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Toronto sits on the north shore of a large lake, which gives it a convenient place to gratuitously fly airplanes, but it also guarantees that the sun will be behind them no matter where the spectators stand.

This means that I know I will take mediocre photos of the airplanes. There's no interesting Rest Of The World to include in the wider shots that I like, and I'm deeply under-lensed to take glamour shots. Plus my longest lens is on the weak side of good, and I'm photographing through a lot of muggy summer air. And the sun's behind them.

I know that they'll be mediocre photos. But I also know that I'm going to do it anyway. I can walk past a rusty car in a field, but not this.

The annual air show has become much smaller over the years, with distinctly less American presence. So this year's show opened with the air ambulance service flying one of their AW139's back and forth a couple of times. They're nice machines, but I live in one of the more northern towers on the edge of the city centre, so they go hammering past my home on a regular basis. I also work across the street from one of the hospitals that they land at, so I'll hear and see them as they come in to land while I'm in the park for lunch.

Their caution around the crowd made this one of the less impressive flybys I've seen this month. They normally work harder than this.

And sure enough, later in the afternoon the helicopter had to answer a call. I was photographing across the narrow channel from their island airport base, putting me right under it as it did a hard turn and raced away at low level to clear the display airspace. That's when I recorded the second photo.

Canada's military flies the F/A-18A, and has for almost all of my life. You can tell which ones are ours by the false canopy that's painted under the nose. (That, and the fact that basically nobody else in the world is still flying these planes.) Our efforts to find a replacement have been delayed for so long that we've bought a bunch of retired ones from Australia – including ones that can't even fly as a source of spare parts.

Coincidentally, one of my uncles flew the F/A-18, and others, for the RAAF.

The purely merit-driven approach to choosing the replacement for the CF188 will probably be decided in a couple of weeks. My bet: if the Liberals win the election on September 20th then the Block III F/A-18 Super Duper Hornet will win, since they cancelled the F-35's that the previous Conservative government wanted. If the Conservatives get elected, then in addition to worse pandemics and environmental catastrophe, then the impartial and apolitical decision will favour the F-35s and prove that they were right all along after all.

And the Gipen-E? It sounds good, and maybe it could happen if the NDP gets into power. (That's not expected to happen. Ever. By anyone, including the NDP.)

The ongoing Future Fighter competition is why the F35 demonstrator was the only aircraft that came up from America, and also the only one that had teams of people handing out promotional hats. (I didn't get one, but I'm fine with that. They were red, and had the F35 on them.) (I wore my DHC-2 Beaver hat for these photos.) The F35 has a stunningly loud interpretation of what "Stealth" means, and has the unrivaled ability to look awkward and ungainly from every angle.

The idea of Canada flying this massive resource-hog is absurd.

Our primary needs are long-range air patrol over the oceans and the north, quick-response scrambles for NORAD, and dropping bombs on people who can't fire back for NATO. The idea that we'd be flying first-strike against an opponent with defenses that are designed to stop the Americans – or that we could afford enough fifth-generation jets that their presence would be anything more than a rounding error in the force array – is unhinged. Yes, Australia flies the F35, but there is a chance that they'll have an uncomfortable one-on-one conversation with China about how much of the Pacific Ocean should belong to it. Us, not so much.

The F/A-18E is plenty for Canada's needs as an air-to-air nuisance and bomb truck. (And so is the Gripen-E.)

I do think Canada should copy Australia by buying a bunch of P-8 patrol airliners; they're perfect for maritime and northern sovereignty patrols, and in a pinch these can also drop bombs on people who can't fire back.

One of the few genuinely useful aircraft in the show was the C-130J that visited from its home at CFB Trenton. It was nice to see, even if I have taken better photos of an older C-130H model that I randomly saw landing at the island airport one afternoon. I'm very much in favour of having lots of rugged transport aircraft that can be used for many things, even if they do have to support military operations sometimes.

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The CH-146 Griffon in search-and-rescue configuration was also on hand. This is a Huey-family helicopter that's been in service for a long time, despite complaints that it's an under-powered barely-militarized refresh of an unloved civilian design. That sounds fairly Canadian to me, so it's hard not to appreciate it for that. The chance of there being money to upgrade or replace these seems unlikely, so that's also very Canadian.

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Also visiting were a pair of WWII warplanes. In the far monochrome distance we have the Catalina, which in Canada is pronounced Can-so, a seaplane patrol bomber that can fly for a tremendously long time by not going very fast. And a P51 Mustang also did a few passes, but the acrobatics weren't really a big feature this year.

I was surprised that the Lancaster bomber that flies out of Hamilton didn't make an appearance – it's often doing loops over the Toronto waterfront on summer weekends anyway. (Like the Air Ambulances, it uses the cluster of towers that I'm in as a waypoint, so I often hear it even if I don't see it.) And there was no visit from the seaplane that I really would have liked to see, the Canadiar CL-415, but I suspect they're all still busy being bombers elsewhere at the moment. Wildfire season doesn't really end any more.

This year there was only one private stunt plane doing an acrobatics demonstration, seen here from the western beaches. The display is impressive but requires a bit more effort to appreciate; the deafening roar of the jets that can break the sound barrier flying straight up has a much more visceral appeal to those in attendance. (And raises the ire much more from those who dislike the show.)

The real reason to go to the airshow is the Snowbirds. I made sure that I still had half a roll of film and a full battery for the digital camera in reserve for when they appeared. I wouldn't really miss the fast jets if they weren't in the show, but if the Snowbirds stay home then so would I.

A few of the photos in this set were actually taken the day before with my XT30 and 50/2 from the western beaches. The rest were with the XH1 and 55-200 or the Nikon F6 with the 50/1.8G on Delta 400. No, none of these were ideal. Yes, I do it anyway.

There's something to be said for these old little trainer jets that can't fly on pure engine power and still manage to produce amazing acrobatics. Slower speeds and tighter maneuvers make their display much more human-scale than the big warplanes, and they're far easier to spot from their sound. A CF-18 will be across the sky before you hear it.

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The Snowbirds are amazing to watch. They fly nine planes in acrobatic formation – if you can't see all of them together it means that two of them are sneaking up behind you. They love doing close passes and crossovers from unexpected directions. They're also much more likely to turn over the city than the big supersonic jets are; in previous years I've seen pairs of them zip past my balcony at eye-level as they head back to the lake.

Amazing to see.

I'm not someone who reflexively equates "Military = Heroes". I do think our military needs to be well-equipped and then never, ever used. People who are willing to put themselves at risk must be appreciated and valued too highly to endanger needlessly.

There's always risk to flying.

During a cross-Canada morale tour in May 2020 one of the CT-114 Tudor jets had its engine fail from a bird strike soon after takeoff, killing Capt. Jenn Casey and injuring Capt. Richard MacDougall. It's impossible to watch these amazing pilots without recognizing that they face danger with every flight, and appreciating that they're willing to do it anyway.