Airshow/Fly-In Season Is upon Us...Finally!
Yeehaw! It’s that time of the year: airshow season! Is there a better feeling than walking through acres of airplanes while the surrounding soundtrack is that of the Merlin/ Pratt & Whitney symphony punctuated by the hard-rock sounds of a monster G.E. jet in afterburner? Airshow/fly-ins are a world unto themselves and a three-dimensional representation of Flight Journal’s mindset. If it flies, we love it. And if there’s an airshow/fly-in going on, we’re there. The problem, however, is deciding which one to attend. There are hundreds worldwide, with the majority of those in North America (United States and Canada). So many airshows, so little time.
First, a little obvious education just so we’re all on the same page. A pure “airshow” is just that: several hours of derring-do by some of the best pilots on the planet. Lots of smoke, oohs, and aahs, and (of course) the requisite, sometimes mind- numbing noise. There are usually exhibits and sometimes some aircraft on static display around the grounds. The attraction and focus, however, is on the performers and their aerial stagecraft.
A pure “fly-in” is just that: airplanes fly in without an airshow. What it has, however, is an overabundance of aircraft, generally of many varieties, spread out for us to wander among. Some fly-ins, however, are “type specific,” like the National Stearman Fly-In held in Galesburg, Illinois, or the WACO Fly-In in Troy, Ohio. And then there are fly-ins like the Antique Airplane Association’s bash in Blakesburg, Iowa, which draws the largest turnout of antique aircraft in the country, or the Cactus Fly-In hosted by Casa Grande, Arizona, in which the birds that come over the horizon inbound are almost all ancient.
A few of the fly-ins, like the Space Coast Warbird Airshow (Titusville, Florida), formerly known as TICO, are warbirdcentric. Some of the warbird shows are put on by flying museums, like the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which has numerous shows all summer long. The mostly-all-flying museum has events such as Warbirds over the Beach, Flying Proms, and Biplanes and Brews during the season. WW II fighters are their focus, but the term “warbird” also includes Fokkers, Sopwiths, and their peers. The Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California, offers a rare opportunity to see warbirds, some of them sole survivors, of every type in action and up close.
The majority of fly-ins actually do have an airshow, which features a couple of hours of three-dimensional cavorting. Most of the airshows are of the smoke-spouting-biplane-and-sleekmonoplane variety. The larger of the combination shows, however, may also feature the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds, with aerobating WW II warbirds also doing their thing.
And then there is the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which is held at the end of July. This is the 800-pound gorilla of the fly-in/airshow community. Its airshow is always among the largest and most diverse, but in addition, AirVenture is often designated the world’s “largest annual outdoor event.” To put it in aviation terms, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. airplane population is on the field at one time. For instance, it’s not unusual to see an entire WW II squadron (16 airplanes plus spares) of Mustangs lined up wingtip to wingtip. They will be surrounded by everything from Stearman trainers and P-38s to B-17s and almost everything that ever saw military action. And during some days of the week, the warbirds put on their own airshows and warbird aerobatics are performed almost every day.
In the vintage area—still on the AirVenture grounds but nearly a mile farther south of the warbirds—you might find eight or nine Lockheed 12A twins or maybe a like number of Helio
Couriers lined up among hundreds of seldomseen antiques and classics. The variety is hard to get your head around.
On the airplane show line, between the warbirds and vintage/ antiques, hundreds of homebuilt aircraft hold court, and here too, the variety of shapes and sizes challenges the imagination. As does the small city of trade exhibitors, more than 800 in all, who sell everything from the latest electronic doodads to newly constructed Le Rhône rotary (rotary, not radial) engines. If it’s not on display, chances are you don’t need it.
There are lots of big shows, but there are also literally hundreds of smaller local ones scattered throughout the nation that usually don’t make the headlines but are often more laid-back and every bit as entertaining. Better yet, they are usually a short drive away and make a good day trip. AirVenture, for one, is definitely not a day trip. Plan on a minimum of three days, with a week not being enough.
So how do you find out about all the shows? It’s actually pretty easy. Mr. Google comes to our aid the instant we type in “Airshows 2018.” There are several hundred shows of all sizes and types listed, so finding them isn’t difficult. Deciding which to attend is a different matter. We can’t help you there. Sorry.
Biplanes to the latest in military hardware are airshow fare. (Photo by Ken Strohm)