An exhaustive history of the Red Knight solo air show.
The titular aerobatics demonstration program began in 1958, the result of a propitious combination of historical variables. Just after World War II, the Royal Canadian Air Force was eager to show off its jet fighters and display its combat readiness to Canadian citizens and the world at large. Two significant anniversaries were fast approaching, furnishing the program with celebratory reasons to showcase its skills: the 50th anniversary of the first time that a Canadian flew a powered aircraft (1909) and the 35th anniversary of the RCAF itself (1924). Debut author Corrigan devoted a quarter-century to researching and writing this history, which charts with painstaking meticulousness the full 12 years of the program’s operation. The jet that it used was the Canadair T-33A, which was eventually painted with Day-Glo red paint to increase its visibility and help avoid collisions, which led a photographer to give it the moniker “Red Knight.” The show became increasingly popular; tens of thousands of spectators could attend a single demonstration, and it expanded to include additional planes and a tour of the United States. Although largely billed as entertainment, the low-altitude precision flying was extremely dangerous as well as physically grueling for the men in the cockpits—on three occasions, pilots died. Lt. Brian Alston was the last, and his accident in 1969 was the principal reason that the show was finally retired. Despite its brevity, this is a mesmerizingly detailed history—a fact that’s impressive and exasperating at the same time. Corrigan buries the reader under minutiae, which sometimes makes the book as a whole seem more like an encyclopedic reference work than a remembrance to be consumed all at once. However, his diligence will reward the truly interested reader, and his diagrams and illustrations are helpful, descriptive tools. Also, the author ably highlights the extraordinary physical demands that the flight missions made on the pilots; the centrifugal force of some of the more daring maneuvers was punishing, indeed.
It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive look at the Red Knight program—and at aerobatics in general.