Where and When
The Canadian International Air Show occurs every Labor Day Weekend during the last days of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This means the first weekend in September. The show is entirely held on the city’s lakefront, and the main “stage” is located in front of the Exhibition Grounds where the CNE takes place.You can access the show (and thus the narration) via the CNE after paying the admission fee, or by buying VIP ticket packages from the show’s official site. The show begins at 1200 hours local (Eastern) on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and ends promptly at 1500 hours local. Each act is around 10-15 minutes long with a spacing of anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes between acts, if not longer.
Every year, the CIAS tends to retain a core group of performers who generally headline the show. Typically, this includes the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-18 Hornet Demo, the RCAF’s Snowbirds demonstration team, Harvard/Texan warbird trainers from either the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team or the Canadian Harvard Association, a Pitts Special aerobatic biplane sponsored by Lucasoil, and a CH-146 Griffon (Bell 212) search and rescue helicopter which sometimes participates as an act, but mostly functions as a rescue/pickup “angel” helo.
On top of these acts, the US military generally sends a demo team to perform as well. This could include the US Navy’s TACDEMO, featuring the F/A-18F Super Hornet or the F/A-18C/D Legacy Hornet, or, the US Air Force’s Viper East demo team which features the F-16C Fighting Falcon. The US Navy’s Blue Angels and US Air Force’s Thunderbirds have performed very rarely in Toronto over the past 15-20 years. On occasion, US Marine Corps aircraft such as the AV-8B Harrier or MV-22 Osprey have also made an appearance in Toronto for the show. As Canadian Forces Base Trenton is a very short flight away from Toronto, the RCAF sends a C-130 Hercules from time to time for flyovers as well. Announcements on acts as well as hints to the show’s “mystery” performers are usually made in July and August, leading up to the show date in September.
There are NO STATIC DISPLAYS at the CIAS!
- RCAF CF-18 Hornet Demo (fighter jet)
- RCAF Snowbirds (aerobatics team/jet)
- RCAF CH-146/Bell 212 Griffon (helicopter)
- Canadian Harvard Assoc. or Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team Harvard/Texan (trainer)
- Air Cadets Schweizer SGS 2-33A plus Bellanca Scout (sailplane and tug)
- Lucasoil Pitts Special (aerobatics)
- RCAF C-130 Hercules (tactical airlift transport)
- USMC AV-8B Harrier II (attack/strike jet)
- USMC MV-22 Osprey (tiltrotor tactical aircraft)
- USMC KC-130 Hercules (tactical airlift transport)
- USAF F-16C Fighting Falcon/Viper (fighter jet)
- USAF F-22 Raptor (fighter jet)
- USAF F-15C/D Eagle (fighter jet)
- USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II (attack/strike jet)
- USAF Heritage Flight P-51 Mustang OR F4U Corsair (historical fighter aircraft)
- USN F/A-18C/D/F Legacy Hornet/Super Hornet (fighter jet)
Tips for Planespotters
All military performers involved in the show are stationed at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), usually received at the Central Deicing Facility on Britannia Rd, or at the North Lounge private terminal. Most landings/takeoffs occur from Runway 05/23 and can be viewed up close from Airport Rd.
If you have a radio available, you can tune into the airport’s main tower frequency (118.7) and listen very closely for the military departures and arrivals. The performers usually request to do a pass above the airport to wow travelers and the civilian commercial pilots around, and the tower almost always indulges them, so look out for the Snowbirds or the CF-18 Hornet streaking low by the airport!
Practice days are held on the Thursday and Friday before the weekend, though schedules are only generated closer to the launch for these practices, so if you’re spotting, plan to spend 4-5 hours at the airport. Be prepared to be disappointed, however. The only really ideal spotting location is on Airport Rd. near a Petro Canada gas station at the foot of Runway 05/23, and the tower doesn’t necessarily always use this runway to launch and recover the military performers. Runways 15L/33R and 15R/33L are also used from time to time for launches and recoveries, though there aren’t any good (or accessible) locations to spot for those runways.
- Over the past fourteen years of attending the CIAS, I’ve learned that it’s extremely important to stay hydrated and have a snack or two on-hand if you’re in the main show area. The temperatures are typically high 80/low 90s (in Fahrenheit) or low-mid 30s (in Celsius), and for the most part, the sun bears right down upon the show with no cloud cover. On occasion, there have been light rains, so it’s best to check the local weather before you go to the show. Even if it does rain, the show goes on unless conditions are really adverse. Wear a hat and/or sunglasses, and sunscreen!
- If you’re carrying a DSLR camera, make sure you bring a lens with a decent range as the stage is far off from the crowds, unlike most other airshows, and you’ll only get quality pictures with zoom. There is no real need to bring a shorter-range lens as there aren’t any static display aircraft, nor do any performers fly close enough to justify smaller lenses.
- Bleacher seats at the CNE’s airshow zone go very quickly, so either arrive early (the show begins at 1200 hours local and grab seats fast, or wear comfortable shoes and prepare to stand for three hours. The VIP area has shaded seating, air conditioned washrooms, and light snacks and beverages, while the rest of the show gets industrial outhouses (which stink up very quickly).
- Getting to and out of the CNE can be fairly difficult with the massive crowds, so leave early to head to the show via either the city’s transit system or by driving, and be warned that your patience will be tested when you exit the show to make your way back home or to your hotel.
- I’ve always personally found the CNE to be a ripoff in terms of pricing, so a good alternative that gives you a solid view of the show is Marilyn Bell Park on the Lakeshore. You can either access it by car or by city transit, but plan to leave early and bring a few camping chairs or a picnic blanket. Also, watch out for goose poop. It’s a real problem there.