REVIEW: Dayton Airshow 2019

WORDS & PHOTOS: JACOB RUTLEDGE

Mother nature could have easily spoiled the 2019 Vectren Dayton Airshow. The area had seen record rainfall for the second straight year, and just over four weeks before the show, numerous tornadoes – including an EF-4 – came within miles of the dedicated airshow grounds. Luckily, the show caught a break allowing for some of the largest crowds I have seen at the show in quite some time. The airshow team was forced to use the alternate parking plan that placed people on hard surface lots on the opposite side of the air field because the fields normally used for parking were saturated. Even with the alternative parking plans in place and traffic congestion around the airport, attendees were unfazed. I will tell you how to beat the crowd and get a show center viewing spot at the end of this review.

Outside of the weather drama, there were other headlines making news at the show. This was the first time the Thunderbirds executed their demonstration at the air show in four years. Thunderbird #8 was involved in a landing incident during a familiarization flight in 2017, and the team stood down their performance that year. The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds alternate years so having the Thunderbirds back was a big deal for a community that is used to top tier demonstration teams.

The second headline was Skip Stewart making an emergency landing just miles away from the airport while inbound to the show on Thursday night. Skip and his well-known aircraft, Prometheus, are fine but the same cannot be said about the engine that caused the emergency landing in the first place. His maintenance crew worked to get him back in the air by show time Saturday but it didn’t happen. I am just happy for Skip and the best-case outcome. Skip and the aircraft will fly again.

The Photo Tour started Saturday morning with light rain. That didn’t hamper the 1st wave of 25 people from heading out to the ramp. The aircraft were numerous but because of the rain, some were still covered up. Static aircraft displays included the S-3 Viking, A-10 Warthog, KC-10 Extender, KC-135 Stratotanker, C-130 Hercules, T-6 Texan II, T-45 Goshawk, BAE Hawk, EA-18G Growler, F-16 Fighting Falcon, UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, FedEx 757 and several more. The KC-135 and KC-10 were opened up for tours once the gates officially opened at 9:00.

This is Flight had a very special opportunity to be a part of show start. We joined up with the US Army Golden Knights about 90 minutes before the start and got to experience the team’s preflight practice and ground routine. Once it was time to start the show, we hopped in their C-31A Troopship and took off for the show start.  We’ll save most of the content about the flight for a special feature but I can tell you the camaraderie, leadership, and professionalism demonstrated by the team is like none other that I have witnessed.

While we were in the air, I could see Sean D. Tucker off in the distance performing his last solo act in Dayton in the Oracle Challenger III. At the end of the 2019 Season, Sean will retire the aircraft to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.  The aircraft will be missed by those to had an opportunity to witness it in action but I am happy with the decision to preserve it.

By the time I was back on the ground, the GEICO Skytypers were performing. Using SNJ-2 variants of the T-6, they perform an air-to-air combat demonstration guided by the team’s narrator. Outside of the demonstration, the Skytypers are also capable of sky typing, not to be confused with traditional skywriting. Skywriters use smoke trails and the path of their aircraft to create messages in the sky. The Skytypers go about this a little differently: in a 5 line abreast formation, each aircraft will let out a little blip of smoke forming a message in the sky that resembles a message you might see from a typed letter.

Once the GEICO Skytypers cleared the runway, the Shockwave Jet Truck started their demonstration. This is no regular over the road truck. In fact, the top speed is over 375mph (600kph). It’s not particularly loud as it speeds down the runway but will certainly get your attention. During the demonstration the engines throw flames, create the thickest white smoke you’ve ever seen. Even with a 2.12 mile (3.4km) runway, the truck requires a parachute to stop.

Sean D. Tucker and Jessy Panzer of Team Oracle immediately followed with their new dynamic performance for 2019.  At times Sean and Jesse are wingtip to wingtip. Other times they are performing what looks like two different airshow acts. At others the name of the game is follow-the-leader. Everyone wondered what Team Oracle would come up with when Sean announced the end of his solo career last year, and Jessy is a fantastic addition to the demonstration.

In a complete change of pace, the show went from small extremely agile aircraft to some of the largest aircraft in the US military lineup. The KC-135 Stratotanker and C-17 Globemaster III took off for their first ever refueling demonstration at the Dayton Air Show. The KC-135 took off before the C-17 with what appeared to be a normal takeoff profile, but the C-17 on the other hand demonstrated a tactical takeoff. Once the nose wheel lifted off the ground, it was a matter of seconds before the C-17 was thousands of feet above the runway. After a demonstration of the C-17’s agility and slow flight ability, the KC-135 extended the boom with the C-17 trailing behind. The KC-135 then executed a low pass with gear extended before both aircraft landed, with the C-17 landing short and using reverse thrust to taxi backwards down the runway.

Once both aircraft cleared the runway the Navy Legacy Flight took off. Two F/A-18 Super Hornets and a Grumman F4F Wildcat made two passes, one in front of the crowd and another from behind the crowd with tail hooks lowered and a break  above show center. The Hellcat landed and the Super Hornets performed a tactical break in front of the show center to prepare for landing – I would have loved to see more of the Super Hornet in action.

Art Nalls’ Sea Harrier was another must-see demonstration. Art starts his routine with a short take off roll. One the aircraft is airborne the demonstration quickly changes to a sequence of high-speed low passes from each side of the runway until it’s time for the vertical landing setup. Art places his Harrier into a hover and rotates the aircraft 360 degrees along the yaw axis while never changing altitude. Once facing the crowd, he pitches the aircraft up and down before making a slow descent to the ground.

To close out the show, airshow announcers Rob Reider and Danny Clisham handed the microphone over to USAF Thunderbirds narrator. If you ever get an opportunity to see the ground portion of the Thunderbirds routine, pay close attention to the details. This seems like an often-overlooked portion of their routine but can yield some interesting observations. One of my favorite parts of their ground routine occurs just moments after the team starts to taxi out. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the maintainers on the ground interact with the pilots and vice versa. By the time they took to the skies, there were blue pockets of sky in an otherwise overcast ceiling. You could certainly tell the crowd was excited to have them back in Dayton – I stepped back from the photo pit to get a sense of the attendees energy and the WOWs and OHs where countless.  I will give this to the Thunderbirds; I am usually pretty good at catching sneak passes. Not Saturday. Their sneak passes come from around your shoulder at over 700mph. As hard as I tried, it didn’t happen. Their sneak maneuver was true to its name.

There are several things that set the Dayton Airshow apart from other airshows in the Midwest US.  I’ve yet to find an airshow of this size that has a static display as large and lets you get as close as this show. The rule of the land is don’t touch the aircraft but the point is you’re close enough to do so. Some of the larger aircraft are opened up so you can tour the cockpit and interior, and the crews are very welcoming.

As a photographer, one of the best things about this show is the photo tour and pit pass available for $75 a day. That may sound like a lot of money, but it gets you early access to the static display (ever wanted that shot of an A-10 without crowds of people around? This is your chance), media parking close to the showground and a dedicated photo pit at show center complete with a tent for shade, tables, chairs, water, and a dedicated portable restroom just for the photographers. For me, it’s a huge value!

The Dayton Airshow proved to be a go-to show yet again.