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Great airshows across the USGreat airshows across the US

It’s airshow season! Fly in to a wonderful airshow in a town near you.

  • Each summer, the Chicago Air and Water Show provides thrilling entertainment for aviation fans—for free. Stunts are performed over Lake Michigan. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds alternate yearly headline duty, along with the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights and the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs. Photo courtesy City of Chicago, DCASE.
  • Pilots began staging airshows just a few years after airplanes were invented. Because early aircraft were so unstable, accidents and fatalities were commonplace. Today, airshow pilots, both civilian and military, are highly talented and highly trained, flying highly capable and reliable airplanes. Performers run the gamut from comic acts like Greg Koontz, who lands his Clipped Wing Cub on a moving truck, to aerobatic superstars like Patty Wagstaff and Sean Tucker, to the precision and might of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Photo by Leslie W via Flickr.
  • In May, a squadron of 16 TBM Avengers will fly over Illinois Valley Regional in Peru, Illinois, for the annual TBM Avenger Reunion and Salute to Veterans. Photo by Chad Horwedel.
  • U.S. Navy pilots wave to the crowd from their F-18 at the Anderson Air Show in South Carolina. Photo courtesy Cloud Dancer Photography.
  • Scott Francis began flying aerobatics and competing in aerobatic competitions in 2003. He rapidly moved up from Sportsman level, to Intermediate, Advanced, and finally the top level–Unlimited. He’ll be flying his ultra-high-performance MXS aircraft, one of only 12 in existence, at the Anderson Air Show. This all-carbon-fiber-construction monoplane can reach a top speed of 310 mph while still maintaining ultimate maneuverability. Photo courtesy Cloud Dancer Photography.
  • It’s not all about airplanes: The Shockwave Jet Truck often performs at airshows like the Anderson Air Show, and will dazzle you with its acceleration, flames, and jet-like speeds. Photo courtesy Cloud Dancer Photography.
  • The Snowbirds are Canada's military aerobatic flight demonstration team whose purpose is to demonstrate the skill of the Canadian Forces. Their nine-aircraft team performs difficult aerobatic maneuvers in close formation, with ballet-like grace. Photo courtesy Canadian Forces.
  • Each year over Memorial Day weekend, the Salute to Veterans Air Show fills the skies over Columbia Regional Airport in Missouri. See a rare, single-jet-powered deHavilland D.H. 100 Vampire like this one at the show. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • Two of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pass by each other at a closure rate exceeding 1,000 mph during the Gowen Thunder Airshow over Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Immediately after their performance, you can meet the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilots. Here, at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, Lt. Caroline Jensen has just finished explaining to this little girl, who says she wants to be a Thunderbird when she grows up, what classes to take in school and other good advice to help her get into the Air Force Academy. Jensen finished by giving the girl her personal email and urging the girl to stay in contact with her. Who knows? This moment may just have changed the life of this aspiring young aviatrix! Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Visit an airshow and get up close to amazing airplanes like this P-51 Mustang, “Diamondback.” Mark Peterson will be flying “Diamondback” and his Dornier Alpha Jet—no, not at the same time—this year at Mountain Home AFB south of Boise, Idaho, for the Gunfighter Skies Air and Space Celebration. If you want to hear the roar of that big Merlin and see what a Mustang can really do, this is the place! Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Pilot Mark Peterson, who owns both “Diamondback” and this P-51, “Hell-Er Bust,” has just finished an incredible performance for the crowd at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho. You can see this airplane any time it’s home, through a window at the Jackson Jet Center FBO. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Four A-10 “Warthogs” in close formation over Boise, Idaho. This year, the US Air Force's Tactical Demonstration team will bring their "Warthog" A-10 Thunderbolt II to numerous airshows across the U.S., to showcase the maneuverability and handling of this popular aircraft. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The Curtiss P-40N “Parrothead” at the Reno Air Races. “Parrothead” can be seen at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho. This amazing airplane is the only one in the world still painted in the colorful “Parrothead” scheme. Photo courtesy Warhawk Air Museum.
  • This USAF Thunderbirds maneuver is called a Calypso Pass. In mirror formations, one Thunderbird must be inverted, and it is always No. 5. In fact, the number 5 on this aircraft is painted upside-down, and thus appears right-side-up for much of the routine. This humorous detail carries through on their uniforms. The pilots all wear tailored flight suits with their name and jet number embroidered on the left breast. The suit for the pilot of the No. 5 airplane has the number sewn upside-down. Photo by Staff Sgt. Richard Rose Jr., courtesy USAF.

One of the best things about airshows is that so many of them are held at airports! As a pilot, that means you can fly right in to watch the show. But plan ahead and check the airshow website well in advance. You may need to register if you’re planning to fly in; the show organizers want to know how many aircraft to expect. For really big events, a notice to airmen will be issued with special fly-in procedures. Listen up and be ready to comply promptly with any air traffic control instructions, and be extra vigilant about keeping a sterile cockpit environment as you approach what will probably be a very busy airport. The same holds true on the ground as you taxi to parking. Check the web for airshow calendars and get ready to have some fun!

Airshow season kicks into high gear by May. The Fort Lauderdale Air Show is held at Florida's Fort Lauderdale Beach, so Fort Lauderdale Executive is a good choice, with a very helpful FBO staff. Love warbirds? On May 19, a squadron of 16 TBM Avengers will fly over Illinois Valley Regional in Peru, Illinois, for the third annual TBM Avenger Reunion and Salute to Veterans—that would certainly get my heart racing! In South Carolina, the Anderson Regional Airshow will be held at the Anderson Regional Airport May 19 and 20. Expect to see the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, USAF A–10 “Warthog,” Scott Francis and his ultra-high performance MXS, the one-of-a-kind ChefPitts, the Tinker Belle C–46, and many more. Appropriately scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, the thirtieth annual Salute to Veterans Air Show fills the skies over Columbia Regional Airport in Missouri with a huge variety of airplanes; I’m especially excited about seeing the Curtiss P–40 in a Heritage Flight with the A–10. Also scheduled is an ultra-rare single-jet-powered de Havilland D.H. 100 Vampire.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels circle in tight formation over Chicago’s skyscrapers during the Chicago Air & Water Show. Photo courtesy City of Chicago, DCASE.

I’ll be spending my birthday weekend June 2 and 3 this year at Mountain Home Air Force Base south of Boise, Idaho, for the Gunfighter Skies Air and Space Celebration. See (and then meet) the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds; other highlights include the F–22 Raptor Demonstration Team and the Tora! Tora! Tora! performance that includes six replica Japanese aircraft that flew in the film Pearl Harbor and were later donated to the Commemorative Air Force. Other great airshows this June include the Rhode Island Open House and Air Show at Quonset State Airport, the Nebraska State Fly-In and Air Show at Chadron Municipal Airport, the Dayton Air Show at Dayton International in Ohio, and CAF Wings Over Indy at Indianapolis International Airport.

Always a favorite, the Arlington Fly-In at Arlington Municipal Airport in Washington state celebrates its fiftieth anniversary July 6 through 8. You’re going to see several aerobatic acts, but the stars are the fantastic warbirds from nearby museums like the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum, Flying Heritage Foundation, and Cascade Warbirds. There are many more shows in July, such as the Westmoreland County Air Show at Arnold Palmer Regional in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and the massive EAA AirVenture fly-in at Wittman Regional in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I’ll be going this year, so we’ll have a full story about Oshkosh next year.

Tom 'Lark' Larkin will perform at the Nebraska State Fly-In & Air Show in his SubSonex Mini Jet, which weighs 500 lbs., goes up to 300 mph, and is fully aerobatic. This particular aircraft was the first kit ever sold and flown. Powered by the PBS TJ-100 engine from the Czech Republic, at full throttle it can produce 258 lbs. of thrust while burning 40 gph. As beautiful as the jet is, there is no paint on it. It is completely wrapped in a vinyl covering. Photo courtesy Tom Larkin.

With the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan as backdrops, audience numbers at the Chicago Air and Water Show reach 2 million annually, making it the largest free-admission air and water exhibition of its kind in the United States. The show, held Aug. 18 to 19, celebrates 60 years in 2018 and can be viewed along the lakefront from Fullerton to Oak Street, with North Avenue Beach as the focal point (on the sectional, that’s halfway between the Montrose Harbor and Navy Pier reporting points). Performing aircraft use Indiana’s Gary/Chicago International, although Midway International is closer.

The Thunderbirds will own the New York skyline Sept. 15 and 16 as they headline the New York Airshow, held at Stewart International Airport, on the west side of the Hudson River Valley. The Oregon International Air Show celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this Sept. 28 through 30. Held at the Portland-Hillsboro Airport, and attracting some 65,000 spectators annually, it claims to be the largest civilian air show on the west coast. The Reno Air Races, officially known as the National Championship Air Races, is a multi-day event that takes place each September at the Reno/Stead Airport. Air racing is billed as "the world's fastest motor sport," and Reno is one of the few remaining venues. I haven’t been to this bucket-list event yet myself, but friends who go yearly say you feel the thrill of speed and power to your very bones.

These are just a few of this summer’s great air show events; check the calendar for many more!

Matt Chapman goes inverted. He will perform at the New York Air Show. Photo courtesy New York Air Show.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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