Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Look Up! It's a Bird - No, It's a Plane - Wait, it's the Fort McMurray International Air Show!

One of the things few know about me is that I spent some of my life working in the aviation industry. While living in Red Lake, Ontario I worked for a small regional carrier called Bearskin Airlines - and my years there were some of the best times I have ever had in my life.

There is a rhythm to airline life, the departures and arrivals, and just enough occasional uncertainty with delayed flights and bad weather to keep it interesting. I loved every minute working in a small airport in northwestern Ontario, because it introduced me to people from all over the world who came to our community on business (gold mining) or pleasure (tourism and fishing). But most of all I loved it because it introduced me to the world of pilots, and planes.

I love to fly, enough that my pilot friends tried to encourage me to take lessons and try to acquire a pilot's license. They saw my love of aircraft, and my intense admiration for pilots and those who service the airplanes that fly our sky, because they are intricate pieces of equipment. I often thought it was almost magical, watching our "birds" take off one after another, gaining speed and altitude and tucking their landing gear up as they headed to their next destination. I was the person who would show up when unusual planes were on the tarmac, even on my days off, securing tours of luxury private jets flying aristocratic American fishermen to our airport where they would then head by boat to private fishing camps, and on one memorable occasion even found myself inside a giant Hercules, the workhorse of Canadian airforce aviation.  The shining moment every couple of years, though, was when one of our hometown boys, who had moved on to Cold Lake, would swing into town with his new ride - a CF-18.

You always knew when he was there even if you didn't know he was coming, because you could hear the engines as he would buzz low over the lake close to the airport. There was always a little shiver of excitement as you knew one of the finest aircraft in the world and a massively skilled pilot would soon be landing, and shortly after the crowd of local townspeople would show up, anxious for a glimpse of the CF-18, and, if they were lucky, see inside it. I was one of the lucky ones.

I left that aviation life behind me a long time ago, when I moved to Fort McMurray twelve years ago, but I have never lost my love of planes or my respect for the men and women who fly them. I spent enough time working with them to understand the level of knowledge and skill required to fly these precision vehicles, and I understood their passion because I felt a tiny bit of it myself. And besides, I have never lost that sense of magic when I see a plane take off, from the smallest float plane to the hugest cargo carrier. There is simply something incredibly exciting about seeing people take flight, a desire going far back into time and the story of Icarus.

I suppose that is why I am very excited for two things that are coming up very soon in Fort McMurray.

The first is the opening of the new airport terminal, which from all reports will be an astonishing accomplishment. Anyone who has been in our current terminal knows it is inadequate for the traffic it now sees, our region transporting passenger numbers beyond what any planner of that original terminal could have ever dreamed. This new terminal, though, has been designed to meet the needs of today and the future, turning us into an international destination and lessening our need to travel through the other hubs that often create delays in our flight itineraries. I am tremendously excited too because I have lived that aviation life, and I know the ebb and flow of the day of an airport, the busy times and the quiet times, and all the times in between.

I haven't seen the new terminal yet - I suppose I wanted it to be a surprise, refusing any media invitations as I think I want to experience it first on my own when the Intrepid Junior Blogger flies off to Calgary this summer. I told her about the new terminal and she was amazed, never expecting that we would see a terminal of this kind in our community, but now we will. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Scott Clements and all those at the Fort McMurray Airport Authority, who took an idea and are bringing it to reality, proving that we can achieve great things when we simply put our hearts - and our heads and our hands - into the task.

The second thing I am excited about is that next weekend all those who find planes magical like me - and to be honest like most of the world - will have an amazing opportunity when the Fort McMurray International Air Show takes over the skies and brings some of the premier aviation performers in the world to our community, including Canada's own renowned Snowbirds.

The jam-packed line-up of entertainment is pretty stunning- aerial acrobatics - or aerobatics - coupled with vintage aircraft, and even air show pyrotechnics. It is certain to be an incredible weekend, and on June 1 you can even take a tour of the new terminal (and while curiosity has a tendency to kill this cat she intends to skip the tour and stay true to her plan to experience the new terminal on an average and normal day, basking in that life she once knew so well).

And there will even be a CF-18 in attendance, and that I will go to see as I will never forget the day a very long time ago when I heard a buzzing noise for the first time and saw as people began to run from inside the terminal to the parking lot to see a favourite son return home in his new ride. I won't forget touching the aircraft and talking to the pilot about life in the skies. I won't forget the magic, because to me planes might be kept in the air by science but they are kept in our hearts through the magic they weave as we fulfill the dreams of Icarus, touching the sky.

I hope to see many other community members there. It is unlikely an air show of this magnitude will ever be held in this region again, and this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it right on our doorstep, and to hear that buzz of the CF-18 above our heads.

There have been some difficult days recently in our region. There have been days when I have felt a degree of despair about our future, and about our ability to continue to progress to meet the future that is coming at us like a freight train. I am taking a great deal of hope in the upcoming opening of the new airport terminal and air show, though, as it is the culmination of years of hard work, planning, hopes - and yes, even dreams - as we begin to embrace that future. It is a beacon of hope in our region that says we are strong, and growing, and progressive, and ready to welcome thousands and thousands of new residents and visitors to our region when they land on the tarmac at the new terminal for the first time.

In August of this year it will be exactly thirteen years ago that I arrived in Fort McMurray - my very first glimpse of my new life the airport tarmac and terminal. I had no idea back then what an adventure it would be or how this place would capture my heart. I had no idea back then that I would be here one day to celebrate the opening of a new airport terminal by being thrilled at an air show by the magic of flight - and yet here I am.

Join me as we celebrate the arrival of the future of Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray next weekend as the skies of our region come alive with airplanes - and magic!

Fort McMurray International Air Show 

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