A pair of Canadian Forces Skyhawks skydivers practices for this weekend’s Comox Air Show in the skies above Campbell River Airport Tuesday afternoon.

Skydiving team drops in on Campbell River

The members have been fine-tuning their routine at the Campbell River drop zone

Canada’s premier skydiving team dropped in at Campbell River Airport this week.

Over and over and over again.

The Canadian Forces Skyhawks, based at CFB Trenton, have traveled from Ontario to take part in Saturday’s Comox Air Show and Armed Forces Day. To prepare for their show-opening drop that will accompany the playing of the national anthem, the members have been fine-tuning their routine at the Campbell River drop zone run by Pacific Airsports Skydiving.

“It’s good for them to stay in a drop zone that’s similar to the one where they’ll be performing,” said Master Corporal John Henderson of CFB Comox’s 442 Squadron. “So far, it’s been perfect.”

The Skyhawks team, which was created to perform in air shows and for recruitment purposes, trains each spring at drop zones in Eloy, Ariz., or Paris Valley, Calif., where the weather is more reliable than that in Ontario in April or May, Henderson noted.

Since Monday, a nine-member Skyhawks team has alternated flights with five members of the 19 Wing Comox Search and Rescue squadron, who are also jumping here as part of a jump coach certification program.

They will be at the airport through today before returning to Comox to get ready for tomorrow’s air show.

“We’ve got guys taking their Level 1 and Level 2 coaching course,” said Henderson. “They’re learning how to coach new freefallers.”

Henderson, a 27-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, grew up in Courtenay before enlisting in the military as an infantryman. He retired following one tour, but “retirement didn’t agree with me,” he said, and he re-enlisted in the Air Force.

This week, he has worn multiple hats as a rigger and packer of the skydivers’ gear, the safety vehicle operator and the drop zone coordinator.

On Tuesday afternoon, Henderson waited outside the Pacific Airsports Hanger as the jumpers were carried to 12,000 feet in a Canadian Forces Twin Otter plane. On this attempt, the Twin Otter was radioed for a “stop drop” and circled in wait while aircraft from the nearby Air Tanker Base took off or landed while performing firefighting duties or exercises.

“It’s just like when you pull over for an ambulance on the road,” said Keegan Allen, a pilot with Pacific Airsports. “Emergency services always have the right-of-way.”

From there, the Skyhawks jumped and embarked on a freefall before pulling their Maple Leaf flag-designed chutes and performing a series of “parabatic” maneuvers, including linking their legs to perform a routine called the butterfly, or stacking up in biplane or triplane formations.

As they neared the ground, the jumpers separated and landed one at a time in the drop field next to the Pacific Airsports hangar.

As the Skyhawks were preparing to jump, the SAR technicians were just wrapping up a classroom session inside and emerged to gear up for their next jumps. At least one of them works for Pacific Airsports as a tandem jump instructor, and Henderson said everything about the facility was ideal for the purpose of this week’s training.

“You’ve got a quality of instruction from the civilians here that’s equal to any drop zone,” he said.

The 2015 Comox Air Show begins at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Gates open at 9 a.m. For information and online ticket sales, visit www.comoxairshow.ca.