A Behind the Scenes Look at the 2015 RCAF CF-18 Demonstration Team
It’s one of the more anticipated acts of the air show. As the CF-188 leaves the chocks, pulls out of the ramp area and taxis to the runway, heads turn to admire the jets’ magnificent paint scheme- a mural adorning both sides of the hornet, the entire top of the fuselage, both wings and tail. The painted image commemorates the United Kingdom’s 75th Anniversary of “The Battle of Britain.” As the fighter prepares for take-off, in the background, the audience hears those famous words uttered by Winston Churchill; “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. The crowd is exuberant as CF-18 Demo Pilot Capt. Denis “Cheech” Beaulieu performs square loops, multiple high-speed passes and tight turns before propelling the jet skyward. With safety the paramount concern, the demo accomplishes its goal of illustrating the aircraft’s capability and proficiency as well as the pilot’s ability and precision.
The CF-18 Demonstration Team has elected to perform their first five shows for 2015 at venues in the USA. Three more U.S. shows will follow later this year. The team will perform at twenty-two additional sites through-out Canada and approximate the same site schedule as the Canadian Forces Snowbirds in both countries. But the team’s work started long before the first show. “Cheech” was one of three applicants that tried out for the one-year demo pilot position. All applying had to have at least 500 flight hours in the hornet, hold the rank of Captain and have been a Flight Leader. CF-188 hornets are flown from only two bases in Canada; 4 Wing in Cold Lake and 3 Wing Bagotville. Annual demo pilot selection alternates between the two Wings. This year’s pilot hails from the 3 Wing’s 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron “The Alouettes.”
Before any audience in North America ever witnessed the demo, in October of the previous year, a preliminary show site schedule was established and presented to International Council of Air Shows at their annual December convention. In March, forty-five days prior to getting into the jet, demonstration pilot training began with “flying” the demo one or two flight s a day for about two weeks in the flight simulator; followed by two flights a day in the jet for the next two weeks. The demo routine comes from a preapproved manual and rarely changes from year to year. The team’s philosophy is “Why reinvent the wheel?” Keeping crowd safety in mind, the demonstration falls within the guidelines of Transport Canada and the FAA. A former CF-18 demo pilot provides support and tutoring during the training process. Capt. Beaulieu was mentored by the 2009 demonstration pilot. Beaulieu’s superior officer, Major Eric Martinat, although not an F-18 pilot, serves as the safety observing pilot through-out the entire process and during the show season. At the end of the training process and before the team takes to the road and skies, the demo pilot must perform the routine at Comox, BC and be approved in front of the General’s staff. That took place on 28 April 2015.
To an assortment of eclectic music of Beaulieu’s own choosing, the routine includes the jet fly as low as 1,500 feet and at least 5,000 for a minimal high show. During his routine “Cheech” will pull about 5.5 to 7G’s through the 360 Minimum Radius Turn (MRT), will achieve a high speed pass of .95 mach and perform maneuvers where the pilot may pull 6 to 7G’s for five seconds. All of this is done while in radio communication and under the watchful eye of Safety Observing Pilot Maj. Martinat who also serves as announcer for the demo.
The jet is accompanied by a maintenance team consisting of a Crew Chief, Deputy Crew Chief and two technicians; all of who travel to each show site on commercial aircraft along with the safety observer/announcer. Unlike their U.S. counterpart, the CF-188 comes to an air show with only the demo jet- no spare. In the event the primary plane is unable to perform, a back-up will be flown in from the closest squadron.
The CF-18 demo jet (Bu. No. 188761) was chosen because of the low time on its airframe. Some of the planes notable history include: in 1986, in England, when trying to land the jet, the pilot ran into several icy patches, could not bring the plane to a stop and was forced to eject prior to the jet running off the end of the runway. The CF-188 was taken to Germany where it sat for several years before finally being repaired with a nose from a Spanish F-18 and a wing from an Australian F-18- making it a true international plane! The second ejection occurred in Canada in the 1990’s when during take-off the pilot had the flight controls set in the wrong position. Realizing that the jet would not make it to take-off and unable to bring the plane to a stop, the pilot ejected. The plane came to a gentle uncontrollable non-volatile rest off the runway. After some minor repairs, two ejection seats were painted on the side of the jet signifying the incidents. The icons were removed when the jet was painted for the “Battle of Britain.” It should be noted; in England, a British Eurofighter Typhoon also sports the same 75th Anniversary paint theme. A discussion ensued about having the two jets perform together, but the parties could not come to an agreement as to which side of “the pond” that would take place. At the end of the 2015 air show season, the jet will be returned to the squadron in its standard grey paint design.