Cdn Airforce Capt. Denis ‘Cheech’ Beaulieu introduces Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt to the cockpit of a CF-18 Hornet

Cdn Airforce Capt. Denis ‘Cheech’ Beaulieu introduces Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt to the cockpit of a CF-18 Hornet

Thunder in the mountains

A sneak preview of the Canadian Rockies International Airshow brings the roar of jet engines to Cranbrook

Barry Coulter

The Canadian Rockies International Airshow Society on Monday gave a sneak peak at some of the aircraft delights that will be on display in just under one year’s time.

On August 17, media representatives from at home and abroad and aircraft and airport fans were on hand at the Canadian Rockies International Airport to see some of the exciting names and aircraft in Canadian aviation, some of whom will be returning for the Cranbrook airshow August 5 and 6, 2016.

“It’s looking quite good,” said Daryl Garton, Society Chair. “We’ve got a lot of the performers that are here today who are also going to be here for 2016, and things are wrapping up.

“The City of Cranbrook’s been backing us up on this so we’re doing quite well.

“We’ve got a little bit of buzz going on here — these guys are here for us, for the media. A lot of us have volunteered their own time to come out here and promote the show for 2016 — and at this point we are going to make it happen.”


Top aviators Ken Fowler (left) and Super Dave Mathieson.

Aviators were roaring over Cranbrook and onto the airport tarmac Sunday afternoon, evening and all through Monday. And media types seeking an adrenaline hit were offered rides in some of the notable aircraft on hand — such as Saskatchewan’s Stefan Trischuk’s Pitts X2C biplane, or Geoff Latter’s fully restored 1958 Nanchang, a Chinese prop-driven fighter/trainer.

(Full disclosure: This reporter was found to be too heavy for flights in the Nanchang or biplane, confirming his status as “land animal.”)

Geoff Latter — an airline pilot by trade and airshow performer and demonstration pilot by vocation, has one of five authentic Nanchang’s in Canada, and the only one that’s fully restored. Only 3,186 were ever made, he said, as a trainer and ground attack fighter. “But the jet age came along, and made it obsolete.”

However, the Chinese made enough parts for 30,000 aircraft — so parts are readily available.

The Nanchang’s nine-cylinder radial engine offers 285 horsepower, a top speed of 400 km/ph.

Adrenaline-buzzed passengers emerged buzzed from Trischuk’s and Latter’s maneuvers — loops and rolls and other G-force experiences.


Capt. Denis Beaulieu’s CF-18, Geoff Latter’s 1958 Nanchang, and Stefan Trischuk’s biplane

Chilliwack’s Super Dave Mathieson, one of Canada’s top stunt pilots and competitive aircraft racers, and Ken Fowler of Team Rocket, came soaring into the airport in tandem at noon, able to take more passengers aloft. Mathieson flies the world’s most advanced aerobatic aircraft — the MX2. The aircraft is designed for plus or minus 16Gs, and has an incredible roll rate of 500 degrees per second and is powered by a 380 HP motor giving the aircraft a top speed of almost 500 km/ph.

Mathieson, Trischuk and Latter will be on hand again, for the 2016 show.

In the early afternoon, Drew Watson and David Watson flew in from the Chilliwack Airshow in two Harvard Trainers, World War II-era planes used by the Allied forces.

Pictured: Stefan Trischuk explains the intricacies of his Pitt X2C biplane, and what to do in case of heavy Gs.

Certainly Monday’s most prominent guest was Canadian Air Force Captain Denis “Cheech” Beaulieu and his CF-18 Hornet, which is doing demonstration duty this summer.

Capt. Beaulieu, who roared over Cranbrook the afternoon before, introduced Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt to the Hornet’s cockpit, then spoke to the media about his plane, his summer and his day.

Capt. Beaulieu has been in the military for nine years, and flying the CF-18 Hornet for five. He’s based out of 425 Squadron in Bagotville, Quebec, but is between two bases during his summer of demonstration. At the end of the summer he is transferring to 410 Squadron in Cold Lake, Alberta, to take on instructor duties.

But in the meantime, he is touring the Hornet around the continent. “I’m pretty much all over the country, and the United States — all over North America. One airshow in a different location every weekend.

“It’s an exciting summer. I’ve got two great teams that follow me — one in the east, one in the west, because they’re driving, going from airshow to airshow, showing Canadians what the air force can do.”

Every year the CF-18 demo team has a different theme, and since this year is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Beaulieu’s aircraft is decked out to honour that anniversary. The paint scheme is based on that of a Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft that Canadians flew during the Battle of Britain, with the same camouflage scheme, the fake guns painted on the wings, and the same markings as 401 Squadron, which was an all-Canadian squadron fighting alongside the RAF. Winston Churchill, Canadian fighter pilots, and scenes of the Blitz over London are also represented on the aircraft’s paint scheme.

On Monday morning, Capt. Beaulieu was scheduled to fly back to his home base in Bagotville.

“It’s exactly 3,222 kilometres. I don’t have that range with the CF-18, especially as it’s configured for the airshows. It has to be very aerodynamic and lightweight, so it can’t carry any external fuel tanks (the Hornet usually carries three — one under each wing and one under the fuselage).

“Because I don’t carry external tanks my range is quite limited — I can do maybe 1,500 km. But today I’m lucky. I have air-to-air refuelling from 435 Squadron (Winnipeg) with the Hercules tanker. They’ll take off and go slightly west to meet me, over Dauphin, Manitoba. It’s going to take me about an hour and 15 minutes to meet them. I’ll go down to the same altitude, slow down. They’ll trail a big hose with a basket at the end. I have an air-to-air refuelling probe, I hit a switch, that little probe comes out, I need to maneuver the aircraft to plug one into the other.”

The flight to Bagotville was to take roughly four hours, including the refuelling slow-down. Capt. Beaulieu took off at 10:25 a.m. with the thunder of jet engines, a wing wag for the folks on the tarmac, and a farewell blast over Cranbrook, before heading east.

All and all, the day at the airport was a great appetizer for the Canadian Rockies International Airshow, set for Aug. 5 and 6, 2016.

For more information, check out Canadian Rockies International Airshow on Facebook. Anyone wishing to volunteer for next year’s Air Show please email Lisa Singbeil at