AirShow London 2019 Dances Around Weather Issues Nicely
I had a few days of photography planned during 2019’s edition of Airshow London (Ontario). Having attended some eight shows over the past three decades, I knew that weather could “rain on my parade” during my quest for photographing some interesting, artsy and/or historically significant aircraft and their crews at the annual extravaganza. But, possible bad weather never turned me away from a good air show…
Although the former London International Air Shows were held during the mid-summer weeks, the recent Airshow London editions occurred in September. For me, a normal three-day weekend air show weekend will bring one day of some marginal or worse weather conditions, and at least one day of acceptable to outstanding weather. One hopes that the third day offers good photographic conditions too. In the end, weather conditions during one seasonal time frame or the other hasn’t made any discernible difference to me.
My usual London air show schedule had me arriving into London’s airport around noontime on Thursday and I’d depart for home right after the Saturday performances, when the airport opened again and my Air Canada Express flight to Toronto (and then onto Boston) could alight. That way I could focus on arriving aircraft the first two days, and then see a full air show on Friday evening and Saturday.
Following my rule-of-thumb weather expectations, Thursday was overcast with some fog, which improved by late afternoon. The day prior to my arrival saw heavy rain, and grounds were still rather wet. A handful of air show aircraft arrived during the gloom, as did a handful of airline and general aviation aircraft that usually operate from the city’s airport. It was a marginally poor day, weather-wise.
Although one can purchase a Photo Pit Pass for up to five days – Thursday through Monday – I always purchase a Friday and Saturday Photo Pit Pass for a few reasons. The placement of the Photo Pit, at the corner of the busiest taxiway and near the main runway allows for some great photos. The access on Friday for practice flying can’t be beat (and police shoo away people parked on roadways at the end of the runway during the long weekend), a cordial, almost festive atmosphere exists within the Pit, and it’s photographer-friendly with Nikon of Canada setting up shop with their “test drive” opportunities. Refreshments and light snacks are provided during Friday, and later on, the Friday evening air show access is included in the price of Pit admission.
Friday was and is a day for the area school kids to attend various STEM activities at the show, and groups of students went from plane to plane and listened to air crew experiences, which could lead to future careers in aviation. It reminded me of Trick or Treating on Halloween here in my home state of New Hampshire. A good thing for the Pit Pass photographers, the STEM groups never got in front of us during photo opportunities. Normally, the Pit is your compound during the day, once you’re there… you stay till the night show on Friday. Of course, you can come and go whenever you want to on Saturday. Keep this thought in mind to frame something important that occurred on Friday and Saturday morning, noted towards the ending of this article.
Saturday morning, the Photo Pit Pass also offers an early – just before sunrise – photo access opportunity before the general public’s gates are opened. This allows for some artsy photos without people around the aircraft. The Pit also lets you set up your equipment in a more secure area, with like-minded people watching out for each other.
Of course, weather can take away, or enhance your experiences. In 2019, Friday began with decent conditions, but thunderstorms, some severe, were forecast throughout the afternoon and evening. Not a good outlook! In the end, the aircraft arrivals and practice shows through Friday afternoon went off without a hitch, but by late afternoon, word filtered down that the Friday evening show was cancelled due to expected severe weather. And right on cue, some severe storm cells swept just north and south of the area between 5PM and 8PM, which could have caused chaos for show spectators who might have been there if the show went on. Military aircraft usually aren’t operated at air shows if there’s lightning within five miles or so of a venue either, and the skies were especially charged and sparkled with lightning between 8PM and 9PM around the London area… and that would have been during the evening show’s finale.
Then – again true to my past experience – Saturday dawned clear, and a beautiful sunrise bathed the static displays in sweet orange light. The early access worked out perfectly for me. Plus, a US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey made an early arrival during Saturday’s show, due to its diversion enroute to the show on Friday because of the stormy weather around southern Ontario. The Saturday weather continued with mainly clear skies, and the full flying and ground experiences of an airshow at London were enjoyed by a large crowd. My departure after the show allowed me to photograph the grounds, sans people, from my Dash 8 window seat too. So in the end, weather gave me one and a half days out of three days of acceptable conditions to bring back memories and help me to portray my experience here on our pages. This was not unexpected.
However, something exciting and totally unexpected occurred on Friday – that being my chance meeting with Mark Girdauskas, a volunteer photographer for the air show. Mark announced that he’d be willing to lead a group of us Photo Pit Pass holders around the grounds if we wanted to forgo the usual photographic opportunities that the Pit offered. Access to different photo opportunities sounded good to me, especially on Friday during aircraft arrival times… and this led to some exciting opportunities. I took advantage of his willingness to help us gain different vantage points on the grounds, and got to speak with show performers like the static B-52 crew and the F-15E crew members too. London is a great place to “talk shop” with air crews, and both Friday and Saturday offered some interesting and fun points-of-view from performers.
This was a big bonus for me, and I hope that his kind offer of access around the grounds will become a regular perk of the Photo Pit tickets in the future. Thank you Mark!
The Photo Pit “master” is Jim Fisk, one of many volunteers that make the Airshow London experience special. Great pre-show communication, through their web site and other social media outlets, prepares you for the show. Jim and the other Pit volunteers have an orderly process of scanning tickets, going through a compulsory search of bags, etc., and then leading people to the photo pit through a side gate onto the air show grounds… painless! Not only is Jim there on the grounds as a patient host, but he always emails out a survey a few weeks after the show, asking for input as to how to make the experience better. The Photo Pit is clearly a work in progress, and each year an innovation or two comes along. Thank you Jim, and to the other volunteers from the Pit too, from security to ticket scanners and others for volunteering.
Whatever the weather will be in 2020, I expect that I’ll have a great time among the airplanes, crew members, and especially the volunteers and the Photo Pit Pass holders at Airshow London. To see what’s coming up, here’s a link to their web site: https://airshowlondon.com/