August 1, 2013
The sad reality is that I think there is little to debate, interest in airshows is in fact declining. There is a lengthy list of reasons that may contribute to that including a decline in the pilot population, weak economy and the grounding of military demonstration teams as a result of sequestration to name a few.
A source I often look to when trying to establish a trend is Google Trends. Sadly, as you can see from the charts below there is an indisputable decline in interest for airshows, if search traffic is used as an indicator.
AirVenture, America's largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts, widely considered the largest airshow in the county, has seen modest declines if you rely on their data which shows a 12% decline from 2009 (578,000 attendees) to 2012 (508,000). However, the picture is more bleak when you look at the Google Trend which shows a peak in July 2006 declining to nearly half the search volume of 2006 in 2012. With Airventure 2013 closing in a just a couple of days it is unlikely that enough searches will come in during the final days to improve the 2013 trend. As Airventure is more about experimental aircraft and general aviation it should be of note that the decrease in interest in the show this year is likely not drastically effected by sequestration.
The Chicago Air & Water Show which is just around the corner will surely suffer serious interest and attendance declines without the Thunderbirds headlining this year. The Google Trend shows that current interest is below where it was just five years ago. I think this show which historically relied heavily on military demonstrations will be adversely effected by sequestration. It will be very interesting to come back to this report in a few weeks to see what the 2013 search volume was like for the Chicago Air and Water Show.
I think this data clearly shows that interest in airshows is declining. The questions is what if anything can be done about it?
September 11, 2012
Ever wonder what it would be like to live in one of those aviation communities where taxiways and runways took precedence over roads and all your neighbors thought about aviation as much as you did? Once a year I get to experience one of the largest aviation communities in the country, Chicago, IL. The arrival of the Chicago Air & Water Show magically transforms my city into a land where everyone has airplanes on the top of their mind (whether they like it or not). Whether at the water cooler at work or mingling with neighbors people are suddenly speaking my language: aviation.
It is for this reason that the Chicago Air & Water Show has become one of my favorite weeks of the year. Like most pilots, I can't hide my love for aviation so friends, family, coworkers and neighbors know of my passion for aviation. When a friend of mine learned his brother, a pilot in the U.S. Navy, would be bringing his plane to town he thought to reach out to me to see if I would be interested in coming out to airport to greet him. Of course I was interested, however, the thought of sitting in rush hour traffic on a Friday night driving from the northside of Chicago, through the city to Gary and back was not too appealing. So I decided to make a flight experience out of it and instead take a beautiful flight along the Chicago lakefront to Gary. Al Waterloo, fellow club member and host of Simple Flight Radio (Check it out) joined me for the adventure.
Pilots love sharing their love of aviation with others and showing off their latest plane. The crowd a pilot draws to see their plane often varies based on the cool factor of the plane they are currently flying. As a result, John Keith, a member of the Virginia Beach based Raging Bulls (VFA-37), a squadron of F/A-18C Hornets, was greeted by a large family contingent when he arrived in Gary on Friday night and I was happy to be invited to be a part of the welcoming committee.
John took the time to point out some of the unique features of his plane and to talk about some of his experiences landing the F-18 on the USS Harry Truman Aircraft Carrier. After learning about his airplane the entire family, John, Al and I walked the tarmac at Gary International Airport which resembled a military base that night. Alongside his Hornet were a few of the larger F/A-18 Super Hornet, T-38 Talons, A-10 Warthogs a F-4 Phantom in addition to civilian planes like T-6 Texans and T-34 Mentors. As a pilot I loved looking at all these planes but also enjoyed the fact that everyone else seemed in awe of these machines as well.
It was great getting the VIP tour of the tarmac as I know on the Saturday and Sunday of the show people lineup along a fence-line to see these airplanes in action from a distance. As we were walking back to the FBO, John picked up his flight bag which was filled with all his maps and old school paperwork used to navigate a plane that was built before the age of glass panels. He pointed out that the Archer I was flying had more advanced navigational functionality than his F-18. True enough but I would trade rides in a heartbeat.
After thanking the Keith family for letting me be a part of their family for the night we climbed back in the Archer III for our return flight to Palwaukee. On the flight back the city was aglow, the moon was hidden below the horizon, making the effect of the city lights that much more impressive and a perfect end to a night of celebrating aviation.
It saddens me when the annual airshow ends and the light switch is flipped and my fantasy land of aviation enthusiasts evaporates. Though, I love that for a week aviation was brought to the forefront and surely some of those in the crowds at the Chicago Air and Water Show now have a new passion for aviation like this girl jumping up and down as the Blue Angels Fat Albert C-130 flew over during the show.
September 13, 2010
Airshow season is winding down, but if you have kids in the house you can still enjoy the excitement of an airshow with the new illustrated children's book from Treat Williams and Robert Neubecker, Airshow!
Treat Williams is an actor best known for his role in "Hair" and most recently in the television series "Everwood", though his real passion is aviation. Williams soloed when he was 17 and has been a pilot for more than 30 years. He met illustrator Robert Neubecker at a release party for "Wow City" where he learned that Neubecker was an aviation enthusiast. They decided they needed to work on a project to share their passion for aviation with kids.
I had the opportunity to check out the book and meet the author and illustrator when they flew into the Chicago Area in Williams' Piper Navajo to promote the book prior to the Chicago Air & Water Show. Their mutual passion for aviation was immediately noticeable as we toured the plane inside and out while sharing a few aviation tales. While touring the cockpit I noticed that the instrument panel looked liked the inside panel of the book. Neubecker confirmed it was inspired by that very cockpit.
Neubecker also drew much of the inspiration for the artwork from a trip to AirVenture a few summers ago. He and Williams attended the show together to find inspiration and for those who have attended Oshkosh, they will find a strong resemblance between some of the illustrations and their memories of touring the tarmac at Wittman Regional Airport.
The story follows a brother and sister, Gill and Ellie, (named after Williams' children) as they join their pilot father and his co-pilot friend for their first fly-in to an airshow.
As a new father, I am excited about having a book that will allow me to share my love for aviation with my children. The book includes illustrations of some of my favorite aircraft (B-17 Flying Fortress, P-51 Mustang, DC-3, Piper Cub and many more) and also includes some great aviation radio call dialogue which will be fun to read to my kids.
Williams and Neubecker succeed in creating a book that would share their passion for aviation with kids for years to come.
July 27, 2009
Pilots and aviation enthusiasts from all over the world have once again begun to converge on Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for AirVenture, the annual celebration of aviation. This event helps to stoke the fire of enthusiasm for aviation dreamers. I vividly remember attending this event and dreaming of coming back some day as a pilot. This week, I will be making my third visit to AirVenture since realizing my dream. On Saturday I will celebrate the five year anniversary of earning my Pilot's License in the best way possible: surrounded by fellow pilots and aviation enthusiasts at Oshkosh.
One of the biggest challenges for a visit to AirVenture is planning your days. I will have little more than two days at this event and will do my best to fit all I can during my time there. The AirVenture website offers a nice planning tool that allows you to search the vast list of activities and meetings and filter them by your own preferences. You can save and print your personalized itinerary. Sadly, they have not figured out a solution to clone speakers or attendees so I am going to have to miss some exciting events to participate in others.
Here are just a few of the events, meetings or sights I plan to enjoy during my visit to AirVenture.
- Aviation Social Media Meetup hosted by the folks at MyTransponder
- Night Flying presented by Max Trescott
- US Airways 1549 presented by Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his crew
- The EAA Runway 5K
- Screening on the A Pilot's Story Documentary
- Screening of the FlyAbout documentary
- Walking the flightline, exhibit booths and enjoying the flight performances
June 19, 2009
The folks at the always do an excellent job of bringing in the top aviation attractions to their annual airshow. One of the exciting additions to the 2009 roster will be the Airbus A380. I have enjoyed sneaking peaks of this amazing plane from my window seats on a few commercial aircraft. I am looking forward to having a chance to see this amazing aircraft close and personal later this summer.
The A380 will arrive and conduct a flight performance on Tuesday, July 28th. After the performance they will park it on the tarmac for show visitors to view. It will take to the skies again on July 31st and perform another demonstration flight before making its show departure.
Airbus Americas Chairman T. Allan McARtor commented "It makes perfect sense for the A380 to be featured at Oshkosh - not only because it is the largest passenger aircraft in history, but also because the remarkable A380 would not have been possible without the considerable support of our airline - and supplier-partners from around the world who worked with us over many years to make the aircraft a reality."
Fellow Chicago Aviation Blogger, Rob Mark of Jetwhine, had the opportunity to fly the A380 earlier this month. Visit JetWhine.com to read his write-up and to listen to a podcast interview with Rob about his experiences in the Cockpit of the A380.
The excitement for AirVenture 2009 is definitely building with this recent news.
August 17, 2008
Ever wonder how a pilot knows to stay clear of an airshow? According to Federal Aviation Regulations 91.03 "Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight." Therefore it is the pilot's responsibility to determine whether there are any hazards along the intended route of flight.
A pilot can take advantage of many online services to fulfill this requirement or make a call to flight service briefer. Before each of my flights I contact Flight Service for a last minute check on the weather and also to double check for TFR (Temporary Flight Restrictions) or NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen). If I had been intending to fly along the lakefront I would have learned during this process that there was a Notice to Airmen restricting flight within five miles of the airshow center.
In the example of the Chicago Air & Water Show they communicate the location by using the show centers location in regards to the Chicago O'Hare VOR. For example the Airspace is defined as having a show center located at 13.6 nautical miles out from the Chicago O'Hare VOR on the 106° radial. The flight restriction is then for a radius of 5 nautical miles from that point from the surface to 16,000 feet.
You can view a sample of the Notice on the FAA website.
August 14, 2008
The 2008 Chicago Air & Water Show roared into town today. Military and civilian aircraft from all over the country began arriving this morning at the Gary International Airport where most of them will be based throughout the airshow.
Today at the airshow media day I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at many of the acts, speak with some of the pilots, go for some rides and best of all fly the T-6 Texan! As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the acts I am most excited about this year is Bill Leff's Night Airshow. His T-6 Texan is specially equipped with pyrotechnics so he can put on a thrilling unique night time airshow experience. In meeting Bill I learned that he is from Dayton, Ohio. I shared with him that I learned to fly in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas. After learning I was a pilot, Bill offered to let me fly the T-6 Texan when we went for a flight.
I had flown in a T-6 with the AeroShell team previously, though since they fly in tight formations there was no opportunity for me to fly. Shortly after getting airborne Bill told me the plane was mine. I flew us out to the practice area and performed a few turns and climbs. Once at the practice area he took over the aircraft to perform some aerobatics. We flew a variety of maneuvers but my favorites were the barrel roll and the loop. I love the power of the T-6! On the way back to Gary he gave me the plane back and had me fly us back until we were on short final where he took over the plane for landing. I had a great time talking to Bill and flying with him and am really looking forward to watching him perform on Friday night. If you are in the Chicago Area stop by the lakefront tomorrow night to see him perform.
As we parked the plane the Lima Lima Flight Team returned from a press flight. Sitting in the back seat of the lead plane was Florence Henderson (AKA Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch). Henderson will be singing the national anthem each day of the airshow. She was kind enough to take a photo with me (Available in slideshow below).
While standing there I learned there was a spare seat in one of Lima Lima's T-34s for their next sortie, so I jumped on that. Rick "Knuckles" Nichols took great care of me and gave a very enjoyable flight. We were in the seventh plane in an eight plane formation. During they show they will perform as a six-plane team, Nichols will serve as the team announcer during the show. Be sure not to miss Lima Lima's performances this weekend.
Throughout the day the Blue Angels were coming and going to do spot checks and practice flights over Chicago. I did not get to see a preview of their Chicago Show but did enjoy seeing a few maneuvers back at Gary. I guess it gives me something to look forward to during the next few days.
August 13, 2008
Prior to the 2006 Airshow, I had the opportunity to take a flight with Chicago Air & Water Show regulars, the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team. The Aeroshell team is made up of four talented pilots and their T-6 Texan aircraft. Unfortunately, this year the team will be flying a three-plane formation due to a non-flying injury to team leader, Alan Henley.
In late July, Alan was paralyzed from the neck down after a fall in his home. He is currently at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital's trauma unit, where he is listed in serious but stable condition. You can read about his recovery on a CaringBridge.org blog being authored by his wife. My prayers go out to Alan, his family and his teammates.
His twin brother, Mark, will take over as lead pilot for the formation for this weekend's show. I had the opportunity to fly with Mark in 2006. What I took away from meeting Mark and the rest of the team was that they absolutely love their jobs. These guys were extremely passionate about aviation and enjoyed entertaining fans across the country with their flying skills.
I am looking forward to their performance this weekend but saddened that they won't be joined by their team leader, Alan. Get well soon Alan!
August 12, 2008
Many avid Chicago Air & Water Show fans have relied on the fact that Friday has typically been a practice day. Airshow enthusiasts could come down to the lakeshore and experience many of the airshow acts without the massive crowds the weekend event typically draws.
This year with the Air Show adding a formal Friday night show many people have asked me, "Does that mean there will be a practice show on Thursday?". According to an Airshow representative "There will be no formal practice like in the past but there will be flying to do spot checks".
Most the performance teams will arrive at the Gary/Chicago International Airport on Thursday, August 14th. That afternoon many of the teams will be taking members of the media up for flights over the lake but well south of the city closer to Gary. After their media responsibilities, teams like the Blue Angels will likely do a city spot check so expect to hear them roaring over the city starting on Thursday. There may also be some practicing on Friday in the morning prior to Friday nights show opening.
One of my favorite weekends is just around the corner. The Chicago Air & Water Show takes place this weekend on the Chicago lakefront. Since this will the the 50th Annual Air & Water Show the city has decided to celebrate by adding an additional day to the festivities. The event is the oldest and largest free admission air and water show in the country.
Civilian and military performers will arrive in the Chicago area on Thursday. So the skies over Chicago will become active starting Thursday morning. Most the practice and spot checks will take place Thursday afternoon and Friday morning prior to the Friday night event.
Two Chicagoan Actors will help kick-off the show on Friday. Bill Murray, who played a confused Army Soldier in Stripes, will kick-off the show when he jumps with the U.S. Army Parachute Team, The Golden Knights at 3pm on Friday. Fellow Chicagoan Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will play a free concert at the North Avenue Beach house at 5pm. After the concert there will be more acrobatics and high speed flying leading up to an 8:45 firework show.
I am especially interested to check out a new act this year. Bill Leff will be piloting a Korean War restored T-6 Texan. His plane has been retrofitted to allow him to perform a night show featuring pyrotechnics and streams of light.
The Airshow continues on Saturday and Sunday from 11am - 4pm. Unfortunately, there is not an official Chicago Air & Water Show schedule. Typically the show starts with civilian acts then moves into military acts culminating with the feature act which this year is the U.S. Navy Blue Angeles. The following appearances have been confirmed:
- F-22 Raptor Demo Team
- U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights
- U.S. Navy Leap Frogs Parachute Team
- AeroShell Aerobatic Team
- The Firebirds
- Lima Lima Flight Team
- Sean Tucker & Team Oracle
- Bill Leff Airshows
- The Collaborators
Typically there are variety of additional flybys by military fighters and bombers. I am told there will be a few surprise flybys over the weekend that have not yet been announced. More on the Chicago Air & Water Show in the days to come.