Abbotsford airshow: history on approach

Set your flight path to Abbotsford this weekend for the 49th annual air show.

A vintage Stearman over Mount Baker in 2010.

In the movie Toy Story Woody said (of Buzz Lightyear), “That’s not flying, that’s just falling with style.”

Watching a vintage Stearman bi-plane diving out of a hammerhead to roar inches from the tarmac before fascinated crowds at the Abbotsford International Airshow last August I thought of Woody’s words. Style, guts, history, adventure – it’s all on schedule from August 12 to 14 for the 49th year at Abbotsford International Airport.

In the ‘80s our family traditionally took off (catering courtesy McDonald’s drive-through) at the crack of dawn on airshow Fridays. We’d beat the crowds and stake our claim front and centre on the tarmac. Invariably, the weather (and the tarmac) was scorching. It was a made in B.C. adventure perfect for kids. We all loved it.

Having worked in the aviation industry in Africa, Britain and Canada, I have an affection and admiration for aircraft, and those who work with them. The C-130 Hercules in static displays takes me back to years in Zimbabwe waiting for RAF Hercs to lumber noisily down the runway before our DC-3 took off into the bush in Zimbabwe, Zambia or Malawi. A Herc skipper kidded me that when they finally got the end of the runway “it either flies – or it doesn’t.,” I never saw one that didn’t.

The venerable Avro Lancaster bomber first saw service in Britain in 1942. Last year it retired, rather like an old respected and admired family friend – at the Abbotsford show.

This year, the Canadian Forces Skyhawks are back, the tactical airlift and airdrop C-17 Globemaster demo will impress again, and search and rescue demonstrations will no doubt impress the crowds.

The U.S. Heritage Team is always impressive. Like all crews at the show, they are informative and approachable, one of the many charms of these shows.

Meet a Canadian Snowbird. Over the years, many of these pilots have hailed from the Lower Mainland. They are more than delighted to discuss their work, and the vintage aircraft they fly. They close the show annually with stunning approaches through the mountains – right into the hearts of their audience. It’s inevitable. National pride is allowed.

In 1804 Sir George Cayley said:  “I am well convinced that ‘Aerial Navigation’ will form a most prominent feature in the progress of civilization.” Aviation is history is on display in our valley every August. Put it on your flight plan this year. The schedule can be found at

– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the former editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. She now wanders and writes.Follow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.