Abbotsford International Airshow 2010

Last weekend saw the holding of the annual Abbotsford Airshow. It’s my one-and-only opportunity for airshow photography these days, and luckily sunshine was predicted for the first time since I’ve been going. Yep, for the last four or five years it’s been heavily overcast every time we attended. We actually had the opposite problem this year; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the temperature got up to 33C, and with no shade it was a bit uncomfortable.

The unrelenting sun made photography difficult too. The crowdline faces south at Abbotsford, so you’re shooting into the sun all day. That has several unfortunate side-effects:

– Glare!
– The light is coming from above and behind the aircraft, so they can look flat in photographs.
– And the most difficult to deal with, the available light can change by over 2 stops as you pan the camera to catch all of a pass. The aircraft are constantly changing the direction in which they make their passes and it’s very challenging to adjust the camera as you follow them and fire away. I ended up using shutter-priority mode rather than my usual manual, though I don’t think it really made it easier as I still had to continually change the exposure compensation. I got some decent shots of the flying acts, but I think some of my favourites this year were of the statics.

You can see my Flickr gallery for the airshow here.

A T-28B on static display, with Mount Baker in the background.

Still, they always put on an impressive show at Abbotsford, and the day passed quickly even in the wilting heat. The highlight for me was the Lancaster bomber, one of only two flying in the world. It went up near the end of the day and it was great to see it in the air, but they’re obviously pretty careful with it and it only made three or four passes, none of which were especially dramatic (no photo pass for instance, where the plane flies an arc while banked toward the crowd, which makes for a more interesting shot than the usual profile angle). The announcers made some references to mechanical problems while it was taxiing out (without tying them to the Lancaster specifically, describing them as “some mechanical issues on the ramp” or something vague), so I wonder if that had anything to do with it. I’ve seen B-17 displays where they throw the plane around a lot more so I don’t think the age of the plane is the only factor. Anyway enough complaining, it was awesome just to see it flying and I’m grateful they made the effort. I’d love to see it visit again!

The Lancaster bomber makes a pass with the bomb-bay doors open.

Other highlights included the WW2-era Corsair, one of my favourite warbirds (not as all-out-awesome as the P-38 though, which I’d love to see again – last time was 2002 or 2003 in Texas); an F8F Bearcat; the F-15E and F/A-18F which are always great; the Thunderbirds and of course the Snowbirds (which I sadly missed as we had to leave). There were a few no-shows which was disappointing; neither of the helicopters scheduled to perform showed up, and neither did the B-25, Hurricane or Sea Fury which had been mentioned on the website (though I just checked again and the fighters aren’t there anymore, so maybe they cancelled ahead of time).

The small twister that formed after the combat display!

One interesting thing that happened was after the combat demo with ground forces and two CF-18s. The combination of the heat, the pyro effects and the turbulence left by the aircraft led to an actual twister forming out on the airfield. It was at least a hundred feet high or more and maybe a meter across at the ground, and was pretty impressive. I was fiddling with the camera and wasn’t quite ready to take a picture when it appeared (of course!) but I managed to get this one as it lifted off. I’ve deliberately gone a bit further enhancing the colour than I would ordinarily to make it more visible. Really a cool and unique event.

Overall Abbotsford was a good time, though I’ve seen some of the same acts over and over now and I’m really wanting to visit a different airshow. Still haven’t seen an F-22 display, and I really miss the shows we used to go to in Texas with some amazing lighting (Wings over Houston and the Central Texas shows in particular, where you shoot with the sun behind you). Maybe next year!

Related posts:

Airshow Photography Part 1, Equipment
Airshow Photography Part 2, Exposure
Abbotsford Airshow 2009

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