When Yellowknife Air Show failed to take wing in 2018, the city took notice.

Nearly two years later, RCAF Maj. Steve Thompson, one of the airshow’s organizers, has heard the call and said he’s excited the show’s slated return next July — all planned to include the snowbirds and to spotlight the unique role aviation has played shaping access to the Arctic.

“Super” Dave Matheison at the 2014 Yellowknife International Air Show.
Walter Strong/NNSL Photo

“We just want everyone in Yellowknife to know: the airshow is coming back,” he told Yellowknifer after presenting airshow plans to city councillors on Monday afternoon. 

The airshow, to be held July 11 to 13, 2020, is hosted on even years — alternating with the Float Fly-in, which is held on odd years. To avoid engine roar drowning out the guitars, the air show will also be held before the Folk on the Rocks weekend. 

Attendance at the show is usually between 3,000 and 6,500, the most ever, recorded in 2004. In 2016 — the last time the show took the skies — the roughly 5,000 person attendance drew attention from the airshow’s potential sponsors. 

“Do you realize that’s 15 per cent of your population?” Gordon Van Tighem, chairperson of the Yellowknife Airshow Society, recalls sponsors saying about the relatively large turnout. 

The former mayor noted aviation is the city’s third largest employer, playing a central role in Northern supply lines that the air show aims to put a spotlight on. He added that importance is demonstrated when flights are grounded due to events such as the attacks of Sept. 11.

He said the first flight out of Yellowknife airport after 9/11 was a Buffalo Airways cargo plane headed for a community that had already run short of supplies after two days of grounded flights 

Van Tighem added there’s also special significance when the military becomes involved. 

“When the Snowbirds fly over, your heart just swells with national pride. It’s an emotional experience,” he said. 

Maj. Steve Thompson, meanwhile, hopes the show will illustrate the values and teamwork behind the flights, and aviation’s contribution to the north.  While recruiting can be a small part of the air show, he said, “the biggest is demonstrating the skill, professionalism and teamwork that the armed forces have. It can be applied in any job around the world.”

Maj. Steven Thompson shares Yellowknife International Air Show plans with city councillors on Monday. Nick Pearce /NNSL photo

Operators, he explained, provide vital services to Northern communities, in addition to connections to the south. The air show helps put that on display. 

“Most citizens, they understand aviation’s a big part, but they don’t understand how big. They see the airport, they get on an Air Canada or a West Jet (aircraft) and head south.”

He encouraged residents to watch out for Kent Pietsch, whose performance involves the fake theft of a yellow Jello Belly stunt plane. Over the course of the flight, he tosses odds and ends like tires and rolls of toilet paper from the plane. 

Pete McLeod, who flies a Red Bull air racer, is also slated to make an appearance. 

Coun. Robin Williams shared his excitement for the upcoming event, saying the show would be ideal for youth. He said he has fond memories of seeing an A-10 jet as a child.

“What an experience that was,” he said. 

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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