WHAT’S NEW IN AIRSHOWS FOR 2009
This month, I thought we could take a quick break from Air Racing predictions and discussion, and focus on the other side of the aviation show, the Aerobatic Performances. In keeping with that theme, I was happy to attend the recent ICAS Convention in Las Vegas.
ICAS was founded in 1968 as a trade and professional association by Airshow industry professionals. Their mission is to protect and promote Airshows and their interests in the growing North American Airshow marketplace. Back then, this small group of Airshow event organizers and performers recognized the need for standardization of industry practices in key areas such as safety and business practices that could only be achieved collectively. They knew that -- for such standardization to occur -- the industry needed to act and speak with a single voice and that voice was established in ICAS. Since then, the industry has grown and changed significantly.
Besides giving a common voice to performers and organizers, ICAS also provides the Aerobatic Competency Evaluations and puts together more than a smattering of events to assist new performers and veterans in running their business, working with the media and performing safely. The ICAS Convention is a place where the group gets together to brainstorm, learn, share and book shows for the upcoming year.
What’s new in Airshows for 2009?
Airshow performances are generally set up in to a few different groups. You have Military Performers, High Energy Performers, Nostalgia Acts (including Heritage and Legacy Flights), Formation Acts, Comedy Acts and acts that combine two or more of these elements. Everyone is trying to figure out what they can do new and exciting to bring the crowds to their feet each year. This was clearly evident by the amount of excitement around the upcoming Airshow season.
The Military Performers are not just the three major Aerobatic Jet Teams, (Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Snowbirds); this group also includes the Demo Teams. Some of the most exciting flying comes from these groups. They have released their schedules for the year, so you can now go to their websites and find out which teams will be coming to an Airshow near you. One thing I do know is the Blue Angels will be at Reno this year. That’s the first thing I personally check each year.
The High Energy Performers are another popular Airshow addition. These include incredible acts such as Sean D. Tucker and Patty Wagstaff. And they are generally separated into three groups, Biplanes and Monoplanes and the big muscle Russian Planes, like the Sukhoi. They all have smoke, they all make noise and they all keep the crowds excited.
This year, you will continue to see veterans like Sean and Patty, but you will also see some of the newer shows including Rick Volker and Doug Jardine both flying Sukhois and both providing incredibly exciting shows.
Caption = Eddie performs the inverted Ribbon Cut
Credit = Eddie Andreini Airshow
Two people who combine Nostalgia and High Energy quite successfully are Eddie Andreini and John Mohr. They both perform in Stearman and both put on a heck of a demonstration. The Stearman isn’t a Pitts, it is a beast to fly with a very heavy stick and both of these men make it look effortless. John Mohr performed last year at the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends and was the talk of the ramp. All of the Warbird pilots were impressed with his show. And Eddie, well – Eddie is Eddie. He is a true professional in his Stearman and his Yak 11, Barbarossa. These two are both worth the drive out of the airport, even in another state.
You will also see acts like Julie Clark and John Colver putting their Military Trainers through the paces. And this year, Sophomore performer Gary Miller will be showing his stuff with his beautiful T-6, Mystical Powers. Gary races in the T-6 Class at Reno and has decided to use his machine more than a few weeks a year to wow audiences with his performance.
Nostalgia and Comedy are on the agenda for the Sons of Legends – Kyle Franklin and Matt Younkin are dynamic together or separately as they prepare for their next season. You couldn’t find two more different personalities, but in the air, it’s magic.
The Franklin Flying Circus is just what the name implies. Kyle has taken the showmanship that was his father’s passion and made it his own. With "Pirated Skies," Kyle acts as Captain Kyro and puts the Waco Mystery Ship through the ringer with the inverted flat spin, and lomcevak, all performed to a fantastic soundtrack with a great storyline.
While Kyle used to be a wingwalker for his dad, he also performed the motorcycle-to-airplane transfer for over 5 years. Kyle now performs as the pilot in which the transferer, Andy Roso, jumps from the back of a moving motorcycle onto a rope ladder hanging from the bottom of Kyle’s Super Cub. Kyle is filled with energy and excitement and his show is also.
Caption = Kyle Franklin in his Super Cub picking up a passenger.
Credit = Bill Fauth
Now, Matt Younkin is the laid back one. He grew up on a private airstrip in Lowell, AR. His third word was "airplane" and when he wasn't riding in his father's Beech 18 or AT-6, he was playing what he called "airshow center" with his toy airplanes over an airport he had drawn on the driveway with a piece of chalk.
He performs different routines in four different aircraft – including a NIGHT PYRO Show in the Beech 18. Matt describes it as.. “Imagine the Airshow circuits largest, noisiest, and smokiest airplane lit up like a Christmas tree and performing aerobatics at night!” This I gotta see.
Caption = Matt Younkin in his Twin Beech Christmas Tree.
Credit = Scott Slocum
Another group of individual acts who have joined forces include Jurgis Kairys, Skip Stewart and Rich’s incredible Pyro. This is a show filled with smoke and noise and WOW. This is High Performance at its finest.
Jurgis is from Lithania and is one of the world’s finest Airshow performers. Many of you have seen the video of him flying under a bridge or any number of his amazing stunts. He has travelled all over the world impressing pilots and non-pilots alike. He is one of my personal favorites.
Skip Stewart performs in his 400 hp, highly modified, Pitts S-2S Speed Racer named Prometheus. The best description I heard for his show was, “hard hitting, brake dancing, rock and rock blow out”. Now, that sounds like fun.
Caption = The Patriots Jet Team put on a colorful and exciting show
Credit = Airshows America
A Civilian Owned Jet Team seems to be an oxymoron, but The Patriots from Airshows America have been around for several years now and are still going strong. In fact, according to team lead, Dean “Wilbur” Wright, they expect some great flying this year.
Another favorite for me is the Comedy Acts. These are the low and slow planes that put on a heck of a show. Cubs, T-Crafts and Cadets, all normally seen doing flour bombing or toilet paper cutting, are also aerobatic joy rides. I have enjoyed watching in awe as veterans Kent and Warren Pietsch have entertain the crowds in their aircraft. And also have enjoyed watching Greg Koontz in his Drunken Farmer act.
Flown in the 1946 Piper J-3 Cub, this act begins as Greg, farmer Clem Cleaver, climbs up on the announcer's stand, demanding a flight lesson. Later in the show, he "steals" the plane and takes off solo, with his whole crew chasing. Grandpa shoots off a tire to get him down, and Clem lands on his pickup truck as it races down the runway. This show will have the whole family laughing.
Caption – Greg Koontz showing what he can do in a J3 Cub.
Credit – Travis Reynolds
The ICAS organization likes to grant their membership with different awards, plus their Hall of Fame. The ICAS Sword of Excellence has been won in the past by notables like Duane Cole, Wayne Handley and Art Scholl. It is given out each year to recognize outstanding service and personal contributions to the Airshow industry. This year’s recipient was Air Boss Ralph Royce for his tireless efforts to ensure the Airshow industry remains a safe venue and preserving our heritage through the Lone Star Museum.
The next award is the Art Scholl Award. This award is given to the Airshow act or performer that best exemplifites the qualities of showmanship demonstrated by Art Scholl himself. This year’s recipient was Gene Soucy, who holds many titles and records but can now add the Art Scholl Showmanship Award to his mantle. Nicknamed, "Mr. Airshow" Soucy was twice a member of the World Aerobatic Championship team and the famed Eagles Aerobatic Flight Team.
The ICAS Foundation also announced the three newest inductees into the Airshow Hall of Fame, Bobby Bishop, Paul Bowen and Bessie Coleman.
Bobby Bishop is being recognized for many different contributions to the Airshow community during a career that spanned more than 35 years. An innovative aircraft designer, Airshow sponsorship trailblazer, impassioned aviation safety advocate and world-class Airshow pilot, Bishop focused on the entertainment aspects of Airshows throughout his time in the business. Bishop flew his first Airshow at the age of 18. He is best known for his pioneering sponsorship with Coors Light in the 1980s and 1990s. He served several years on the ICAS Board of Directors and is a past recipient of the ICAS Sword of Excellence.
In 1971, Paul Bowen helped start the Royal International Air Tattoo, the largest and most successful Airshow in all of Europe. In addition, he was involved in the founding of several other Airshows and Airshow organizations, including the European Airshow Council, the European sister organization of ICAS. Along the way, Airshow event organizers from throughout Europe depended on Bowen for his expertise, experience and professional support. Sadly, Bowen passed away in May, 2004 after a courageous battle with cancer.
An Airshow barnstormer in the 1920s, Bessie Coleman was an African-American, female pilot at a time when the business of Airshows was dominated by white males. Persevering in difficult circumstances, she toured the country as an aerobatic plot, parachute jumper and occasional motivational speaker.
Congratulations to all of this year’s winners.
Grab the folding chairs and the kids – let’s head out to an Airshow this season. You should start planning your trips now. This is going to be a great year.
And the next few months, I will be talking with the new owners of Dago Red, Furias and Rare Bear to see what they have in store for us in Air Racing for 2009 and in the future.
Until next time, fly low, fly fast and turn left!
Ruby Red Racing