Flight of Fancy
There’s a new kid in town for the Chilliwack Airshow on Aug. 16 and 17, and people are already lining up to meet her.
She’s a P51 Mustang. And according to Airshow organizer Ray Firkus, she’s a beauty.
On loan from the Tillamook Museum in Oregon, this is her first time in Canada. Originally commissioned in 1945, she’s been restored to her original glory—and then some.
Bringing in this piece of history was a natural choice, Firkus says.
“Last year we had a Spitfire—also a warbird—which was a big hit,” he says. “But the Mustang, as far as I’m concerned, is the really cool thing. It’s a multi-million dollar warbird, so they don’t take it out too much.”
The Mustang is painted in the colours of the Red Tail Squadron—also known as the Tuskegee Airmen—which was the first squadron of black pilots and air support crews trained for the Second World War. It’s a slice of American history that resonates just as well in Canada.
“A lot of people are familiar with the Red Tail Squadron and the significance of that group,” Firkus says.
The Mustang is one of many attractions at the show this year, which has grown bigger, better, and brighter over the last 22 years.
Firkus, who’s been with it since the beginning, never fails to be delighted by the variety of planes and performers that return to the valley every summer. Picking a favourite part, he says, is impossible.
“It’s like watching a movie—what’s your favourite part? It’s the whole, as it evolves, and it’s very entertaining and exciting,” he says with a smile.
All in all, the show is a chance for pilots to strut their stuff and show off the tricks of the trade. Many of them have day jobs as commercial pilots, although more than a few are professional competition pilots on the side.
Kent Pietsch, for example, practically has flying in his blood.
“I think he’s been doing it for, what, 30 years now?” Firkus says. “And his father was an aerobatic pilot, so it’s been in the family for years.”
Pietsch is one of the new pilots at the airshow this year. His show is a little different than what Chilliwack audiences are used to, Firkus says slyly—it’s a comedy act sponsored by Jelly Belly, although that’s all he’ll say.
“He’s very entertaining, and it’s a very different show,” he says mysteriously.
Other acts will be less of a surprise, but no less exciting—including Bud and Ross Granley back with their dual act, Jon Melby with a modified bi-plane, and local flyer Dave Mathieson—better known as “Super Dave” in the community. Chilliwack residents might recognize him from his frequent flights over the city on nice days—and whether he’s greeted with appreciation or annoyance, he is an inextricable part of the community fabric.
And as always, there’s more to the flight fest than flying. The hangar dance is also bigger and better than ever this year, and boasts catering from Garrison Bistro—putting a classy (not to mention tasty) spin on the event.
“It’s traditionally done by flying club volunteers over the years, but this year Garrison’s doing it as part of their sponsorship,” Firkus says. “Last year they catered the VIP lounge, and this year they’re stepping up for the dance.”
Seeing Garrison Bistro volunteering increased service is just one example of Chilliwack coming together to make the airshow happen.
More and more obstacles appear every year, but ultimately Firkus can’t envision a future without the flight fest.
“There are a few challenges that we have with the airport—since it’s right in the middle of the City of Chilliwack,” he says with a laugh.
He describes the challenge of rerouting traditional flight space away from Chances Casino and diverting a brand-new bus route away from Airport Road for the day of the flight fest. Even discussing these obstacles, the good humour doesn’t leave his voice.
“It’s all the little logistical challenges as the city grows,” he explains simply. “It puts more and more pressure as far as making things happen around here… but everything’s coming together—knock on wood!”
w The 23rd Annual Chilliwack Airshow takes over the Chilliwack Airport on Aug. 16 and 17. Admission, as always, is free. For more information and a performance schedule, or if you’re interested in donating or volunteering, visit www.chilliwackairshow.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hangar Barbecue and Dance takes place at 9 p.m. on Saturday and is 19+ only. Tickets are $40 and all proceeds go towards hosting the airshow.