There’s No Business Like Air Show Business (Part 1)

Two Saturdays ago, we made our first trip to Palm Springs and Palm Desert to attend the 8th Annual Jacqueline Cochran Air Show (actually held near Palm Desert in Thermal, California). We’ve already posted two photo essays of our visit to the Palm Springs Air Museum that weekend (click HERE and HERE for those).

Here at Lofty Ambitions, we’ve made no secret of our affection for air shows. We’ve attended almost every variant of air show. We’re not alone at these events. In recent years, some 25-26 million people have attended air shows in the United States and Canada. Air shows are the second most popular sporting events by attendance (well behind only Major League Baseball at 70+ million).

Stearman at jacqueline Cochran Air Show 2011

Some of our favorite air shows have been small, family-oriented gatherings like the College Park Air Show in Maryland; the Stearman Fly-In in Galesburg, Illinois; and Wings of Victory in Lancaster, Ohio. The smaller air shows allow us the opportunity to interact with aircraft and owners in ways that we can’t predict. Once, at College Park, an aircraft owner and restorer took us into his workshop—on the airport’s grounds—to see his most recent work on a long-term restoration project. He was painstakingly removing fasteners from seventy-year-old corrugated aluminum wings. Anna wrote a poem about that air show that made its way into her chapbook Turns about a Point. We never found out how far the man got with his restoration project, but his goal was to see the airplane fly again.

T-28 Trojans

We’ve also attended themed air shows, like our recent visits to the MCAS  Miramar Air Show (click HERE and HERE for posts on that), with its emphasis on Marine Corps aviation and the centennial of Navy aviation. Last fall, we traipsed over to nearby Zamperini Field (named for the man who serves as subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s new book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption) in Torrance, California, for their “Salute to North American Aviation” (click HERE for that post). Academics that we are, themed air shows have the feel of an upper-level seminar, a chance to dive deeply into some particular aspect of aviation.

Inside the Commemorative Air Force's C-53

Our experiences at the large, multi-day aviation events have also been rewarding and sometimes overwhelming. We aren’t Oshkosh mainstays like our friends Jim Amundson and his father, Glen. Glen Amundson has attended EAA AirVenture each year since 1987, and Jim has joined his father at nearly half those shows. Still, we’ve twice sweated out Oshkosh (see our Oshkosh post HERE) with best of them on those brutally hot and humid late July days. (The best of them would be Lisa, Jim’s wife, who once attended while six months pregnant.) We’ve also managed to take in the corporate-aviation-heavy shows like the Dayton Air Show and Chicago’s Air and Water Show. The size and scale of these shows (and even the parking) can be intimidating, but the pay-off comes in the range of aircraft and the quality of the performers we’ve seen.

Skydiver Rex Pembleton

Air shows are unusual events, in that they represent a confluence of American history: they’re political, they’re technological, and they’re commercial. For the next post, we’ll focus on the technological history, for air shows offer, in just an afternoon, a recap of the entire history of this technological achievement. Along the way in this series, of course, we’ll include photos, particularly of the Jacqueline Cochran Air Show earlier this month.

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