WORDS & PHOTOS: JACOB RUTLEDGE
Columbus, Ohio hasn’t hosted an airshow in well over a decade, but you could not tell that from the first day of their welcome back show. With headliners like the Blue Angels and the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team, plus names like Rob Holland and Mike Goulian, the Columbus Airshow certainly set the comeback bar high.
I had been planning to attend this airshow immediately after I heard it was coming back in November 2021. Like many of us, life got in the way and I almost had to write it off my airshow calendar. The week of the show, my calendar freed up so I bought a ticket for Friday. Traditionally, Fridays are for rehearsals – I’ve attended rehearsal shows in the past and you have to be patient. Sometimes there are gaps in the practice or aircraft don’t show. This time, Friday was the only option that worked for me and I was curious what a paid Friday show would look like. Would this show be any different?
The Airshow started with a preview of the STIHL Drag Races. I estimate that 99 per cent of the attendees were not familiar with how this works, but the announcers did a great job explaining the goals and nuances of the race to those in attendance. We would only see the Drag Races one more time throughout the day because of increasing crosswinds. These aircraft are extraordinarily light and powerful, however, they are flying almost wingtip to wingtip along the taxiway – safety is paramount.
The F-22 Raptor Demo Team kicked off the show fairly early in the schedule bringing people back to their seats of the nearly sold-out Friday show. The Raptor never disappoints; it’s loud, in your face, and appears to defy physics at times. I’ve seen the demo multiple times but it never fails to amaze me. At the end of the solo demo, the Raptor joined up with P-51D Mustang “Bum Steer” for a Heritage Flight.
The show featured two world-class aerobatic performances: Rob Holland and Michael Goulian. Holland’s performances push the limits of his aircraft’s capabilities, demonstrating his mastery of aerobatics and his ability to maintain control in high-energy gyroscopic maneuvers. Goulian’s performances were characterized by a perfect blend of elegance and power. Flying his high-performance Extra 330SC aircraft, he showcased a series of intricate maneuvers with graceful lines and flawless execution.
Another act I had not seen before was Kent Pietsch’s comedy act in his Interstate Cadet. I won’t spoil the act for you but let’s just say parts intentionally fell off the aircraft and there is a reason he is a multiple award winning airshow performer.
The Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Truck brought the audience back to their feet for a jet truck race, but unfortunately, I didn’t see who won; the Premium Box Seating was located on a portion of the ramp with a crown (a high point on the surface so that rain water will not puddle), which ran half way back along the seating area. This meant that those sitting in the middle rows were highest and those at the back were lower down. From my position, when the audience stood, my view of anything on the runway was obscured. If seeing everything is critically important to you, early seat selection may be consideration if you plan to attend this show.
Worse was to come when, during the Blue Angels, spectators from towards the back crowded to the front fence line for a better view, and nobody asked them to return to their seats. This likely disappointed folks who had seats in the 1st couple rows who thought they were getting an unobscured view, only to have a crowd of spectators three to four people deep crowding the fenceline.
The warbird showcase at the Columbus Airshow featured Tuskegee Airmen-liveried P-51C “By Request”, P-51D “Old Crow”, a TBM Avenger and B-25 “Rosies Reply”. A Curtis P-40M also taxied past the crowd but we did not see it fly on Friday.
The Blue Angels were the headliner for the show starting promptly at 3 PM. This is not the first time I’ve seen them in the Super Hornet, but their presence in the sky, especially in Delta formation is impressive. This was, however, the first time I had seen the new “Fat Bert”, an ex-RAF Hercules C.4 (C-130J-30) used to support the team, which had been notably absent from the Blues’ demonstration for a couple of years, returning in 2021.
Let’s talk about static displays: there were four T-38 Talons, one F-35A and one A-10C on display, which attendees could climb up the ladder and poke their heads in. Another notable group of statics included the C-5 Galaxy, two C-17 Globemaster IIIs and a KC-135 from the local Air National Guard unit. All of these aircraft were available to tour, but unlike shows I’ve attended in the past, there were no long lines to tour any of them.
Several acts didn’t fly on Friday that did as part of the Saturday and Sunday show, including an F-5 and a mock refuelling demonstration by a KC-135 and F-35A, plus several extra aircraft in the warbird review (Corsair, P-40 and P-63); in that respect, the airshow did indeed prove to be somewhat similar to a well-run practice day, although it had not been advertised as such and tickets were sold at full price. With that being said, the show was well-produced, with only a few gaps noted as “intermissions” on Friday. I do appreciate the fact that lulls in the show were specifically called out so that you could hydrate, use the restroom or otherwise take a break knowing that you were not going to miss something. Although undeniably a lesser show, I would attend a Friday show again if it aligned better with my schedule than Saturday and Sunday.
The only complaint I heard was parking. I waited around within the show grounds for 45 minutes after the show completed before heading out to my car. I could have easily occupied myself another 45 minutes walking around the statics again and taking pictures with fewer people around them. During those 45 minutes, I was awarded no fewer than seven low approaches of an F-35A that did not perform during the main airshow and a B-25 departure – my patience paid off and I’d consider doing the same again next time I attend a Friday show to see what surprises occur. Once I arrived at my car, I hung around for another 15 minutes before deciding to head home. I hit a little bit of traffic, but it wasn’t terrible, and it kept moving for the most part. I get the sense the parking situation will only improve given the show now has current data on how their plan performed.
Assuming the Columbus Airshow Organizers can meet or exceed this year’s caliber of Demo Teams and Performers, I’ll plan on attending again. The Blue Angels were not only an excellent headliner for their first show in over a decade, but they were also an excellent compliment to the Thunderbirds, who are scheduled to fly at the Dayton Airshow just a month and less than 70 miles away.