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Despite an overcast sky and temperatures that hovered just above freezing, the Canadian Armed Forces parachute team leaped into its first performance of the 2017 airshow season with a jump from a CH-147F Chinook over the airfield at the Gatineau-Ottawa Executive Airport on April 30.
As they descended to strains of The Ride of the Valkyries and the French and Canadian national anthems, the SkyHawks, in their distinctive maple leaf chutes, unfurled a French flag and streamed blue, white and red smoke in honour of La Patrouille de France, the renowned jet aerobatic team of France’s Armée de l’Air.
Dubbed Aero 150 in recognition of Canada’s 150th anniversary, the Wings Over Gatineau show also featured the first performance of the season of 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, and their iconic Canadair CT-114 Tutors.
Despite the weather, which included freezing rain less than 90 minutes before show time, thousands of spectators lined the airfield to witness the arrival of a French Airbus A400M transport aircraft supporting the fleet of nine Dornier Alpha Jets, as well as flight demonstrations or flybys by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CH-147 helicopter, CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft, and the CT-146 Harvard II trainer.
The show also featured a Vintage Wings warbirds demo of a Vought FG-1D Corsair, P-51 Mustang, and Hawker Hurricane Mk IV, and dozens of vintage aircraft on static display.
But the featured acts were the aerobatics of the Snowbirds and the Patrouille de France, which last performed together in Canada 30 years ago.
The Gatineau show marked a rare appearance in Canada for the French demonstration team, which is concluding a tour of the United States that began in mid-March to commemorate the American entry into the First World War 100 years ago. It also came just weeks after France and Canada honoured the service and loss of thousands of Canadians at Vimy Ridge.
“Canada is one of [our] closest allies, so being able to honour your 150th anniversary is a pleasure. It means a lot for us,” said LCol Gauthier Dewas, commanding officer and a former leader of La Patrouille.
He recalled a close connection with a Canadian exchange pilot early in his career and said links with Canadian aircrews remain strong. Unfortunately, he said, the timing of the North American tour did not coincide with most Canadian air shows. “We came too early because this [time] of the year you don’t have many shows.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how special it is to have the Patrouille de France share the commemoration of these significant events in Canadian history,” said LGen Mike Hood, commander of the RCAF, as he opened the show. “Aero 150 is symbolic of the enduring friendship between the [two air forces]. We have forged this friendship in peace and through war. Through all these challenges our nations have remained close allies, partners and friends.”
“We continue to fight side by side today, whether that is in Libya, or Iraq, or [by] providing support to French efforts in Africa with airlift from our C-17s,” Hood added in a brief interview with Skies.
Together with the Snowbirds, La Patrouille de France was scheduled to make a low pass over Parliament Hill on May 1, before heading to Montreal for a private show, and then make the return trip across the Atlantic.