Snowbirds head south to headline Duluth Airshow

Purchase a copy of today's News Tribune print edition for a two-page spread featuring photos and information about the planes performing and on display at this weekend's air show.

Snowbird jet
Andrew Poulin, lead crew chief for the Canadian Snowbirds, guides one of the group's jets into its parking position near Monaco Air on Thursday afternoon. Steve Kuchera /

Purchase a copy of today's News Tribune print edition for a two-page spread featuring photos and information about the planes performing and on display at this weekend's air show.

Canadian weather and Canadian Forces Snowbirds will converge Saturday as the Duluth Airshow opens at Duluth International Airport.

The Snowbirds, who actually arrived in Duluth on Thursday, will perform their first full-scale show in Minnesota since 1976, according to Ryan Kern, the Airshow's president. Their only Minnesota performance in the interim was a "teaser" over Lake Superior in May 2008 while they were en route to Milwaukee, he said.

Duluth is one of seven dates on the Snowbirds' 2012 U.S. schedule, said Capt. Thomas Edelson, their public affairs officer.

Meanwhile, a weather system is expected to come down from Canada tonight, but any precipitation should be south of the Twin Ports by Saturday morning, said Amanda Graning, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Duluth.


The Snowbirds are unique, Edelson said, because they put nine planes in the air, compared with a maximum of six for every other North American jet demonstration team.

The pilots fly Canadian-built CT-114 Tutors, painted red-and-white to evoke the Canadian flag. The Tutors are a little slower, a little smaller and not quite as noisy as the jets in those other teams, Edelson said.

The advantage is in maneuverability and the ability of the Snowbirds to keep their show in front of the audience. "There's almost always something happening on stage," Edelson said.

It's a must-see, said Stephanie LaFleur, director of demonstration teams for this weekend's show.

"With nine of them going up in the air and performing, it's just phenomenal, awesome," she said. "The way those Tutors can bank the turn on a dime is phenomenal. It's breathtaking. If you haven't seen it, you've got to."

LaFleur was at the airport on Thursday, coordinating activities of about 78 people arriving with various demonstration teams, getting them connected with transportation and their hotels. A retiree from the 148th Fighter Wing involved in her 12th Duluth Airshow, LaFleur said she likes helping to orchestrate the show, which brings tens of thousands of spectators.

"It's like a musical performance," she said. "Sometimes we might lack a little bit and have to do some more practicing, but in the end it's all pretty amazing."

One thing that's beyond everyone's control is the weather.


"It's Duluth, so of course we have weather concerns," LaFleur said, laughing. "If it's pouring and hailing we'll be on a weather hold, hopefully socializing with each other, waiting for it to dissipate and get the show on the road."

There's good news in that regard, the Weather Service's Graning said. After the rain moves south early Saturday, the Canadian system will greet air show attendees with north winds, lingering clouds and a high temperature of only about 50 degrees, she said.

It should be sunnier, warmer and less windy on Sunday, she added.

Clouds aren't a problem, LaFleur said. Pilots can bring their shows closer to the ground.

The Snowbirds are the major attraction, but Kern said he's excited about some other international aspects of the show, including a Russian MiG-17 and a Czech MiG-21.

Not everything at the air show will be in the air.

"This will be the largest air show that we've ever had, as far as things on the ground," Kern said.

That includes a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy, the biggest aircraft in the military fleet.


"The C-5 Galaxy is a behemoth," Kern said. "You scratch your head and think: How in the world does that fly? We will have that open so people can walk through it."

Also, the NASA hangar will include lunar samples, a Neil Armstrong memorial exhibit and a photo booth where you can have a picture taken of yourself as an astronaut, said Christa Clements, the volunteer responsible for that exhibit.

And for the first time at the Duluth show, it also will have a NASA astronaut, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gregory H. Johnson. He will speak with guests and sign autographs from 11 a.m. to noon and 1-2 p.m. on Saturday.

NASA was only willing to send an astronaut if he also had an opportunity to speak in schools, Clements said. Johnson will be at Denfeld High School from 12:45-1:45 p.m. today, speaking to students from Denfeld and nearby Laura MacArthur Elementary School, and at East High School from 2:30-3:30 p.m.

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