Wingin' it with Canada's top pilots

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RCAF’s expertise takes flight during air show and exhibit


COLD LAKE - As I climbed up to the cockpit of the fighter jet, I could see a myriad of flight instruments covering the dash - all with levers to pull, buttons to push, dials to read. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a fighter pilot, dealing not only with that, but with the enemy below, or above, or beside ready to attack.

Learn about Canada's air force at 4Wing Cold Lake, one of the most important training faclities in the world.
Photos by Sheri Landry

I was happy to be a bystander this day – let the experts be the experts and thank them for looking after Canada and protecting us.

4Wing Cold Lake opens its doors a couple of times a year to show the community the important work they do on our behalf – and it is impressive.

In 1952, the Royal Canadian Air Force picked Cold Lake as its newest military installation – and today, 4 Wing Cold Lake remains one of the most significant air weapons and flight-training facilities in the world. In fact, it is Canada’s largest fighter base and the second largest RCAF base.

Maple Flag showcases proud past

One of the most significant events held yearly at 4 Wing is the Maple Flag international combat exercise with fighter pilots from around the world participating in the month-long event. Since 1977, Top Guns from around the world prepare for real-world operations through exercises that provide them with the skills and expertise to operate effectively against any adversary. It’s Canada’s world-class tactical fighter force training exercise.

The base has some of the most sought after amenities in the world for training purposes, including an almost unrestricted 1.17-hectare air weapons range equipped with state-of-the-art threats and targets.

More than 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces members and 400 personnel from six allied and partner nations participated in this year’s exercise. Multiple aircrafts were also brought in for training, including a C-130 Hercules aircraft, CF-188 Hornet fighters, CH-146 Griffon helicopters, an E3 Sentry aircraft from France.

Along with that, the town of Cold Lake and the Air Base have developed a long-standing and positive relationship that benefits everyone, says 4 Wing’s public affairs officer.

The base was opened to the public one day to showcase the aircraft and allow people to interact with the pilots – a sneak peek at one of the most important events for Cold Lake residents and visitors each year – the Cold Lake Air Show.

“We’ve been in Cold Lake for 60-plus years and we value our partnership,” says Capt. Mathew Strong. “This Air Show is one way to give back to the people who support us.”

The Cold Lake Air show gives visitors a chance to see the expertise of Canada's pilots. 

The Cold Lake Air Show is two days of excitement July 16 and 17, both in the air and on the ground, with many exhibitions of daring and delight. This family–friendly event features performers and activities from across North America, including showcasing the expertise and talent of the Royal Canadian Air Force as well as others with special skills to amaze.

“We value our place in this region, so opening our doors and sharing our skills and expertise with the public is the least we can do,” Capt. Strong says.

Of course, an air show wouldn’t be complete without the amazing Canadian Forces Snowbirds – and these Canadian icons who travel the world demonstrating their proficiency and skills in the air will be headliners of the show.

Look for the SkyHawks – the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team – who have been performing demonstrations and drifting to earth under their signature Canadian flag parachutes for 40-plus years.

The CF-18 Demonstration Team will also be in the air showing their skills.

Writer Kathy McCormick checks out the hardware in Cold Lake. 

If You Go

  • The fun starts Friday, July 15, with the Full Throttle Festival on 50th. This free event includes pony rides, a bouncy castle, face painter, mime and more for the kids, the RCAF Band Jet Stream and a beer garden with music.
  • Headed to the Cold Lake Air Show this year? Share this page with your friends and family.