!

At roughly this point, or at some time when the stunt plane was up doing it's thing, I heard a very, very happy noise.

The Lancer fired up it's engines. OMG THAT'S GOING TO FLY? :D


I'll thumbnail the rest of these, because I guess most people ARN'T like me and want to scroll past a ton of glory shots of the same aircraft.

Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

Wait, is it doing a pass with the bomb bay doors open?


No, they weren't actually dropping anything, it was just timed pyrotechnics on the ground. Which is okay, I suppose. Fireballs are fireballs. A bunch of aircraft actually did this, fake bombing runs, and after each one, a bunch of guys would jump out of bunkers and smack out all the burning grass.

The Corsair and the Hurricane did a lot of formation passes as well. It was pretty great to see those old warbirds on the same tarmac and in the same sky next to each other.

Something else really cool that I noticed when the Lancaster and the fighters taxied by, is that the guys flying them were all at least in their 70s. These were most likely men who'd actually flown these aircraft in combat (not these EXACT airframes, but these models). What a mind trip that must be to fly these machines in dogfights, your life on the line, and then 50 years later still be flying them, but this time for crowds of spectators.

And then . . . then came the squad of F-18s.

Dear god. The sound they make is just . . . perfect. It sounds EXACTLY how they should sound, powerful, sharp yet so deep that it resonates in your chest. You can just feel it all the way in your bones, it really is awe-inspiring. I'm not exaggerating when I say I was close to tears.

Truth be told, I was kinda misty-eyed for many parts of this show, not just the jet fighters. Everything sounded just so good, especially that Hurricane. And I know that sounds really stupid to everyone else, but . . . well, think about the first time you saw your favorit band live. Some group that you'd obsessed over for YEARS, and then FINALLY they tour near you and you can see then and OHMIGAWD they're right there in real life and they're being awesome and they sound great and YAY!

That's sort of how this is for me. Airshows have that effect on me, more specifically these aircraft do. These are machines I've obsessed over for years, spent hours and hours building painstakingly detailed models, reading everything I could about them, memorizing statistics, watching videos and so on, and then . . . there they are, in real life, and they're just as sexy and amazing, and they sound JUST SO PERFECT.

Yeah, I'm weird. But just . . . just listen to them. Even on the crappy microphone on my little camera, run through Microsoft's and then Youtube's audio compression.

And then look at these pictures

The day finished off with these guys. I'm still stupid for not being able to recognize them exactly, but they did some impressive formation flying, lots of looping with smoke. I got zillions of pictures, but I think I've posted the best of them.

Well, that's it for this post. I was standing out in the sun for the better part of four hours, resulting in:

Yay sunburn! I'm still peeling from that.


  1. I used to work near MCAS Miramar in San Diego, where they flew F-18s daily. They actually crashed one into someone's house earlier this year. It is a neat sound hearing those things fly by. To me it always sounded like a ripping/tearing sound, like they're just ripping up the sky.

  2. The yellow planes are T-6 Harvards, used by the RCAF during WWII as flight trainers.

  3. The yellow ones are also called T-6 Texans

    The Hurricane is actually a P51 in British dress...

    Mary aka Krashdragon