To many Ontario residents, it seems the CANADIAN
INTERNATIONAL AIR SHOW has been an annual event at the Toronto
waterfront for as long as they can remember - and they’re right, as it’s
Canada's oldest annual air show.
Each consecutive year since 1949, the show has been a
feature of the Canadian National Exhibition (the world's largest annual
Exhibition) in Toronto, as the successor to many earlier air shows held
at the CNE dating back to shortly after World War I. The Air Show stage
extends over Lake Ontario off the CNE grounds. Non-airport staging
permits viewing of approximately 20 different acts within a 3-hour
period which could take over 8 hours under normal airport show
The Air Show is organised and conducted by Canadian
Exhibition Air Shows Inc., which is a non-profit corporation dedicated
to the promotion and display of aviation. With the exception of one
full-time Air Show Co-ordinator and seasonal Assistant Co-ordinators,
the entire air show is run by volunteers.
The CIAS is a charter member of the International
Council of Air Shows. ICAS is the only organisation that provides
co-ordination, support and continuity for air show sponsors and
The implementation of the CIAS "Medical, Crash
& Rescue Instruction Programme" has been adopted as a model for
the air show industry.
The CIAS boasts the appearances of many significant
aircraft over the years. For example, it is the first non-trade air show
in the world at which the Concorde performed, as well as both high-level
reconnaissance U.S. Air Force U-2 and SR-71 aircraft.
Following is a brief history of visiting aircraft
over the years:
Powered flight has changed dramatically from those
early days in 1909 when the Silver Dart lifted off a frozen lake in Nova
Scotia and became the first heavier-than-air aircraft to fly in Canada.
Pioneer pilot J.A.D. McCurdy would marvel at the technology powering the
Canadian Forces CF-18 fighter aircraft. The long journey from balloon
fabric wings to composite materials has been marked by spectacular
engineering achievements and occasionally frustrated dreams.
The first public exhibition of formation flying in
Canada was over the CNE waterfront in 1919. The stars were Fokker D
VII fighters. The first recorded and formally organised show, by
today's standards, was in August 1939. This show was primarily a
military one; aircraft from the RCAF included one Hawker Hurricane,
one Supermarine Stranraer twin-engined flying boat, 15 Oxford Light
Bombers (recently received from England), one Lysander Army Recce
Aircraft (built at Malton for delivery to Canadian and British
Forces) and six Fairey Battle Bombers. The finale was a mass
power dive towards the crowd from 5,000 feet. On the last day of this
first air show, Pat Patterson, a civilian pilot from Toronto, had an
engine failure while performing over the waterfront and landed on the
grandstand track. He managed to get his engine started and took off
before the crowd reached him.
Air shows were held sporadically during the war years
and in 1946, a full-scale show sponsored by the National Aeronautic
Association was held at Downsview. This show incorporated the first
public demonstration of an airport assault by airborne troops from the
Canadian Army Parachute Training Centre at Camp Borden. Paratroopers
dropped from three Dakota aircraft and fought for control of the
field with soldiers dressed in German uniforms. The Shooting Star
from the United States Air Force was the hit of the show. The Globe and
Mail report stated "the aircraft looked like a conventional
airplane except for the lack of a propeller and the tube projecting from
the rear." The twin-seater version of the Shooting Star
became the Silver Star training aircraft, more commonly called
the T-33 or T-Bird in the RCAF.
In 1949, the Air Show moved to Exhibition Place. That
year, and in 1950 and 1951, the RCAF put a Vampire jet aerobatic
team into the air every afternoon of the CNE. In 1952, the Toronto
Flying Club sponsored the Air Show at the CNE. A RCAF Sabre had
to try twice before breaking the sound barrier, providing the crowd with
its first opportunity to hear a sonic boom. In the same year, the DHC-2
Beaver floatplane demonstrated its short take-off and landing
capabilities -- the development of this STOL technology would launch de
Havilland Canada as a world-leading aircraft manufacturer.
The Air Show star in 1953 was the United States Air
Force B-36 ten-engine bomber.
But there have been moments of bitter disappointment.
When the Canadian designed and built Avro Jetliner made its maiden
flight in 1949, it was the world's first jet-powered airliner. The
aircraft's appearance at the 1954 Air Show was its swan song. The
Jetliner program had been cancelled two years earlier.
The 1954 Air Show was held in June with USAF General
Doolittle and aviatrix Jacqueline Cochrane honoured. Don Rogers flew the
Avro Jetliner and Michael Cooper-Slipper flew the Avro Flying
Test Bed, a Lancaster aircraft fitted with two jet engines and two
piston engines. Avro test pilot Jan Zurakowaski flew the CF-100 Avro twin-engined
fighter and demonstrated the "Zurabatic Cartwheel."
In 1955, the hit of the show was Vadislov Svab, a 42
year old Czechoslovakian test pilot, flying a two-seater low-wing Czech
Molotov Trainer. Also in 1955, breaking the sound barrier was
The U.S. Navy aerobatic team, the Blue Angels,
appeared at the Toronto show for the first time in 1956, the same year
the Canadian International Air Show officially became a feature
event at the CNE. The USAF Thunderbirds made their first
appearance in 1957.
The Avro Arrow jet fighter also put Canada at
the leading edge of aircraft design. Its 1958 flight at the CNE was a
showstopper. One year later, a government concerned about costs and an
uncertain market scrapped the program. The Royal Air Force Vulcan
made its debut that same year.
In 1959, the RCAF Golden Hawks in their six gold, red
and white F-86 Sabres were established as Canada's first national
military aerobatic team and became regular performers at the Air Show.
In 1962, John McKarski, a parachutist from Elmira,
Ontario, landed unhurt on the roof of the grandstand.
Throughout the 50's and 60's the event showcased RCAF
aircraft, from the T-33 or T-Bird jet to the Mach 2+
The RCAF Centennaires, forerunners to the Snowbirds,
flew in the 1967 show.
By 1969, the Canadian International Air Show had
become a four day event - Friday to Monday, and adopted a larger format
with military aircraft from the United States and Britain as well as a
number of civilian performers in their modified aerobatic aircraft. This
same year a Russian agricultural helicopter was the star of the show.
The 1970's brought the first North American public
appearance of the SR71 Blackbird, the world's fastest aircraft,
and Canada’s first display of the British Airways Concorde. As
new technologies pushed sleek aircraft further from gravity's hold,
there was an effort made by the Air Show organisers to preserve the
romance of flying. A retrospective look at aviation was part of the 1972
show with the "History Segment" featuring aircraft such as a
replica Sopwith Camel from WWI and the Corsair and Spitfire
In the late 70’s, the Canadian Forces were in the
process of selecting a fighter aircraft to replace the aging CF-101
Voodoo and CF-5 Freedom Fighter. So the aircraft
under consideration, the Grumann F-14 Tomcat, McDonnell Douglas F-15
Eagle, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, and Northrop (now
McDonnell Douglas) F-18 Hornet, all put on demonstrations for the
Canadian International Air Show. The CF-18 was later chosen the
The 1980's were highlighted with such military
aircraft as the Canadian Forces CF-18 Hornet, Sea King, Aurora and
Chinook, U.S. Marine Corps. Harrier, U.S. Air Force B-52 Bomber,
SR-71 Blackbird, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10A Thunderbolt II,
and B1-B, U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat, German Air Force Transall, Royal Air
Force Vulcan, Tornado and Nimrod and the Italian Air Force Frecce
Tricolori. Civilian performers have included the Canadair CL-215
waterbomber, Ray Ban Gold Aerobatic Team, Flying Pierces, Frank Ryder,
Julie Clark, Patty Wagstaff, Oscar Boesch and Manfred Radius, an MD 500E
Olympian Helicopter and a Lockheed 'Electra' 10A.
By the mid 1980's, the international reputation of
the CIAS was firmly established. In 1985, the Hawker Hurricane
was featured as a reminder of the past. This premier fighter plane was
the star of the first Air Show in 1939. Today’s premier fighter
planes, the F-14, F-15, F-16 and F-18, have
a surface ceiling of over 50,000 feet, 10 times greater than the
aircraft of 1939.
The 1990 Air Show suffered at the hands of the Gulf
crisis when many of the confirmed aircraft were unable to attend.
The 1990's saw the latest in Stealth aircraft with
the presentation of the USAF F-117A at the 1991 show. 1992 was
highlighted by the daytime and night time (complete with pyrotechnics)
performances of Sean Tucker and his Pitts; Sean recently won the
Art Scholl Showmanship Award for top civilian performer.
In 1993, the CIAS presented its first-ever Photo
Walking Tour at Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Aircraft
were strategically placed to allow the public to view and photograph
such aircraft as the B1-B Bomber, U-2 Dragon Lady and the
British Airways Concorde. Also in 1993, the Royal Netherlands Air
Force participated at the CIAS for the first time, showcasing the highly
versatile F-16 Fighting Falcon.
1994 highlighted such favourites as the USMC Harrier,
the RAF Tornado, the USAF F-117 Stealth and the German Phantoms.
U.S. civilian acts included aerobatic champions Sean Tucker and Jan
The 1995 show saw the Snowbirds celebrating
their 25th anniversary as well as a salute to the 50th anniversary of
the liberation of Europe featuring 2 P-51 Mustangs and a B25
Mitchell Bomber. Military participation included an A10 and F117A
Stealth fighter from the USAF, German F4 Phantoms and F16
Fighting Falcons from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Civilian acts
included the debut of Canada’s first civilian aerobatic team The
Northern Lights, sailplane pilot Oscar Boesch and
the Misty Blues all female skydiving team.
1996 was the year the CIAS launched it’s first full
static display at Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Called
FLIGHTLINE ’96 the static display was a huge success as over two dozen
aircraft were on display.
FLIGHTLINE ‘97 was expanded to include upwards of
30 aircraft. The flying display included the Canadian Forces Snowbirds
and Skyhawks, as well as an F-14D Tomcat from the U.S.
Navy. The Royal Netherlands Air Force showcased their F-16 Fighting
Falcons and the Royal Air Force returned with the Nimrod submarine
hunter. Civilian participation included The French Connection and
1998 saw the cancellation of FLIGHTLINE, the static
display at Pearson Airport, due to preparations for the show’s 50th
anniversary in 1999. The Air Show featured a variety of civilian acts,
including Matt Chapman and Mike Goulian, straight from the
World Aerobatic Championships in Slovakia, where they placed 3rd
and 8th respectively. Also in the show was the Snowbirds,
Skyhawks and CF18, The Northern Lights, an F16 Fighting
Falcon and A10 Warthog and a fly-by of the B2 Spirit on
1999 celebrates 50 years of the Canadian
International Air Show at the CNE. The public can expect a
spectacular air display, featuring historical and modern aircraft.
Each year the Canadian International Air Show presents
something old, something new and something different to maintain its
position as the premier air show of its kind in the world. From
vintage aircraft to high performance jets, the Canadian International
Air Show has paid tribute to the fascinating world of flight - and
millions of people have shared in the wonder.
Contact: Diana Spremo, Media Relations Manager, CIAS, (416) 393-6061