REVIEW: Kansas City Airshow 2023


The 2023 KC Airshow was held over the weekend of 19th-20th August at New Century AirCenter near Kansas City. The bar was set high following last year’s show, which featured both the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels, but the event returned on strength with the Blue Angels, F-22 and F-35B, among others.

Friday practice day proved to be the best day to attend, with slightly cooler conditions and a good number of vapour cones from the F-22 and F-35. Rehearsals began at 10:30 and ran until 4:30, when the Blue Angels landed. Other than the Vampire, everything flew, and as a special bonus, the F-35B performed twice, with a different pilot flying each show. In addition to the flying displays, a trio of Navy T-6 Texan IIs and a pair of A-10C Thunderbolt IIs performed formation breaks over the airfield as they arrived for the static display.

The civilian acts this year were rather wide in scope. The Red Bull Air Force kicked things off through the weekend with a flag jump and teaser by both Aaron Fitzgerald in the Bo.105 and Kirby Chambliss in the Edge 540. They performed their full show later in the afternoon. Following that, Kyle Franklin flew his famous comedy act. The aircraft was parked by the announcer stand and so some of the ground act portion had limited viewing. It is still a sight to see, and Kyle and Liz have really perfected the routine along with each announcer; this season I have seen Kyle at four different locations each with a different announcer and each has their own flare to add to the supposed mayhem of his act, which makes it even more enjoyable, especially for repeat viewers.

Next up was Tom Larkin in his Subsonex Minijet. As a former USAF pilot, Tom is an airshow personality you certainly want to meet and talk to – he is a joy to be around. While the aircraft may be slow, he has crafted a performance that keeps it in front of the crowd and gives an excellent demonstration of energy management.  Keeping with the jet theme, Randy Ball took to the skies after Tom and showcased his MiG-17. His display is also low, fast and up close and personal.

Next, the KC Flight Formation Team departed to the hold before a 20 minute break in the action while the Red Bull Air Force prepared for their full display. During the gap, Precision Exotics made high-speed runs down the runway with various high-performance cars. The KC Flight Formation Team then returned to break in the overhead to mark the start of the next flying display segment, which started with the Red Bull Air Force. This included a series of jumps from the Bo.105 with wingsuits and parachutes of several kinds, with their dynamic demonstration drawing an audible response from the crowd. The USAF then took to the skies with Captain “Razz” Larson’s F-22A Raptor demonstration. This was followed by a heritage flight with P-51D Mustang “Bumsteer”.

Next came another break in the flying, which seemed to drag out even longer than the first; there were several acts that did not appear as planned, so no doubt this gap would otherwise have been filled. Even so, the crowd line area has plenty of vendors, food and other attractions; one of the most popular was Dewey Larson’s Big Dream cockpit experience and Cam Roberts’ Angel 9 car. A Tom Cruise impersonator was also due to be there, but had to withdraw due to a family emergency.

The final segment kicked off with Kyle Franklin’s deadstick routine, accompanied by descriptions of each manoeuvre delivered live from the cockpit, only serving to highlight Kyle’s aviating skills to an even greater degree. Next came Jerry Conley, North America’s most prolific collector of Vampires – he now has four airworthy jets in his collection, with a fifth due to join them by 2025. Following that was an aircraft that, for many, stole the show: the US Marine Corps F-35B from VFMAT-502, MCAS Miramar. Much like the Air Force and Navy’s F-35 displays, this was an impressive demonstration of agility and power, but unlike the other F-35 variants, it also performed its trademark hover. On Saturday, the heat was so high as to prevent the aircraft from hovering, but even so, seeing the F-35B leap off the ground in STOVL mode and fly at extremely slow speed was much different to other F-35 displays seen in the past.

Closing the show was the US Navy Blue Angels. The Friday show was affected by aircraft serviceability, with Blue Angel #2 swapping to the spare jet due to a technical problem, before, five manoeuvres into the show, having to land early due to that spare aircraft also experiencing a problem. Therefore, a major portion of the practice was flown with five aircraft. On Saturday, all six Super Hornets flew, although C-130J “Fat Albert” was noticeably absent.

The static display was on the smaller side, compared to the flying line up. Perhaps the most impressive part of the line up was a trio of US Army helicopters: an Apache, Chinook and Blackhawk. Joining them was a US Coast Guard MH-60T and a civilian UH-34D Seahorse. Missing from the static was the US Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon which had been scheduled to appear.

New Century Air Center a unique site in that much of the airshow grounds are in an area encircled by chain link fencing, which obstructed some of the views to any visitors who hadn’t paid for access to one of the VIP areas. The options included lawn boxes (costing anything up to $259) and photo pit access ($134-155). The photo pits seemed to consist of a raised platform for better viewing.

A further benefit to having a photo pit pass was the ability to enter the airshow one hour before the main gates opened, to take photographs of the static displays. This was a welcome privilege, run smoothly by the event staff.

One critique of the photo pit experience is related to the layout of the show box. The northern photo pit was situated beyond the end of the runway, while the southern photo put was at the extreme right-hand end of the showground. Both had good views of the airfield, but it was difficult to shoot anything happening at show center. This was especially noticeable for the Blue Angels: with show center biased towards the northern end of the showground, those at the southern end, whether in the photo pit or the general admission areas, got great views of the formation arriving from the right, but were too from the center point to get a good view of the opposing passes or the ground portion of the display.

Overall, however, the KC Airshow team did a good job of running an easy-going weekend with a high-quality flying display and a generally positive showground experience.