CBC Digital Archives

1969: Sonic boom smashes Kelowna's windows

media clip
It's a clear August day in Kelowna, B.C. The International Regatta is on, and people are getting ready for the parade. Overhead, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels aerobatic team perform a graceful diamond vertical manoeuvre. And then... BOOM!

With a deafening crash, hundreds of windows suddenly shatter, spraying glass throughout an eight-block section of downtown Kelowna.

• During the Blue Angels practice show, Marine Capt. Vince Donile exceeded the speed of sound during the four-plane cross portion of the "Diamond Vertical Opener" manoeuvre, causing a sonic boom that shattered most of the glass in downtown Kelowna. Several people were struck by flying glass and needed hospital treatment.

• In spite of the damage, organizers went ahead with the regatta parade after millions of pieces of glass were cleared from the parade route.

• The Blue Angels still performed their flight demonstration in Kelowna the next day.

• After an investigation the U.S. Navy paid for the broken glass. The damage was estimated at $250,000 -- worth about $1.3 million in 2004 dollars.

• The Blue Angels were founded in 1946 to represent the U.S. Navy at air shows and other events.

• The Kelowna International Regatta was eventually cancelled after hooligans started downtown riots in 1986, 1987 and 1988. It was revived in 1990.

• A sonic boom is caused when an object moves faster than the speed of sound ("supersonic" -- about 1,200 kilometres per hour at sea level.) An airplane produces waves of air pressure like water waves at the bow of a ship. When it exceeds the speed of sound the waves are compressed and combine to form shock waves. The boom heard on the ground is the sudden onset and release of pressure from the shock waves.

• American pilot Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier on Oct. 14, 1947 flying the Bell X-1 experimental rocket plane. The sound barrier was broken on land fifty years later by a British jet car called ThrustSSC.

• You can create your own sonic boom by cracking a whip. The tip of the whip actually breaks the speed of sound and creates a small sonic boom.

• In February 2006, Capt. Donile saw this clip on the CBC Digital Archives website, and took the time to write to us. Here's what he had to say:
   "I am Capt. Vince Donile, the Blue Angel pilot who exceeded the speed of sound in Kelowna. We were practicing in the morning for the air show. In the opener, I was a little late for the four plane cross and I accelerated to .97 Mach. Before the cross, I flew over a lake still very cold from the evening low temps. My speed exceeded Mach 1 for an instant. The rest is history.
   "We were not too popular that day," Donile continues. "However, that evening after all the publicity, TV coverage, news media attendance, etc., Kelowna was now on the map. The attendance for the air show increased 10 times, the local merchants were pleased with the number of tourists flooding in to see the city. I had dinner with the City Officials that evening and they were delighted with all the attention their city was receiving.
   "The merchants had more sales than they ever anticipated, restaurants were crowded, hotels full, and the air show had a huge attendance," Capt. Donile told CBC Archives. "We were told that everyone knew where Kelowna was now, and visitors were expected in numbers never anticipated. Some good did come from an unfortunate situation.... It was nice to see all the merchants and the City realize much more profit than the windows cost. I remember it well...."

Also on August 6:
1932: The modern Welland Canal officially opens between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The first ship to pass through is the S.S. Lemoyne of Canada Steamship Lines.
1945: The American B-29 bomber Enola Gay drops a four-tonne atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. An estimated 140,000 people are killed and 50,000 buildings destroyed, marking the beginning of the nuclear era.
2001: The report of an inquiry into police conduct at the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver is released. Commissioner Ted Hughes accuses the RCMP of poor planning and incompetent handling of protesters. He also rules that an aide to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien improperly interfered with police security planning.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Aug. 7, 1969
Host: Stanley Burke
Duration: 00:50

Last updated: July 22, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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