WORDS & PHOTOS | JACOB RUTLEDGE
The Owensboro Air Show marks the the end of Air Show season for me and I’m pleased to report it ended on a high note. This show has constantly punched above its weight and this year was no exception. The caliber of this show is further demonstrated by headliners like the Thunderbirds in 2023 and Blue Angels in previous years. This free airshow occurs over the Ohio River on the Owensboro, Kentucky Riverfront which provides a unique vantage point. I estimate at ground level, attendees are approximately 50 feet (~15 meters) above the water, looking down on some of the performers as they fly low and fast above the river.
There are also several premium seating offerings located within or around the Owensboro Convention Center. As the sun lowers behind the convention center, premium seating attendees benefit from being in the shade; however, it is important to note that while show center for most performers is in front of the convention center, this year Thunderbirds used a different datum point slightly upstream. It’s not a major issue, but you will not be able to get a solid “hit” from the Thunderbird opposing solos. The good news is that if this is important to you, there is more than enough time to reposition nearer to the boat that serves as their center marker during the build-up to the Thunderbirds’ performance. I chose to stay in place at the convention center.
The show started with a single Wings of Blue parachute jumper with the American Flag trailing encircled by Bill Stein and Kevin Coleman. The Wings of Blue jumpers were provided lift by a Kentucky Air National Guard C-130J. Three additional Wings of Blue jumpers would follow and the C-130J returned once the jumpers were on the ground to make a couple of passes in front of the crowd.
Kevin Coleman and Bill Stein, both award-winning aerobatic pilots, executed both duo and solo demos. Both took advantage of a line of trees against the riverbank and an island just outside of the aerobatic box: the trees and island allowed them to dip below the sightline out of view for seconds at a time, keeping the audience on their toes. Kevin flew especially low, and some clips I’ve seen from another photographer put him about 10 feet (3 meters) above the water.
The Army Aviation Heritage Foundation demonstration involves a Cobra and Huey Helicopter interacting in an active battle scenario while the narrator describes in vivid detail what exactly is going on. The demonstration is exceptional, but the narration is truly top-notch, and the elevated view further amplifies the emotion giving the audience a top-down view that most will never have. Owensboro is my favorite venue for this performance.
Gregory “Wired” Colyer brought his T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker II” through the box for several sweeping passes. Gregory’s passes in the T-33 are best described as graceful. You are not going to see any yank and bank aerobatics, but you will see one of the smoothest displays out there. Later in the day, another vintage jet – Vampire Airshows’ DH115 – also performed a graceful solo display.
I’ve photographed the beautifully-restored DC-3 “Flagship Detroit” many times as a static but the Owensboro Air Show was the first time I had seen it fly. The Air Show Announcer, Rob Reider, took an opportunity to describe the uniqueness of the radial engine and then remained silent while the aircraft approached the crowd so we could take in the sound. I certainly appreciate it when the announcer takes the opportunity to remain silent or stop background music so we can take in something special as an audience. Flagship Detroit is the oldest DC-3 flying, although she doesn’t look her age.
Team Aeroshell is a long-time favorite of mine. There is just something about the sound of four North American T-6 Texans ripping through the air. Camera sensors also love the Aeroshell Team. The contrasting paint job really helps the autofocus lock in and track.
All the way from Corpus Christi, the U.S. Coast Guard brought their HC-144 Ocean Sentry to the show, making multiple flat, clean passes. Used primarily in Search and Rescue (SAR) missions covering large areas, this was likely the first time most attendees have seen this aircraft inland.
Ghostwriter Air Shows’ Super Chipmunk was on hand for a captivating aerobatic display with traditional white centreline smoke, but also pyrotechnic smoke coming from the wingtips. The pilot, Nathan Hammond does a great job putting the aircraft through its paces during the day show – although do check out one of Nathan’s exceptional night shows elsewhere, if you at all can.
Owensboro is one of my must-attend airshows for many reasons. Firstly, the venue is one of the best – there aren’t many places where the audience is able to watch from 50 feet above the show line. Pay for premium seating and it’s easy to get another 50 feet higher still. The show consistently brings in world-class acts easily competing with larger shows in the area, and while it is short, it is both high-quality and action-packed. The show this year was just under three hours, but I’m fine with that. Finally, ingress and egress is incredibly easy. It takes me a few minutes to pack my bag and walk the half-mile to my car but once I’m there, it’s a simple flick of the turn signal to merge into the lane and I’m on the way home.
The Owensboro Air Show has bounced between annual and biannual format, but there will be a show next year featuring the Blue Angels on the 13th-15th September.