For the first time since American sequestration grounded US airshow acts in 2013, an F-22 Raptor from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia will fly at the Abbotsford Airshow. “It will be the first time that we’ve left the country to perform an airshow since sequestration in 2013,” Raptor demonstration pilot Major John (Taboo) Cummings said. “We’re pretty excited about it.” The F-22 team was in Abbotsford earlier this year for a reconnaissance trip and they’re looking forward to returning partway through a three-week road trip. “That airshow is renowned for its hospitality and they took great care of us,” said Cummings. “We can’t wait to bring the aircraft up there. It might be the first (visit) in Canada for some of the mechanical team members. It should be really exciting.” Cummings is the United States Air Force F-22 Raptor Aerial Demonstration team’s commander and pilot based at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. He has been flying the Raptor at airshows for two years. He will fly one more year before a new demo pilot takes over.
Cummings said he flies in about 20 airshows per season (he’s already appeared in about a dozen) in addition to his regular USAF duties. Sequestration in 2013—which was like a large budget cut across the US government—has meant a more streamlined airshow schedule for American military teams, he added. Sequestration grounded the Blue Angels jet demo team in 2013, and Canadian airshows like Abbotsford lost all US aircraft for a couple of years. Cummings sees that changing, but acknowledges it will never be the same. “In the past the US had seven demonstration teams. In 2014 it was just the Raptor. This year we brought back the F-16. Twenty shows is about as much as we’ve done in the Raptor. I don’t think it will ever be what it was five or so years ago.” Cummings, for one, is excited to be back in the plane and flying in front of airshow crowds again. “This jet goes like nothing else,” says Cummings. “When we’re flying we take off and can be in altitude in minutes. We can be flying through 50,000 feet and it can be 30 degrees outside. It doesn’t take all its power. It’s a pretty incredible machine.” The Raptor has a service ceiling of 65,000 feet and can fly as fast as Mach 2.25, but Abbotsford Airshow spectators won’t see the jet break the sound barrier. “Our demo profile is a little unique,” says Cummings. “While we do some classic aerobatic maneuvres that others do, most of the maneuvres were designed to teach new pilots to fly the plane and demonstrate its capabilities.” The first move in the show is a power loop. Another is the tail slide, where the plane will fall backwards and be completely controllable. Cummings is looking forward to the heritage flight he will fly with a P-51 Mustang and F-86 Sabre. “We’re all flying together, which is pretty cool,” he said. It’s also a challenge to keep up because of the varying flight specifications of the heritage aircraft vs. the F-22. “When it’s just another jet aircraft it’s pretty easy. When you add a P-51…it becomes a challenge. They’re flying near their top (performance) and we’re flying more towards our slow end.” The Raptor is expected to fly both Saturday, Aug. 8 and Sunday, Aug. 9. “It’s the first time (the Raptor) has been allowed to stage from the ground at an airshow in Canada,” Abbotsford Airshow media spokesperson Jadene Mah said. “Usually they just pop them over the border” from an American air force base. The Raptor will be behind security lines on the hot or active ramp at the airshow, but aviation enthusiasts will still be able to see the high-powered jet. “People will get to see it on the ramp but they won’t be able to see it on display,” Mah said. The Raptor is one of three jet demo teams expected at the Abbotsford Airshow this weekend: others are the Canadian Forces CF-18 and the US Navy’s FA-18 TAC team. There are also three jet aerial demo teams—Breitling, Horsemen and the Snowbirds—and the flight commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For ticket information, directions and both flying and static displays, please go online to http://www.abbotsfordairshow.com or follow @AbbyAirshow on Twitter.