160905 Air Show - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Labour Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer, and to commemorate it in Toronto we have our annual Air Show. It seems to be smaller every year, but as long as the Snowbirds fly, I'm happy. These first four photos are from a single pass during their routine on Sunday, September 4th, taken from my quiet little spot across from the island airport.


Not the Snowbirds: this year the show opened with the Breitling acrobatics team, which Wikipedia tells me is the only civilian jet team in the world, so I have to appreciate that. Like the snowbirds they fly aircraft that were originally designed and used as military trainers, and now continue on primarily as demonstration and sporting aircraft.


Canada had its CF-188 demonstrator on hand. You can tell it's ours instead of an American F/A-18 by the "spoof canopy" painted on the underside of the nose. Here it's on a slow-speed pass before looping back past the Marylin Bell I ferry that still serves the Toronto island airport.

This year saw only one single aircraft flown by a foreign military — a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, which is what Canada should probably buy to replace its CF-18's instead of the F-35's the previous regime wanted. Super Hornets may make Canada less interoperable with the American air force, but it's more interoperable with the Canadian one, which is arguably more important.

I've often thought that the A-10, being durable and designed to fly from rough airfields, would be a particularly good fit for Canada's maritime and northern patrol needs. A two-seater model with improved avionics, reconnaissance, and navigation gear would do nicely, but I suppose an anti-tank aircraft would have a hard time stopping Russian bombers for NORAD.

And we hardly need two different types of jet combat aircraft.


Two more Canadian military aircraft over the island airport. The first is a CC-130 Hercules transport, while the second is a CH-146 Griffon helicopter, a member of the Huey family. Both of these are excellent transport and support aircraft, which is where I'd like to see Canada spend its time and energy. 

But partly because of the two police boats in the foreground, and partly because of the influence of too many movies, the helicopter photo feels the most "warlike" to me. This is both odd and misguided, given how every airshow is dominated by military designs.

All of these photos were taken with my Fujifilm X-T10 and 55-200mm lens on a beautiful sunny day. I left the aperture in Auto mode, and would alternate between auto-shutter (or Program mode) and shutter-priority with a 1/500 second speed on the dial. With image stabilization camera shake wasn't a problem, and I wanted to give propellers a chance to blur. I didn't always remember to switch between modes, but I'm still pleased that I finally got along well with the Fuji control paradigm. 

I've photographed the airshow a few times before, and like now, I find that it's fun to do but impossible to do well. At least autofocus has made some huge leaps since the end of the last decade, when I was trying to do this with my Olympus SLRs. Perhaps next year I'll try for a longer lens, or brave the crowds for a closer spot — or just hang out on my balcony with a prime lens on my film rangefinder, which has worked for me in the past. That's also a decent way to spend a summer afternoon.


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