Air­show/Fly-In Sea­son Is upon Us...Fi­nally!

Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - By Budd Davis­son

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)

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