COLUMBIA — Capt. Billy Mitchell of the Canadian Armed Forces has been flying a CF-18 Hornet for four years, logging more than 1,000 hours at its controls.
But the Memorial Day weekend’s Salute to Veterans Airshow marks his demonstration debut.
“I’ve been getting ready,” Mitchell said. “Columbia will be my first show in front of the big crowd.”
The Canadian CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Team will fly military maneuvers exactly as they would in wartime, all while giving the public a chance to see a high-performance fighter aircraft, said Mary McCleary Posner, founder of the air show.
“They are flying, in effect, the art of their aircraft, meaning that it’s a training exercise for them to fly the demonstration,” Posner said.
This year is the Hornet demo team’s first appearance at the air show. The stop in Columbia is one of only three U.S. performances, the other two in Salinas, Calif., and Oceana, Fla. The team will also perform 16 shows in Canada and one in the United Kingdom.
Mitchell said the CF-18’s maneuverability allows for a fairly tight show, which spectators should enjoy.
“The ability of this aircraft to max perform while keeping it in front of the crowd is what sets it apart,” he said.
Mitchell and the previous demo pilot have been practicing the demonstration by starting at 1,000 feet and working down to 300 feet, the height at which the 12-minute show will take place.
Posner arranged for the team’s appearance at the air show last December while attending the International Council of Air Shows convention in Las Vegas. She spoke personally with Mitchell, who had recently been named pilot of the demonstration team.
Mitchell said Posner and the other organizers were extremely hospitable, which played a large part in the decision to come to Columbia.
“It just seems like a great way to kick off the season, combining Memorial Day with a salute to veterans,” he said.
Posner said inviting the Canadian demonstration team is a reflection of the Salute to Veterans mission statement, which is, “To honor and remember those who served, those currently serving in our Armed Forces, Guard, Reserves and our Allies.”
This year’s Hornet will display the North American Aerospace Defense Command emblem, which represents the unity between the U.S. and Canada, in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The aircraft will be painted in celebration of Quebec City’s 400th anniversary as well, Mitchell said.
“They’re helping us celebrate our 20th anniversary,” Posner said. “We are very honored to be able to honor them as an ally.”