Canada's Arctic is the most remote area on the continent, where flying of any kind comes with hazards. But to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday this summer, the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour is bringing its best to a region that often gets left out.
Starting in June, up to 15 different aerial acts will take to the skies above every Canadian community north of the 60th parallel — from Kuujjuarapik on the northern shores of Hudson Bay to the military outpost at Alert, the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.
Lead performer Ken Fowler says he's looking forward to "seeing the smiling faces when we land and exchanging stories with everyone we meet."
In some communities, it's not possible or practical to land. So pilots will do what they call a "wheels up" show, where they fly in, perform above the community, then move on.
In most places, however, people in the isolated communities will be able to walk right up to planes at airstrips and chat with the pilots.
The idea for the northern air show began in what may seem to be an unlikely place: the recommendations of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
A key theme was education of and about the Indigenous community, so "the air show is a conduit," says Nancy McClure, executive director of the aviation tour.
"We want to start a conversation about how they want to be honoured and how we can honour them."
Tour organizers will also use their platform to help non-Indigenous Canadians hear stories from the North.
"This project should be important to all Canadians," adds McClure.
Some Indigenous Canadians have criticized the Canada 150 celebrations, noting their culture and people existed long before Confederation, and then faced attacks on that culture in the years that followed.
As a result, the air show is focused on hope for next 150 years, while acknowledging the mistakes of the past 150. For instance, says McClure, when asking permission of the communities to perform, at least one woman "shared her residential school experience, and she wants us to share it with others."
If everything goes to plan, the tour will perform in all 97 communities in Canada's North and set the world record for the longest series of air shows anywhere in the Arctic. But it involves a huge amount of flying: 30,000 kilometres. That's nearly three-quarters the distance around the equator.
On July 1, Canada Day, they'll meet people in the Nunavut mining community of Baker Lake, the town closest to the geographic centre of Canada.
It's a rare opportunity for many of the communities, which typically only see the cargo and passenger aircraft that visit periodically during the week.
The air show, says Fowler, is "an opportunity bring an entertaining form of aviation to people that would otherwise never have the chance to see these shows."
The only jet taking part is a Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 fighter painted in Canada 150 colours. It will be at five of the northern shows.
Other aircraft include:
- An F1 Rocket, piloted by Eric Hansen, a full-time dentist who dabbles as an aerobatic flight instructor. Hansen built the F1 Rocket over a 13-month period in 2002. He has also built a Ravin 500.
- An American Champion Super Decathlon, piloted by Anna Serbinenko. She has a PhD in financial mathematics and speaks seven languages. She also happens to be the sole female non-military air show aerobatic performer in Canada.
First stop will be Fort Liard in the Northwest Territories, with a population of 536, on June 2. Shows continue through the end of August.